Japan has been top of my bucket list forever so when a friend said they were heading there in May, I jumped at the chance. We had a loose plan to start in Osaka before travelling to Kyoto and then using the Japan Rail Pass to travel to a few citites before finishing the trip in Tokyo. Today was the day to head to Osaka!
Alarm set for 5am, I watched the Hong Kong sunrise for the last time and took a taxi to the airport. The flight was just under four hours with HK Express and I arrived in Kansai at about 2pm. Despite reading that security and customs was super strict in Japan and you can be hanging around for a while it only took me about 20 minutes from getting off the plane to getting on a train! My first impression was just at how amazingly helpful and friendly the Japanese people are. Everything I had read said that most Japanese don’t speak any English but that wasn’t my experience at all. I found that most Japanese people spoke at least some basic English, if not fluent! I had tried to learn some Japanese but everyone’s English was much much better than my basic Japanese. The train station area was super confusing though, there are so many different train companies, and even now after being in Japan for 10 days i’m still not quite sure how it all works! Luckily there were a group of Japanese university students who were there purely to help tourists, I just told them where I needed to go and they sorted everything on the machine for me, told me what platform to go to and everything. Perfect start!
I jumped on the train and headed to Osaka which took around an hour and then took a taxi to the Conrad hotel, which was bloody incredible. Luckily I have friends that travel all the time and so end up with a hell of a lot of points which brings a lot of perks (that I don’t deserve!). I arrived at the Conrad and was immediately taken to the Exec lounge where i plated up some food and grabbed a drink whilst they checked me in there at my table. The view was amazing, overlooking the city from the 40th floor and that’s where I stayed soaking up prosecco, watching the build up to the royal wedding and waiting for my friend to arrive in from Taiwan.
I should also mention that the taxis are quite an experience and one of my favourite thing’s in Japan! I just love that they haven’t seemed to change in years, they’re super old school but also super fancy. The rule is you absolutely do not touch the door yourself, they open automatically and only the driver has control of this. The taxis are immaculately clean (there were a few times I saw taxi drivers dusting the outside of their taxis with feather dusters – they definitely take pride in them!) and the drivers wear suits and hats and pristine white gloves. It’s all very professional.
The hotel was absolutely beautiful, although kind of out of the way of all the hustle and bustle of the city in the business/financial district, it was close to the train station and within easy walking distance to the really busy restaurant and bar streets as well as huge parks and a river. The staff were amazing, they literally couldn’t have done more for us and gave us a ridiculously big suite. Couldn’t recommend the Conrad more if you’re looking for a luxury hotel in Osaka.
After a freshen up we headed back to the exec lounge for dinner and drinks (it’s free afterall?!), had a catch up and then headed out to Dontonbori which is a really busy, super fun tourist destination and the heart of Osaka. The Dontonbori canal is at it’s centre and is lined with loads of restaurants, bars and shops. We explored the backstreets soaking up the atmosphere and wandered in to some crazy general stores and arcades.
Had a delicious breakfast in the lounge and then walked to Osaka Castle which was a bit of a mission but the perk of walking is that you find some right gems and actually see what the locals get up to. It seemed like Sunday’s are just like anywhere else on a beautiful day like today with people picnicking in the park, out running and cycling or just soaking up the sunshine. We were also lucky enough to see Japanese sound trucks go past, which are basically political parties that drive around the city shouting their views in to loud speakers. When I say they’re excruciatingly loud, i mean it, literally, i reckon they could have heard that from Tokyo!
We then walked over to a nearby park where there was some kind of festival going on. There were loads of food stalls and music and we were treated to a traditional Japanese tea ceremony and some proper green tea.
We tried to head over to Shitennoji temple, but when we arrived it was closed! It looked like they were setting up for some kind of market or something, and there was so much scaffolding that it didn’t even look like there was a temple even there. We decided to head back to Dontonbori where we found a place to eat and had some delicious food and an oolong tea. The great thing about most restaurants in Japan is that they always have photos of the food which makes it a lot easier to decide! There’s also a lot of the ‘plastic show food’ that they put behind windows outside their restaurants so you can choose. This actually really puts me off my food but hey. Osaka is known as the food capital of Japan and it didn’t disappoint!
Belly’s full and mind’s open we headed back to the Conrad and with the looming reality that the next week would be spent in hostels and not in 40th floor executive suites, we made the most of the free sushi and bubbles, and then headed to the train station for the next stage of our trip: Kyoto!