The hagwon I work at gives us two weeks of vacation — one in winter, one in summer. Last week was the summer vacation. Originally, I wanted to go to Thailand, but for a number of reasons, the timing wasn’t ideal, so I went to Osaka for a few days with two of my co-workers instead. It was a great decision. Here’s what happened.
We landed at Kansai International Airport on Saturday evening. My two coworkers and I were all on separate flights, and I was staying at a different hotel, so after failing to find them in the airport, I decided to go check into my hotel and meet them later for dinner. I wasn’t sure how this would work out, but I made it no problem — after pushing about every button on the train pass vending machine trying to figure out how to buy a ticket. (Hint, there’s a button in the upper left hand corner that says “English.”) I was low-key proud of myself for making it all the way to the hotel without a problem (praise God).
I stayed at the APA Villa Hotel Yodoyabashi. It’s in a great location, one block from a main subway line, but not in a super touristy area, so it’s quiet at night. The room I had wasn’t as luxurious as the Tokyu Stay one I had in Tokyo, but it was clean and comfortable. Plus, the service was great, and it had a delicious bakery on the first floor (and an onsen in the basement, if you like those).
The hotel my coworkers stayed at was almost 30 mins from the central part of the city, so by the time they actually checked into their place, everyone was too tired and hungry to meet up. Instead, we all grabbed food from convenience stores and made plans to find each other in the morning.
On Sunday, I met my coworkers at Umeda Station. Despite being one of the most-travelled stations in Japan, I casually ended up running into them in a crowd (again, praise God), so we had no problem finding each other. We decided to have a chill day, walking around with no real plans.
Our first stop was a nearby Namco arcade with plenty of gambling stations as well as DDR, this drumming game that looked mad intense, and some other classic video games like Tekken (Tekken 3 on the Playstation was my childhood). We decided to play a round of Mario Kart, which I almost won. Not salty… It was fun.
We then went out in search of food. It was still pretty early so the only place we could find was this dark, smokey shop where the menu was entirely in Japanese, and there was only one person working the shop, an old man running between the main kitchen, serving-line, and customers. He was a bau$ and super-friendly. Anyway, after struggling to order for about 20 mins (the old man was so nice to us, despite our rough Japanese), we finally ended up with bowls of deliiiiiicios ramen. If you know me, you know eating good food is high on my vacation priority list (and general life priority list), so after this, I was good for the day.
With full stomachs, we went to check out the Pokemon Center in Umeda Station– mainly just a gift shop, then had a snack at Beard Papa.
From Umeda, we went down to”Den Den Town,” an electronics and anime district. It took us a long time to find it, but once we got there, we were greeted by stall after stall of Best Buy-type stores. After walking for a bit, we had dinner at the McDonalds of Japan, Yoshinoya, famous for their three dollar beef and rice bowls.
We ended the day in Namba, a pretty touristy area with a lot of shops and restaurants. After navigating through a shopping plaza and locating the famous Glico sign, we strolled along the canal to enjoy the breeze on the water (it was beautiful) and had some takoyaki (a popular octopus street food). After that, we called it a night.
On Monday, we went to the tourism center in Umeda Station to pick up these “Osaka Amazing Passes” my coworker found out about online. Gold. The pass was about $23 and gave us unlimited subway access for the day, plus access to almost all of the major tourist attractions in the area and discounts at restaurants. It was a great deal and allowed for us to see a lot in a short period of time. The only thing was that many attractions were closed on Mondays, so if you plan to buy a pass, take that into consideration. Here’s where we ended up going:
Shitennoji Temple — pretty paintings on the walls of the temple, you can climb the stairs to the top of the tall pagoda
Tsutenkaku Tower — very nostalgic, makes you feel like you’re at a World’s Fair from some bygone era when the women of Japan wore their beautiful kimono’s daily…, you can take the elevator up to 360º panoramic viewing floors, there’s also a nice little museum and ice cream parlor inside
Osaka Castle — amazing, humbling really, maybe my favorite part of the entire trip, great museum inside the castle and beautiful castle grounds you can explore
Tambori River Cruise — boat ride on the canal, relaxing
Since we ended the day back in the Namba area, we stopped for dessert at Pablo. Now, I remember seeing huge queues at these shops in Tokyo and was curious as to what the fuss was about. We soon found out that Pablo chefs delicious Japanese cheesecake. More like a custard tart in my opinion, but lets not get into semantics. Heavenly culinary goodness is heavenly culinary goodness.
A beyond solid day.
For my last full day in Japan (my coworkers stayed on after me), we actually headed out of Osaka to Kyoto. I can’t hear the word “Kyoto” without thinking of this cover:
Good, right? Anyway, we used a second train pass we bought at the Umeda Tourism Center to get to Kyoto. The train ride took maybe 45ish minutes, and after the train we had to take the 205 bus to our first stop, the famous Kinkaku-ji Temple. It was crazy to be in the presence of a sight I’d previously only seen in pictures, like it didn’t feel real. We went around the golden temple (the layout is designed for a quick walk through, to keep traffic moving), then had some ice cream because it was mad hot.
After that, we went on to live out our Memoirs of a Geisha and Princess Mononoke dreams at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It was insane as well. The gates were gorgeous, and there were thousands of them. I had no idea. You can easily make a three-hour hiking trip of the trails under the gates if you wanted. We only did about 45 minutes of that — up to a little pond.
Needless to say, Kyoto was well worth the train trip. I’d recommend checking out both temples.
We went back to Osaka for dinner and then walked around for a bit. To my mega surprise, we stumbled upon a Café du Monde. After flipping out and voicing my doubt concerning whether or not it was a certified establishment, I whisked my coworkers inside to introduce them to beignets. Café du Monde is a famous chain of coffee shops in New Orleans known for their French doughnuts. I lived in NOLA for a while as a kid and hadn’t had the treat since then. I hypothesized an apocryphal story — which ended up actually being true, haha — about a Japanese businessman visiting New Orleans and falling in love with the dessert to the point he opened a shop in Japan. So, apparently, Café du Monde is nowhere in the world except New Orleans and Japan. I certainly was not complaining.
So, technically, my trip was four days, and I flew out on the fifth, but my flight was in the late afternoon, so I asked my hotel to hold my suitcase for me after I checked out, which they most graciously did. Then I headed back to Umeda Station to go shopping. I really wasn’t planning on it, buuuuut, Japan is so stylish, and unlike Korea, they let you try clothes on before you buy them. So, I went shopping in the Hankyu Department Store and the awesome HEP Five building across the street. Claps for Osaka fashion. What was on day four an extremely affordable trip turned into a maxed budget one pretty quickly.
Overall, the trip was amazing. I’m still kind of in awe and can’t really think of the proper words to describe all the sights. Even the flight back to Korea had me speechless.
Some of you know my actual working experience in Korea hasn’t exactly been ideal. There have definitely been “lows”, but being able to do things like this has certainly helped balance out my time in Asia. I feel really blessed to have had this experience.