by Roaming Panda
Japanese culture always had a major impact over my entire life. Growing up, Voltron, Gundam, Dragon Ball Z, Godzilla, etc. all played a part in shaping my interests. Needless to say a trip to Japan was always a dream. We had the opportunity to make that dream a reality and travel to Osaka while the cherry blossoms were in bloom.
We had a week in Osaka with an action-packed schedule. Our flight took us from Orlando to Dallas, Dallas to Tokyo, and finally, Tokyo to Osaka. We took a taxi from the airport to the hotel and our plan was to mainly use taxi's as our main mode of transportation. We quickly realized that was an expensive endeavor and learned the train system instead. The train is definitely the better way to go. It was intimidating at first but the routes are listed in Japanese and English. Pay attention to the colored routes and make Google maps your friend.
Our very first stop was Ichiran Ramen in the heart of Dotonbori. I watched a number of videos beforehand with many YouTubers saying Ichiran is some of the best ramen they ever had. Full review in a separate post.
There is so much to see and do that it's hard to even begin to talk about without this turning into a novel. The easiest thing to do might be to break it down into two sections: the sights and the food.
We met a wonderful retired couple from Seattle during breakfast who were seasoned travelers. They were here for the Cherry Blossoms too and let us tag along with them over to Osaka Castle. The castle is a relic from the 16th century and stands as one of the most iconic landmarks in Japan. Cherry Blossoms grew throughout the castle grounds so it was a nice two birds/one stone scenario.
A short walk from Osaka Castle puts you over in Shinsekai it's a little area that's stuck in the 60's/70's with its color signs and shops. It just looks like an area that would be attacked by Godzilla. There are a number of restaurants and street food stalls. Great place for a stroll.
Den Den Town
Around the corner from our hotel is Den Den Town: a lonely nerd's paradise. If you're into Anime, video games, and sex, this is the place for you. A number of girls dressed in various outfits will sell you their time for "walking dates". Get your mind out of the gutter boys, this is strictly a stroll down the street for those who may not have a friend to talk to. Video game shops, sex shops, and toy stores selling action figures and statues from every genre you can think of line the streets. Some stores even have multiple levels that sell some or all of the above. I was looking at Godzilla accessories in one store, and before I knew it, I was in the men's cross-dressing section.
There are no shortage of theme parks and attractions where we live in Orlando. It's always interesting to see differences in theme parks in different countries. For the most part, Universal Japan feels very similar to Universal Orlando. They still have the Jaws ride which is nice since they got rid of it in Orlando. We went on Spider-Man, and while the ride itself is the same, it's funny to hear the dialogue in Japanese. They also have seasonal attractions based on Japanese animes. We went in spring so there was a Lupin the Third ride. Hard pass since the wait was 4 hours. There is some sort of Godzilla and Evangelion attraction coming up in the fall that I was really interested in, but alas, we won't be there for that. Also, apparently the Japanese love their churros. There was a specialty churro for every section of the park. Oh and apparently Minions are a huge thing over there. Had a whole section dedicated to Minions.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
The Osaka Aquarium is the only other aquarium in the world, aside from the Georgia Aquarium, that houses the majestic whale sharks. We went to the Georgia Aquarium in 2018 so we were excited to see what the Osaka Aquarium had to offer. The Osaka Aquarium has an interesting layout that funnels guests down the same path, so everyone's experience is linear. The main tank that houses the whale sharks is in the middle and you pretty much descend down the path of exhibits. The positives is that you get to see a 360 view of the whale shark tank as you make your way down but the negatives would be that everyone else is doing the same thing. Compared to the Georgia Aquarium, the whale sharks here in Osaka seem a bit smaller but overall I think the Osaka Aquarium has more substance. Whale sharks aside, I still contend that the aquarium in Chicago is my favorite.
You'll also find the giant Tempozan Ferris Wheel next to the aquarium. It's one of the largest ferris wheels in the world standing 369 feet. Jump on for some awesome views of Osaka.
Oh man, Osaka is a food lovers paradise, more specifically the Dotonbori area. We were within a mile (or less) from Dotonbori which is the main tourist/shopping/food area of Osaka. Dotonbori runs along a canal and is literally lined with restaurants, food stalls, bars, arcades, and shopping centers. I could easily spend a week just eating everything around here alone.
Also conveniently next to our hotel is the Kuromon Market. Think of it as an outdoor farmer's market. Here you can find an assortment of fresh meats, seafood, and produce. Best part is, many vendors will cook your purchase right there for you if you want a snack or quick lunch. They have packaged premium Kobe beef for sale...I bought some and had it cooked on the spot. Mmmmmmm.
Dotonbori and Kuromon Market has a lot of variety to offer so you have to go check it out and bring an empty stomach. I'll review a few other restaurants separately but here is a short list of things you have to try when you're there:
Alright, I said I wasn't going to write a novel and this is starting to turn into one. Japan has dethroned every other trip and sits as my personal favorite vacation thus far. I can go on and on but if you have even the slightest interest in Japanese culture or food, just go and see for yourself. You will not be disappointed. Check out the full travel gallery HERE.