Osaka & A Day Trip to Nara
Full confession...Osaka wasn't my favorite city that we visited on our Japan 2016 trip. Perhaps it was several factors; the end of the trip, the rain, etc. It was a great city to fly in and out of, and I'm glad that we spent time there.
The train ride from Tokyo to Osaka took 2 1/2 hours. Hopefully, it's a clear day so you can catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji, it will be on the right side of the train.
In Osaka, we stayed at an Air BnB in the suburbs, that was easy to reach by Osaka's extensive train and subway station. It took only about 10 minutes to get into the heart of the city.
The most familiar images of Osaka probably come from Dotombori, the pedestrian walkways illuminated with flashy billboards. It was a fun atmosphere and a great place to try street food (gyoza are fantastic...the takoyaki "octopus balls" are interesting...), and drop into dollar stores to buy candies to take home (flavored Kit Kats and gummies are very popular).
Dontombori can be found South of the river in the Namba area. Best seen in the evening when the signs are illuminated.
Another fun thing to do in Osaka is stop at the Umeda Sky Building, two towers that are connected by an observation deck that you reach via elevator ride and an escalator suspended between the buildings.
There is an admission fee and it's open from 10am - 10:30pm. It's near Osaka station.
In the morning we made our first stop at Osaka-jo, also known as Osaka Castle. It's the furthest site from central Osaka, but a worthwhile trip to see the park and the exterior of the building. There is an admission fee to enter the museum inside and is open from 9am - 5pm. But if you're expecting a glimpse of what the interior of a period castle would look like, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Upon admission, you'll be ushered into an elevator and taken to the top floor. The balcony viewing area is nice. But then you'll be directed to follow the floor markings down the stairs. You can stop at each floor and view the exhibits....but the only one that was really captivating was the traditional armor. I'd save your Yen and just enjoy the exterior.
From there, we decided to spend the rest of the day in Nara, a nearby city most known for it's Great Buddha Hall and the local deer. After a 30 minute train ride from Osaka, we arrived in Nara. The walk from Nara station to the Nara-koen park area (which houses the sites you'll want to see) is longer than most will want to walk, but it's pleasant with stores, restaurants, and cherry trees. Along the way, we stopped at a Lonely Planet recommended eatery, Mellow Café that makes brick-oven pizza, which sounded like a welcome change. Also delicious: the spicy ginger ale.
After refueling, we finished our walk to the park and first stopped at the Daibutsu-den Hall, the largest wooden building in the world that houses the Daibutsu (Great Buddha), made of bronze.
The grounds were crawling with deer, and just like Miyajima Island...they were not scared of humans. Little carts even sold crackers to feed to them. Growing up in the country were deer are elusive and jittery, it was quite an experience to interact with them.
We continued to walk around the park, enjoying the photographic moss and lanterns, but then decided that we would return to Kyoto quickly for some souvenir shopping at to have one last dinner at Katsukura.
From Nara, Kyoto is a 45 minute train ride...and then Kyoto to Osaka is 20 minutes.
That finishes up my time in Japan. A very delightful trip...near the top of my favorites list. The food, the people, the sites...all so great. And no need to go with a tour group, it's easy to navigate by yourself and very safe.