Japan at Last: Osaka Day 1

I’ve been meaning to post about my trip to Japan with my husband but kept procrastinating because I didn’t know how to start writing about it! Japan has always been the one country I wanted to visit; heck, I even dreamed of working and living there. Blame it on my being a 90s kid who grew up watching Japanese anime on local TV and eventually discovering manga.

Aki and I went to Japan for our delayed honeymoon back in November and spent a week exploring a few key cities in Kansai. I’ve always been more interested in going to Kansai more than the other regions because I’m fascinated with the traditional culture (food, art, architecture, music). Also, Osaka is in Kansai and Osaka means food (nation’s kitchen!), so of course I wanted to go to Kansai first. 😂

Waiting for our flight

I’ve longed to visit Japan for years, so the moment I saw it from the plane window, I started shedding tears of immense joy. Aki and I arrived late in the evening at Kansai International Airport and took the train to Shin-Osaka, where our hostel was. We stayed at Simple Stay -FUGA Shin-Osaka-Kita, which we booked through Booking.com. Originally, we planned on staying somewhere near Namba so we could walk to most of the places we wanted to see in Osaka, but hotels in the center were, as expected, too expensive. We booked a room on AirBNB, paid for it and all, but the booking was cancelled a few days later because the building management banned AirBNBs from operating. Luckily we found Simple Stay, which was conveniently located about ten minutes away by foot from Higashimikuni Station and about twenty minutes from Shin-Osaka JR Station.

One thing I immediately realized upon arriving: I’d have a hard time without my husband because I can neither speak nor read Japanese. It’s not impossible, of course, but I would have spent so much time figuring things out if Aki weren’t with me. Japan is quite tourist friendly, however. Train announcements are usually both in English and Japanese, sometimes even in Korean and Chinese. Signs are in romaji and most people in shops can speak some English.

Upon arrival, we went to the HIS counter at the airport to claim the Docomo internet-only SIM card I purchased on Klook. Roaming is unreasonably expensive and the SIM was a cheaper alternative to pocket WiFi. It was more convenient too, because we didn’t have to worry about returning it. We got unlimited LTE for 8 days for just a little over PHP 800. Initially, we were going to use Aki’s old Sony phone as a hotspot, but had a difficult time getting it to work, but when we transferred the SIM to his iPhone, it worked immediately. Coverage was pretty good throughout the trip and the connection was fast.

Our hostel room was tiny, but it was just enough for the two of us. We chose futons instead of beds, because they only have bunk beds, and also because I really wanted to sleep on a futon. 😗 We were starving by the time we got to the hostel, so as soon as we checked ourselves in (hassle free self-check in system!), we went to the 7-Eleven right across the street to get something to eat. However, the first thing I looked for was DHC lip cream and skincare products I could use on the trip because I didn’t bring any, because I intended to go shopping for budget skincare products in Japanese drugstores. 😅

On the way back to the hostel, Aki noticed a ramen shop right next door, which awakened a ramen craving. Even after our late dinner of convenience store snacks, onigiri, and cream puff, the craving persisted and led him to check out online reviews and the store hours. When he found out they close at 4AM, he pleaded we go eat again, which we, of course, did.

Kou-chan Ramen
Garlic Tonkotsu Ramen
Karaage
Gyoza

I didn’t have any of the ramen, but Aki said it was good. The gyoza and karaage were also delicious. My first meal in Japan did not disappoint.

The following day, we got up early and dressed for the weather. It was autumn when we were there, and the weather was quite chilly, though comfortably so.

Sunrise in the Land of the Rising Sun. This is the view from the hostel room balcony.
Hot coffee from a vending machine

Another thing I love about Japan: vending machines everywhere. I decided that morning I was going to try as many different drinks from vending machines as I could, and started with a can of hot coffee, which, as I’ve learned from years of reading manga, I used as a hand warmer, because I didn’t have gloves and the weather was a bit too much even for me, who loved cold weather.

We didn’t have a strict itinerary; I only had a list of places I wanted to visit in every city. Our first stop: Osaka Castle Park.

Walking to the Castle
An unkindness of ravens
Hokoku-jinja

We passed Hokoku Shrine on the way to the castle, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the samurai, Toyotomi Hideyoshi. Was I delighted to see traditional Japanese architecture before my very eyes at last!

Osaka Castle

The moment I saw the castle, I teared up. Osaka Castle isn’t even my favorite, but I couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed by the sight of its grandeur. I cried even more when I spotted a shiba inu. 😭 I spotted a lot of dogs at Osaka Castle Park, but only took photos of a few.

Rin-chan
A garden at the park

Because it was a Sunday, there were lots of people at the park, many of whom were tourists like me. They were all headed in the same direction as us, of course: inside the castle. We were there before the castle (which is a museum) opened, so we waited at the smoking are and ate Häagen-Dazs Apple Pie flavored ice cream from yet another vending machine. 🤤

An ice cream vending machine

I’m not sure how long we toured the castle, but instead of taking the elevator to the topmost floor and working our way down to the museum floors via stairs, we decided to take the stairs going up.

After Osaka Castle, we headed for Tennoji Zoo and bought some snacks from a Lawson along the way, one of which was a cream cake roll that Aki had been telling me about for months.

Lawson fried chicken
The best cake roll I’ve ever had

I didn’t take any good photos at the zoo because, contrary to what I expected to see, the animals weren’t in much better conditions as in most zoos, which I found utterly sad and disappointing. We left the zoo a little before lunchtime and exited at the gate across the entrance to Shinsekai.

Gachapon galore
Daruma
Fancy manhole cover featuring Osaka Castle

Takoyaki

I loved how vibrant Shinsekai was. We decided to have kushikatsu for lunch at Daruma because it seemed like the most popular choice and we had to wait in line to be seated. Prior to that, we had our first takoyaki. First because we had takoyaki at least four times throughout the trip. 😬 Daruma turned out to be quite overrated, as the kushikatsu wasn’t anything special. I thought it was still pretty good, but my Japanese husband begged to disagree.

Kushikatsu

After lunch, we went to Umeda to buy my Hobonichi Techo 2019 and a case for my then-new phone.

Grand Front Osaka

Come evening, we finally went shopping for skincare, where I ended spending more than what I thought I would. 🤣 I got a few bottles of Hada Labo Gokujyun Hyaluronic Acid Lotion, DHC lip cream, sheet masks, Biore sunscreen, a bottle of Cure, and Shiseido Water in Lip.

A drug store in Dohtonbori
Dohtonbori
Glico Man

I can’t recall what we had for dinner and where, but we went to the Life next to the hostel before going home and bought snacks and alcohol. Aki says Japan brings out the alcoholic in him. I mean, just look at some of their selections of alcohol.

So. Many. Choices.

One thing I experienced in Japan that is worth noting is how you always have plenty of choices, something which frustrates me about my own country sometimes, because there often aren’t a lot of things to choose from. 😥 There was also a diverse selection of prepacked meals. The best thing is, even supermarket food is fucking good.

Going to Life before heading to the hostel became a brief routine during our short stay in Osaka. We tried quite a number of different alcoholic beverages, my favorite of which was Suntory’s white Horoyoi, which is like an alcoholic version of Calpis soda. And boy, do I love Calpis.

Case in point.

Our first day touring Osaka was just the beginning of an extremely exhausting yet equally wonderful (albeit short) trip to my favorite foreign country.
I expected to see a lot of tourists, but immediately found out my expectations were too low. 🤦 There were countless Chinese tourists, in particular. Here’s a tip: wear comfortable shoes. I underestimated the amount of walking we’d be doing in Japan and decided to only bring one pair of shoes, and a pair of Keds at that. Wrong move, I tell you. 😂

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