Our time at Tokyo Disney Resort is at an end. But the vacation continues! What’s the next goal? Getting to Osaka.
Let’s go through the steps. First I check out of the Hilton and enjoy a breakfast.
Then I take a free bus to the Tokyo Metro station near Ikspiari.
It’s suddenly very overwhelming attempting to not only decipher the metro map, but to also get a ticket using the weird old analog machines. It reminds me of early Atari controllers, which had 50 buttons when the NES then came along and featured 5. (The NES in this analogy is the Hong Kong Metro.) Once I get it figured out it’s never again confusing, but there’s still Osaka’s equally old-school ticket machines to learn later today.
Dragging my luggage behind me, it’s over a mile through the metro station interior to reach the Japan Rail Pass distribution office. This is the most important step.
The Japan Rail Pass is offered exclusively to foreign tourists, granting them unlimited free trips on the Shinkansen (bullet trains) and JR Lines for the duration of their stay. Better still, you don’t need reservations for the Shinkansen; just hop onboard and treat it like a city metro. Hypothetically, the entire country is now available!
Of course, the Rail Pass isn’t free. It’s still cheaper than any alternative. I had to buy it a month out, and have a voucher mailed to my home. Ya gotta plan! But if you do, and you give that voucher to a distribution office, you’re all set.
Ten minutes later, I’m happily aboard the Shinkansen. This is my speedy solo pace. No portion of today’s journey has been self-explanatory, and I’m often interpreting colored kanji characters to determine my route. Yet somehow I always decipher the right route, a vacation skill I’ve had since childhood. The confusion level is just high enough to be engaging.
The bullet train is famously fast, traveling at airplane speeds on the ground. You’d think that’d be exciting, like the “Beyond the Infinite” sequence in 2001 or something. It’s really quite banal, like riding any old train. And the distance from Tokyo to Osaka ain’t short. It still takes over 2 train hours to get there. Also, I regret never getting a pic of an arriving Shinkansen engine, but, well, they’re fast!
How fast? One paragraph later, I’m in Osaka!
And one half hour following that, I’m in the Dotonbori district. For the entire train ride in, I watched Tokyo’s crisp blue skies slowly transform into ominous storm clouds. Now, as I ascend a subway staircase into the city, I’m caught in a fierce and powerful rainstorm! Worse still, the weather app suggests these downpours will be here for my entire three days in Osaka. Grumble!
Breaking out my umbrella, I beat a hasty path across neon-lit alleyways towards Ibis Styles Osaka, the next hotel. I’m doin’ Ibis again, just like Hong Kong! It’s undoubtedly a downgrade from Hotel MiraCosta. In fact, my room is tiny – two twin beds crammed against each other next to the window, a mere 2 feet from the TV wall. The bathroom door opens outwards because the toilet blocks it. When seated on that toilet, I cannot close the bathroom door because my knees are through the doorway.
But I’ve selected Ibis Styles intentionally, not for luxury but for location. Dotonbori, street food central, Osaka’s main nightlife and entertainment hub set along a canal. It is a complex of narrow pedestrian streets. Animated billboards and neon signs abound. Even in the rainy daytime, devoid of raucous visitors, the area pulses with energy.
First though I need to see Osaka Castle before it closes at 5, come rain or sleet or hail or brimstone. So forget holing up in Ibis Styles, I set forth with my trusty bumbershoot. With time fleeting, I pause for a quick fried snack – fish-shaped dough filled with red bean paste. With the icy cold rains, it sure warms me through.
From the subway station nearest to Osaka Station, it’s still ¾ mile or so to the great feudal castle itself. Most of the trek is through ancient castle grounds, past monumental moats and through gate houses. It’s raining like the dickens. Already I’m soaked. Still I press onwards, out of stubborn pigheadedness or masochism or just a drive to make every part of this vacation count. I’ve had travel companions in the past who would’ve retreated to the hotel ages ago (if they’d have even been willing to reach Osaka), but I’m gonna see the sights come literal high water!
Oh, and taxis weren’t an option on medieval castle grounds. I guess I could’ve taken an overpriced rickshaw, which honestly would’ve been neat, but by now I was really relishing the rain hike. I haven’t been this wet in public since Hong Kong! For another heat-me-up along the way, I pause at a skewered meat stand just before the inner gates and I select a whole grilled squid. It was warming, had nicely spiced teriyaki, and was delicious. Mmm…squid…
There’s more history to Osaka Castle than I can quickly convey in this format. Various governments have used it continuously from medieval times up through World War II. The interior is a 7-floor museum stuffed with exhibits on these various eras. Were I in a different mood, I’d’ve enjoyed these displays, but immediately post-Disney I was hoping the castle’s interior would directly reflect its historical design…kinda like Kyoto’s Nijo Castle. Nah, it’s a grey-walled modern museum, a Wikipedia article in physical form, which wasn’t all that imaginatively inspiring. The castle’s exterior certainly was, as were the grounds, conjuring up images of life here in feudal times.
This has been a fun little castle outing, feudal but not futile. But Osaka in the daytime is nothing too special. It’s a rather industrial port city, and not especially beautiful. But at night, Osaka erupts into a cavalcade of futuristic anime nuttiness!
Up next: Dotonbori NightsTweet
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