Osaka seems to be quite a polarising city. There are many tourists who don’t think much of it at all, and then there are the seemingly few that do. I for one, enjoyed my time there, and given that Mother Nature got in the way of my plans whilst I was there, I even feel a little robbed and would like to go back to experience what I missed out on. With just two whole days based in the city, I wasn’t going to waste the nights, and even though I’d been on my feet all day (as with every day I spent in Japan), I had a hunger to satiate and the city streets to explore.
My capsule hotel was in the Shinsaibashi area and from here, there were plenty of brightly lit streets to wander through on route to Americamura and Dotonbori. A large painted mural on the side of a building welcomed me to Americamura which felt like it was geared towards those 1-2 decades younger than me with trendy clothes shops lining the streets. With Hallowe’en 2019 just a few weeks away, there were pumpkins big and small decorating the path and the entrance to the large mall that greeted me. As my eyes adjusted to all the bright lights that bombarded me, I noticed that the street lights were actually made to look like a sort of robotic person. I’d read that there was supposed to be a Statue of Liberty around here somewhere but couldn’t find it, so I decided if I had time I’d come back in the daytime and see if it was easier to spot.
What I adored about Osaka was the immense indoor shopping street that ran block after block, occasionally broken by a road or a river. Full of shops for locals and tourists alike, the place was mobbed. Even though I was hungry, I just drifted with the general flow of people, passing clothes shops, Pokemon stores and eventually getting giddy like a child when I found a large Sanrio store. Funnily enough, I’m no particular Hello Kitty fan at the best of times, but when in Japan, it was hard not to get excited whenever I came across a Hello Kitty store. Over three floors of feeling like a kid in a candy shop, I left with a bag of goodies and continued my search for food. This came in the shape of Luke’s Lobster who had a long line of locals outside it which of course always speaks volumes. I dutifully queued up for my lobster sandwich which I messily ate rather conspicuously outside an empty shop window.
Passing dessert shops and more, I suddenly burst out at the river at Dotonbori, the streets and bridge alive with people. Large neon lights flashed all around me and as I jostled my way to the bridge edge I saw large boats carry people up and down the length of the river. I found myself constantly dodging other people’s photographs, weaving from one side of the broad bridge to the other before pushing on. On the far side of the river I took the main street which was crammed with lights and noise advertising eateries of all sorts. Large crabs and even dragons looked down upon me as I walked. Eventually circling back to the covered street I followed it till its eventual end, past arcade halls and animal-themed cafes before retracing my steps back through the madness to my hotel.
Japan’s ever reliable public transport system whisked me out of Osaka to the west, vaguely following the coast before moving a little inland and depositing me at Himeji. Japan is full of castles, and Osaka itself has one, but before arriving in the country, I had decided that Himeji Castle was going to be the one that I’d properly visit. When I arrived at the station it was a glorious sunny day, and I stepped out to a large avenue that led me up towards the dominant hulk of the castle. Whilst not as busy as Osaka, there were plenty of people with the same purpose and as I neared the castle the crowds congregated and moved on mass into the entrance way. A large lawn greeted us and ferried us towards the ticket booth. As most people made a beeline for the castle, I decided to separate myself from the crowd a little and explore the walled gardens first. I might as well have had them to myself, there was hardly anyone else there, but they offered a huge variety of views of the castle with other buildings and trees framing it.
I discovered that there was a long hallway within the wall of the gardens and this afforded a view out across the city to my left. After walking its length I joined the throngs to head into the castle, first negotiating the route up the hill to the entrance. Sensibly there was a one-way system in place that circled round the various levels, gradually heading up large staircases to reach higher and higher into the rafters of the building. From the very top there was a glorious view across the rooftops, the grounds and the city beyond. I spent most of my time on this floor before finally following the route back down the levels and back outside into the grounds again. I headed next door to the Koko-en gardens, taking my time to walk around before returning to the train station.
A little over half-way back to Osaka, I alighted at Sannomiya station from where I’d planned on catching a bus along the road to the start of a hiking trail I was going to follow. I’d just missed the bus so ended up walking a good chunk of it instead, eventually finding myself at a torii gate that marked the start of my route. Following some quiet back streets, the path eventually cut into Nunobiki Park where it led me to Nunobiki Falls. There are various tiers to this waterfall, the most impressive being the upper one which also has the best viewing spot. It was a small viewing area but thankfully it wasn’t too busy so each of us that arrived was generally able to enjoy the sound of the falls in peace. From there it was a gentle walk through the forest following the lower reaches of the river until I found myself at Shin-Kobe station and a route back to Osaka.
I had long left the sun behind in Himeji, a bank of clouds welcoming me back to Osaka. Before heading out of the station, I took a quick explore inside, noticing that there was a large floral arrangement on display on the upper floor. It was gorgeous, a sea of colour spanning almost the whole width of the upper mezzanine. Behind here was a large department store which I self-consciously walked around, aware I was a little dishevelled from my earlier walk through the forest. I didn’t hang around for long, aware that I was running out of daylight hours. It was overcast but high cloud when I stepped out of Osaka station, cutting through a business district to reach the Umeda Sky Building. I always love visiting observation decks in large cities as I find it is the best way to get a bit of orientation and perspective when ground level swallows you up in a soup of skyscrapers. This particular one is quite a distinctive building too as there are two buildings joined with what looks like a floating escalator system high above the ground.
By now late afternoon broaching onto the evening, I headed up the elevator within the one tower to be greeted by the first of these floating escalators that led me to the far tower. With glass windows, there was no denying how high up I was and I loved looking out at the city as I appeared to float effortlessly higher. Inside there was a good view out over the city and I could see denser and lower clouds move in from the south. This was the start of Typhoon Hagibis which had been all over the news, having tracked in from the south, and having already started to have its effects to the east. This was the second typhoon to hit Japan in the two weeks I was there, the first having hit land some distance away and not having affected me. The country had already made announcements about cancelled flights and closed tourist sites so I knew that the following day, my last day in Japan, was to be an interesting, if not restricted, one. The winds weren’t bad yet, so I was able to get out onto the outside observation deck and enjoy the views outside too as the sky changed colour.
I decided I would stay for the sunset and watch the city lights come on. There was no visible sun to watch set but I figured there would still be a bit of a colour change to make it worthwhile. I parked up with a beer at one of the tall windows inside and mulled over what I would do the next day. I watched planes come and go from a nearby regional airport, and then I got moving again as I saw the light dull in the sky. I’d expected to get a bit of colour through the clouds as the sun set but I was blown away with what transpired. The increasingly inclement sky that moved in as the leading front of the typhoon caused the sky to glow purple. I’ve seen a purple sky occasionally before but this was the most incredible sky I’ve ever seen. To the west some reds and yellows appeared through the small breaks in the cloud where the sun was actually setting, and the city lights began to twinkle on and contrast against the deepening purple of the darkening sky. The purple also reflected off the river turning it a divine shade too. No photo could ever do it justice, and unsurprisingly there was a lot of jostling among the gathered crowd for the best spots to take photos from.
Eventually the colour faded to black but the hint of the inclement weather was still there due to the immense city lights reflecting upwards into the sky. Although I’m not normally a fan of huge cities, I couldn’t deny the beauty of all the twinkling lights that lit up the Japanese sky. I stayed well beyond sunset and became aware of the wind increasing around me. Slightly stupidly I decided to walk back to Shinsaibashi, a nearly hour long walk through a mostly business district until eventually I hit the covered shopping street again. Despite the potential drama of the impending typhoon, the citizens of Osaka seemed unperturbed and I too nonchalantly headed back to my hotel, 7Eleven dinner in hand, unsure what I was going to wake up to the next day.