Osaka

Osaka never disappoints

In May 2017 I visited Osaka for a third time, and it definitely wasn't the last time. After visiting Tokyo twice, and Osaka twice as well (prior the recent trip), it was obvious that I was rather the Osaka-kind-of-person. This time I wasn't walking around all day with a camera in my hand. I enjoyed my little moments in the city, observing people, having coffee, eating street-food, and meeting up with old and new friends at night.

My recent trip to Osaka wasn't meant to bring back home the best photos or videos, to convince my friends and blog followers how awesome the city is. People who have been following my posts on this blog or on Instagram, should know by now that I'm a big fan of Japan. 

After being around most corners of Osaka, there wasn't much left to discover, however I never felt bored while walking through the streets of Namba. Let's start with the coffee places.

This was the first time, where I was hunting for good and hip coffee places.

The best coffee bars I visited were located in Amerika-mura (american-village). As you can figure out by the name, the neighborhood is heavily influenced by the western world. It's packed with western clothing brands, american bars, but the hippest coffee spots as well. My favorite bar was "LiLo Coffee Roasters" because of it's interior design; the staff was very fluent in english, and they had too many coffee-accessories for sale. Right next to Lilo's place, was another awesome coffee bar called "Streamer Coffee Company". At first sight from the outside I thought it would be a skateshop pimped up with a coffee-corner. I gotta admit that Streamer actually had the best coffee I tried in Osaka. It's not as cozy as Lilo's corner, but it's definitely worth a try.

Arashiyama

What would a trip to Osaka be without witnessing the beauty of Arashiyama? Arashiyama is well known for its spectacular bamboo forest. The bamboo forest actually doesn't take that much time to visit, think about 15-25 minutes. It's always hard to get a descent photoshot of the path leading through the forest, because there are just way too many visitors, any time of the day. However Arashiyama is always on my list, when visiting the Kansei region. I just love the whole vibe of the village: mountains, rivers, cute little shops, food stalls, japanese people dressed up in kimonos.

For the first time, I decided to visit the monkey forest. You gotta walk up a very steep hill for about 25 minutes, til you reach the top of the monkey place. You'll get a beautiful view all over Arashiyama and Kyoto. You'll get the chance to feed the monkeys, who'll be eating out of your hands. The coolest thing was that the visitors will walk into a cabin, that feels more like a cage, and you'll be feeding the monkey from the inside through the fences of the cabin. So it doesn't feel like a zoo, where animals are captivated for the visitor's pleasure. The monkeys are jumping and climbing freely around the cabin. Those monkey hands felt like baby hands grabbing for food, it definitely was worth the way up to the mountain.

If you're looking for the "kawaii" (which means cute in japanese) side of Japan, you should stop by at the Katsuoji Temple. I heard stories about it many times, but never made it to the very north of Osaka, because it takes about 90 minutes to get there. You gotta use two different trains which will lead you to the Senri-Chuo station. Outside of Senri-Chuo station you will have to catch a 40 minute bus-ride that will drop you at the entrance of Katsuoji-Temple. However the last bus will leave the train station around 3pm or 4pm. As lucky as I usually am, I had to use a taxi (single fare was 35 euro / us$). I left the temple about 5pm, and bad luck stroke again. No buses after 5pm, no taxis around the temple. Me and a 14 year-old chinese boy walked down all the way to the city. The walk took us almost an hour. I couldn't speak chinese or japanese, and the chinese teenager couldn't communicate in english or japanese. But at the end we somehow managed to jump on a bus, that brought us back to a train station after almost 2 hours. 

After visiting a couple of japanese cities, you easily get fed up with temples. Katsuoji however was different, in a funny way. The whole place is packed with daruma dolls, which creates a unique atmosphere. 

The daruma dolls at Katsuo-ji Temple are called "Kachi-daruma" (winning daruma). The darumas are eye-less goodluck charms. People are supposed to draw an eye on the doll's face when they make a wish, and draw in the other when their wish comes true. When one's daruma-doll gets both eyes drawn in, it should be brought back to the temple. 

Last but not least, the Taiko Bridge of the "Sumiyoshi Taisha" shrine. Again, after having witnessed numerous temples in Japan, it gets harder with each trip to be impressed about wooden temples. I have just seen to many temples in Japan. However I haven't ever seen a round bridge like the Taiko Bridge in Osaka. The first one I have ever discovered was outside of Asia, at the Japanese Garden in San Francisco. That's why I decided to jump on a train towards the Sumiyoshi shrine. In my opinion, the shrine didn't blow me away. However the bridge sourrounded by trees and a pond was worth the shot.

 

Nightlife in Osaka.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, that one fact that I really enjoy about Osaka is its nightlife. I mean it's not always that easy, to get in touch with japanese people. Some of them are too busy for a conversation, some are too shy or insecure to communicate in english and some don't understand any english at all. Most of the japanese people, that I had the chance to get to know, were having a drink in a bar or they worked as bartenders. It's just the perfect place to get into a chitchat. In Osaka it's even possible to bump into the same person on the same trip, which hardly ever happen in any other big city.

I wouldn't brag about Namba for being the best place to go out, because there are just too many streets or bars left to discover. Some bars or clubs will always remain undiscovered for many tourists, because they aren't barely visible from the outside. I remember a club called "Bambi", where a french expat took me to. We took an elevator to the 7th floor, and as soon as the doors of the elevator opened, we stepped out right into a club. It's very common in Japan to get on top floors for having dinner or a drink. That's why locals know the best places to check out.

As far as my experience goes, I'd recommend these places while going out in Osaka. They're all reachable by foot and only a couple of minutes separated from each other.

Bar Zerro {Namba}

The Zerro Bar is a bar packed with locals, tourists, and expats. It's usually very busy. Most of the bar tenders are pretty fluent in english. Every time I went for a drink I met people from all over the world. It's not the coolest place, but if every other bar is empty, you'll definitely find some people at Zerro.

Cinque-Cento (500) {Namba}

Cinque-Cento means 500 in italian. That's where the bar got its name from, because every drink or meal on their menu costs 500 yen  (4 € $). The drinks are served in average size glasses, and they don't look as fancy as in a cocktail bar. But you can get a Moscow Mule or a Maitai for a very fair price. All of the bar tenders were very friendly and easy to talk to. While drinking and talking to them, they could tell you some fascinating facts about Japan. "500" easily became my favorite bar in Osaka on my last trip. And yes, you also get some finger- & fast-food for 500 yen.

 Mustang-Bar {Amerika-Mura}

On my recent trip I didn't make it to Mustang, because I couldn't leave "500" and because Mustang is located in Amerika-Mura, the neighbor-area of Namba. But on my two first trips I had a blast at Mustang. The main reason was most definitely because of the bar-owner Neil (or Neal), an expat from Israel. Neal is high probably the craziest dude in Osaka. He used to be very entertaining and made every customer laugh with this harsh jokes. "Mustang" is a very small bar, recognizable by its ceiling, which is covered by hundreds of hanging bras. Apparently drunk women started to undo their bras, and hang them on the ceiling. I guess it's just another prove how crazy it can get at Neil's bar. 

Kamasutra Karaoke Bar

The last episode of my nightly adventures took place at Richard's Karaoke Bar called "Kamasutra". Richard is an expat as well. And it was damn funny coincidence that I made it to Kamazutra. Six or seven years ago work colleagues told me about their crazy night at a karaoke bar where they were introduced to the bar owner called "Richard". After a drunken night at 500, some japanese people took me to a karaoke bar. It was my first time ever at a Karaoke bar. After ordering another round or trinks and starting a chit-chat with the man behind the bar, I figured out his name was "Richard". I took out my phone, to check out if the photo of my friends at "that" Richard's place was the same one where I was sitting. Richard burst out laughing, because he was still remembering the night where my colleagues were visiting him. "Those crazy guys from Luxembourg... that was a hell of a  night!". Sometimes the world just seems so small, when coincidences like this one happen. I went back to Kamasutra one more time before leaving Japan. I had a blast every night!

Kyoto & Osaka & Nara

In my last two years I visited 8 cities in Japan. If you plan on spending only a couple of days in Japan, I totally advise you to visit these 3 cities: Kyoto, Osaka, Nara. 

 

Osaka would be the best city for your hotel. It's located inbetween Nara and Kyoto. Both cities are reachable with a 40 minutes train ride. Osaka is the most laid back city of all three, and it offers the most entertaining nightlife. Beautiful nights are spent just next to the Dotonbori river, which is surrounded by a universe of neon-lights and the longest shopping gallery I know. Both sides of the river are packed with restaurants and bars, and several bridges that connect both parts of Dotonbori. Not to forget about the famous Glico-Man neon sign, which attracts too many people for some photos & selfies. Another famous area for nightlife or day-time shopping would be Ameri-mura, a fusion of an americanized japanese neighbourhood.

Osaka hasn't as many sights to offer as Kyoto or Nara, but still Osaka is a very charming city. Visiting the Osaka Castle, will easily take half of a day. The castle is surrounded by a huge beautiful park,  a very lively area. Familydays are spent in the park, group activities, mediation groups, or just sit back and enjoy the different fountains across the park.

There's another area I'd recommend after sunset in Osaka, the Tsutenkaku Tower. The neighbourhood of the Osaka tower, is prettiest at night, because of the street-lights, infinite lanterns, and the crazy neon signs. The alleys are packed with restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops. Some locals told me that it would be the run-down area of Osaka. Frankly I didn't have that impression. 

For cultural daytrips and unforgettable sceneries Kyoto is the right place! Kyoto is often refered to as the cultural heart of Japan. Not less than 2000 shinto and buddhist shrines & temples are spread all over the city. Ok, I gotta admit, after I've visited the 10th temples, I had enough.  

For my self the most memoral sights in Kyoto were the following places:

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine: The world famous path of orange torii gates, leading you to the top of mount Inari which is 233 meters above the sea level. 

 

  • Arashiyama Bamboo Groove: The bamboo forest of Ashiyama is one of the most beautiful forests I've ever experienced. It isn't the largest forest, it only takes you 15 minutes to follow the path across the bamboo forest. But it's all worth it. Expect lots of tourists on the path, and it isn't easy to get a decent photo of the bamboos without any visitors on it. Enjoy the village of Arashiyama, and the lovely alleys packed with shops, and delicious restaurants. Everytime i'm in the area, I plan on spending half a day at Arashiyama, such a divine place.
     
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple: It's not the biggest temple, but one of the few I highly recommend to visit. It's not the size of the temple, but rather the golden coating of the temple, surrounded by a beautiful natural environment. The mix of nature's green, and the temple's golden shine, is just the perfect spot for your photo camera.
  • Gion & Kiyomizu Temple: I'd recommend visiting the Gion neighbourhood, better known as the Geisha district, and from Gion walk towards the Kiyomizu temple. Very likely you will run into a couple of geishas or maikos [apprentices], or probably just japanese tourists dressed like one of them. Some shops offer a kimono-rental-service, which gives you the possibility to look like a geisha for a day. In Kyoto a geisha is also called a "Geiko", a geisha from the western part of Japan. The Kiyomizu is a big impressive buddhist temple on top of a hill, it's worth the visit. But as I mentioned before, after 10 different temples, I had enough.

 

Last, but not least! Nara.

Nara is a mix of Kyoto and Osaka. A very laid back and quiet city, which feels different than the city-life of the two previous mentioned cites. Lots of natures, temples, lakes, and too many deers. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Nara, were the deers. I wanted to get a selfie with a deer so bad!

The parks of Nara are filled with over 100 deers. You're allowed to pet and feed them. The deers are so tame, that even little kids aren't scared to touch them. The funniest part would be the bowing [a sign of showing gratitude], if you start bowing in front of the deer, they will bow as well... well, mostly if they get a deer-cookie in exchange. You gotta witness Nara in real or just through images, words can't describe how beautiful that place is. I had the chance to visit Nara during the sakura season [cherry blossoms], it was an unforgettable daytrip. When I got back to the hotel, I noticed that I still had missed so many spots in the beautiful city. I need to get back one more time!