Today was Neil’s first full day in Japan and we knocked on his door just after 9am to get the fun started for the day. We headed towards Nimbooshi station, purchased 3 day passes and went to catch the Sakaisuji Line to go to Osaka castle. There was still a decent walk to get to the castle at the other end, through the Castle gardens.
Karen was just saying that it would amazing if there was a Starbucks in the Gardens when we came across a large one. Much to Neil’s annoyance, we made a stop as we hadn’t had a proper drink so far today. The weather was beautiful so we sat outside enjoying our drinks. Whilst Karen had been ordering these I had been into a cafe next door and bought some savoury pastries/buns to eat with the drinks. These were not a great success but I at least tried. I had a peculiar German Sausage thing in a very greasy roll. I ate it in defiance to the others with a smile on my face. In reality it wasn’t great and we won’t be buying those again.
Before heading to the Castle, Karen had her ‘wombling’ to do. We had christened the task she had of separating all the different items of rubbish into the correct bins in Starbucks. It was most complicated and everyone scratched their heads as they tried to work out where to put various lids, then the cups, then any plastics, then any food waste, then everything else into separate bins. As ever a most efficient system. One of the other things we had noticed was the general lack of waste bins anywhere on the streets. Yet there was no rubbish anywhere on the paths or streets. Nor was there any like chewing gum suck to pavements or despite all the smoking any cigarette butts. At the end of the day I have now got used to having to empty all my pockets of all the rubbish I have accumulated into the Hotel waste bin.
We then headed into the Castle. It was not a Castle that we would recognise as such. I think all proper castles should look like Norwich. This looked like a mixture of a shrine and a pagoda. It was white and still impressive though, even if it had had to be rebuilt several times for different reasons. The best feature were the enormous stone walls surrounding it.
These steep walls measuring 35m tall must have made it impenetrable alone, without the deep moat that surrounded it. One of the pieces of stones that had been used to build one of the inner walls was 59 sq meters. It was enormous. Goodness know how they managed to shape it and then manoeuvre it into position.
The grounds were fairly busy with people. You could pay to go into the Castle itself but most of the floors were a museum which did not interest any of us, however the 7th floor was an observation platform and that tempted us. In the end after some deliberation, the fact that it looked a long climb up steps in the heat plus we knew we planned to go up a higher building with a better vantage point later in the day made up our minds not to bother. Instead we walked all around the building and decided it looked better from the outside than it would have done on the inside. There was another large building that housed the gift shop and some food outlets that we looked around and Karen got herself an ice cream.
It was then a decent walk through the grounds and out the other side to the JR local line station. From here we caught the JR local loop train around to Umeda to visit the Umeda Sky Garden.
As we exited the station I noticed that I was suffering from 'holiday leg' again, as I had blood on my shorts. This infliction which is peculiar to me is one the many problems I have with my legs. It is caused usually on holiday by carrying too much in my shorts pockets and that then rubbing on my skin grafts. This takes the top layer of skin off, as I have no surface feeling I don’t realise that is happening. The first time I am aware is either when I take my shorts off at the end of the day or if I notice a blood stain as I did today. It can get quite messy and sore. Discreetly I checked and found that I had taken only about a square inch of skin off. Fortunately Karen had a supply of plasters on her, so I used one of those to protect the worst of the damage and removed some of the items I was carrying in my pocket into the rucksack.
The building was still a fair walk above, but as we approached it we could see how spectacular it looked. It was named by The Times as one of the Top 20 buildings in the world. Essentially it is two sky scrapers built next to each other, joined at the top by a donut shaped ‘garden in the sky’. This donut was actually built on the ground and then when the towers either side were completed, hauled up by cranes to give connection between the two. Then to finish it off, the access is via escalators at the top in glass tubes criss crossing from one to the other. To me it looked like it should be in a Bond movie. Apparently constructing buildings in this way makes them stronger and less prone to earthquake damage. There are plans at some point to build a third tower and eventually a whole network of these towers all linked in the sky in a similar fashion.
Trying to get actually up to the Sky Garden was not straight forward and we were not the only ones having difficulty in trying to find the correct route through the ground floors at the entrance. Strangely again, you go all the way to the top, including the amazing escalators before you get to a point where you have to pay. I suspect some visitors may get to that level, get 95% of the view for free and just go down again.
Instead we paid the fee to be able to walk up one additional flight of stairs to be able to walk outside around the actual Sky Garden. It was so worth it. Despite the height the weather was still lovely and warm. We could see for miles to the edge of Osaka in all directions. There were so many trains running along different lines at the same time that we could see it made it look like a model railway.
After spending a good amount of time enjoying the view we went down to the cafe on the floor below to have a quick drink before making our way down the building. We went to the basement of one of the towers to some old recreation of the original Osaka laid out with restaurants. It was as boring as Neil had predicted.
From here we slowly made our way back to the station. Before catching the Metro back to our Hotel, Neil wanted to visit the Pokemon Centre which happened to be at Umeda station. This was a whole new world to me. I had no idea what the characters were about or what the background was. It was full of some very excited Japanese adults and children with baskets full of brightly coloured soft toy weird looking creatures they were buying. Then there were a load of people at specially set out tables playing some form of card game. Neil said the best way for me to understand it was that it was a form of ‘Top Trumps’, but in this case some of the individual rare cards were worth many thousands of pounds each. My positive thought was that they were at least interacting with other people rather than sitting at home playing games online all alone.
We then caught the train back to Namba and headed for the food department in a large up market department store. Again it was quite an eye opener. We had no idea what most of the items were. Indeed for some of it I wasn’t sure if you ate it or rubbed it in. Karen & Neil were both taken by some of the cakes, but left them for another time. We eventually bought some fruit and then left. Cutting through Ebsubashi's shopping street, we came to Rikoru's which is a famous Japanese 'wobbly' cheesecake store. They make 12 at time every couple of minutes during the day and people queue up for the fresh ones out of the oven. When the fresh ones are ready out of the oven, they ring a bell as they brand their logo onto the top. I joined the queue and purchased one of the hot ones for 725 Yen (about £5) and we took it back to the Hotel with us. Neil described it a not sweet and tasted a bit of scrambled eggs. They both enjoyed it though and left about half of it to have the next day.
Before heading out agin we spent some downtime in our rooms and then went for a walk around Donoturi in the dark. It was unbelievably busier than ever as the neon lights dazzled all around. There were people everywhere.The covered walkways of shops seem to go on forever in all directions with people buzzing everywhere. We wandered along the canal for a while and got to the Running man neon sign again and this time took some pictures of it lit up. Amusingly everyone strikes the running man pose in front of it, so we did the same.
Following this we wandered to an Italian restaurant we had made a reservation at earlier. I think Neil’s bravado at wanting just to eat traditional Japanese food has waned somewhat since he has been here and seen it. Our Pizza's though were very good (I had a Bismarck) and cooked in a wood oven. The service was terrific and the staff came outside and bowed to us as we left.
Then tired but content for the day we walked the short distance back to the Hotel. This trip has been a good one for walking so far. I am averaging well over 15000 steps a day, and Karen even more with her shorter stride.