Last weekend, July 13th – 15th, I went to Osaka with my friend Sam.
Osaka is a city in the Kansai region of Japan—whereas Tokyo is in the Kanto region. (Trivia: Kanto is where the first generation of Pokemon games takes place.) In Kanto, they speak standard Japanese—the kind of Japanese you’d be taught in your Japanese language classes. There are some different dialects and vernaculars, but places in Kanto generally follow the same pattern of speech.
Kansai is another matter. The language they speak is very different. I mean, it’s still Japanese, but sometimes the intonation is different and verbs conjugate into something almost unrecognizable unless you had studied Kansai-ben (the Kansai dialect).
For example, Japanese verbs are conjugated into the negative like this:
- Dictionary form: tabe-ru (to eat)
- Short negative form: tabe-nai
- Short negative form in Kansai-ben: tabe-hen
Hen? Where does that even come from?
Some more quick facts about Osaka: It’s the third largest city in Japan, and it’s San Francisco’s Sister City (no wonder I love it!).
Osaka is known in Japan for a few things. One of those things is Osaka-ben (a form of Kansai-ben). It’s also famous for takoyaki and okonomiyaki, which are delicious.
The other thing Osaka is known for is its people. Japanese people outside of Osaka think of a very strong stereotype when they think of Osakans. (Osakans? Is that a word? It is now.) They think Osakans are rude and loud. (People also tend to think this of Okinawans. Yes, Okinawans is a word now, too.)
Here is an overview of the stereotypical differences between Tokyo and Osaka, as written by someone who grew up in Osaka.
What I noticed about people in Osaka is that they’re more direct (which Japanese people interpret as rude, but which I interpret as saying what you mean so people understand you) and friendly. Way more friendly. When my friend and I were looking at a map, someone came right over and asked us if we needed help. The same thing happened several times over the course of the weekend, and it was always appreciated. It seems like maybe Osakans can sense feelings better—or maybe they just pay attention and can actually empathize with others (which I’ve discovered is a problem in Japan; a few Japanese people have told me that Japanese people pretty much can’t empathize with other people).
Osaka is also more friendly to foreigners, and they don’t really care what you look like or where you’re from. They don’t have that bias as much as in Tokyo. I don’t think my friend and I were stared at in Osaka—at least not very often. But in Tokyo, where you think they’d be used to foreigners, I feel like I’m being stared at all the time. I never felt uncomfortable under people’s gazes in Osaka. It was nice.
Sam said that many Americans feel more comfortable in Osaka, because it’s sort of like America. (Obviously there are differences, but directness and friendliness certainly contributes to this feeling.) I definitely felt more comfortable there.
After spending three days there, I think it’s safe to say that Osaka > Tokyo. Osaka is to San Francisco as Tokyo is to Los Angeles. It’s. Just. Better.
But what is there to do in Osaka?
Located right on Osaka Bay, this aquarium was friggin’ awesome. The habitats were amazing, and they had so many different species! The layout of the place was really nice, too. It takes you through different regions, and you start out at the top (taking an escalator all the way to the top of the building) and make your way down.
As we went through the exhibit, I really wanted to swim with all the animals. I’m seriously starting to think that my being a fish is a problem. I feel like that one character in that new swimming anime.
I was waiting for the jellyfish the entire way through (making me just like another anime character who I’ve mentioned before), and I almost thought they weren’t going to have any, but then we found them.
And then I told Sam everything I knew about jellyfish.
Things I learned about Osaka (and/or Japan) at the Aquarium:
As for Osaka, I was surprised by how many people pushed. It was crazy! In Tokyo, people never push—touching other people is probably the worst thing you could possibly do. But in the Osaka Aquarium, children were pushing through my legs like crazy. Adults rarely did it, but it happened sometimes. It was weird. So I can sort of see how Tokyo people might think Osaka people are rude. Sometimes they come off that way.
And I don’t know if this is just for Osaka, or if Japanese people are like this in general, but goddamn, people do not know how to read signs and/or treat animals with respect. There was a touch tank, and I was getting so pissed off at some people, because the signs clearly said (and in Japanese! Why can I read them and they couldn’t?) to touch the sharks and rays only on their backs and to not grab their tails. And people were grabbing them all over the place! It was terrible! I love touch tanks, but I couldn’t stay in that room for long because people were making me angry. Like, let’s try not to harass the animals with shark teeth and stingers. ‘Kay?
Again, I don’t know if that’s Osaka or all of Japan, because I’ve never been to any other aquariums in Japan. But jeez…
Tempozan Harbor Village Ferris Wheel
I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea, but I really wanted to go on the world’s largest Ferris wheel.
It’s a 17 minute ride around at 112.5 meters-tall Ferris wheel, and you guys, why do I do these things to myself? It’s like when I got to the top of Tokyo Tower and realized, “Oh shit, I forgot I’m afraid of heights and WHERE IS THE GROUND OMG.”
I tried to focus on the pretty view, but I was crouching in the middle of the car pretty much the whole time, because no way am I getting near the edge. Thank God the windows had bars on them.
Anyway, here’s the view.
After that, we went to Osaka Castle! This would be our last adventure of Saturday, sort of. The last planned thing, anyway.
Even so, we arrived a little too late on Saturday to walk around inside the castle, so we had to come back on Monday.
Totally worth it.
First of all, why are there even castles anywhere else, because Osaka’s is definitely the best. Check this shit out.
It makes Tateyama Castle look like a… a… I don’t even know! A cardboard box! Look at that gold!
Also, it has a moat.
Scratch that: It has two moats.
It also has a local history museum, which looks like a European castle.
And it has a time capsule. To be opened in 5000 years. You silly people! Humans won’t be around in 5000 years! Sigh.
There was a shrine inside the castle grounds, too, complete with a tree full of wishes.
When we came back on Monday, we weren’t really allowed to take pictures inside where all the historical and cultural presentations were, but there was a viewing deck at the top of the castle.
Man, that castle was great. I told Sam, “All right. So now all I gotta do is conquer this castle and fill it with books, and then it’ll be my house.”
At the end of the day on Saturday, we headed to our hostel. Sam didn’t realize, but he had actually stayed at this hostel before!
IM Guest House was a good place to stay for cheap. It was pretty conveniently located—just a short walk to the train station in a roofed shopping street. Our room was rather large for our purposes, though it looks small in this picture.
My only complaint is that it was kind of dirty. I mean, it’s a dorm, but it would have been nice to use a clean shower.
That said, it was perfectly fine. And the staff was super friendly. When we first walked in, no one was at the front desk, but someone was cooking in the back. Sam and I were too timid to say “Sumimasen” (Excuse me), so we waited for a while, and then finally I said it (after a lot of hesitation). The man who was cooking came up front to greet us and was surprised that we weren’t Japanese, since we said “Sumimasen.” Haha! After that initial wait, they were awesome and helpful and sweet. Yay! I would stay there again.
Speaking of Accommodations
I should talk about traveling to and in Osaka.
Sam and I decided to take the shinkansen to Osaka, because fuck the bus. The shinkansen was expensive (about 260 USD for a round trip), but it only took 2 hours, compared to the bus’s 8 hour trip. You get what you pay for, and time is money, right? All that jazz.
The shinkansen was totally worth it, I think, and I recommend it to anyone traveling that far in Japan.
After that, we just took trains and walked around Osaka. It was convenient, and I don’t feel like we ever had to walk very far, but then again, I like walking. The only really long walk was when we were in Osaka Castle Park. That place is huge.
The only problem we had was finding lockers for our luggage. Shin-Osaka is lacking adequate space for luggage, especially considering it’s a central travel place! On Saturday, we found a locker, but Monday (when we had to check out of our hostel in the morning) was terrible. After spending way too much time looking for lockers at several stations, we finally found one outside of Osaka Station. It’s lucky we were going outside of the station anyway, and as it was, we only just got there as someone was vacating their locker.
So a tip: If you’re going to Osaka (or going anywhere), pack light.
Because you might have to carry your luggage around Osaka Castle Park. (Which is what we had to do on Monday. We found the locker after our second castle trip.)
On Saturday night, we mostly hung out in our hostel room, because we were tired. When we got hungry later, we went downstairs to ask for any restaurant recommendations, and one lady recommended an okonomiyaki restaurant just down the street. She gave us very easy to follow directions, but as we were walking, we ran into a local matsuri.
There was a mikoshi and probably a dashi somewhere and hella street food. So we had a decision to make: Restaurant or matsuri food?
The answer is always matsuri food.
It was at this local matsuri that I realized how much friendlier Osakans are than Tokyo…ans.
(That’s a word now, too. I looked up Orlando, Florida, because that also ends in an O, to see what you would call people from a place ending in O. Orlandoans. So: Tokyoans.)
Often in Tokyo or Chiba, whenever I enter a store or walk up to a booth, the people there always look really nervous. They’re probably afraid that I only speak English and that they don’t speak enough English to communicate. But I think they also might forget that I’m a person too, and maybe if I don’t speak Japanese, I’m just as afraid as they are. But I’m still trying, and that’s what is important—trying to communicate. :) So they really don’t need to be afraid. It’s actually a little irritating that they get so nervous and close-mouthed (and sometimes a little rude), but I’m trying to be understanding. Still, it makes them seem super xenophobic. Not a good way to be in an increasingly globalized world.
But at this Osaka matsuri, no one was afraid or nervous. They were just like, “Okay, what’ll it be?” No fear in their eyes or hesitation, no looking away and trying to ignore us as we approached (like we’re bears or something). It was a refreshing experience. I was treated like an actual human being. XD
So it was a lot of fun to walk around the area and see the local people doing their thing. It was exciting, because I got to try Osaka matsuri food, and it was a little different from the matsuri food in Minamiboso! At least, as far as I’ve seen. In Minamiboso, most of the food has been pretty generic (yakisoba, takoyaki, french fries, crepes, more yakisoba). At this matsuri, I got to try some yummy little cakes and a cheesey egg roll thingy and donuts. Everything was delicious. I feel really lucky that I got to see a local Osaka matsuri!
Also, Tomiura was having its matsuri that weekend, and I was missing it, so I’m glad I got to see a matsuri at all. Next year, though, I can’t miss Tomiura’s!
Osaka Art Museum and Osaka Science Museum
Sunday was museum day. Yay! Art! Science!
We originally planned to do one museum on Sunday and another on Monday, but then we discovered that they were right next to each other.
First, we went to the National Museum of Art. It was a really neat museum! One floor was pretty much a tour of art over time. It was a lot of Western art, which was cool, but I was hoping to see more Japanese stuff.
My favorite part of the exhibit was a project by Mieko Shiomi. It was called “Spatial Poetry.” She basically sent out calls to writers, artists, and poets from all over the world, asking them to participate in her project. She gave them tasks to perform—like writing something on a card and placing that card somewhere—and then asked that they write to her and tell her the details of what they did. After that, she made a map that showed where all the participants were and what they did. It was a really awesome project that brought people together and asked them to do something that would leave the world different from what it was before.
I was totally digging it.
After that, we hopped across the courtyard to the Osaka Science Museum.
I totally forgot to take pictures, because I was too busy enjoying SCIENCE. There were a lot of interactive displays, and it was really fun to mess around with everything. I love science museums. Even though it was all in Japanese (scientific Japanese, so no way was I going to understand it), it was still great.
Osaka Station Pokemon Center
On Monday, we checked out of our hostel and had a lot of trouble finding a locker for our luggage. We ended up taking it to Osaka Castle with us, where they had a luggage check before you went inside the castle. After that, though, we went back to Osaka Station. We had to walk across the street to another station, so we left the building and—dun dun duuuuhhhh!—we found a locker!
The mall attached to Osaka Station has a Pokemon Center—the largest in Japan, apparently?—so we went to check it out.
There were so many people!
And so much Pokemon stuff. Wow. It was ginormous.
It had started to rain, so I said, “If we see a Pokemon umbrella, I’m gonna get it.”
And then we did.
YES. Eevee umbrella. Done.
I actually would have preferred an umbrella that could fold up and fit in my purse, but this would do for now. But then when we went outside, it wasn’t raining anymore! Gah! (And also later, I found an awesome fold-up umbrella that had a katana hilt for a handle. Oh well.)
Dotombori is a shopping area famous for… some really weird stuff.
We mostly looked for omiyage around this area, because Sam wanted to get something for his friend, and I wanted to get something for Mike. Osaka is Mike’s city, and even though he actually went to Osaka less than a week after I left, I thought I should get something for him.
I really liked the area, and I wish we could have spent more time there, but unfortunately, we had a shinkansen to catch.
So that was the end of our Osaka trip! I will totally come back to Osaka again.
Because I <3 Osaka.
Cost of the Trip
This is going to make me sound like a rich person, but I should break down the trip cost so anyone who wants to travel around Japan knows the approximate cost of a trip like this! So here’s what I spent over that three day weekend.
- Round trip bus ticket: 4700
- Shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka: 13000
- Lockers at Shin-Osaka and Osaka: 400 (split 400×2 w/ Sam)
- Approximate total train ticket cost for three days: 2000
- Hostel: 8033 (split 14793 w/ Sam)
- Shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo: 13000
- Subtotal: 41133
Entertainment & Shopping Expenses
- Aquarium & Ferris Wheel ticket: 2900
- Art Museum ticket: 420
- Science Museum ticket: 400
- Pokemon Center umbrella: 1200
- Omiyage (for myself & others): 3581
- Combini & Market runs: 2400
- Food (restaurants, matsuri, street vendors): 5800
- Subtotal: 16701
Total: 57834 yen (Approx. 578 USD)
So not bad! At least compared to my $700 Kyoto trip last fall. It did not need to be $700—they definitely splurged a little on the shinkansen (we had classy seats) and the hotel.
inaka n. “countryside.”
Kansai n. region of Japan located here:
Kansai-ben n. a dialect of Japanese. “ben” means dialect.
Kanto n. a region of Japan located here:
katana n. Japanese sword
matsuri n. “festival.”
okonomiyaki n. often called a “Japanese pancake.” Haha! You usually make it yourself on a grill at your table. It’s my favorite thing to eat in Japan, I think.
omiyage n. “souvenir.”
Osaka n. a city in Japan. I think it might be my favorite city in Japan. Out of the three cities I’ve been to anyway (Tokyo, Chiba, Osaka).
shinkansen n. bullet train. The preferred way to do long distance travel in Japan.
sumimasen v. “Excuse me” or “I’m sorry.” Used as away to apologize or to get someone’s attention. I think we use “excuse me” the same way in English. I tend to use this word a lot.
takoyaki n. little dumplings that have octopus inside (tako = octopus). It’s delicious! They were invented in Osaka.