Japan II – Exploring Osaka

After exploring Okinawa Island, I took a plane to Osaka where I set up shop for the remainder of my time in Japan. I took two day trips to Kyoto and Nara (more on that later), but stayed in Osaka the entire time.

Thankfully, accommodation is not as expensive as it is in Tokyo (even though Osaka ranks as the second most expensive city in the world to live in after Tokyo), so I was able to get an extremely cheap room as I once again had to travel on a tight budget. It was just a tiny room with a futon bed and a shared shower, but what more do you need? I was on my feet all day anyway and got up so early that I never really had to wait to use the shower, so it was all good.

Osaka is the second or third biggest city in Japan (depending if you count commuters or not), has a population of about 2.7 million, and is a major cultural and economic center of Japan.

Let’s start with some random impressions:

Being back in Japan also meant I could once again gorge on my favorite Japanese snack, Edamame. They’re a bit harder to come across back home, but in Japan you can get them in every convenience store, and I took full advantage of that.

While I never visited it, the Osaka Zoo also left a lasting impression on me due to the extensive advertising campaigns for it in many subway stations. Who doesn’t like butts, after all?

Furthermore, it seems impossible to not run into hilariously named German shops in Asia. Unfortunately, I never met Willi.

Of course, even though their density is not as high as in places like Kyoto or Nara, there are also a bunch of temples and shrines in Osaka and I visited a few.

Among them is also this shrine featuring a giant lion statue. A fantastic photo opportunity. I had forgotten what it was told, but googling “Osaka shrine giant face” immediately points you in the right direction. It is called Namba Yasaki shrine.

Speaking of Namba, one of the sights I wanted to see was Namba Parks. I have really enjoyed spending time in parks, and this one appeared to be quite popular. But finding it was a bit of an adventure.

Actually, that wasn’t so bad. I followed Google Maps and it led me to this. That’s clearly the entrance to the park, so I’m just gonna go in there and…

…wait a second. That’s unlike any park I’ve ever seen.

So yeah, I accidentally walked into a horse racing betting office. Not quite what I was looking for, but an interesting experience too. I had decided not to partake on a group trip to a horse race with a group of students back in Korea, so I guess this inadvertent visit made up for that. I left the building again, rather confused. This park clearly has to be right here, but all there is is a giant mall!

And after all, you can’t really stand right in front of a supposedly quite pretty park and not see it, right? Well, I had once again not fully taken into consideration that I was in Japan. Land is limited, the population density is very high and parks take up a lot of space, so the only logical solution to this problem is what? Build the park on the roof of the mall. Obviously.

I’ve discussed before that I enjoy towers or other high spots from which you can look down on people and things, so I obviously also made a trip to the famous Osaka Skytree. The view is fabulous, and the elevator ride is also an interesting experience as it starts out as a regular (closed) cabin and then the wall suddenly disappears mid-ascent and you realize that you are on an outside elevator and can look at the city as you race up the tower.

 

Nightlife

I’m not exactly into nightlife and had to get up very early each morning to get through my program, but I was able to experience at least a little bit of Osaka nightlife, primarily on Doutonbori Street. These are a series of streets running along a canal that constitute Osaka’s premier entertainment district. Busy streets full of people, gigantic flashing neon signs, countless restaurants with often very flashy pictures or sculptures mounted on top of them – this is pretty much exactly what you would expect from a Japanese entertainment district, and walking around here in the evening is a blast.

This billboard in particular is iconic and sometimes used as a symbol for Osaka, as it has been around for 70+ years.

 

Osaka Castle

To me, Osaka Castle became the heart and soul of Osaka. The castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmark, and for good reason. The castle grounds are quite large and contain castle walls and vast park areas. The central tower is a spectacular sight.

Nishinomura Garden in particular is a great place to sit down and just stare at the Castle for a bit.

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I also took some pictures holding a katana in front of it, which I will never ever upload. Since the pictures were free and someone took the photo for me, that seemed like a less awkward social encounter than asking some random passerby to take a picture of me in front of the castle. My brain works in mysterious ways.

… alright, here it goes.

(I’m not sure what poor Paul Giamatti did to deserve this)

The Castle is illuminated at night, which also makes it a fantastic destination to visit after sunset.

You can also go inside the castle. It has been repurposed as a museum and there are various exhibitions inside. You can also step on a viewing platform and get a great view of the sorrounding areas.

Here, you can see Osaka-jo Hall. This is the place where I realized another big dream of mine – seeing a New Japan Pro Wrestling show live. More on that in a bit.

 

The Fighting Games

I had scheduled this entire trip around the NJPW show on 6/19. However, there was no apparent way to buy tickets online for non-Japanese speakers and a sell-out was expected, so I had mostly made peace with the fact that I would probably not get to see it. I went to the venue the day before, only to find out that the arena does not have a ticket office. Oh well. I had made sure that I would see some rasslin’ either way, since I went to a Big Japan Pro Wrestling show the day before.

Seeing BJW in a little community center was also a surreal experience. It’s one of the promotions I probably still know the most about after not having followed the scene for years and years. However, I have been fortunate to see many of its most prominent wrestlers in Germany. I’ve probably seen Daisuke Sekimoto wrestle live close to a dozen times over the years, so it was a great and surreal experience to be able to actually see him in Japan. The show was, like every other show I went to in Japan, a ton of fun. A surprise appearance by comedy genius Kuishinbo Kamen was a fantastic surprise, and even the two (rather tame) deathmatches were a lot of fun, as I was just able to turn off my brain and laugh at the absurdity unfolding before me.

However, things get serious quickly when a bleeding Abdullah Kobayashi starts stumbling towards your seat and you quickly have to jump up to avoid getting bled on. Phew.

BJW was a ton of fun, but the real main event was still to come. Turns out I was still able to get my hands on a ticket and enjoy DOMINION in Osaka-jo Hall. The arena was full, the crowd was absolutely buzzing for the epic Naito-Okada rivalry, and it was an incredible experience to witness it all live. Of course there were also some awkward social interactions to be had as I snuck into a TenKoji autograph session to see if I could get a picture out of it. No dice.

The show was fantastic. A particular highlight was seeing two of my NJPW favorites from the time when I was still really into puro live: Katsuyori Shibata and Yuji Nagata. Against each other, no less!

The main event was also a fantastic and tense match that ended with a big surprise that sent the Osaka crowd home happy. After that, I strolled around in the Castle for a bit, and that ended my time in Osaka. A great time was had.

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