Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 7 - Osaka (Friday)

The day before we made the decision to send 2 pieces of luggage straight to Kyoto thus making it easier for us to travel from Hiroshima to Osaka. My wife was a little reluctant to do it but after hearing positive comments from my cousin and the friends from Tokyo about their accuracy and reliability, she agreed to do it. We paid 1790 Yen for the shipment. The hotel receptionist tied the two pieces together making them one large piece (the weight is not so important, the dimensions/volume is what counts) which made it more even more cost effective.

We started developing the habit of stopping by the convenience stores located at stations to buy our breakfast and eat it during our Shinkansen commute. Lots of people do that. You will find traditional bento boxes and onigiris all the way to more western-like pastries which suited more our taste. Other alternatives are the little udon/soba kiosks where people can quickly slurp their way into those dishes before jumping on a train. From Shin-Osaka where the Shinkansen stopped we took the subway all the way to the Tanimachi-Yonchome station where unfortunately there was no elevator to go up to the street level so I had to carry the remaining two pieces of luggage through the stairs. Quite a fatiguing job.

In Osaka, we stayed at yet another Toyoko-Inn which was located right by Exit 8 of the subway, a selection made on purpose. Since we arrived before the check in time, we left our luggage at the lobby (they don’t have a storage area per se, instead they just put a net over your luggage and give you stubs to retrieve your luggage later), and went to the Tennoji station (still using the same Midosuji line) to get some info at the tourist information center.

Our main purpose for staying in Osaka was to attend the Otaue Shinji Matsuri, or the rice planting festival, the only event that we found that would coincide with our travel schedule. They were very helpful at the information center (keep in mind that there is train information desk right before you reach the tourist information center if you walk towards the exit. Of course, I stopped at the train information desk asking for information just to realize that I was at the wrong place). The Otaue Shinji Matsuri was going to be from 1PM to 3PM the next day at the Sumiyoshitaisha Shrine (I actually thought it was going to be held at the Shitennoji shrine which would have been a big mistake). We got some maps, ate something at the train station and went to visit the Osaka Castle (Osaka Jo), which happened to be 15-min away on foot from our hotel.

The Osaka castle was much more impressive than the one in Hiroshima. It definitely had a richer history and its main tower is an important landmark in Osaka’s horizon. On the inside, the exhibits are well structured and they feature an elevator for those who are not in the greatest shape (or for the handicapped). We spent a good amount of time going through the different exhibits (they even have a multimedia exhibit with some sort of re-enactment of life in the old days of the castle). This is a visit that I highly recommend. We also found our first coin souvenir machine (more details in this link: http://www.traded.name/2007/10/07/japanese-coin-souvenir/) and got our first coin there (even though the machine in the castle didn’t allow you to engrave your name like others that we found later did). We tried to visit more of the Castle grounds but many locations were off-limits due to the G8 summit that was held there (http://www.summit2008osaka.jp/english/index.html). So we decided to go back to our hotel, chill out and prepare for the festival on the following day.

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