Sakura, slides and steak in Osaka

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If you fancy a trip to temples, then Kyoto is the place for you and if you want variety in a vibrant city, then head to the bright lights of Tokyo. But if you’ve already experienced both and just want to have some good old fashion fun, then why not explore what Osaka has to offer.

Just watch out for the scores of locals playing Pokémon GO. The rest of the world has moved on from that phase, but here they still take it very seriously – try not to get in the way of a senior citizen who’s about to catch Pikachu!

Osaka Castle & Park

Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most iconic buildings. It was originally constructed in 1583 and during our visit in April it was surrounded by a pretty impressive 600 cherry blossom trees. These lips don’t lie – sakura, sakura was everywhere.

I must confess that we didn’t go in the Castle, as the children were more interested in watching the street performer, who I couldn’t decide whether he was actually very bad at doing tricks or just excelled at pretending to be.

If your family are culture vultures and you did want to venture inside, then for those 15 years of age and under it’s free and for adults it will cost RM23. In return for the entrance fee you will get access to an observation deck, that offers panoramic views from 50 metres above the ground and get to marvel at the many artefacts that are on display. Find out more about the Castle here.

Once you’ve ticked off the Castle from your to-do list, within walking distance is a fantastic park. It may not have been around as long as the Castle, but my children found it infinitely more impressive and exciting. The metal roller slide was something special. And because the sun wasn’t burning hot, nor was the slide, so they got to go on it about 3000 times, without burning their behinds.

If you’re planning on taking a taxi, then the address is -1-1 Osakajo, Chuo-ku. However, if you don’t mind a longer walk, then catch a train on the JR line to Osaka station and change to the Osaka Loop Line to Osakajokoen.

Don’t worry if can’t spot the Castle from the station; you’ve got to walk past the Osaka-jo Hall to get a glimpse of it, then just walk towards it, taking in the Plum Garden along the way.

Kids Plaza Osaka

If the weather drives you indoors or you just want to spend time somewhere cool, then I highly recommend a trip to the Kids Plaza Osaka. It’s the top thing to with kids in Osaka, on Tripadvisor, for a reason. It describes itself as the first museum in Japan dedicated to children, where they can learn through play. The Gaudi style play area is pretty unforgettable.

Whilst the Plaza will not particularly teach you anything about Japan, it was a lot of fun. I have spent my fair share of time in museums and play areas in various corners of the globe and I can honestly say that this was one of my favourites. It’s so rare to find something that captures the imagination of both adults and children in equal measures. Not once did either my children or husband complain of boredom or follow me around trying to root into my handbag for snacks – so it must have been good!

Unlike a lot places, you’re allowed to take in your own food. But if you’re not that organised like me, they will let you go out to eat and come back in later. And like everywhere in Japan there is a selection of vending machines near the eating area, that will supply treats to tide you over.

You can discover this rare gem for yourself by visiting 2-1-7 Ogimachi, Kita, Kinki. It’s very near the Ogimachi Station of the subway Sakaisuji Line, use exit 2 when you arrive.

To avoid disappointment, don’t visit on the 2nd and 3rd Monday of the month, when it’s shut. Unless it’s a public holiday on those days, then it closes on Tuesday that week instead. An adult ticket costs around RM54 for the day and for children aged 3 years or over the price starts at RM19. They don’t accept cards, so you will need to pay by cash.

And as if the Kids Plaza is not enough, then directly outside you will find Ogimachi Park, with the steepest of slides for the more adventurous and some smaller versions for the more risk adverse.

Downtown Dōtonbori

We couldn’t leave the city without a quick potter around downtown Osaka. It turns out that everyone else had the same idea. The Arcade that runs on Dōtonbori Street next to the canal is home to some of Osaka’s most famous restaurants and their eye catching outer shells.

Food for thought

We took our photos and made a swift exit to a more quiet street nearby, where we found a restaurant that served just one steak dish with side orders. I guess this is not the place for you if you like variety or if you are vegetarian. But if you’re an indecisive meat eater, then it is perfect. The food was tasty, we didn’t have to spend half an hour choosing what to eat and the kids loved cooking their own lunch. It was just a small place that we stumbled upon. You can find it at just a stone’s throw away from the Starbucks on Japan, 〒542-0076 Ōsaka-fu, Ōsaka-shi, Chūō-ku, Nanba, 2-chōme−2, 難波2丁目2−3.

As with everywhere in Japan, there is so much delicious food on offer. A particular guilty pleasure of the area, that came highly recommended by a Japanese friend, are the Osaka octopus balls. I gave them a go. I think I would have enjoyed them more, if I hadn’t seen one of its friends at the aquarium in Kyoto the previous day.

Where to stay in Osaka

We stayed at the Hotel Keihan Kyobashi Grande, which we found on Booking.com. Whilst the room itself was nothing special, it was clean, conveniently located next to Kyobashi Station and there was more than enough room to swing a cat (although clearly we didn’t test this theory). You will be especially grateful for a decent sized room if like us you’ve stayed before at one of those teeny tiny rooms in Tokyo.

How to get there …

We flew from KL into Tokyo with Air Asia X and returned also with them from Osaka. The non-stop flight takes around 6 hours and 45 minutes and costs from RM711 for a round trip to and from Osaka. The train from the airport to the city took us less than an hour and it was pretty easy to work out.

If Osaka is not your only destination in Japan and you are planning on riding more than one long distance train, then you may want to invest in a Japan Rail pass or JR Pass. This is a very cost effective rail pass for long distance train travel in Japan. The pass can only be used by foreign tourists and offers unlimited use of JR trains for one, two or three weeks for a fraction of the normal price.
You will need to pay for it in advance and collect it when you arrive. I received recommendations for the following two Malaysian travel agents that can help organise a pass for you: JTB and HIS Malaysia. Using one of the many online JR pass calculators will soon tell you whether investing in a pass will pay off. We didn’t get a JR pass, as we weren’t returning to Tokyo, having opted to fly back from Osaka instead.

The train ride from Osaka to nearby Kyoto, takes a fraction of the time and costs peanuts in comparison to the ride from Tokyo to Kyoto. So if you are skipping a trip to the bright city lights of Tokyo and just travelling to experience the old world charm of Kyoto, it is definitely cheaper to get there by flying in to Osaka.

We enjoyed our short stay in Osaka. There is enough to keep you entertained for a day or two. If you want to extend your trip time in this city, then you might want to visit Universal Studios Japan, which could include a magical time at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. If you can, try to avoid a visit during the stifling heat of the summer or the cold winter months. If you visit in spring, you may be lucky enough to witness for yourself the parks peppered with beautiful blossom, which incidentally your kids won’t remember because they preferred the awesome slides!

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