Osaka Castle Park
The grounds around Osaka Castle are great, it’s a massive square park with the huge moat and inner castle area at it’s centre. At the time I was here the sakura weren’t yet in full bloom, but were just starting to come through, which still made for a pretty great sight along the pathways around the grounds.
The park is also full of various food vendors, there’s even a mini Lawson convenience store! Over the moat and on the inner grounds there is a small shrine, a post office stall for some reason, and more yet food vendors. Of course being a sunny day there’s really no other choice but to buy an ice cream from one of the many great flavours available, the grape and vanilla combo got my vote!
There was actually quite a large que to get into the actual castle itself (or rather for the ticket machines to buy entry), something I was quite surprised by as it was much longer than any queues for any other places I’ve seen in in Osaka or Kyoto. Thankfully having a Kaiyu pass meant having fast track and not having to queue! The pass itself is also gives a discount to the castle entry fee (as well as other things in Osaka), and unlimited travel around the city for the day, so it’s worth looking into if you’re planning to hit a few places.
The lie of Osaka Castle
From the outside the castle actually looks pretty impressive, a tall building raised up on a platform of large stone slabs that form its defensive wall. Up close it really is an impressive structure, the only anomaly is a rather modern lift to one side of it. However the second you step inside you start to realise something isn’t quite right, the fact that inside the castle there’s a row of vending machines is the first clue that this is somewhat more modern than you might expect!
A glance around the first floor of the castle then reveals no old wooden floors or walls, but instead painted stone and concrete, and that’s where it all actually becomes clear. Osaka Castle is actually a replica, the original building was destroyed and a concrete replica was built in it’s place, housing a museum inside it. Now if I’d read anything about the castle anywhere I’d have known this, but this was quite a surprise to me as I honestly wasn’t aware of that fact, I had always just assumed Osaka Castle to be the original building.
As a result this building is really more just something nice to look at from the outside, and from the inside it’s really there as another observation deck of Osaka. There’s no real cultural or historical feel to the place, as inside it is just a modern museum, there’s really nothing to suggest you’re in a castle. There are some nice artifacts inside, but it’s so small and crowded that inside it really does just feel like a tourist trap.
I’m glad I went, but it’s just not somewhere I would revisit if in Osaka, the park maybe, but not re-entry into the castle museum. Though it is a nice view from the 360 degree outside observation deck, and with a nice breeze it is a great way to see Osaka’s skyline and the park below.
Osaka aquarium & Tempozan bay area
Making use of the unlimited travel courtesy of the Kaiyu pass, it was time to take the metro (probably still via Shinsaibashi even though it was on a different line) to explore the Tempozan bay area of Osaka on the Western edge of the city, that amongst other things, was home to the Osaka aquarium.
The most noticeable thing as you enter the area is a giant ferris wheel, I don’t know exactly how tall it is, but it can’t be far off the size of the London Eye. (And it has the advantage of being in Japan). At it’s base is a large shopping and restaurant complex, Tempozan Market.
It pretty much covers something for everyone. Entertainment in the form of arcades and prize machines, I think there was some sort of Legoland thing too. There’s a range of shopping, from clothing and general stuff to suvioneer and gift things. And of course there are plenty of cafes, restaurants and food places. There’s a large food court and a food area of restaurants that has been designed to look like 1950’s streets of Osaka. Outside there are nice courtyards, fountains and seats to just sit and enjoy the sun.
One place I will recommend is at the ground level of Tempozan Market, on the Osaka Aquarium side, there is a café on the corner with outside seating. They do pancakes that are out of this world, and probably one of the best coffees I’ve ever had! I stopped here near the end of the day, and the Berry-Berry pancakes with cream, along with a nice latte is an unbeatable combo while sitting outside in the evening sun!
Osaka Aquarium: The journey to the centre of the earth!
From it’s outside Osaka Aquarium is a relatively moderate sized looking building, certainly a building which makes you think “Yup, that looks big enough to hold a lot of fish”. As it turns out though the building is just the tip of the iceberg, as after you go up the stairs to enter, passing through a great water tunnel, you begin to descend. The path winds it’s way down far below ground (probably below under the sea next to it). I’m not sure how far down the paths went, but you could feel the temperature drop as the tunnels sank further below the water.
Inside you get to see an pass pretty much every aquatic and underwater based animal that exists (that we know of anyway, let’s face it there’s a tonne in the ocean we haven’t discovered yet). In the early sections you pass by otters, penguins, seals, dolphins and sea lions.
As well as an animal for which I’ve forgotten the name of but looks like a giant cute guinea pig / hamster. (this \/ )
The lower depths tunnel their way around a massive section filled with a variety of elegant manta rays, sharks and a single large whale shark.
Near the lower levels there were a few smaller rooms containing other various fish, all impressive in their own ways, and things like luminous jelly fish.
There was also a tank of giant spider crabs which I’m not going to lie, my initial thought was “I bet they’d taste amazing if cooked one of them”.
The great thing through the aquarium was that it was big an spacious enough, that even with quite a few other people around it didn’t feel packed. The walkways were wide, all the walls were glass so there was no issues with viewing to the sides, there was even a café halfway around. The place was massive! Well worth stopping by if you’re in Osaka.
Originally after the aquarium the plan was to jump on a ship for a tour of the bay area, but having underestimated just how big the aquarium was meant that upon exiting that ship had sailed. Not a metaphor, the last ship for the day had literally gone out on it’s final tour as the sun set over the bay.