The First 24 Hours – Osaka
I’ll be the first to admit that our time in Osaka started out rough. After finally clearing customs and making our way into a taxi, we were met with blank stares by the taxi driver who didn’t seem to understand “Westin” or “Westin hotel.” It wasn’t until I pulled out our hotel confirmation that he seemed to understand where we wanted to go. Although it seems silly in the age of smartphones and wifi-everywhere, I still print out hard copies of our entire travel itinerary when we travel and keep them in a binder for this very reason – to pull out when there’s a glitch or other issue with a reservation. Although 99% of the time I never need the hard copy, on the occasions where I have needed, it has been very handy. I’ve even had reservation representatives thank me for having hard copies with confirmations numbers that they can take with them when trying to sort out an issue.
We had no set agenda in Osaka, nor did we have much of a plan. We knew that it was the second largest city in Japan and that it was more of the business/financial district than a tourist destination like Kyoto or Japan, so after unpacking and freshening up, we wandered outside on foot to explore. Admittedly, we elected not to get into a taxi because we had no set plan and also because we feared more language woes.
Luckily, we stumbled across two things that really made our 24 hour stay in Osaka:
We spotted the large orange/red ferris wheel in the distance and, although I have a pathological fear of heights that precludes me from ferris wheels (including enclosed ones!), my husband and son enjoyed the ride.
After the Ferris Wheel, we walked around the surrounding area, the Tempozan Harbor Village, where there were lots of shops and small businesses. We stopped for ice cream and then just continued to walk around the area. One interesting thing that we came across was the Umeda Sky building with walkable bridge. Although we did not elect to take the walk across the sky bridge, it is definitely something older children would enjoy.
After a few hours of wandering around on foot, both my son and I were tired and wanted to go back to the hotel to rest. Although my husband wanted to go out for dinner, my son and I elected to just go back to the hotel for the night. I don’t recall what we did for dinner that night, but I do remember that the thought of venturing out again and trying to find a place to eat was just too overwhelming.
The next morning, I woke up early due jet lag and poked around online looking for things to do. We weren’t scheduled to depart for Kyoto by train until later that day, so we were looking for something interesting. I found that there was a Central fish market in Osaka that was a smaller scale version of the famous Tsukiji market in Tokyo.
As it was already 4:45 am, I knew that we needed to get a move on things if we wanted to see the good stuff! I quickly got my husband on board, woke our son up, and we went to the front desk to request a cab. Upon entering the cab, we encountered the same issues we had experienced the day before – the taxi driver did not know where we wanted to go. With the help of hotel reception (who thankfully spoke English!), we were soon on our way.
Pulling up to the fish market was somewhat terrifying as it was still dark and there was no obvious sign of where we were. It looked like the cab driver was dropping us off in a commercial area with no apparent signs of life.
I had no idea where we were going, but headed towards the one big building off in the distance. Upon entering the building, we quickly realized we had entered the right place. We found ourselves in a huge room filled with all kinds of sealife in various stages – from living to flash frozen and ready for shipping!
We were the only tourists there and stuck out like sore thumbs. The fishermen were incredibly friendly and, although not a one spoke English, they were happy to see us and encouraged us to take photos. At one stall, the fisherman even invited my son to pet the living King Crab that was trying to climb its way out of the ice box!
If you find yourself in Osaka, this is a must see experience! Not only was it much more manageable than the Tsukiji fish market sounds, it was much more personal experience. The only difficulty will be trying to find out where you’re heading and, as this blog post from June 2016 suggests, the signage hasn’t improved since we were there in March of 2014!
After finishing up at the fish market, we were starving as we had been up for a few hours and hadn’t eaten a thing. One of the websites that had recommended the Central Fish Market suggested a small place called Endo Sushi. Although sushi sounded awful for breakfast (and still does), we were in Japan and I figured, hey, if they were selling it, it must be good!
It was somewhat difficult to locate Endo Sushi (the website says after “entering the area of the Osaka Central Fish Market, please go towards the left side of the building”), but after wandering around the block a few times, we finally came across it. We were quickly seated and presented with a menu.
Although the proprietor did not speak English and we got some curious looks, we had no trouble ordering one each of #1 and #2 – never under estimate the power of pointing your index finger!
Our food came quickly and was outstanding; I also loved the novelty of the bowl of soy sauce, with the brush that we used to gently brush soy sauce onto our nigiri.
Now, you may be wondering what kind of 4 year old eats sushi for breakfast? My answer? I don’t know. Endo Sushi is located in a strip mall, and I ducked into a small corner store just a few stores down that happened to have a variety of sweet and savory rolls (the bread kind, not the sushi kind). I picked up a few rolls and brought them into Endo Sushi, where my son happily sat and munched while we enjoyed our sushi. Nobody seemed to mind that he was there, and they even offered him some miso soup, which he was happy to devour along with his roll.
By the time we finished eating, it was time to head back to the hotel, gather our things, and go to the train station. It was a relatively easy walk to the train station, where we purchased our tickets to Kyoto. Figuring out what tickets we needed was a bit difficult given that the signs were all in Japanese. The only things we could decipher were the names of the stops (Kyoto) and the prices in yen, but we had no idea whether there were different rates for children versus adults. Luckily, each Japanese train station has two things that proved immensely helpful as we were traveling through the country: 1) a staffed window with a knowledgeable and friendly transit employee, ready to help, and 2) extraordinarily friendly Japanese passengers who were willing to stop and help us purchase our tickets when we were confused. We took advantage of their friendliness and willingness to help whenever we could and that really made getting around Japan less stressful than it would have been without their assistance.
Although our first 24 hours in Japan started out rough and was overwhelming, I wouldn’t hesitate to go back to Osaka. It is a perfect starting point for a trip across the Island, and I highly recommend the Osaka Central Fish Market as the perfect first day in Japan adventure – since the Fish Market opens so early and you’ll likely be jet lagged, it’s a great thing to do when you’re awake, but most of the rest of the world is still sleeping. Moreover, the fishermen seemed to genuinely enjoy that we had our son with us and went out of their way to show up things – like the friendly king crab!
Continue to Part IV – Three Days / Two Nights in Kyoto