This is a detailed post of my 2 weeks long solo backpacking trip to Japan. Please see preview and itinerary/index of my complete trip on this post
Day 1 – Osaka Castle
Arrival at Osaka Kansai Airport
For first time in my life I wanted my flight to be delayed. My arrival time at Osaka’s Kansai airport was 0210 hours. A direct flight from Singapore to Osaka takes only 6.5 hours. But my flight is a connecting flight via Hongkong. So, I had a short flight of 4 hours.This is a problem with low budget flights, they depart and arrive at oddest hour of the day. But that’s okay, as far as they do not get lost mid way or shot down. Life is all about seeing the brighter side, isn’t it? Well, my Jetstar flight reached Osaka ten minutes before schedule. Immigration was fairly smooth and did not take much time. By 0300 hours I was all set with my passport stamped and check-in luggage delivered. I had no intentions of checking into a hotel as I wanted to reach Osaka castle as soon as it opens and I saw no point in paying one day charge for few hours of stay. Accommodation in Japan is expensive and I am a budget trip. Though Osaka castle opens at 9AM, nearby parks laden with Sakura trees are open to public. So I decided to leave airport with first light of sun. After charging my phone and a few rounds of Kansai airport I got a vacant cushioned seat and I dozed off.
Time to get going
I got up at 0530 with sounds of hurrying passengers. Time to get up and get head straight. As I put my first step out of Kansai airport I realized Osaka was cold. Fortunately airport was well heated and I could sleep comfortably . An over head bridge connects Kansai airport to Osaka airport railway station. Japan has a extensive network of trains and multiple private train operators other than Japan Rail (JR). Each of these operators have different ticket counters and different tickets/passes/offers. After spending 15 minutes looking at various sign boards, I felt completely lost. Not all sign boards are in English. Though I had check various passes offered by train in and around Kyoto regions, I had zeroed in for Kansai Thru Two day train pass for 4000Y. This pass can be used on any two days and not necessarily consecutive. So my idea was to use this pass on days when I visit Osaka/Nara/Kyoto (all covered by this pass) and Kyoto/Kyosan route (all covered). My plan for the day was to cover Osaka Castle and Nara so I activated my pass for the day. I boarded the Nankai railway train destined to Namba.
Tip: Local travel in Japan is pretty expensive. Many private train and bus operators give special discounted passes to foreigners only. You need to show your passport to get these passes and fill a form as well. These passes, if used intelligently, can certainly save you some moolah.
Castle as only seen in movies
After a short walk of 5-7 minutes from Tanimachi 4-chrome Station, I reached Osaka castle. Weather was slightly cold and I was enjoying some respite from Singapore’s heat. Osaka Castle was recreated in 1931 after being destroyed in various wars. I was welcomed by amazing bloom of Cherry tress. Osaka castle is surrounded with Cheery tress so it is a must visit place din Sakura season. It was pretty early for the day, local people could be seen jogging and exercising.
Hanami (花見, flower viewing)
Since it was Sunday, I could see many people just reserving space under Sakura tress to have lunch with families. This lunch/dinner is locally known as Hanami Party. Hanami party is Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers with family and friends over eating and drinking session. Looking at the gathering I could conclude Japanese people social. And the amount of food and drinks they were carrying would be enough for last one full day so they will probably stay here till evening.
All castles, temples, shrines, and parks in Japan have entry fees ranging from 200Y to 1500Y. Welcome to Japan!
Nishinomaru Garden is a lawn garden next to Osaka castle boasting of over 600 Sakura trees. There is a entry fees of 200Y and a moderate size (50 people approx) queue for entry. The night cherry blossom viewing event is held during blooming periods, attracting a large number of viewers. Unfortunately I had to move to Nara for the day so had to miss night Illumination.
Time to move to nearby train station to head to Nara.