|Infamous red bridge at the Zen Ruanji Temple|
It just so happened that my Thursday and Friday classes were canceled (they had tests of course) on the weekend sandwiched between my daughter's 10th birthday and my 41st. So wasting no time I secured the approval for two personal days and promptly booked return tickets to Osaka for 3 nights and 4 days.
I researched a lot of options for excursions we could do, but our stint terse and having to balance the fancies of both me and my daughter, I didn't do everything I could of. We didn't go to the Aquarium, the Ferris Wheel or any of the zany shopping malls like Shinsaibashi or Dotonbori. (Shopping in a mall is less important on my radar and even less on hers.) I would of liked to see the iconic Glicoman, but she thought it way too touristy (it is) which was code for her being too tired and wanting to return to our ryokan. If I had more time I would of loved to catch a traditional Edo period puppet bunraku show and see Shitennoji Temple.
The flight was brief and affordable on the budget Peach Airlines. We landed in terminal 2 and took the airport bus to terminal 1 and walked down to the buses into town. The bus was the cheapest and most convenient option. The airport bus limousine (as they call it) was pretty affordable at $13 USD a pop (1,550 yen/ 427USD adult and 780 yen for child). It took us directly to Amagasaki station which was one station away from the stop closest to our ryokan (Deyahsiki station) The airport had loads of female attendants freezing on the bus platforms who pointed the way. Yes it was bitter, around 2 C at night and 11 during the day.
|Train leaving Umeda station last day|
|Z in front of Takeyaso Ryokan|
We arrived around 3 on Thursday, so we just hopped into a little mom and pop cafe (literally, they were the cutest old couple) around the corner and used pointing and body language to order anything on the menu.
The only character my daughter knew was beef and they were out. What a pleasant surprise to have lunch, our first meal in Osaka being the local specialty of Okonomiyaki, savory pancakes full of everything and anything; cabbage, shrimp, fish, whale, octopus, squid, chicken and pork.
sMy daughter somehow communicated chicken for herself and I just let the old lady give me whatever she wanted. I'm not sure what my meat was, sort of tasted like kidney, but I'm afraid it might of been whale.
|Lunch day one: Okonomiyaki!|
Our closest communal bathroom was charming with a nippy stone walkway, requiring wooden geta sandal clogs to reach the toilet hidden behind an ancient wooden hatch door. Needless to say, the numbing toilet seat wasn't heated unlike most toilets in Osaka.
|Ice skating detour, Osaka Station|
Day 2 was all about Universal Studios. We got their shortly after they opened and hit the first rides.The lines were massive, but worth the wait. We hit all the rides we wanted to except the space ride which was changed, we certainly chose not to see any shows. It was lucky to start out at the Back to the Future ride because that was the least exciting. Then we hit the Spiderman ride, and then the big roller-coaster, the Hollywood Dream Ride. It was my kid's first, real big roller-coaster and she was so scared she was utterly silent.
Shamelessly we dorked out at the Harry Potter section which was fabulously recreated; the train, the shops, the haunted bathroom stalls, even butter beer was served. The 2 adult rides there were also good fun, despite the wait. My phone counted over 12,000 steps that day. We had another noodle dinner at Universal City just between the train station and park entrance. There was a little bit of a stressful situation. I needed to hit an ATM, having spent all my pocket money on food in the park, I didn't have enough for the train fare back. Insanely, the 2 ATMS near the park entrance and Universal City convenience store didn't take either of my cards. We went to one of the several hotels and they also had no ATMs. I was afraid I might have to beg for coins back to our inn. Fortunately, the ATMs inside the station took all the usual, international cards. After another blessed sento bath and having the owner loan us a heater, we contentedly slept.
Day 3 was about some history and culture. To my kid's dissatisfaction we passed by the history museum, it was just too big and we hadn't enough time. So we walked around the grounds of Osaka castle, took some cheesy photos of Z with a Samurai and found our way to the empty and sublime Peace Museum.
It was a small space with exhibits on 3 floors showcasing World War 2's impact on the civilians of Osaka. It was certainly sobering. They had an interactive bomb raid shelter which scared my kid and yet surely wasn't realistic enough having just read the testimonies.
|This painting resonated a powerful reaction to both my daughter and I. Its titled, " I was Lifted Up by my Grandmother."|
In the afternoon we headed north out of the city to Minoh (Minoo) and meandered up a 3 km path to a waterfall- I'm a sucker for waterfalls. It was a lovely saunter along a river with shops sporadically built along the way, with forests all around and even some statuesque redwood looking conifers. There were mysterious trails everywhere and I imagined if I lived here I would certainly make weekend trips to explore them all.
The terrain was like a combination of southern California (the sunshine and dryness) with northern California (the redwoods and cold). Our first stop was an insect museum which Z was thrilled about, followed by the red bridged Zen Ruanji temple complex.
Its hard to believe this quiet bliss is only 30 min away by train from Umeda Station. I read how crowded it gets when the maple leaves blaze crimson in the fall. We had most of the temples to ourselves and certainly most of the walk too. There were mostly old people exercising, walking briskly, jogging and a few families pushing strollers. Although there were blue skies, most of the path was shadowed in forest which made the temperature quite cold, colder than Yilan.
|Ruanji's red bridge behind me|
|Ruanji Zen monk|
Near the waterfall we splurged for the local nibble of deep friend maple leaves in sweet batter (momiji tempura).
We dined on sushi on our last, night per request from my kid at the other mom and pop place around the corner from our ryokan. We eat sushi in Taiwan and of course miso, but even now we still rave about that simple meal. The tuna was so fresh and the color so ruby. It was served over a bowl of rice with powdered white sesame and seaweed they pounded with a mortar, so their little diner, the size of my bedroom smelled of soothing sesame. I got a local bottle of beer to wash it down with. The miso was rich and dark barley based, so very hearty and unlike the more sweeter, lighter miso of Taiwan.
Our last day we had to check out around 9am and with lots of time to s
pare (our return flight was at 4pm) I decided to take the train south to one of the oldest Shinto shrines, Sumiyoshi. It dates back 1800 years, with a moat and sacred bridge. It had a busy carnivalesque feeling. There were breakfast stalls and a plant market before the sacred red bridge. I was impressed by the bonsai cherry trees. What botanical superpowers!
Whats really special about these temples is because they predate the arrival of Buddhism, their architecture bears no influence from the mainland. They are quintessentially Japanese.
I had no one to explain to me the various rituals, but I guessed their holy of holies was the oldest construction in the inner courtyard. Worshipers threw coins money into the central pit and paid to walk thru this small construction which was closed by transparent plastic. Priests in traditional clothes assisted people with their short pilgrimage where of course they took of their shoes. Being a temple traditionally devoted to travelers and fishermen it seemed only fitting we should be here before our flight back to Taipei.