Let’s travel with JR-WEST again!

Read my previous blog post on 15 things to do in Kyoto & Nara with JR-WEST Kansai Area Pass. 

Read my previous blog post on how to purchase and redeem JR-WEST Rail Passes online effortlessly!

Today, we are moving on to Osaka and Kobe (Hyogo prefecture). Let’s start with Osaka!

 

OSAKA

1.Take Kansai-Airport Express Hello Kitty Haruka

Assuming you are flying in to Kansai Airport, the best way to get into the city is via the Kansai Airport Express train Haruka, and as I mentioned before, it’s Hello Kitty themed! 😀

You can use your Kansai Area Pass for non-reserved seat. 🙂

Stations: Kansai Airport – Tennoji – Shin-Osaka – Kyoto

 

2. Osaka Station

So you have read about Kyoto Station in my previous post. Now Osaka Station is also a hub of convenience for travelers – you can find almost everything you need here, hotels, shopping, food and more. First of all you will find the information center located at 3F, if you need any guidance.

Muslim travelers can also request for your prayer room here at the information center (yes, there are prayer rooms for muslim visitors right here! ^^).

Located right in front of the Central Exit is the Japan Rail Pass center, currency exchange booth and tourist information center. Everything you need to start your trip with is right here. This is especially useful for people who are unsure where they’d go or haven’t had an itinerary planned out. You can obtain lots of ideas and information here.

There are lots of coin lockers all around the station and the easiest to locate is the ones at Central Exit.

Can you believe that there are 18 coin locker spaces with lockers of various sizes available in the whole of JR Osaka station? That’s crazy a lot! You will never have to worry about not finding an empty locker, and here’s a tip for you!

Go to this website to check the available status of the lockers all around the station, and locate the one nearest to you so you don’t have to drag your luggage everywhere: http://www.akilocker.biz/

Looove JR Osaka station for making tourists’ life convenient.

Nearest JR Station: Osaka Station itself

 

3. Take photo at Glico sign

Ok honestly, I have no idea how or when or why this has become a trend (I mean, there’s also a huge Ninomiya poster on the other side, Teruyuki Kagawa’s face and his fav yogurt, but the running Glico man takes the trophy, why?), but guess what? Let’s just get the damn photo taken so that you can flaunt it to all your friends that you have, indeed, conquered Osaka! 😀

This is the typical spot for the photo.

But for Cheesie, she takes her photo here. Haha. I mean, there are many good spots for a good photo, including in the river (yes you heard it right, IN THE RIVER!). So yea, let your creativity flow!

Nearest JR Station: Nanba Station (it’s about a 10-min walk from Namba Station, check out the video below for direction).

 

 

4. Doguyasuji Street 道具屋筋

Has anyone been here? It’s like the Kansai equivalent of Nipponbashi in Tokyo. The street is lined with both old-fashioned and modern shops selling all sorts of cookware, kitchen goods for those of you who love to spend time in your kitchen!

Woah check this massive takoyaki machine out!!!

Ok another #CheesieHuggingDaikon and mind you, this is the most expensive daikon I’ve ever seen in my life, selling at JPY1980!! Why?? Probably because it is not even a real daikon.

Here you will find a couple of food sample shops selling the most realistic food replica accessories. This is a TKG (tamagokakegohan – rice topped with raw egg) and Ikura Don name card case. What a way to make a first impression and what a great conversation starter at business gatherings!

 

Nearest JR Station: Nanba Station

 

5. Hozenji Temple 法善寺

Located nearby Doguyasuji is the city’s popular temple called Hozenji, where people come to pray for protection in business and also a happy marriage.

There’s a very special way to make a prayer – first you scoop some water from the ladle provided and pour the water over the statues.

As a result, as if the statue is a plant which gets lovingly watered everyday, it started to flourish and turn mossy green all over. How interesting!

Nearest JR Station: Nanba Station

 

 

6. Naniwa Exploration Cruise

Tired of walking? Go on a cruise!

The 90-minute Naniwa Tanken Cruise brings you around aqua metropolis Osaka! The ticket is sold at JPY3000 but do remember to flash your JR-WEST Pass for a JPY500 discount!

I recommend taking the cruise around evening time as you may witness one of the most beautiful citiyscape sunsets and as the sun goes down, you enjoy a completely different Osaka vibe with all the neon lights lit up.

There’s actually one more unique thing about this cruise – you will be guided by a “Rakugoka” – Japanese comedic storyteller. Unfortunately it is only in Japanese but the Rakugoka was so good that he had me laughing in stitches. I’m sure even if you don’t understand you’ll be entertained by his way of humor expression.

Oh also? When you pass by the Glico sign now lit up brightly, don’t forget to snap a photo!

Nearest JR Station: Nanba Station

 

7. Climb Tsutenkaku Tower 通天閣

If Abeno Harukas is Kansai’s Sky Tree, then the very retro Tsutenkaku is equivalent to Tokyo Tower of the metropolis. Built before WWII (and rebuilt after its destruction), Tsutenkaku is the symbol of Osaka’s nostalgic showa era.

While I have passed it by many times for sure, this is my first time climb up to the observatory deck.

While the tower itself is nothing new to visitors, the view from the deck over Osaka city’s skyline is pretty impressive – a stark contrast between modern and retro.

Surprise! Did you know that there’s an outdoor Japanese garden at the top too?

The area around Tsutenkaku called Shinsekai – literally “New World” (ironic because this night district cannot be any more retro haha) is also good for a stroll and an opportunity to take very symbolic Osaka-like shots without too many tourists in sight like Shinsaibashi.

Nearest JR Station: Shin-Imamiya Station

 

8. Eat the Original Kushikatsu

Of course, anyone who has been to Osaka before probably already tried one of its most famous specialty – Kushikatsu – deep-fried skewers.

This is Daruma, one of the most famous Kushikatsu shop and this branch at Shinsekai near Tsutenkaku is the very first original shop!

I don’t know how I am soooooo incredibly lucky, but I got a seat right away (I heard that usually the queue is pretty intense!!) and ordered its 15-stick course meal. It is really delicious!

Nearest JR Station: Shin-Imamiya Station

 

9. Universal Studio Japan

This iconic theme park needs no further introduction. Just know that you probably need to spare a whole day here!

Nearest JR Station: Universal-City Station (it’s just 10-min away from JR Osaka station!)

 

10. Snack on 551 Horai Butaman

Too busy sightseeing and no time even for lunch? You can find the famous 551 Horai stall all over Osaka, selling butaman (steamed pork bun and shu-mai), please try it!

My buta shumai. Yum.

Nearest JR Station: Major stations such as Shin-Osaka, Osaka, Namba etc. I got mine near Universal-City Station.

 

11. Jo-Terrace Osaka

I love this place! Okay, guiltily admitted, I actually have not seen this side of Osaka before. To me, the image of Osaka is always unabashedly flashy in all sorts of awesome chaos. But Jo-terrace is a new level of stylish-Osaka.

Tranquil, swanky, you can find lots of restaurants that offer terrace dining, giving you a chance to enjoy a relaxing time in this vibrant city, before heading to Osaka Castle, which is literally just minutes away from it.

Nearest JR Station: Osakajokoen Station

 

12. Osaka Castle

And then from Jo-Terrace, you can make your way to the iconic Osaka Castle. Even if you visit after its opening hours, you can still enjoy it being illuminated beautifully at night!

By the way, you also get a peek of it from the station if you really, really don’t want to walk. Haha.

Nearest JR Station: Osakajokoen Station

 

13. Abeno Harukas 300

I have written about this tallest complex building in Japan before, standing at 300m. The previous time I came here it was brightly lit in the afternoon sun, so this time I picked to come during sun down.

You can actually purchase the ticket ______ and just enter by showing the e-voucher from your smart phone, really convenient and time saving especially when it’s crowded with tourists.

So so beautiful.

There are also dining bar at the floor below the observation floor so do take your time to enjoy the view, I’d say it’s pretty romantic!

When it gets completely dark, I’m sure it’s yet another different kind of charm too.

Nearest JR Station: Tennoji Station

 

 

HYOGO PREFECTURE

We are done with Osaka for now, so let’s move on to Hyogo. But before that, I think I need to explain this a little to those who are still not so familiar with Japan’s archipelago specifics.

The reason why I titled this post “Osaka & Kobe” instead of “Osaka & Hyogo” is because Kobe (capital city) is waaaay more prominently known internationally than the prefecture that houses it – Hyogo (prefecture) – Just like Nagoya (capital city) of Aichi (prefecture). It is also because the rest of the prefectures I have featured for this series share the same name as their capital cities (Osaka City, Kyoto City, Nara City).

Kobe is actually just a part of Hyogo prefecture, there are sooooo much more it can offer, including Himeji, Awaji island (omg I will need a separate blog post for that please), Akashi and more. So just remember that the below sightseeing spots are all within Hyogo prefecture, including Kobe, so don’t get confused. 🙂

KOBE

14. Kobe Harbourland

I love port cities. Kobe is one of them. While many liken Kobe to Yokohama, the Kanto counterpart, as they share striking similarities such as the iconic ferris wheels, luxurious cruises, beach front dating spots, red brick warehouses, western-style architecture, illuminated towers and the list goes on!

Although it takes quite a bit of a walk, the stroll is nonetheless very breezily pleasant while you soak in all its relaxing harbour charm. Dare I even say romantic.

Remember to also pose at the BE KOBE sign at the harbour front.

Nearest JR Station: Kobe Station

 

 

HIMEJI

15. Himeji Castle

Consistently ranked as the no.1 most complete and beautiful castle, Himeji is no stranger to many overseas travelers. Located only an hour away straight from JR Osaka Station, there’s no reason for you to miss out visiting the national treasure.

Check out my Instagram post on the 8 ways you can enjoy Himeji Castle.

Nearest JR Station: Himeji Station

 

16. Eat Himeji Oden

If you have followed for long you would have already known that oden is one of my favorite food in Japan. But why Himeji Oden?

Well, firstly, this dish is one of the signature gourmet that best represents Himeji, and secondly, it’s hardly you get a chance to taste an oden dish with such different nuance from the rest of the regions!

As you can see, the dashi (broth) is very densely colored, compared to the ones I am used to eating in Tokyo, which is in very clear, light beige dashi. Here in Himeji, the broth is made of ginger soy sauce instead of serving it with mustard like its Kanto counterpart. It is also topped with generous amount of negi (spring onion) which is just my cup of tea. The ginger taste adds a punch to the otherwise plain oden. Do try it out when you are in Himeji!

Oh, also, while you are here, check out another “meibutsu” (famous specialty) of Himeji – “Sacchan Chi-Kama-Doggu”. Alright alright, it’s too long a name, I know, but I’m guessing Sacchan is the mascot girl’s name, and Chi-Kama-Doggu is literally the short form of “cheese-kamaboko-hotdog”. So yea. It’s melty cheese wrapped in kamaboko fish cake further wrapped in a pancake-like dough. It totally sounds strange, but hey, apparently it’s so super famous that I hear tourists asking direction for it! So give it a try at Yamasa Kamaboko Otemae shop.

Nearest JR Station: Himeji Station

 

17. Kokoen Garden 好古園

Kokoen is a modern garden which was not opened until quite recently in the 90s. While the size of it is not really comparable to those of other famed Japanese-style gardens in the country, it is truly beautiful.

It is of course, really spectacular when fall arrives, and the plus side? It’s located just right next to Himeji castle so it makes a perfect side-trip to add value to your visit to Himeji.

Nearest JR Station: Himeji Station

 

18. Himeji Station

Oh yes. There’s shopping in Himeji too!

Have some time to spare before catching your next train? Pop by Piole, the shopping center for some retail therapy. I also love how it’s relatively uncrowded compared to other major shopping centers.

There’s also a 7-Eleven Omiyage (souvenir) shop, where you can find all sorts of local delicacies.

Oh oh oh, before you leave the station, I strongly recommend you to also swing by “Gozasoro” – a store selling a really delicious traditional sweet that’s also known as “taiko manju”. There’s no English sign to this super old school store so please remember the picture above, and do expect a mini queue!

This dessert is so famous that it is sold all over Japan, but it’s actually a local specialty originally from Himeji, so don’t miss it out when you are in the area.

Even for me who don’t really have much of a sweet tooth think that it’s really really yummy, mostly because the red bean paste is very very mildly sweetened.

Nearest JR Station: Himeji Station itself

 

AWAJI ISLAND

Okay right now, we are moving on to Awaji Island tucked right at the Seto Inland Sea, look how far we have come!! :D.

Yes, it is an island, and part of Hyogo prefecture! There are soooooooo much to do in the island alone, but today in particular, I want to recommend a holy ground for fans of the epic anime – Naruto.

19. Nijigen No Mori

The best way to access Nijigen No Mori, is actually by bus, directly from JR Osaka station if you are in Osaka. But if your base is in Kobe, there’s also a bus departing from Kobe!

Once you get out of the central gate, look for “JR Expressway Bus Terminal”.

Once you are here, you can purchase your bus ticket to Nijigen No Mori.

The Naruto-themed bus brings you right from the heart of Osaka and Kobe to Nijigen No Mori in Awaji Island for just over an hour’s ride. And now you are ready to immerse yourself in the world of Naruto you have loved so long for.

Naruto fans, scream now!!

Now I would really love to elaborate on this theme park as the attraction alone warrants a whole new blog post itself, but I don’t want to turn this blog post into a never-ending tedium so let’s save it for next time.

Nearest JR Station: Osaka Station Bus Terminal

 

20. Hello Kitty Smile

Not a fan of anime? Never mind. We have something else for you, kawaii kitten lovers.

Hello Kitty Smile is a themed restaurant + gallery with organic & eco-friendly concept which has just opened last year featuring of course, lots of Hello Kitty! Instead of its usual cuteness-overload, this hangout is actually pretty sophisticated for grown-up kitty fans. Do expect lots of art pieces that’s subtly kawaii yet stylish.

Access: There’s a free shuttle bus departing from Nijigen No Mori

 

21. Akashi city

If you are done with Awaji Island, you can actually try to catch a ferry which takes you from the Iwaya port on the island across to the mainland Akashi Port.

The ferry is called “Awaji Jenova Line”, and is one of the most colorful, adorable ferries I’ve ever seen!

Check out the decorated deck!! 😀

The journey is merely a 15-min ride that cost JPY530. You will arrive at Akashi Port, which city from then is very easily explored on foot.

Drop by Uon-Tana shopping street – Akashi’s “fish paradise” for all sorts of local yummy treats.

While it’s hard to bring back a sun-dried octopus back to your home country, there are many snacks you can indulge in right on the spot so do give your little support to this old-school market as they are run by mostly individual vendors since generations ago.

Another thing you should try in Akashi is the “Akashiyaki” – the local call it “Tamagoyaki”. I know, I’m very confused too, but I guess it’s just as confusing as foreigner to our “prawn mee” or “hokkien mee” which is a totally different food depending whether you are having it in KL, Penang or Singapore. Right.

Anyway, these fluffy balls are like a softer, milder version of Osaka’s takoyaki. Instead of eating it with lots of sweet sauce, mayo and all sorts of fancy toppings, you actually eat Akashiyaki with dashi (!!!). Yeap. A pot of hot dashi will be served to you, just dip the fluffy balls into the dashi and enjoy.

Nearest JR Station: Akashi Station (You can then walk to the JR Akashi station and catch your train back to Kobe.)

 

22. Stay at Hello Kitty Room in Hotel Vischio Amagasaki

Wow so much Hello Kitty going on!

I have stayed at Hotel Vischio Amagasaki before in my previous #cheesieconquersWestJapan trip. However this room did not exist back then, so you guys are one of the first few who are hearing this! Yes, two Hello Kitty room newly launched at this boutique hotel one with the theme of “Hello Kitty Osanpo in Kansai” which is all pastel pink and the other which is a forest theme in fresh mint green.

Seriously your stay can’t be any sweeter than this.

Watch a room tour of my stay:

 

View this post on Instagram

 

【Hello Kitty Room Tour🎀】⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ One of the most frequently asked question about Japan travel from my followers are, “can you recommend which hotel to stay?”⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Here’s one for Osaka!⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ Did you know? There are two new Hello Kitty rooms in Hotel Vischio Amagasaki!⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ The one I am staying at is the Hello Kitty Osanpo in Kansai Room (another room is a forest theme in fresh mint green color, I can’t decide which one I like more!!)⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ This hotel is located just 1 minute walk from JR Amagasaki station, which is just a 5-min ride away from JR Osaka Station! It’s super convenient and the bonus is, it’s so easy to ride the trains especially during rush hour compared to the super busy Osaka station.⁣⁣ ⁣⁣ You can consider this hotel as your base for your next Kansai trip! ^ – ^⁣ ⁣ 【Nearest Station: JR Amagasaki Station 尼崎駅】⁣ ⁣ #JRWestRailPass #cheesieconquerswestjapan

A post shared by Cheesieチージー (@cheeserland) on

Check out my room tour video on Instagram.  Of course, there are also plenty stylish, standard rooms if your traveling partner is allergic to Hello Kitty haha. Just saying.

I have mentioned it before but the hotel can’t be any more convenient – it’s located just right opposite Amagasaki Station connected with covered walkway so there’s no worry you will have to brace the bad weather or in a rush to catch a train.

Room view. That’s JR Amagasaki right there!

Nearest JR Station: Amagasaki Station (which is just a 5-min ride away from JR Osaka Station!)

Although of course, while many choose to stay around major stations, I love Amagasaki Station because it is so much quieter compared to Osaka Station, which also means that it’s easier for you to get on the trains and have higher chances of getting a seat during peak hours. Totally recommended.

That’s all for my Osaka + Kobe (Hyogo) iconic spots now.  Remember that you can purchase your JR-WEST rail pass directly from its official website.

Visit JR-WEST Online Train Reservation!

 

Thanks so much for reading my JR-WEST installation, I hope that it will help you even just a tiny bit making your Kansai trip a little less worrisome and a little more convenient.

Till then, and enjoy Kansai!

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