Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Osaka Accommodations: Osaka Airbnb, Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

These are where I stayed in in Osaka. In 2015, an airbnb apartment. In 2016, economy hotels. All three are near subway stations.


Osaka Airbnb Near Bentencho Station
Minato-ku, Osaka City

Nearest station: 700 meters from Bentencho Station (JR Loop Line and Subway Chuo Line)

My trip in November 2015 was with three friends and Osaka was our homebase for the last two nights in Japan. We stayed in an Airbnb apartment at Minato Ward, near Bentencho Station. Bentencho Station has no elevators and we had to climb up and down stairs lugging our heavy bags.

The apartment, an 8-minute walk from the station, was easy to find (the host had provided clear directions). After going up and down the stairs in the station with our heavy bags, we were very happy to find that we didn't have to climb more stairs to get to the apartment: it was on the ground floor of a narrow building. (Next door is an izakaya or a Japanese pub; a hundred meters away is a 7Eleven.)

The apartment was very clean and well equipped. Everything you'd need in your own house: stove, refrigerator, microwave, cooking and dining utensils, dining table, TV, washing machine, hangers, towels, soap, shampoo, air conditioner/heater, and WiFi (portable). We had futons for beds—when put away, the apartment became spacious. The toilet and bath were separate which, for a group of four, was a plus.

For a little over 15,000 yen for two nights (minimum stay) for four persons, this apartment was a steal!

Please excuse our mess

Hotel Raizan
1-3-3 Nishinari-ku, Taishi, Osaka

Nearest station: 100 meters from Dobutsuen-mae Subway Station (Subway Midosuji Line and Subway Sakaisuji Line)
Other nearby station: 450 meters from Shin-Imamiya Station (Nankai Airport Line, Nankai Main Line, Nankai Koya Line, JR Osaka Loop Line, JR Yamatoji Line) and 200 meters from Shin-Imamiya-Ekimae Station (Hankai Tramway)

I stayed in Hotel Raizan in November 2016. Since my flight arrives at night and I was to travel to Mt Koya in the prefecture of Wakamaya early the next morning, I picked a place where I didn't have to make too many transfers going there and going to the next day's destination. The areas near Namba Station and Shin-Imamiya Station would be perfect: the Nankai Airport Line and the Nankai Koya Line stop in both stations—no transfers needed to/from airport and to/from Koya!

A friend of mine who had lived in Japan for eight years and had traveled to Osaka suggested business hotels under the Chuo Group for inexpensive but clean accommodations. There were five such hotels near Shin-Imamiya Station. My first choice was to book Hotel Chuo, but it was full. I picked Hotel Raizan instead.

Hotel Raizan is an old (more than 10 years) and simple hotel. On the ground floor are the reception area, kitchen, dining area, luggage storage, public bath (one bath, specific schedule for each gender), shower rooms, and laundry area. Rooms are in the upper floors (there is also a Women Only floor). All upper floors have shared toilets, but no shower rooms. Everyone must go to the ground floor for the shower rooms.

I stayed in a Western-style single room (there are also Japanese-style single rooms). The room had a bed, air conditioner/heater, desk and chair, small TV, and small refrigerator. Bath towel, face towel, toothbrush, robe, and slippers were provided. It was clean but small (space was really just enough for one person). If you have a large bag and will need to rummage through it often, I suggest booking the Japanese-style single room where you can fold and keep your futon to one side and will instantly have more space.

The room price does not include breakfast, but there are some food items for sale at the lobby (cereal, milk, yogurt, noodles, etc). There is free drinking water, coffee, and tea in the kitchen. There are also convenience stores nearby.

They have a luggage storage area, but it is in an open space (if you are uncomfortable with this arrangement, you can leave your bags in coin lockers in Shin-Imamiya Station). They were kind enough to let me leave my bag overnight even if I wasn't going to check in again.

Bonus! Hotel Raizan sells discounted Nankai Tickets to Kansai Airport.

Price:
Single rooms start at 2400 yen.
Twin rooms start at 4200 yen. (Some twin rooms can accommodate up to three or four persons.)
Book Hotel Raizan South through booking.com
Book Hotel Raizan North through booking.com
* Hotel Raizan South and Hotel Raizan North are one and the same; North/South just means the wing the room is on.


Western-style single room


Hotel Mikado
1-2-11 Nishinari-ku, Taishi, Osaka
+85 66 647 1356

Nearest station: 150 meters from Dobutsuen-mae Subway Station (Subway Midosuji Line and Subway Sakaisuji Line)
Other nearby station: 500 meters from Shin-Imamiya Station (Nankai Main Line, Nankai Koya Line, JR Osaka Loop Line, JR Yamatoji Line) and 250 meters from Shin-Imamiya-Ekimae Station (Hankai Tramway)

The last day of my Kansai Trip in 2016 was spent in Osaka. I picked the same location as when I arrived: near Shin-Imamiya Station. I decided to stay in another Chuo Group hotel: Hotel Mikado, just 50 meters from Hotel Raizan.

Hotel Mikado is set up in the same way as Hotel Raizan. All rooms are on the upper floors, each floor has common toilets. All shower rooms and public bath, along with the laundry area, kitchen, and dining area are on the ground floor. Hotel Mikado's rooms have the same amenities as Hotel Raizan's. They also have a Women Only floor. What you can expect in Raizan, you can expect in Mikado too. Even the discounted Nankai tickets to Kansai Airport.

And like Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado can also keep your luggage for you. But at Raizan they keep it in a closed area near the reception.

Price:
Single rooms start at 2400 yen.
Twin rooms start at 4400 yen.
Book Hotel Mikado through booking.com


Western-style single room





Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb (you're here!)

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado (you're here!)

Monday, June 19, 2017

Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends

From Himeji, we took the shinkansen to Shin-Osaka Station where we arrived during rush hour. After retrieving our bags from the coin lockers, we went to the platform and waited for the train that would take us to Osaka Station. We didn't notice until the train had arrived and there was a rush of women pouring out that we had queued at the section where the Women Only car was to stop. Our lady friends took their places in the comfortably uncrowded Women Only car and we, men, scrambled to the next car where we squeezed in with the Japanese salarymen. As soon as our train arrived at Osaka Station a sea of commuters flowed out from our train and from the train on the opposite track, then more commuters ebbed into the trains to take our place.

Photo from quora.com

We were carried along by the hurrying commuters and I craned my neck to try and find our lady friends. It was like trying to Find Wally. Worse, the friend I was with had forgotten to bring his eyeglasses. We decided to wait by the exit turnstiles in the hopes that the ladies would go there. I tried finding a free WiFi spot. Minutes went by but no lady friends nor free WiFi were found. This was to be our first night in Osaka and we were on our way to check in to our Airbnb apartment. I wasn't sure if my two friends had the address for the apartment (we have to take another train to get there).

I told my blurry-eyed friend not to move while I tried to find the girls. I went back to the thankfully now uncongested platforms (the trains have just left) and scanned the lines of people. Just as the next train was arriving I spotted the girls and ran to them.

What was the girls' side of the story? Turns out that as I was craning my neck to look for them in the sea of commuters, they had waved at us and had assumed we had seen them.

Moral of the story?
1. If you and your friends have to take the train during rush hour, stick together.
2. It pays to have a pocket WiFi.
3. Do not forget your eyeglasses.
4. If you find your travel buddies annoying and want to get rid of them, do the opposite of the first three items.
5. It really is very difficult to Find Wally.



Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends (you're here!)
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Remembering the Past in Hiroshima

The afternoon of our ninth day in Japan was dedicated to remembering the past by visiting the city of Hiroshima.

History Lesson 1: Life in a Castle Town

Our first stop was the Hiroshima Castle, nicknamed the Carp Castle. The castle stands in an area that used to be called Koi-no-ura, which means Carp (Koi) Sea Shore, hence the nickname.

Like all castles, Hiroshima Castle is surrounded by a moat. The castle tower that stands now is a reconstruction (the original was destroyed in 1945). The castle is five stories tall and is now used as a museum. The first floor is mainly about Hiroshima Castle; the second floor is about life in the castle town, including replicas of a tea house, a merchant house, and a samurai house; the third floor displays Samurai weapons and armours (the most interesting exhibit for me); the fourth floor is for exhibits about Hiroshima's history and culture; and the fifth floor serves as an observation deck. Taking of photos inside are only allowed in few select areas (like the area where you can dress up as a samurai).

Hiroshima Castle
広島城
9AM to 6PM (5PM from December to February)
Admission fee: 370 yen



Ninomaru

View from Hiroshima Castle

Across the moat


History Lesson 2: War and Peace

If you listened to your history teacher (or even if you didn't, I am sure you have picked up this fact some time in your life), you know that Hiroshima was where the US dropped the first atomic bomb in August 6, 1945. At 8:15AM on that day, the city of Hiroshima was completely destroyed and hundreds of thousands of people were killed.

Today, more than 70 years since that horrific day, Hiroshima is a bustling city that has long since risen from the ashes. But not without reminding the world of its past and the hope for world peace with its 120,000 square meter Peace Memorial Park 平和記念公園 found in the heart of the city.

Within the park is the Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome), a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Just 160 meters from the hypocenter, the building that was the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall remained standing (albeit destroyed). The ruins remain in the same condition as it was immediately after the bombing. It stands to remind us of the destruction that humankind can create and to express hope for world peace, thus it is also called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial / Genbaku Dome (A-Bomb Dome)

Walking around the Peace Memorial Park was a time for reflection and prayer. In the park we saw the Children's Peace Monument, dedicated to all the children who died in the bombing. Thousands of paper cranes can be found around the monument as these are offered as symbols of peace.

Sadako Sasaki was two years old during the bombing. It was only nine years later that she was diagnosed of leukemia. She kept on folding paper cranes in the hopes that it would help her recover. Her death, just eight months after the diagnosis, prompted her classmates to call for support in building a monument not only for her but for all the children who have died because of the nuclear bomb. That came into fruition as the Children's Peace Monument.

Children's Peace Monument

From the Children's Peace Monument we walked towards the Peace Memorial Museum. We passed by the Flame of Peace, designed to look like hands opened towards the sky and pressed together at the wrist. It was first lit in August 1, 1964 and has continuously burned since. The fire will keep on burning until the day all the world gets rid of its nuclear weapons.

Across the Flame of Peace, before we reached the museum, we stopped by the Cenotaph for the A-bomb Victims. The stone chamber sheltered by the arch of the Cenotaph is inscribed with this prayer: "Let all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat the evil." The stone chamber also holds the registry containing almost 300,000 names of those who died from the bombing, regardless of nationality.

Looking at the Flame of Peace and Genbaku Dome through the Cenotaph

By the time we reached the Peace Memorial Museum, it was already closed. If it had been open, I am not sure we'd have the strength to go in and look through the artifacts and personal belongings of the victims, let alone watch video testimonies of survivors.

830AM to 6PM (7PM in August / 5PM from December to February)
Admission fee: 200 yen

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum

History Lesson 3: Okonomiyaki

While we were wandering around the Peace Memorial Park in a somber mood, hunger struck and my friend suggested we try okonomiyaki, a pancake (looks more like an omelette to me) made of cabbage, eggs, pork or seafood (or both), topped with condiments (sweet sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed, fish flakes). A debate started about okonomiyaki's place of origin: I read somewhere that it originated in Osaka, my friend insisted that it originated in Hiroshima. Osaka. Hiroshima. Food is food and we were hungry so we set out to find a place that serves okonomiyaki. There is actually a cluster of okonomiyaki restaurants in an area called Okonomimura ("Okonomiyaki Village") just a 10-minute walk from where we were but we were too hungry (and too lazy) to go there. Instead we looked for one at Hon Dori (Hon Street) near Genbaku Dome.

In search of okonomiyaki at Hon Dori

We didn't venture too far and found one on the second floor of a narrow building. The name of the restaurant was in Japanese but we knew it to be an okonomiyaki restaurant thanks to the photos of okonomiyaki that adorned the signage.

Uzushio
うずしお
1-5-15-201 Otemachi Naka-ku Hiroshima

Early afternoon hunger brought us to Uzushio


We were able to try two flavors: the regular one with just pork and egg (600 yen) and the okonomiyaki special with pork, egg, squid, prawn, and noodles (1300 yen). I don't think I could finish one order myself, not because of the taste (it was actually very flavorful) but because one order is enough for two persons. (Thank God for travel buddies!)

What's the lesson here? It doesn't really matter where it originated. Just try okonomiyaki in Hiroshima and in Osaka as these two have different styles of okonomiyaki.


Getting around Hiroshima City: We went around the city using the Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus. The sightseeing bus stops by the above spots and more (Toshogu Shrine, Shukkein-en Garden, and several art museums). The Hiroshima Sightseeing Loop Bus is operated by JR, thus the JR Pass is valid for unlimited rides on the bus. Otherwise, buy a one day pass for 400 yen, or pay individual fare (200 yen per ride).




Japan
Know Before You Go
Single Entry Tourist Visa for Japan
Roam Around Japan with a Swagger

From Tokyo to Hiroshima (2015)
10D/9N | Tokyo, Toyama, Kyoto, Hyogo, Osaka, Hiroshima
Tokyo Accommodation: Shinjuku Airbnb
Tokyo: Memorable Tokyo Eats
Tokyo: Odaiba
Tokyo: Doing Touristy Things in Tokyo
Toyama: A Hamlet Called Ainokura
Kyoto Accommodation: K's House Hostel Kyoto
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Wisdom from the Road: On exits #2
Kyoto: By the Thousands (Kyoto Imperial Palace, Sanjusangendo, Fushimi Inari Taisha, Arashiyama Bamboo Grove)
Kyoto, Japanecdote: Turning Japanese
Kyoto: Braving the Crowds at these UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Kyoto (Kiyomizu-dera, Nijo Castle, Kinkakuji)
Hyogo, Japanecdote: If Only I Could Speak Nihongo
Hyogo: Day Trip to Himeji: Himeji Castle and Shoshazan Engyoji Temple
Hyogo, Japanecdote: Am I an Alien?
Hiroshima: Strolling and Snacking in Miyajima
Hiroshima: Remembering the Past in Hiroshima (you're here!)
Osaka, Japanecdote: How to Lose Friends
Osaka Accommodation: Osaka Airbnb

Concentrate on Kansai (2016)
Kyoto Accommodations: Guesthouse Wind Villa, Shiori Yado
Osaka Accommodations: Hotel Raizan, Hotel Mikado