Osaka Sightseeing

For our first full day in Osaka we had a tour guide.  Actually, it was the same tour guide we had in Kyoto and I highly recommend her.  Sometimes it is easy to go by yourself and visit various places, but when you are limited on time it can be a lot easier to use a guide.  In this case I went with a private guide because it works out better for me and my sister since we wanted to be able to go at our own pace and on our own schedule.

Our first stop was to Osaka castle.  Every good castle needs a moat and I was surprised to see that this castle had a very large moat.  Most that I have seen in Japan have much smaller moats.  Thankfully it didn't rain so I really can't complain about the gray sky.
Here I am with my sister.  The building in the back is not the castle, but more of a lookout area.  For most Japanese castles I have seen there are mainly ruins from the castle and then the little building along the moat will remain standing.  Many Japanese castles burned down because they were made from wood and prone to being hit by lightening.
Across from the castle grounds was police headquarters so I decided to take a picture.  There is a helipad on the roof.  Across the street is the building for NHK, which is like their national TV station.
Back to the castle.  Here is the entry way into the castle leading up from the front entry by the moat.
Here we are getting ready to head towards the castle main entrance.
Getting closer to the gates.  Once past these gates there is actually another gate.  Visitors would come in through here and then be stopped in sort of a waiting area before being let through the next gate and into the castle area.  This prevented attacks by enemies.  Once inside that waiting area, if they were there to do harm they could be locked in and arrows could be shot at them.
We stood here with this stone because it is the largest stone in the whole complex.  It is one one and they are not sure how it was brought up here in one piece.
Inside the grounds are other buildings and this one, which looks more modern, is not even being used anymore.  I believe it was offices at one point.
After a little more walking we were finally at the castle.
It is very beautiful!
Over to the other side of the grounds we were able to get a shot of the castle from a different angle.

Our next stop was to visit the oldest temple in Japan, Shitenno-ji Temple.  There is a torii gate here but this is leading up to a Buddhist temple.

It wasn't very sunny out and that made it look a little dreary, but if you look at the pictures online it looks a lot more colorful.
Inside is a 5 story pagoda.

Crazy statues that serve as good luck to protect the temple.

There were some other buildings on the property too.  Here you can see a small pond area with lots of turtles.

This is a better picture of the building that is behind those turtles.

More areas to pray.  I think this one is specifically for success in your business.
These are grave stones piled high.  I think our guide said this is the only place where you can see them like this.
After the temple we headed to have some lunch.  Our guide took us to a shopping mall/department store which had one floor of just restaurants.  We picked a restaurant with soba and tempura.  First we were brought some pickles and condiments.
We ordered a soba set for lunch which came with tendon.  Not that kind of tendon.  Tendon in Japanese food is tempura on top of rice.  
I know, carb heavy already because of the rice, but we also had the soba, which came with this set and is a popular lunch combo to eat.
It was really good and we were stuffed when it was time to go.  Our next stop was to Umeda Sky Building to see the floating garden observatory.  It isn't a garden at all, but you can definitely observe things from way up high on the roof.  Getting up there is an interesting thing.  First you take a free standing elevator up to the 37th or 38th floor.  From there you take a floating escalator up to the 40th floor.  The escalator goes up through a tunnel.  These pictures were taken as we went through the glass tunnel.
Here is the escalator going up.
The view from the top was amazing and we weren't even outside yet.

Apparently this is a big spot for "lovers" but I love my sister so this was fun for us too.  You can purchase a heart lock here and write your initials and lock it to a gate on the roof top.
Here are some pictures from when we were outside on the roof.  You can't really fall off because of the good safety measures but it is still a little scary.

Here we are up on the roof.

These are the escalators to bring people up and down to the observatory.  In the distance you can see my reflection in the mirror.
I zoomed in to it is easier to see us from across the way.
Here are the heart locks I mentioned before.  Obviously lots of people have done this.

More beautiful views.  This way you can see the river open up to the bay and in the far distance off to the right is Kobe (like the beef).
Notice anything strange about this building?  Yes, that is a highway going through floors 6-8 of that building.  Apparently the man owning the building wanted to renovate and the highway company needed to have the highway go in that direction, so they compromised with this solution.  Crazy!
More views...I think I zoomed in to get a better look at the bay.
Here are some pictures of the building, which was extremely hard to get from up close.  So they are all funny angles.

That was our last sight for the day, so our guide brought us back to the hotel and gave me directions to get to the Hard Rock so I could buy a shirt (for those of you that regularly read my blog or know me well, that should make a lot of sense).  Our guide was surprised by the church in the hotel.  Since it was daytime it was much easier to take a picture of the church in the lobby.  Not only was there a church in the lobby, but the lobby was on the 22nd floor.
Only in Japan can it be as easy as going into the basement of your hotel, getting on the subway and coming out right at a Hard Rock Cafe.  I only had to go 2 stops on the subway and really didn't even need to come up in the outside world to get here.
On my way back to the hotel I was easily distracted by the yummy treats in the underground mall below our hotel.  I love how they put a sticker with the "expiration" date on any fresh goods you buy.
Yes, I bought gourmet chocolates in a mall underneath my hotel.  One of the reasons why I love Japan!
Dinner that night was sushi at a restaurant in the mall next to our hotel.  It was raining and we decided to just walk around the underground mall and the building next to ours.  No complaints (although it was a tad pricey) since the sushi was good and we were stuffed.
The next morning was still a little rainy so we headed underground to visit a bakery we found the day before.  We had plenty of options but this bakery had coffee and tables to sit down at.
Oh yes, I really ordered a chocolate roll filled with chocolate cream and topped with chocolate pieces for breakfast.  I didn't feel too bad about this because I generally don't eat like this for breakfast and the day before I walked over 30,000 steps.  It was so darn good!
A little later the rain stopped and we were able to head back to Dotonbori for some shopping.  Since we were out there during the day I was able to get some pictures of the fun buildings along the canal.
Our first stop was to Starbucks.  We loved that they were very good with the soy milk and extra cautious when you order something with soy.  My sister ordered their specialty latte for the season, a roasted almond latte (yes, it was as good as it sounds), and had it made with soy.  They gave her this card and when you pick up your drink you hand it to the barista and they can confirm that they did make the drink correctly with soy milk.
While the rain was still holding out we headed for the covered shopping streets, cross the canal along the way.  Here you can see the ferris wheel that we sat across from while eating crab the night before.
This is the famous Shinsaibashi shopping street.  Lots of stores, lots of shopping, lots of food, and lots of people too.  I think with the rain it was extra busy and twice as many people out.
For lunch we went with sushi again because it was an off hour and we were so hungry it was hard to make any real decisions.  When in doubt in Japan, go with sushi.  Unfortunately, not all of the sushi here was that great, but some of it was, especially all of these pieces here.
Our best find of the day was a 3 story Hello Kitty store.  We kept smelling popcorn and eventually discovered this was because there was a Hello Kitty popcorn machine on the first floor.  Yes, we just had to try this out.
Hot, fresh popcorn.  Thanks Hello Kitty!
The last thing for me was frozen yogurt.  We don't have any places like this near us so I was excited to find this shop in Osaka.
I went with plain/tart and some acerola (like a cherry kind of flavor) and topped with with some fruit and chocolate.  Yum!  Great end to our time in Osaka.  
That brings us to the end of Rachel's time here in Japan since the next day we headed out to South Korea.

QUESTIONS:  Have you ever been to an underground mall?  Did you spot the highway through the building right away?  Have you ever been to a tourist location where people write their name on locks and clip them to a bridge or similar (they do this a lot in Europe)?

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