I ended the day with that feeling you have when you finally get back to shore after time on a boat. I’m not convinced it was entirely from time on the waves, though, more that I’d accidentally given myself shock vertigo therapy. Ideally you’d call it anti-vertigo, but I don’t think there was much anti in there. Two skyscraper-top observatories, one Ferris wheel and a tower meant I’d seen much of Osaka from above.
Second day of the pass and I headed down to the port area. There you can take a cruise in the Santa Maria, a twice-size reconstruction of Columbus’ original which sails on the hour,11-5. It’s just a 45 minute cruise and unless the voiceover sets new standards in its art, it isn’t going to win awards for being fascinating, as this is a working port. Lovely to be out on the sea, though, a little cooler than the 30something on shore. Waiting for the boat to go I’d watched a little dance that was happening; generally a festive atmosphere wherever I went, on a national holiday, though the port wasn’t as busy as the centre of town despite a queue to get into the aquarium.
After the cruise I headed for the Tenpozan Ferris wheel, billed as either the largest or one of the largest in the world. A contentious subject perhaps. Somewhere there is probably a Ferris Wheel World (rotating you news every month) letters page filled with suggestions of how to apportion the prize. For me, great, might as well be on a big one if I’m going to start imagining ways in which things could go wrong. I thought I’d seen the wheel pause, in fact, from the boat, and that didn’t look so threatening from down there, so maybe I could rationalise my way through it. The views were fabulous, arguably more to interest me than the aerial views of Umeda the day before, and I did a better job at not thinking ‘but what if’. Maybe having sea all around looked a little easier to land on, too.
From there I hopped on the metro for a stop – determined not to have much time on my feet, and there is always plenty of waking to be done. The metro, for instance, generally only has escalators going up, so getting to the train is a stroll, and for each attraction I was strolling. To the Osaka Prefectural government Sakishima Building Observatory building next, which is on the 55th floor, and is presumably so named as a challenge – if you can rattle off the name with no hesitation by the time you’re at the top, you win. Great views. Oh, and a cafe that I decided not to bother with – one member of staff taking an order at one end of the counter and producing the goods from the other suggests their pasta is more microwaved than lovingly prepared. I had an extra ride in a speedy elevator, as I found the lifts on a map, spotted one end was the floor 3-29 lifts, the other 3-51, then had pressed the button before spotting the information that ‘observatory entrance is exclusively on the first floor’. Stomach coping, but wondering what was going on.
Three trips, then, one sea, one circular, one straight up. I rode the light railway the long way round the port then changed to get back to town. All that travel meant it was by now around 4, so I hustled to get to the city fine arts museum before the 4.30 last admission. It’s a grand building next to Tennoji zoo, but on the ticket the pass gets you, not so great. You’re limited to the fine Buddhist sculpture on the 2nd floor, and though the intricate tiny objects are lovely in the first room, after that you’ve lots of lacquered pipe cases, lacquered hair clips, lacquered tissue boxes. Frankly, it’s all rather lacquering.
The exhibition on the ground floor looked more interesting, and unguarded but I decided to respect the ticket. Yawn. I would have headed to the zoo, seeing as I was right there, but they’d had last admission already, so I went to Tsutenkaku tower in Shinsekai. It wasn’t far, and meant I could see from there in daylight and from my final tower in darkness.
Shinsekai, and the tower, look like someone designed them in the 70s, when we figured we’d be in space more regularly by now. In fact the tower was first built in 1912, then refurbished in the 50s, but the decor is space ace shabby. The whole thing is an experience, and one for which I during my hour there was the only westerner. On the ground you see a waiting time – 40 minutes, and I wondered if that could possibly be accurate, when the other attractions I’d been in were a case of queue, lift, whoosh. Here, though, is different. There are two floors, then the lift whizzed you up through the middle of the tower, and at the top there are another two floors. You start with a short lift ride to the first floor and pass holders get pulled out of the short ticket queue and given an explanatory pamphlet which looks slightly insane, with a character grinning at you to talk you through each bit. As you queue for the lift you walk past row on row of pachinko machines. This may not be a place to take pestering kids. The character from the pamphlet appears and insists on a photo with a model of the tower, hands up to make a spire if they can explain it to you and ending with “dadida, nice tower!” repetition of which is the soundtrack to your queue. In the lift the attendant gently cues you in – no idea what he said, but it sounded lovely – then the lights go out, Billiken, god of things as they should be, appears glowing in the roof. A screen at the top shows a clock face whizzing forward and you emerge into the light as the elevator heads up before dropping you at the top. The views are good, of course, showing the faded futuristic alleyways of Shinsekai spoking out from the tower. There’s another queue, with attendant soundtrack, for a photo, this time with Billiken. It is optional, though, just walk past to head down the stairs to the fourth floor – still up high. Here are exhibits, and more pester power. There’s a cafe too, and finally I learnt who the marathon man was. My Japanese friend had mentioned him so I had a name, but this floor was sort of his – he is the famous ‘Glico man’, a company mascot of sorts for a confectionery maker.
`Down in the lift and the clock winds back, before you emerge on the 3rd floor (ground being first, here) with models of people in period costume and a retro feel. Or rather, a different retro feel than the rest of the thing. There were some interesting looking pin badges for sale from machines but I didn’t have 2x100yen coins to grab one. Didn’t even need pester power to fancy it, but if you take kids perhaps you should strategically not have coins, at least not till near the end.
Down one more floor and you’re back to the queue floor, which also has the shop for general Japanesey, hello kitty et al. The queue is round the edge of the floor, you have to go through the shop to get out – I realised by a process of elimination. Right, queued there, only staff through there, I’m in the shop, there are banners over that doorway, must be through there.
It takes longer than it might, and maybe not quite a senior citizen experience – or at least, not without knowing what you’re in store for – but I loved it, it was as if I’d gone to dip my toe in a bit of Japan with an aerial view and ended up plunging the whole foot into a Japanese uber experience.
My last call of the day was Umeda, and my last high of the day. I’d saved the floating garden observatory from the day before, as I wasn’t close enough to see the sunset from there. Tsutenkaku had taken a bit longer than I’d bargained on so I only caught the tail end but again this was fantastic. The Umeda sky building houses all sorts of organisations, German consulate to Willer Express bus company. There are two towers, linked by a walkway halfway and the observatory at the top. The lift takes you to the 51st floor, then a glass-enclosed elevator takes you from one building to the other. Not one for a vertigo sufferer, it said in a guide, but I was okay – it was quite dark by now so maybe that’s why. It was busy at the very top, but the view is stunning and this was the end of sunset on a holiday. There are two floors, the very top is outside, though not in any way that worried me, with the garden itself circular but surrounded by a square enclosure from the floor below. It was also a pleasure to step from the air conditioned building through which I’d walked and seen the sun disappearing, into darkness but with Mediterranean warmth and just a slight breeze despite being 173m up. Wonderful. I carefully used google maps to work out which bit of the river I was looking out and could see I was looking north, just as the river widens, and I mused on how I’d have liked to run by that river. As I looked up I saw the sign bolted to the wall just in front of and below me.
Well, of course. A temporary flash that added “twit” would have fitted nicely. If they can give you info that might be useful here, they usually do. I sat on the floor below and looked out, watching the lights of trains moving over the river. Finally I headed back to the hotel to end my time in Osaka and plan a bit of Hiroshima. I was expecting to pay for the bullet train but on a whim searched for bus seats. The train is very quick but expensive without a pass, at over £60 for just over an hour, so I opted to relax into my journey a bit more with a bus ticket – Willer express let you book in English and of course I realised I already knew where their base was. It costs a bit less than half, takes 5 times as long which seems about right, given the train option is so fast (3 hours train to 15 bus wouldn’t seem so reasonable, I don’t think). I went for the 1pm bus rather than the 7am one, and the next day we headed off, through Japanese countryside. The bus goes straight to Hiroshima, but stops to show you Japanese services, with the driver holding up a sign with the departure time on. Slick, just what I fancied, and easy. Generally buses aren’t recommended, because local ones don’t always announce stops in English, and so many foreigners travel with a rail pass, but if you don’t have a pass or are travelling over longer than the 7/14/21 day length of those, the bus seems good to me.