From a pure tourism and sightseeing perspective, Osaka is pretty limited in what it has to offer. Sure, there's a Universal Studios theme park, but that's not really an appealing draw for me. Even if there wasn't already a pair of Universal Studios in the U.S. There's also an aquarium, whose standout feature is being able to see whale sharks up close. Admittedly, as a fan of whale sharks that does sound pretty cool, but I didn't travel over 5,000 miles to see an aquarium. Would now be a good time to mention that whale sharks are neither whales nor sharks, but rather largest species of fish? Ponder that for another day, as today is about Osaka.
Theme park and aquarium out the window, what you're left with is a few temples and shrines, and all the typical big city attractions like shopping and dining. Thankfully there is also the Osaka Castle, or else there would be perhaps no real reason as a foreign visitor to spend any of your precious daytime hours in Osaka.
Osaka is largely that of a pass-through tourist town. And also Japan's third largest city, so there's that. It's a 15 minute bullet train ride away from the beauty of Kyoto, although it's far more economical to spend an extra 10mins on a 25min rapid transit train for a fraction of the cost (560 Yen vs 3,220 Yen). Sitting in between Kyoto and the Kansai International Airport (KIX), it also has generally cheaper hotels than Kyoto. With that in mind, I found myself staying at the Courtyard Marriott opposite of Shin-Osaka station taking day trips into Kyoto. As Japan can be quite expensive, any opportunity to save a bit of money without sacrificing too much is usually worth considering.
I took a Nozomi bullet train from Tokyo to Osaka in the morning leaving me with an afternoon to explore Osaka. With the short days of December in mind, and the aforementioned limited tourist destinations, I dedicated my sunset to capturing Osaka Castle. Lucky for me, it was a splendid sunset complete with crepuscular rays peaking out, which frankly, pretty much always improve a sunset.
As for the castle, you can see it in the distance when you first approach it, and it does give you that involuntary wow effect. You know, where your jaw just kind of drops a little and you blurt out "wow" even if you're all alone? The castle park grounds are spread across 60,000 square meters (15 acres), so the details reveal themselves as you get closer. You'll notice the cool moat and walls made of huge granite interlocked boulders without mortar.
Built over a period of 14 years in the late 1500s, much of the castle was burned in 1868 and eventually restored in 1928. Bombing raids during World War II largely destroyed the castle. In 1995, Osaka's government gave the go ahead for another restoration project which was completed in 1997. The castle is now a concrete reproduction of the original with a beautiful Edo-era exterior with glistening gold leaf accents housing a fully modern interior that functions as a museum.
Fearing that if I entered the castle, its beautiful exterior would seem as nothing more than an illusion, I skipped visiting the interior museum. Instead, I spent time roaming the grounds, taking in the views, and imagining what a site to behold Osaka Castle must have been when first constructed.