Gaya Travel team, together with other Malaysian journalists, recently had the opportunity to join a four-day familiarisation trip to Osaka by the invitation of Osaka Government Tourism Bureau (OGTB), Tourism Malaysia and Malaysia Airlines. This trip was part of the media exchange programme between Kuala Lumpur and Osaka. A few selected Japanese journalists were brought to Kuala Lumpur for them to write up about Malaysia’s capital in their respective media channels.
The purpose of Osaka Government Tourism Bureau (OGTB) inviting the Malaysian media is to help the organisation achieve the target of 74,000 tourist arrivals into Osaka. The bureau, including other Japanese offices and organisations related to tourism, have been heavily promoting Japanese destinations to the Malaysian and Indonesian markets. As a result, OGTB is now enjoying tremendous increase in terms of tourist arrivals from both markets, particularly among Muslim travellers from both countries.
We travelled to Osaka from Kuala Lumpur on Malaysia Airlines, which provided a notably pleasant return journey. Malaysia Airlines has continuously been flying to Kansai International Airport (the international gateway to Osaka) ever since it opened in 1994. Before we boarded our craft at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, our delegation were ushered to the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge, an efficient space that allowed us to finish our work since it is equipped with Wi-Fi, including refreshments to fill up our tummies when hungry.
In its quest to further enrich Economy Class passengers’ experience, Malaysia Airlines recently introduced MH Gourmet comprising Western, Japanese and Malaysian cuisine as part of its in-flight meal selections for flights from Kuala Lumpur to selected international destinations (www.malaysiaairlines.com). At RM70 per meal, passengers can order the meal 24 hours before flight departure by calling 1 300 88 3000 (within Malaysia) or +6 03 7843 3000 (outside Malaysia).
Upon arrival at the Kansai International Airport, we were greeted by Tourism Malaysia, OGTB and Malaysia Airlines representatives. We were then taken on a short tour around Kansai airport – this was when we found out about the existence of a prayer room that can be used by Muslims to perform solat (prayers), complete with facilities to take wudhu (ablution) and direction towards Makkah.
For the convenience of Muslim travellers, the authorities thoughtfully provide prayer rooms not only at the airport but also Osaka Station and Nambi Station. Besides, since the Japanese are major consumers of seafood in the world, getting halal meals in Japan, especially in Osaka, is not difficult since Muslim travellers can easily opt for seafood, besides vegetarian meals.
When we finally set foot in Osaka city after a 45-minute train ride from Kansai International Airport, Gaya Travel team found the city to be lively and vibrant with tonnes of shopping opportunities. We also find it clean, organised and resided by people who are polite and efficient. Despite its modernity and residents in Western clothing walking speedily while constantly talking or checking on their smartphones, Japanese heritage and culture remain visible. The four-day trip was filled with eye-opening experience for us in learning about Japanese culture and lifestyle while savouring the delights of what Osaka has to offer.
Umeda Floating Garden Observatory
Situated on a skyscraper 173 metres above ground with 360 degrees panoramic sky view, this garden is an excellent spot for a romantic city and sunset viewing. Originated from the concept of ‘city in the sky’, travellers need to access the garden using the see-through elevator and escalator just to reach the lobby, which is also the main entrance. The see-through elevator and escalator bring travellers up to the 39th floor where the ticketing counter is located. There are also a shop and a luxurious sky lounge on the same floor.
Going up to the 40th floor, travellers can sit back, relax, and enjoy the stunning city view in the ‘escargot cabin’ while enjoying a cup of coffee purchased at Café Sky 40. Travellers will be able to enjoy not only the view of the city but also the Yodogawa River at the River View section.
For the experience of breathing in fresher air with the wind blowing in travellers’ hair similar to a scene in a romantic movie, just head up to the next level, which is the rooftop with an open air Sky Walk affording travellers’ 360-degree panoramic view. The place is also voted as one of Japan’s top 100 places to view the sunset. Couples should not miss the chance to attach their one of a kind “heart lock” at the Fence of Vows.
Telephone: +81 6 6440 3855
Direction: If you are driving on the Hanshin Expressway, it is approximately 3 minutes from the Umeda exit. If you are travelling using the train, stop at Osaka Station and take the central north exit of JR Osaka Station. From there it would be approximately 9 minutes of walking.
Yamamoto Noh Theater
Located in the middle of Osaka city and two minutes away from Tanimachi 4-chome station of Osaka metro, the historic Yamamoto Noh Theater was established in 1921 but then was destroyed by the war and rebuilt in 1950. After 80 years, it is still renowned for its staging traditional noh performances. The theatre is listed as a Japanese Tangible Heritage since 2006.
Noh performance is the oldest existing theatrical performance started 650 years ago. Noh or nohgaku originated as a performing art derived from sarugaku (pantomime, acrobatics and magic), which later separated into noh and kyogen that are full off emotive drama and musical background.
The noh performance takes place on a stage constructed in traditional Japanese method known as miyadaiku, which uses elaborate wooden joints. Underneath the stage are 12 empty pots to enhance the acoustics performances.
Telephone: +81 06 6846 3369
Direction: From Umeda, take the Osaka subway Tanimachi-line from Higashi-Umeda station and disembark at Tanimachi-4-chome. From the point you stopped, it would take approximately two minutes’ walk to get to the theatre.
The Japanese Garden
Located within the Expo’ 70 Commemorative Park, travellers are bound to be mesmerised by the Japanese Garden’s natural beauty. Since we visited the place during autumn, the place was blazing with glorious colours of the foliage turning red, yellow ad gold, accompanied by the soothing sounds of birds chirping and river flowing.
This garden is a unified garden consisting of three major garden styles representing three periods: the ancient time (Heian Period, 8th century – 12th century); the medieval times (Kamakura and Muromachi Period, 12th century – 16th century); and the modern times (Edo Period, 17th century – 19th century).
Telephone: +81 6 6877 7387
Direction: From Umeda Station you need to take the subway (Midosuji Line) to Senri-Chuo Station. Then take Osaka monorail to Bampaku-Kinen-Koen Station. From that station, it takes approximately 5 minutes to walk to the park.
Taking River Cruise to Osaka Castle
One morning, after breakfast at the Imperial Hotel Osaka, we were brought to cruise along the Okawa River via Aqua-Liner, heading towards the Osaka Castle. The journey was refreshing since travellers get to enjoy the mixed views of the city and nature along the way. Not just that, Aqua-Liner also offers four types of boat according to the season.
When we reached the grounds of the iconic and picturesque Osaka Castle, we were greeted with myriads of maple leaves turned yellow. For travellers who are into outdoor photography, this is definitely one of the places they must visit when travelling to Osaka since the castle’s exterior and remarkably landscaped grounds offer excellent photographic opportunities.
Telephone: +81 6 6941 3044
Direction: From Osaka Station, take the train (JR Osaka Loop Line) to the Osakajo Koen Station. It would take approximately 9 minutes to reach the station. From there, you can walk to Osaka Castle. For a different experience, travellers should take the Aqua-Liner cruise along the Okawa River.
Telephone: +81 0570 03 5551
Universal Studios Japan (The Wizarding World of Harry Potter & Universal Wonder Christmas)
Magical – that would be the one word of how we would describe The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Studios Japan! From the moment we stepped into it, we instantly felt that we were part of the Hogwarts fraternity. The entire experience was totally outlandish and spectacular at the same time since it gives the chance for travellers to physically explore the Hogwarts Castle, its classrooms and corridors. Don’t be surprised when the portraits hanging on the wall begin talking to you, similar to the movies.
For the adventurous, they may also opt for the exciting ride on the broomstick, besides savouring the magical brew, the hot ‘Butterbeer’, which is a non-alcoholic beverage. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is definitely recommended for any hardcore Harry Potter fans, including travellers who love to venture into the realm of fantasy and magic.
Aside from that, since our trip to the Universal Studios Japan was in the early stages of winter, we also witnessed an incredibly festive Christmas show next to The World’s Most Illuminated Tree (certified by Guinness World Records by having the most lights on an artificial Christmas tree). With all that singing and dancing, it managed to get everybody into holiday mood. This experience is strongly recommended for families who want to be immersed in festive winter holiday. However, since Universal Studios Japan is open all year round, travellers are bound to be enthralled the theme park’s various rides and attractions that guarantees excitement for all ages.
Telephone: +81 5 7020 0606
Direction: From Osaka Station, take the JR Osaka Loop Line and disembark at Nishikujo Station. From there, take the JR Yumesaki Line and stop at the Universal City Station. If you travel directly from Kansai International Airport, take the JR Hanwa Line or Kansai International Airport Express Line and stop at Nishikujo Station, then proceed to Universal City Station via JR Yumesaki Line.
Osaka Housing and Living Museum
To really understand Old Osaka, travellers should visit the Osaka Housing and Living Museum, where they will transported back to the Edo period of Japan, when it was ruled by merchants. The museum is located in a village called Osaka 3 Chome. Moreover, there are also kimono and yukata for rent should travellers want to experience being part of the village.
Telephone: +81 6 6242 1170
Direction: Take the Tanimachi Subway or the Sakaisuji Subway to Tenjinbahisuji 6-Chome Station. At the station, take the number 3 exit. From there, it is approximately a seven minutes’ walk.
Shop till you Drop!
Shopaholics, you will surely be fascinated when walking along the 600-metre street in Shinsaibashi that is filled with trendy boutiques, retail chains and luxury department stores like Daimaru, H&M, Bulgari and Zara. No wonder the Japanese are fashionable!
Adding to the shopping list, Uniqlo recently opened a new four-storey store in north Osaka. Uniqlo is considered as the leading department store in Japan, offering practical yet stylish clothes sold according to seasons.
Direction to Shinsaibashi: From Shin-Osaka station, take the subway Midosuji line and stop at Shinsaibashi station. Use exit number 6 and walk straight to the Shinsaibashi’s shopping street.
Direction to Uniqlo: Uniqlo is located right in front of Travel Café, near to the Hankyu Umeda Station. To get to that station, you can also take either the JR Line or the Subway Midosuji Line from Shin-Osaka Station. From there, it takes about five minutes to reach the store.
Osaka is famous for its food and it is said that takoyaki (a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter filled with minced or diced octopus, tempura scraps, pickled ginger and green onion cooked in a special takoyaki pan) originated from Osaka.
After becoming tired from all of the shopping done at Shinsaibashi, travellers can simply head to nearby Dotonbori, the place that serves a dizzying array of delicious food. Another option is the Travel Café at Hankyu Umeda Station. Interestingly, during our visit, the café together with OGTB and Tourism Malaysia Japan, was running a campaign called ‘Sudah Makan?’ (which means ‘Have You Eaten?”) to promote Malaysian food and beverages such as roti canai, mee goreng, nasi goreng, laksa and teh tarik to the Japanese market.
For travellers craving for Western dishes, the Hardrock Café Honmachi located near to Shinsaibashi is a viable option, with its classic atmosphere and its legendary must-try 10-ounce burger.
Direction to Dotonbori: Dotonbori is just next to Shinsaibaishi. The landmark of Dotonbori is the Kani Doraku mechanised crab.
Direction to Travel Café Hankyu Umeda Station: From the Shin-Osaka Station, you can either take the JR Line or Subway Midosuji Line to reach the Hankyu Umeda Station. From there, it is only a five minutes’ walk.
Direction to Hardrock Café Honmachi: Hardrock Café Honmachi is also located near Shinsaibashi, taking about 15 minutes of walking.
Stay at the Imperial Hotel Osaka
Offering the taste of luxury with distinctive Japanese hospitality, the Imperial Hotel Osaka is located in central downtown area overlooking a picturesque river. Its guest rooms consist of regular floors and imperial floors. The former comes in three types (suite, superior room and standard room) while the latter comes in four types (suite, junior suite, deluxe rooms and superior room).
Built in 1996, this hotel provides top notch facilities such as fitness centre, pool and sauna, business centre, music room and kid’s room. Right in front of the hotel is a convenience store that operates 24 hours for guests to stock up on their supplies during their stay.
Telephone: +81 6 6881 1111
Direction: From Kansai International Airport, take the JR Kansai Airport Rapid bound for Osaka Station and disembark at Sakuranomiya Station. From there, take the West Exit and walk towards the Imperial Hotel Osaka. The walk takes approximately 10 minutes.