Sunday, May 1, 2011

Traveling cheap to Osaka, Japan

Osaka is the second largest city in Japan. With 2.6 million of inhabitants, a very extensive history, and beautiful places, Osaka offers a bunch of exciting traveling adventures comparable to Tokyo, the capital. Recently, a massive earthquake affected the north area of Japan and the news across the world are making people to think twice about going to Tokyo, but Osaka is far away of all this. in fact Osaka barely felt the massive earthquake.

Osaka is know for having a friendly environment, residents of Osaka are attentive and eager to help if a foreigner seems to be in a trouble. Traveling to Osaka is also cheap, if you know where and how to spend your money.  I will offer you a series of traveling tips to Osaka, tips that I experimented while staying for a few days at this amazing city and some of them will help you to save money.  Before traveling to Osaka or any other part of Japan, try to learn basic japanese phrases, like "Thank you" (arigato gosaimas)*, "Excuse me"(sumimasen)*, "Please"(dozo)*, "I dont speak japanese" (nihongo waka arimasen)*,  "Im sorry" (gomenasai)*, and how to order food, because Osaka residents loves to eat, even having a quote that translated would be like this (eat until you drop). Those were the phrases I used the most.  If you have a smart phone, save your traveling maps and your japanese translations into it, it will help you a lot, if not use a small memo or notebook and type all the important things to remember. It comes very handy when mingle with the residents. I can assure you, your language skills are going to be greatly improved as soon as you arrive to Japan, and the type of language exposĂ© you will have, the words learned on the trip will stay in your brain for ever. 

First of all, traveling to Osaka might sound expensive, but if you follow these tips, the money spent is going less than you expected.  I traveled to Osaka for 4 days and 3 nights, and spent roughly $350 dollars, including souvenirs for my family (plus ticket and hotel). I traveled to Kyoto, Nara, and spent two days traveling inside Osaka.   First of all, try to book a "no tour package", the traveling agency will find a combo in which they offer you the airplane ticket to Osaka and a cheap but nice Hotel. I stayed right in the middle of Osaka, in a hotel called Mitsui Garden Hotel. The hotel combo included buffĂ© breakfast for all days.

When traveling to Osaka, you can decide if you want to go with a tour guide or by yourself. I like to tour by myself because one will experience adventures that you won't have when traveling with a bunch of people as lost as you.  Mingling with the locals and becoming friends, learning about their culture and offering your culture as an exchange is a very nice experience. Buy a cheap traveling guide, in it you will find a series of places to visit, you just need to find the nearest subway station and walk a little bit.  Most of the traveling guides to Osaka will explain how to go the places, including subway stations, exits, and other details. The residents of Osaka have the reputation to be friendly, funny and kind  they are eager to help you if you get lost. Most of them not speak English fluently, some not even a bit but when helping somebody else is no need to speak, just show your map and where you want to go, and the Osaka residents will help you more than you will expect.  As soon as you arrive to Kansai Airport, Osaka, you can purchase the "Kansai Thru Pass", a pass that will help you to traveling among Osaka, Kobe, Nara and Kyoto. This pass is accepted widely at subway lines and some trains and also gives you discount when buying tickets to the temples and other touristic places.  Osaka has several subway lines to travel and also some private lines (called JR lines) to go to far away places.  If you follow the instructions and tips on the Kansai Pass, you can save yourself a great amount of money and time, because the "model courses" showing you the fastest and easiest way to visit or travel to certain place, using the pass. 

Traveling in Osaka and near by  can be confusing, so get a subway map and a map of the area as soon as you hit any information spot. Kansai Airport in Osaka has a information center, with English speakers.  Another good tip while traveling in Osaka is to walk, so walk, walk and walk. Try to eat a nice and big breakfast, this will help you resist the walking or if you skip lunch. When eating, avoid the tourist places and hit the streets surrounding the area, the restaurants they will serve you the same, but at half of the price.  

When traveling thru Osaka do not use the taxi because is absurdly expensive, and if you need to use the subway try to create a tour around the area so you walk to another station near by.  Most of the subway and trail stations have English announcements so you will be traveling easily around. Also you can rent a community bicycle, Osaka is know to have a bicycle culture.  It takes approximately one hour on train to travel to  Kyoto or Nara from Osaka, try to be on  the rail train before 9am, so you will have plenty of time to walk around and tour the shrines and temples, coming back to Osaka around 6 or 7 pm.  If you follow my "walk around" tip, be ready to sleep at least 7 hours because is very exhausting. Most of the hotels in Osaka have the "massage" service, a very Japanese thing, in which they will massage you in your room, using the Japanese massage technique. Very nice after several hours of traveling and walking around.    

Osaka is a very secure place, the japanese culture is devoted to perfection, including respect and other good manners, so do not be worry to get lost and find places far away from the downtown area. I met a nice japanese dude while walking around the Osaka Castle and I ended up eating with him one hour and a half away from my hotel (on foot), eating to explode and a couple of beers for in 350 yen in an area not "suitable" for foreigners, which was a very good "add up" to my experience. My friendship with this character was so vivid, I ended up experimenting a karaoke and meeting more friendly people. That night, I spent 2,000 yen (roughly 25 dollars) eating and drinking beer. Maybe one of the nicest experiences in my travels thru Osaka.  If you want to go clubbing or hit a bar, do it with no fear at all, you always will find a friend in Osaka, Japanese youngsters will talk to you, because they're curious about your country and to practice English.  The best way to experiment the life of a city or town, is by becoming friends with the people who live there, they will show you places not even a tour guide will show you. If you want to meet locals, just go and talk to them, is not easy way to meet somebody in Osaka than that. Remember our culture is very different from theirs, so  talking to them directly is something very exiting (very effective if you are looking to meet gals or boys). 

Traveling to Osaka by myself was an experience of a lifetime and I wish you have the same feeling I had as soon the day was over. Good Luck! 

* Those translations are the way you should say it. (Grammatically incorrect). 

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