August 19, 2021

My Plans Be FUBAR!

Resulting from a recent travel disaster, this guide will show you what to do when you find yourself in Osaka and the rains won't stop.

The Hashidate limited express train bound for Kyoto's Amanohashidate

“This is really taking a long time…” I thought to myself while sitting on the Hashidate №1 limited express train bound for Kyoto’s Amanohashidate. Due to the heavy rains, my departure had been delayed by over an hour now. Little did I know just how bad it was though. You see, ALL of the JR trains leaving Kyoto Station (sans the unstoppable Shinkansen) had been ground to a halt due to the incessant deluge. Quite literally, every single departure listing on the LED display read “unknown.” It was a scene that viscerally reminded me of the March 11th earthquake in 2011.

I had originally intended to link up there with a close friend and then check out the seaside portions of Kyoto. Alas, my plans were now FUBAR (fucked up beyond all repair) due to our inability to get to that part of the prefecture. Seeing as my travel companion was still down in Osaka, I decided to make the best of the situation and head south instead. That way, we could at least do SOMETHING with the now ruined weekend. All in all though, it took me around five hours to finally get myself out of Kyoto Station via the subway. Sheesh, talk about a typhoon…

Now, the sane people out there are probably wondering why the hell I was even traveling during a storm to begin with. Unfortunately for them, I am not a sane person when it comes to Japan. Without a second thought, I’ll gladly risk life and limb to see more of this amazing place. That said, I probably should have done a better job planning to avoid the rains rather than head directly into the eye of the storm (especially considering all the flooding warnings). I guess I’ll learn my lesson one of these days? Wait a damn second… Let’s be real — that ain’t ever going to happen!

Anyway, I did take advantage of the disastrous situation to cross off a number of minor allures in Osaka that I would have likely otherwise never gotten around to visiting. I mean, after all, I need to love Japan with every bit of my soul even during the worst weather of the year, right? The following are some great spots in Osaka that I suggest you hit up if you ever find yourself rained out but don’t want the travel party to stop…

Osaka Museum of Housing and Living

The Osaka Museum of Housing and Living in northern Osaka

Let’s kick this list off with a real hidden gem! Somehow, I embarrassingly missed this facility somewhere along the way. Found in the northeastern part of Osaka’s Kita Ward (not far from Umeda Station), the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living is an attraction that deserves a lot more attention than it currently gets. Much like the Fukagawa Edo Museum in central Tokyo, the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living recreates the vibe of an Edo period (1603–1868) townscape. Inside, you’ll find a one-of-a-kind model of what this part of the country used to look like during medieval times.

If, like me, you want to escape the damp weather and see something that most overseas tourists completely miss out on, why not hit up the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living and learn a thing or two about the city’s past? Entry to the property will run you a mere 600 yen and it can easily be accessed without getting wet from Tenjinbashisuji 6-chome Station via Osaka’s Tanimachi Line. Alternatively, the Sakaisuji Lines and Hankyu Railway are also options too.

The Osaka Museum of History

A model of a townscape at the Osaka Museum of History

I’ll be honest, this is one of my favorite museums in all of the city and I’m always happy to make a return visit. For starters, know that the historic facility is conveniently located but a mere stone’s throw away from Osaka Castle making it an easy add-on. For the price of just a few hundred yen, visitors to the Osaka Museum of History can learn all about Osaka’s legacy. If my now rather fuzzy memory serves me correctly, the curation begins with the time period when Osaka served as Japan’s first capital and site of the Naniwa Palace. Thereafter, it continues on up until the modern era.

If you’re interested in checking the Osaka Museum of History, you’ll find it located here next to NHK Osaka (which is just across the street from Osaka Castle). At the end of the day, I can’t think of a better way to kill a few hours on a rainy day in Osaka. Trust me on this one folks…

Osaka’s Options for Shopping

People walk through one of Osaka’s many shotengai shopping arcades

One of the most iconic things about the city of Osaka is that it has so many damn shotengai (or “covered shopping arcades” in English). Everywhere you turn, there seems to be another one of these lane that’s entirely lined with shops. From the Kuromon Ichiba fish market to the ever-popular Shinsaibashi, there’s a near endless number of these shotengai to explore in Osaka. Of course, when the weather is absolutely crap, there’s nothing better than being able to shop while under the shelter of the protective roofs above. It’s a real godsend during typhoons like the one I experienced!

In addition to the many outdoor shotengai, Osaka is also secretly home to an underground network of tunnels too. Greatly resembling the dwarves’ homes from the Lord of the Rings series, this honeycombed network of shops, passageways, eateries and god knows what else extends for huge swaths of the city. To be frank, it’s a little unsettling to know just how much of Osaka can be traversed without ever seeing the light of day. Just be careful that you don’t run into a Balrog down there, or worse, a middle-aged Osakan lady…

Venerable Sumiyoshi Taisha

One of the four main halls of Osaka’s ancient Sumiyoshi Taisha

OK! OK! So this one isn’t technically indoors. However, by the time my friend and I hit up Sumiyoshi Taisha following the previously introduced locations, the rains had started to dissipate enough that we could explore an exposed attraction for a bit. Fearing that the deluge might return though, we quickly made our way down to the southern parts of Osaka where Sumiyoshi Taisha is found. Though not a must visit for many foreign tourists, it’s been on my bucket list for some time now so we figured why the hell not.

What makes Sumiyoshi Taisha worth visiting? Well, the shrine is actually one of Japan’s oldest. Originally founded over 1,700 years ago, back before Buddhism made its way to Japan, Sumiyoshi Taisha boasts a unique style of architecture called Sumiyoshi-zukuri. Unlike most shrines that were erected after Buddhism’s arrival, Sumiyoshi Taisha’s design is entirely free from any of the religion’s architectural influence. In fact, in all of Japan, only Ise Jingu and Izumo Taisha can make similar claims.

Oddly, Sumiyoshi Taisha has four main halls. Three of these are situated in a straight line and face west whereas the fourth can be found adjacent to the third. In short, think of the letter “L” and you can easily picture the four inner sanctums’ formation. Allegedly, this strange arrangement (that is rarely seen in Japan) has its roots in some sort of arcane geomancy. If you do visit Sumiyoshi Taisha, be sure to pay your respects to the Sumiyoshi Sanjin and Empress Jingu enshrined within by making the rounds to all four shrines!

Osaka’s Kitahama Area

The charming Kitahama of Osaka that is full of cafes

During our visit to Sumiyoshi Taisha, the rain started to pick up again so my travel companion and I quickly made our way towards shelter. Now, the girl I was with is a longtime resident of Osaka and knows all of the good spots in the city. At her recommendation, we made a beeline for the Kitahama area. Located near Umeda Station in the posh northern part of Osaka, Kitahama is rife with all sorts of trendy cafes. While technically a business and financial district, these joints are the real reason to go to Kitahama for us travelers.

As you can see if you look on Google Maps or something, there is an inordinate amount of cafes and restaurants in this charming part of Osaka. We ended up hitting up a spot called EMBANKMENT Coffee but you’d do well to browse the whole catalog and select something that resonates personally with you. Simply put, there’s an incredible amount of establishments to choose from! FYI for the other digital nomads out there, Kitahama makes a great place to do some work if you’re like myself and always on call even when traveling…

The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan facilility in Osaka Bay

While I didn’t actually make it to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan during my most recent adventure, I do have experience from a few years ago visiting this location during a typhoon. Situated near Universal Studios on a man made island in Osaka Bay, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan facility is home to a mind boggling number of aquatic critters. Inside its giant tanks, you’ll find all sorts of creatures that run the gamut from whale sharks to sunfish. In all my life, never have I seen such a variety of sea life.

Alas, the only downside of the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is that there’s no good way to get there from the station that doesn’t involve being temporarily exposed to the elements. Though not that far from public transportation, you might want to consider taking a taxi with your group if you’re traveling with friends. Alternatively, you could just whip out your umbrella and make a mad dash for the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. After all, with all the variety of fishies to observe, you’ll no longer be moist by the time you see everything!

Attractions Near Osaka

The city of Osaka on an overcast night following a typhoon

Yeah—Not going to lie… As soon as the torrential rains let up a bit, I booked a trip down to Wakayama Prefecture to go check out Kumano Nachi Taisha (my second of the three Kumano Sanzan shrines). Since I skipped town so quickly, I don’t have many more recommendations on hand for rainy days. That said, Osaka is a super hip city with a lot to do. What’s more, you can make your way around huge sections of the city without ever needing to get wet due to the aforementioned underground network.

Rather than spoon feed you, the reader, a bunch more suggestions, why don’t you see what you can dig up in Osaka on your own? To be frank, I bet you’ll surprise yourself with what you can find! Be sure to check out my area guides if you need some inspiration though!

Until next time travelers…