JR West × ABC Cooking Singapore West Japan Bloom Tour: Himeji & Osaka

 Continued from: https://hungrybird.sg/2018/03/16/jr-west-x-abc-cooking-singapore-west-japan-bloom-tour-okayama/ …

Day 4

Between Okayama Prefecture and Osaka lies Hyogo Prefecture and the first stop for the morning was to visit Himeji castle. From Okayama Station, Himeji station is only a 20 minutes ride away on the Tokaido-Sanyo Shinkansen. As Himeji castle is a major tourist attraction, Himeji station was well stocked with plenty of coin lockers making it convenient to stash your bags away if you’re visiting Himeji while moving between cities.

I’ve visited this famous white castle in October 2015 and compared to my last visit , more of the scaffolding has been removed since then. This castle has undergone extensive restoration works for several years and was only reopened to public in March 2015 even though some areas were still being worked on even then. (Well, this is nothing compared to the Sagrada Família in Barcelona which has been under construction for hundreds of years and is still is no where near completion…)

Himeji castle is one of the 12 original castles of Japan that was not destroyed by war, earthquakes or fire. Just imagine how many of the castles in Japan right now were actually reconstructed replicas! With no contest, Himeji castle is the most beautiful one of all. In fact, I even think this is the most beautiful castle among both categories of original and reconstructed castles. The big size, unique shape and striking white colour makes it special and no other castle comes close. Thankfully the skies cleared up with no a single cloud and the bright blue sky made the castle look more stunning than it was on my previous trip.

However, it would be even more beautiful when the sakuras are in bloom. Himeji castle is surrounded by numerous sakura trees but when we were there, all we got to see were flower buds on many barren trees. It was such a shame that I wasn’t here a week or two later, because I can just imagine that this would be super beautiful, like most of the best pictures you see online of this castle.

My pink outfit and parasol makes up for it though! Just imagine pink,white and blue – what a great combination!

Himeji Castle
68 Honmachi, Himeji, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan

We stayed in Hotel Granvia Osaka for the night, which is conveniently located in Osaka Station. I’ve been to Osaka many times and is relatively familiar with the scene here. Namba Minami (south) area is where the heart and soul of the city is – where the city comes alive at night and where you’ll see most of the city’s iconic symbols. Umeda Kita (north) is where the very modern Osaka station is – this is where you go to transit to other major cities and the train station itself is massive, with abundance of shopping and food as well. They have a cluster of department stores and you can basically find most things here. It will be ideal for transit visitors to stay near Osaka station if you are on the go everyday and staying next to the main station is most convenient.

However, you don’t really get so much of that local culture vibe that Osaka’s nightlife is famous for like in Namba – Dotonbori – Shinsaibashi area. Most of the shops closes at 9pm, but Namba/ Dontonbori area remains vibrant even later into the evening.

If you’re unsure of which area to stay in for your trip:

  • Namba/ Shinsaibashi: If you are staying a few nights in Osaka and want interesting places to explore every night
  • Umeda/ Osaka station: Just a night in Osaka and then moving on to Kyoto/ Hyogo/ Okayama/ Hiroshima etc via train

Even though they known was North and South, I’d like to add that it’s only 3 stops apart on the Midosuji subway line.

Anyway, we got to Osaka station from Himeji station via a local train line which took around 1h. The alternative would be taking the Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka station followed by transiting to the local line and that would save around 20mins of the journey. I was just glad that the hotel was so close to the station we got off from because by this day, my bag became super heavy and was tough to wheel around.

The first order of business after dropping the bags was lunch. Thankfully the lunch venue Sky Dining AB is within the hotel so no time was wasted.

Sky Dining AB is a buffet style restaurant during lunch service, and I must say this is a first for me (besides breakfast buffet) in Japan. I like their special plates which encourages small portion size for each dish, making my plate look really neat!

Dessert is the most exciting part for me and I had 3 rounds.

The seasonal pink strawberry fountain made me excited! I love spring.

Sky Dining AB
Hotel Granvia Osaka, 3-1-1 Umeda, Kita-ku, Osaka-shi, Japan

ABC Cooking arranged a 1 Day English lesson for us winners to attend and this was held at Daimaru Shinsaibashi Studio. This is the only studio in Osaka which offers English 1 Day lessons even though they have many studios throughout Osaka.

As mentioned, Shinsaibashi is only 3 subway stops from Umeda Station, so getting here was a breeze. Daimaru is even connected to the subway station from the basement so there’s no way you’re going to miss it.

Our lesson was Pumpkin Nerikiri in the shape of Momiji (maple leaves) and a dark night sky with moon. I took a chrysanthemum and sakura nerikiri wagashi 1 day class during my trip to Tokyo last year but the method and ingredients for this one was really different.

By the way, holders of the ABC International Passport can now take a 1 Day English lesson as your free class in Japan. When I used it last November, they only allowed regular lessons held in Japanese to be redeemed with passport, but now you can choose either class. This change is good for those who cannot understand Japanese at all. I have no regrets though, because I really enjoyed the Japanese lesson I took last year!

And it’s a wrap! With filming done and dusted, that concludes all programme for this West Japan Bloom tour.

ABC Cooking Daimaru Shinsaibashi
Daimaru 13F, 1-7-1, Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Japan

Last dinner for the trip was Kushi Katsu (fried battered skewers) a local speciality in Osaka. This restaurant Bunbuku,  was just next to ABC Cooking Daimaru Shinsaibashi on the 13F. I had the seasonal Sakura Set (¥2,268). This is served in a more refined manners. When I had Kushi Katsu in my previous trips, I was either standing in a booth underground within the train station, or sitting by the roadside because the little eatery along one of the side lanes was too small. Either way, try it at least once when you’re in Osaka!

釜めし串あげDINING ぶんぶく
Daimaru 13F, 1-7-1, Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Japan

This video sums up our 4 days adventure in a minute.

Big thanks once again to JR West and ABC Cooking Singapore for this trip!

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