I feel as though at least sixty percent of my posts are about Japan - I just have so much to write and show you all about it! It's quite obvious that I miss it a lot and it's easily one of my favourite countries to visit due to the people, food and sights. It's an all encompassing country. Each time I go back I always learn and explore something new and fascinating.
We had landed at Narita and spent four days in Tokyo before travelling to Osaka via Shinkansen. We were intending to visit a few cities in Japan however not enough to warrant the 7 Days Japan Rail (JR) Pass. The pass itself gives you access to all trains on the JR Line and the JR Line Shinkansen (Bullet trains), but we were comfortable with our Suicas (similar to the Perth SmartRider but much cuter) and irregular train ticket stubs.
You can opt for a 14 day and 21 day JR Pass if you're travelling for a considerable amount of time, but note that not all train lines throughout the country are JR Lines and you may find yourself having to resort to another type of train ticket. Note that it can only be purchased outside of Japan. JTB Australia is a good source of information and can help you out with the purchase.
Be aware that although the Shinkansen may connect you to the necessary cities in a quick and fuss free manner, it can easily cost two hundred dollars. Weigh up the pros and cons of Shinkansen travel and optimise your planning around it! From Tokyo to Osaka it cost us $167.92 for a one-way Shinkansen ticket which we purchased at Tokyo Station in Marunouchi the night before. It made sense for us to do so and we of course reserved ourselves seats in the smoke-free cabin.
The next morning we found ourselves loading our suitcases and once packed, Anthony and Jason pushed them into the tiny elevator fit for two people in order to send them down the four flights of stairs. Lisa and I received them on the ground floor, calling out to the boys and sending the elevator back up for the next round. What was a bit of a joke a few days before became a practicality.
We laced up our sneakers, popped the key of the Airbnb back in its hiding spot and pushed our suitcases across the road to the nearest taxi. Soon, we were off to the same train station we were at the night before. We boarded the Shinkansen, found our seats and squashed our luggage in the space between our legs and the seat in front of us.
As per usual, a train attendant came past with a trolley full of snacks and drinks. She wheeled the trolley through the aisle and a ticket inspector followed her to review the ticket purchases. A few naps and packets of Calbee later, we heard the announcement for Shin Osaka. Be aware not to miss your stop, as you'll go quite a bit further than you'd expect - given it is a bullet train! You cannot liken it to missing one stop on the Perth railway network.
Coming out of Shin Osaka Station we were met with a sea of taxis and directed to a line of people. Turnover was fast enough, and an elderly taxi man wearing a suit and bow tie greeted us and proceeded to pack our suitcases. Jamie, Anthony and Lisa were then off, with Jason and myself following behind them. Our taxi drivers somehow took different routes and Jason and myself ended up reaching our Airbnb before them.
Although the taxi drivers were confused by the address of the apartment, we found it in the end with some handy navigation from Google Maps and the taximan's knowledgeable friend on speed dial. Two secret 'dead drop' like envelopes after, we had the keys and headed up to our respective apartments.
Osaka is a big city and has a wealth of accommodation to choose from. As we were a travelling group of five it became much easier to book Airbnb. We happened to come across two apartments within the same building under the one listing. I could not recommend Tom and Meli's apartment enough. I mean, they had heated floors and the fancy Japanese toilet that lights up when you approach it.
Technology aside, it was well located - about a two minute's walk from the nearest subway station (Daikokucho) and so well equipped. The bathroom and toilet were separate (this makes such a huge difference) and it came complete with a washer, dryer and pull out sofa bed.
After a little apartment reconnaissance and comparison, we readied ourself for a night of exploring of the nearby Dotonbori strip. Dotonbori is incredibly popular and was so full of people for Christmas Day. As a general rule it's really quite busy but you can understand why once immersed in the food, sights and sounds. It is no wonder that Osaka is considered to be Japan's kitchen as the number of food stalls and restaurants were unsurpassable. We found ourselves walking down the strip, following the smells and flashing lights to an array of different street food.
Smoke filled the air as stalls owners cooked beef outside and billboard crabs moved their arms and legs as a sign of attention. In addition to the lit up street, down alleyways and corners we found cherished local haunts - ramen, udon, okonomiyaki, taiyaki and the like. We even came across the world's second best melon pan bun - somehow modest?
We could not help ourselves but stand in line at the Takoyaki Museum, ordering a little boat of six pieces of octopus filled takoyaki. Foolishly we refrained from entering the museum, probably because we were just so overwhelmed with the amount of food there was to be had.
Lisa and I didn't mind one bit about waiting in line for the takoyaki, especially as we were completely mesmerised by the way in which the chefs spun the little dough balls around in their spherical moulds. Not wanting to overload our stomaches with too many delicious mouthfuls of octopus, bonito flakes, spring onion and okonomiyaki sauce, we only bought one boat. Don't be caught in the trap of stuffing a takoyaki into your mouth until it's relatively cool - too many burnt tongues and still I have not learnt my lesson. I'm sorry tastebuds.
It was in Osaka that we discovered a newfound love for Pablo. So much love was there for this cheesecake that we had it at least three times during our stay in Osaka. We were in Osaka for four days and almost averaged one of these cakes a day had they not been sold out on the one occasion we had lined up for it. Seriously. They're so good. I could almost do a whole post on them but here's the run down: You can choose the degree to which the cheesecake is baked - be it raw, medium or firm and it will have varying degrees of exploding cheesy custardness.
The original is amazing and the chocolate appears to be pretty good too but they only bake a limited number per day and are quick to be sold out. The cheesecake chain even have their own theme song which plays over and over as you wait in line for your cake. It's so addictive that Anthony was even singing it in the shower.
You can hear a snippet of it here (the theme song, not Anthony). Jamie has even tried to replicate this godly cheesecake but to no avail, so I suggest getting your hands on as much of this stuff as possible when you're in Japan and Osaka as it is Osaka's pride and joy for good reason.
Osaka take their food very seriously and omiyage stores sell trinkets and trinkets of food related goodies. Omiyage is something like a souvenir or gift for friends or family, but as gift-giving is central to Japanese culture, it's a little more than that. An omiyage store in Osaka is unlikely to mirror an omiyage store in Tokyo.
It is often full of regional produce and crafted items only available to its location and prefecture. If you can't take the food home, opt for some fake food as it's very popular and an easy novelty item. When shopping for omiyage, pay attention to the expiry date as some items won't last for more than two weeks.
Finally it was time to eat a proper meal (we had nibbled at three or four different stalls down the strip) and headed for Warai, a famous Okonomiyaki Restaurant. Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake, sometimes with noodle and other times without. Noodles are made fresh and the produce is selected especially for okonomiyaki purposes. They were crispy on the outside and deliciously soft in the middle. It's half cooked for you, allowing you to continue cooking your own pancake on the hot plate - mind the fingers.
Okonomiyaki ranged from octopus to beef, chicken and plain with noodles. The best of all the pancakes was the Warai's Star Recipe which was covered in strings of mayonaise and was beautifully sweet and savoury. Everything was so flavourful and delicious. We ordered a side of umeshu (plum wine) on the rocks and some fireballs to accompany our meal. Warm and buzzed from the flittering bonito and wine, we ventured out to the streets of Dotonbori again to let our stomachs digest before searching for dessert.
I had been hanging out to visit Don Quixote (or Donki for short), a huge contemporary store that sold everything from kitchenware to beauty products, snacks and adult party costumes. It's a busy and really cool place to shop and is open 24 hours a day. I really only wanted to visit for the multitude of socks I could purchase. I mean, how cute are these?!
We made our way around, past the canals and to the famous thirty-three metre Glico Running Man on the Ebisubashi bridge - a sign that was erected in 1935 as the mascot to the famous Japanese confectionary manufacturer, best known for Pocky pretzels (of which you can buy giant sized in Japan). Although it seems a little out of place amongst the other advertising, it is iconic and many people mirror the victory stance for a photograph.
We walked all around the Dotonbori district and found ourselves in Shinsaibashi Suji, where even more food resided along higher end shops and restaurants. We came across a man selling piping hot sweet potato for 100Y and matcha filled cream puffs that could almost give Chu Bakery a run for its money. Safe to say we stuffed ourselves silly. We somehow managed to stagger our way back to our apartment with full bellies and happy food thoughts.
The walk helped us digest the last of the cream puffs and so collectively we thought it a good idea to dig into the Pablo Cheesecake. Lisa and Anthony later retired to their apartment and I watched Jamie make candy sushi from a box of candy food art we bought in Tokyo the day before. After taste testing ridiculously sweet candy that we could not actually digest, we went to bed, in order to fuel up for another day.
A couple of places we visited which you may feel inclined to also visit:
- Don Quijote - 〒542-0084 大阪府大阪市中央区 7−13
- Warai - 1-5-6, Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
- Hop Chou a la creme - 1-5-6, Dotonbori, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka
- Little Osaka Omiyage Market - 1-7-21 Dotonbori
- Ebisubashi bridge - 1 Chome-6 Dotonbori, Chuo Ward, Osaka
- Takoyaki Museum - Chuwa Daiichi Bldg., 1-6-12, Dotombori, Chuo-ku, Osaka City
- Pablo - 2-3-15 Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed this travelogue. More to follow!