Our next stop was Osaka, where we would spend the next 2 nights. Osaka is Japan’s third most populous city, behind Tokyo and Yokohama, with close to 19 million people living in the metropolitan area. A lot of people may tell you that the vibe between Osaka and Tokyo is quite different, with Osaka being more natural unlike the endless glass that you’d find in Tokyo. I’ve also heard that while Tokyo is a great place to visit, Osaka is a great place to live, and that Osaka has a better food scene and that people are friendlier as well. While we didn’t spend enough time in either Tokyo or Osaka to draw our own conclusions, I was thrilled by the prospect of there being good food in Osaka.
Above: Our view of Osaka from the Sheraton Miyako Hotel Osaka. It is centrally located, being right next to the Sennichimae subway line, and it offers a lot of great amenities. It was one of the nicer hotels that we stayed at in Japan.
Left: A pretty accurate snapshot and cross section of people that you can expect to find in Osaka; Right: Even the manhole covers in Japan are cool!
Built in the late 16th century, the Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most famous castles. It sits on a 15-acre plot of land which is home to over a dozen other important cultural assets.
Above: The central castle building is another beautiful architectural marvel that stands 8-storeys high and is built atop a tall stone foundation. It was restored in 1997 and is now entirely modern on the inside, as it is currently a museum. We enjoyed walking around the castle grounds and also found time to enjoy some green tea ice cream as there were several food carts located nearby.
Dōtonbori is one of the key tourist destinations in Osaka. It is a single street that runs alongside the Dōtonbori canal. Neon and mechanized signs line the street that is full of interesting shops and restaurants.
Left: Shopaholics rejoice! Shinsaibashi-suji is a covered shopping arcade filled to the brim with great shopping. It connects to Ebisubashi-suji, which is a similar covered shopping arcade. Between the two, you have over a kilometres worth of stores and boutiques. Right: In the side streets and alleyways, you’ll find tons of bars and restaurants to keep you fueled up. It’s a very interesting and eclectic neighbourhood, and we spent a lot of time exploring the many alleyways to see what we could find.
Left: At the end of Shinsaibashi-suji, you will find major retailers like Zara, UNIQLO and H&M, and luxury designer and boutique stores. Centre: Posing in front of Glico’s giant electronic display, perhaps the most famous sign in Japan. Right: Wait, is that The Green Men?? Canucks fans would know the reference.
Left: Another way to experience the neighbourhood is by taking a cruise along Dōtonbori canal. Whether you choose to do this during the day or night, it will surely offer up a different experience; Right: Daiso, where just about everything is $2. It’s very much like the one that we have in Aberdeen Centre in Richmond.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
Kuromon Ichiba Market is an indoor marketplace that has been serving Osaka since the 1920’s. It is located around 10 minutes away by foot from Dōtonbori, and it’s where you can find everything from live seafood to vegetables and meat. Inside the market, there are also several restaurants to choose from, where you can enjoy some delicious local foods. Consider this a place where you can get everyday Osaka food.
Left: Slabs of fresh tuna getting cut up. The fish arrive early in the morning, so that happens to also be the best time to go.; Right: There’s so much cooked food to buy, including skewers, shellfish, Japanese scallops, and much more.
Above: This vendor was just selling nothing but tempura. Take a look at all this deep fried deliciousness.
Left: We also picked up some takoyaki, which are ball-shaped Japanese snacks made of a wheat-flour based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octoupus (tako). With a perfect consistency that wasn’t too doughy nor tough, and with tender octopus inside, they were certainly a clear step above what you would find at the Richmond Night Market; Right: Fancy BBQ octopus instead? You can get them on skewers as well.
Left: We found a tiny sushi bar at the market to have a small lunch at, and we ordered an assortment of nigiri sushi (Right). Our lunch consisted of squid, tuna, yellowtail, horse mackerel, salmon, shrimp, tamago (egg), raw squid legs, conger eel, octopus, and sea urchin. It was all really fresh, so we left satisfied and full.
Dining in Osaka
For dinner, we found an amazing restaurant called 本場大阪 お好み焼き (translated: Home Osaka Okonomiyaki), which is located along the Dōtonbori canal, about a block down from the famous Glico sign. Left: Kushiage (or kushikatsu) are deep-fried skewers, and they happen to be an Osaka specialty. We tried their pork, quail egg, and cheese kushiage set, which came with a dipping sauce jar. Note the “No dubble dipping” sticker.; Right: Osaka is also famous for their okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancake), and this one was phenomenal. This one was massive and its batter is made of flour, grated nagaimo, dashi, eggs, shredded cabbage, pork, squid, shrimp, scallop, green onion, and topped with a sunny-side up egg. I’d say it’s the biggest and best one we’ve ever had.
Above: Not to be outdone by the okonomiyaki, we went to Kamukura for ramen. As you can see, there are vending machines right outside the door, which are there to accept your payment for your meal before you even set foot in the restaurant. Once you pay for your order, you then take your receipt inside where you have a seat and wait to be served. It was such an efficient system. But it wasn’t uncommon to see this being done at many other restaurants in Japan. Shown here is their standard miso ramen with char siu, corn, seaweed, and half boiled egg. We both agreed that this was the best ramen we’ve ever had. And I’d say we’re pretty spoiled when it comes to finding good ramen in Vancouver, with places like Santouka and Motomachi Shokudo just to name a couple. The broth was so clean and the noodles were really fresh. It was definitely the most memorable meal of our Japan trip. Thanks to our friend Phil for the recommendation.
Above: For a late night snack, we headed across the street from our hotel to HiHi Town, a mall that boasts a dozen or so restaurants and bars in the basement. We found a delightful bar with a late-night menu which included calamari and fried gyoza. It was interesting that they fused the gyozas together in a light pancake batter. I’ve never seen that done before, but they were delicious nonetheless. This mall is also very accessible by transit as it’s conveniently located across the street from the Sennichimae subway line.
Left: I am not ashamed to admit that this McDonald’s shrimp and avocado burger was delicious and far exceeded my expectations; Right: Don’t discount 7/11 for food either. You can find sushi and all sorts of hot foods. Although we didn’t try any of the food, I’ve heard that it’s actually pretty good. Surely, they’re better than the taquitos and chicken wings that we can find at our 7/11’s back home.
And just like that, we wrap up our short but sweet Japan tour. Japan is definitely a very special place, and we’re so happy that we can finally cross it off our bucket list. We were thrilled that we got to experience so much in such a short amount of time, but we both wished that we could’ve stay longer in Osaka and Tokyo.We’ll definitely be back again in the near future. However our trip must go on, and our next stop is Seoul, Korea! Stay tuned for more!