2017’s highlight so far has been exploring two cities in Japan – Osaka and Kyoto – with my friend Necy.
Here’s what we got up to.
The sun had set and had landed hours after we had planned to. The delayed flight dragged the day out longer than expected. On our first impression off the plane, Osaka didn’t seem anything “different” to Busan. We hopped on the train – after spending a moment trying to work it out and shuttled off to Osaka. Though the night was still young, we were just looking forward to eating and resting at our hostel, Ark Hostel.
Ark Hostel was our first experience of a Japanese dormitory accommodation and it surpassed our expectations. Though we arrived late, the staff were friendly and gave us clear instructions in setup of their hostel and made sure we settled in comfortably. We stayed in the mixed dorms. They were very clean and so were the toilets and shower rooms; the beds were extremely comfy; the people were respectful of others around them; the hostel had elevators to each floor; a cafe with a good menu; and finally it was in a good location to the hotspots. I’d recommend this hostel to anyone wanting to stay in Osaka.
Our first meal in Osaka, though, was a meal at 7/11 – yes, the convenience shop. Since we booked our ticket to Japan way back in November, we realised our cravings wouldn’t be satisfied that evening since all the shops were closing or closed. We had walked a long distance to find something – anything – and at last resort, we stopped at the 7/11 convenience shop.
We were going to buy a snack and call it a night but wandered through the shop spotting a lot of prepared meals. After much contemplation, we came to our decisions. We headed to the counter and we had to interact… In Korea, whenever you buy a pre-made meal from convenience shops, you heat it up in microwave yourself. I innocently thought it was the same in Japan… Oops.
Speaking zero Japanese, the man behind the counter spoke something really fast. Of course, I thought he was asking me if I wanted a bag. So I gestured no. Then he gave me a bag and chopsticks. The penny hadn’t dropped yet. When I had finished with my transaction I went to find that microwave. Where was it though?
The penny had dropped. Ah! He was asking if we wanted our food warmed up. I give him the benefit of the doubt he assumed we could speak Japanese. So, tail between legs, I went back and asked…well gestured and in that moment we could this man seemed to be contemplating many ways to deal with the situation.
It took like a good ten seconds for him to decide whether he’d warm up the food or to lay into us. He did eventually relent and warm up the food. I would not have liked to know what he was thinking though. We hid in the corner of the shop and ate our meal nervously. Twas a good meal regardless.
That is the fun of travelling! But I guess maybe learning some Japanese phrases would go a long way. I can definitely say that experience for us will never be forgotten!
Morning approached, we began exploring third biggest city in Japan and we definitely concluded, we were not in Korea.
We rested well. The air was crisp. The day ahead looked promising. We went to two other convenience shops. The shop assistants actually gestured to the microwave and held up the cutlery we’d need for our meals. Our opinion of customer service literally improved overnight…but let’s move on.
Dotonbori is the popular tourist destination for travellers exploring Osaka. It was busy even though we were there in the dead of winter. From what I saw, many tourists were from neighbouring countries like Korea, Taiwan and China visiting Japan on their winter vacation. The Dotonbori are had lots to do the main attractions being shopping, sightseeing on riverboats, our goal eating.
(This world map has China at the centre which I think is the reason for the Chinese word for China is ‘middle kingdom.’ Britain happens to be on the faaar left which threw me off when I first saw this map back in China. The world map I’m used to has Britain at the centre…)
I had been to China, Korea and on my bucket list, Japan completed this corner of the world.
Osaka was my first experience of Japan and by far, it is my favourite of the two cities I have seen. The vibrancy is not to be compared with London or New York City – it is its own city. Attracting the sophisticated, the artsy, the foody, the gangster (there was one street that sold baggy clothing you’d see in 90’s hiphop videos) you could see and feel the that there was something for most people. Osaka is a city that is calm, clean, friendly, inviting. And freezing cold. My advice pack those heat tech garments if you plan on going in the winter.
Oh, I was telling you about our goal to eat our way through Osaka! Almost forgot! We did just that; there was Takoyaki, Luke’s Lobster, a beef restaurant I don’t know the name of, ice cream in a hot dog bun and then the bakery.
Having seen the main shopping strip we became interested in what lay in the alleys behind. I have a sweet tooth and a habit of snacking and so I met this bakery but with resistance. In my opinion, bakeries in Asia have not been too pleasing. Many times, I’ve got myself involved in purchasing a bakery goodie that looked scrumptious. I would then take a bite only to be devastated by the taste. This discovery rectified that. All of it!
The owner(s) had studied in France and returned to Japan with their own spin desserts. Unfortunately, the cakes (pictured) we purchased didn’t even make it back to Korea…
We did some things in between but the next highlight was finding a good restaurant to eat in for dinner – not a convenience shop.
This restaurant is the well known deep-fried skewered meat and veggies place called…Kushikatsu. The batter light coated our lotus roots, beef, chicken, potato, quail eggs, shrimp, yam & scallop. Each item you request, has it’s own price. Our bill worked up to about $20 per woman. But worth every cent.
Honestly, we did do other stuff while we digesting like seeing what the well known the aquarium and the castle looked like.
We visited over to DenDen Town (Nipponbashi) where the gamers live. We shuttled up the Sky Building and got a great skyline view there. Viewing life from the top of the Sky Buliding we had a city wide scope of Osaka some 173 metres high. We caught the views just after sunset which was still incredible to see the landscape fade into the evening.
Overall, Osaka felt like a city I easily adjusted to the atmosphere and the rhythm of the city. Though nothing like London in a good or bad sense, it has a pleasant city feel; bikes whizzing past you, the smell of a kitchen curry house, greenery visible on the every street, the echoing sound of the pedestrian crossing…
Having been to Osaka, I would definitely recommend visiting it for yourself. Of course you get an idea of the city for yourself through videos and photos but to actually be present and soak up the Osaka vibes yourself is priceless.
I think that sums up our trip in Osaka. 😉 Come back next week for the second half of the trip to Japan in Kyoto!