Tuesday, December 9, 2008

On Top of Osaka

Only a half hour by JR Rail and we were in Osaka, Japan. We arrived around 8PM since we decided to spend most of the day in Kyoto. After checking into our very traditional guesthouse, but more on that later, we went straight to bed because we wanted to be well rested for our first day in Osaka.

We decided to head to Osaka Castle first thing in the morning since it was fairly close to the guesthouse. Unlike the subway stations in Tokyo and Kyoto, the subway stations in Osaka do not act as a mini-mall with food courts and underground shopping, so were left to wander the streets for breakfast. Fortunately at the Osaka Castle park entrance there was a small row of restaurants, including the elusive Mos Burger. But it was a little early for us to have a burger for breakfast and we peaked at the two restaurants next door.

We could instantly smell curry and spotted samosas stacked in a little window of an Indian restaurant. Next door was a Japanese restaurant and unlike Tokyo and Kyoto there were no English menus or plastic foods out front to direct us to what they had. There were however three images of bowls of soup. We decided on the Japanese soup restaurant. Again, unlike Tokyo and to a lesser extent Kyoto, very few people spoke English so we pointed to two of the three pictures listed on the menu and hoped for the best. What we got was fantastic! Japan Udon noodles with katsu chicken in one bowl and katsu pork in the other – perfect! Japanese curry is very different from Vietnamese, Thai or Indian curry. It is it is sweet, but not from coconut milk, but from cloves, spices and pureed vegetables. Mild and aromatic, but not pungent. A good start to the day, none of that cornflake nonsense for us!

After our delicious breakfast we crossed the street, headed into the park, towards the Castle. We soon came upon the moated castle area and headed up into the Castle compound.

Osaka Castle is an impressive stone, gold accents and dark wood structure.We paid a small fee to head up to the top for the incredible view of Osaka.

The only way out of the castle was to walk the stairs down and on each floor there were exhibits highlighting the history of the castle and each of its unique features. We found the exhibits highlighting daily life on the castle compound to be the most interesting and there were these little windows with a small replica of traditional homes and landscapes with holograms showing actors acting out daily life – really fascinating.

As we headed out of the castle and the park we decided to see the Panasonic Electronics Complex, but found the two main buildings to be rather empty, except for several floors of restaurants. It had been several hours since we had our yummy udon curry bowls and found the plastic foods out front of an Italian restaurants to be the most enticing. After wandering through several floors we both agreed a pasta restaurants’ plastic food displays looked really good and decided we had enough Japanese food in the last 8 days and pasta, and in particular salad, looked and sounded good. Japanese love meal sets and the combo dinner was delicious. The restaurant specialized in handmade pasta and the flavors were light and wonderful, exactly what we needed to energize us to head into the Umeda shopping area of Osaka. While making our way to the area we again found ourselves in the middle of a maze of restaurants, nightlife and narrow streets. In order to take it all in we decided to stop of a beer, ala a vendor machine. Sticking to Japanese custom we stood in front of the vending machine, quickly drank our beer and tossed into the recycling bin and off we went. We wandered the numerous shops of the Umeda shopping district. There were several high end shops selling hip urban wear, we did a little browsing and quickly moved on to the Yodobashi shopping complex in search of a new watch battery. Again another gigantic department store with floors and floors dedicated to categories of stuff. If you need anything Yodobashi had it and in abundance – watch bands anyone?

We then headed to the Umeda Tower where we purchased a ticket to climb 36 floors up into an observation deck. We were warned the elevators are completely glass and the last few floors can be a bit much for those suffering vertigo. We made it to the top without loosing our dinner. Unfortunately the floating observation deck and glass bottom sky bridge were already closed so we caught the view from the enclosed observatory floor.

By this time we were ready to head home, we had a long day of taking in the central sites of Osaka and tomorrow we’re heading to the famous aquarium and the Doutombori "red light district".

The next morning we headed towards the subway entrance by the Osaka Castle park and decided it was now or never to have a Mos Burger. Though it was only 9am we decided that if we see something we were set on trying at some point we should try it the second we see it because it may not be around when we want it, so Mos Burger for breakfast it was. Mos Burger provides add-ons to their burgers so you can get a drink and side for a small additional cost and we decided to add on fries/onion ring combo to our basic cheeseburger and a nugget and what we thought was a beverage combo to our Mos Burger with all the fixings.

However it turned out the beverage pictured in the add-on menu was actually soup.
They soups turned out to be delicious clam chowder and corn chowder. The burgers were small and very tasty, a great take on the American classic! The Nuggets were also tasty, but the fries and onion rings were boring and needed some improvement. Not feeling completely stuffed due to the sizes of the burgers we were ready to head to the Aquarium.

The Osaka Aquarium focuses on what is called “The Ring of Fire” an area in mainly the Pacific Ocean which was created by a collapsed volcanic structure millions of years ago which created unique areas where different sea creatures thrive due to the vast differences in temperatures and underwater terrain. The aquarium is made up circular tanks that you walk around and as you turn the corner a different aspect of the sea life is revealed.

After spending the afternoon at the aquarium we headed to Shin Sai Bashi-Suji, another maze of street shopping and the “red light district” Doutonbori.

As we headed towards Shin Sai Bashi-Suji we could hear and smell something in the distance and quickly came upon an outdoor vendor selling what looked like folded omlettes. The devoted clientele sitting street-side indicated that we must try one – pronto! The omlettes consisted of a thin pancake batter, shredded cabbage, dried shrimp, an egg and a sweet and tangy sauce, cooked on a large flat top.The pancake was chewy and somewhat gummy, a little difficult to eat on the street, but the flavors of the sweet tangy sauce, crispy cabbage, egg and dried shrimp was a dynamite combo! We don’t know what it was exactly, but here’s the gigantic sign above the tiny little outdoor shop.

After walking all day we decided to head over the “red light district” of Osaka - Doutonbori to find some dinner. Known for its bars, lounges, restaurants and “entertainment” we were on the look out for Shabu Shabu, hot pot or some sort of self-cook meal. That’s when we spotted a restaurant where the tables had large hibachis in the middle and images of rare beef on the menu board. With so much seafood available we were drawn to the beef and needed a break from all the fish.

Along with our cuts of beef to grill order, we asked for spicy Korean style rice.
An order of lettuce to roll our beef in.
And a pickle plate.
Cooking and preparing your own rolls is something we do a lot at home and we really enjoyed this slow method of eating a meal.

After our wonderful dinner we headed out into the Doutonbori for some more street side window shopping and people watching. We soon found ourselves back at the entrance to the street and found the crepe stand without a line, unlike earlier when the line was at least 15 people long. We initially noticed the crepes because it is one of the rare items acceptable to eat and walk at the same time. We quickly ordered a vanilla ice cream with strawberries and cream, it even came with sprinkles.

As we headed back to the subway to head back to the guesthouse there were two bands playing under the freeway overpass and dueling it out for the crowds attention. Both bands had the most amazing compact sound systems, maybe that’s why they choose the area underneath the freeway underpass, creating their own little amphitheatre. They were pretty good and a good place to stand and enjoy our crepe.

The next morning after checking out of our of guesthouse and having to kill sometime before our 6 hour flight to Vietnam we decided to partake in the numerous conveyor belt sushi restaurants on Doutonbori. Though Tokyo was birthplace of sushi, Osaka chefs were the ones who developed the initially snack way to eat fish into an art form. We found Osaka’s sushi to be a bit more inventive in the combinations of sushi and not simply nigiri, as was the case in Tokyo.

We also loved the hot water set ups on the conveyor belts themselves.
We wandered around Doutonbori for a few more hours, trying to soak up the lively atmosphere. We eventually made our way over to an area known as America Mura, which looked a lot like the SoHo area in New York City, but way better shopping, with hard to come by Japanese labels and graffiti.We headed back to the guesthouse to get our bags and make the 59 minute train ride to the Osaka airport, along the way we spotted a waffle stand and noticed they had ice cream stuffed waffles, we needed something sweet to combat the taste of sushi and ordered a chocolate waffle with strawberry ice cream and a plain waffle with chocolate ice cream.The bite-size waffle treats hit the spot! Why hasn’t Ben and Jerry’s come up with this? Ice cream sandwiched between two warm waffles – yes, please!

We really enjoyed Osaka, it is very different from both Kyoto and Tokyo, much more alternative. Osaka is the center of Japan's music scene so the style and attitude of the people in Osaka definitely reflected that.

1 comment:

TamCJ said...

Breathtaking view at Umeda Tower. Too high for me!