Osaka, enjoying great food around the big city
Leaving Koyasan is always exciting. After some more than 24h, your body and soul feels rested and calm. So, wherever you go you will feel excited. Back to Osaka, the contrast is huge. All the hustle of this huge metropolis, the combination of many different smells from street food, the jingles from big speakers and music from shops. Vendors shouting trying attract you and welcoming you to their stores and sell you their products. We actually enjoyed our way from Namba Station to our accommodation, the Hostel Wasabi Osaka.
This branch in Dotonbori opened recently and it didn’t appear in all maps. But thanks to their Facebook page we located it pretty quickly. We could not check in yet so we just left some stuff there and headed to a tourist information office to get some tickets for a cool show in Osaka Castle. Unfortunately, the staff told us the tickets were all sold out (and quite expensive too), so we skipped that and thought what to do.
The best Okonomiyaki…ever!
We think better with full stomach, and we were not far from one of our marked spots to eat: the Okonomiyaki Chitose. Prior to starting the trip we did some searches for local, cheap and good reviewed places. And Chitose was one of the best. For this reason, our expectations were quite high and got excited as soon as we entered the tiny eatery. We sat on a stool in front of the counter, right in front of the cook. It is quite common in restaurants in Asia to offer seats in front of the kitchen, that allows you to see how they prepare and cook the whole thing, and this one didn’t disappoint.
We exchanged some words with the waitress, looked around the walls and noticed a big world map full of pins pinned by the visitors from around the world. The map was full. And on another wall there was a board full of different notes from currencies from many different countries. This gave us an idea of how popular, specially among foreigners, that restaurant was. We can’t remember exactly what we ordered, but we went for the house recommendation plus another dish. We were very hungry and watching the cook making all the food in front of was made us even hungrier. So, when we finally could eat, it was a big pleasure. If you ever go to Osaka, we strongly recommend you this place.
Exploring Osaka Shinsekai and Dotonbori
After lunch we still had some time before the check-in, so we went south and ended up in Shinsekai: That area that many people describe as a retro futuristic town, full of neon lights, a popular crossing with big balloon fish restaurants and pubs decoration, and at the end, the Tsutenkaku tower. We kept walking admiring all the small souvenirs and small items. We think that Japanese are the kings of souvenirs. They got this talent of making of anything a local specialty and make limited and special editions like Takoyaki Pringles, or the endless varieties of Kitkat, or Hello Kitty wearing traditional costumes or holding local cuisine.
It was time to check-in at the Wasabi Hostel, so we quickly dropped our bags and changed our clothes and headed out for some more fun.
The Dotonbori area is full of attractions. Plenty of restaurants to try, shops with nerdy items, game arcades…Lots of entertainment for hours. But it was too early for that for us, and since we both had already been before in Osaka, we wanted to try something more traditional or cultural. And it was right there: The Bunraku Puppet Theater.
The Bunraku Puppet Theater
Bunraku is one of Japan’s representative traditional performing arts, designated a World Intangible Heritage by Unesco in 2003. It is a collaborative form which synchronizes narrative recitation, shamisen music and puppetry in performance. The plays change often and the program we caught was for New Year. A full play can be more than 5 hours, separated in 4 or 5 acts. Fortunately for us, they offer single act tickets which is enough to get an idea of the whole thing. We recommend you to get the audio guide to follow the story, and before of after the play, check the small exhibit on the first floor.
Everything looked quite fancy, and since the prices aren’t cheap, you it seems most of people there were there dressed for the ocasion, like going to the opera. Once inside, after some minutes of play we could see that the theater wasn’t full, many empty seats, and what surprised us was that there were groups of people sleeping openly, head back on the headrest and wide open mouth. It someway reminded us the whole day at the Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo watching Sumo fights. Families eating from lunch boxes, others sleeping…
After the theater, we were ready for some dinner. We walked around, and being a Friday night, we could see the places were starting to get crowded. We wandered around Dotonbori river and ended up at Ichiran Dotonbori, a ramen restaurant chain with some special features. On the line, we got a paper and marked our preferences, how you want them to cook the noodles, the thickness and spiciness of the broth, and quantities of topping…and paid.
After that, we sat down on an individual booth with a small window in front, our food came through that window. Before finishing the whole bowl, they offer you to add some more noodles and toppings and someone on the other side will bring them to you. I have to say I love a good bowl of ramen, and this one must be among the best ones I ever had.
Ichiran Ramen was an exquisite choice for dinner
Walking around Dotonbori nightlife
After dinner, we walked a bit more around Dotonbori, took the must photo with the Glico running man, and tried to find some craft beer nearby. We walked a little bit north enjoying the remaining Christmas Lights and took the subway. It was worthy since we still could use the Kansai Thru Pass. After struggling a little with Google Maps, we finally arrived at Yellow Ape, a small craft beer pub where we exchanged some words with other clients.
After enjoying some of their beers we headed to the subway before they closed and went back to our hostel. We considered going to party or have some more drinks, but preferred to rest. We thought we are getting old and just wanted to sleep. But before that, we picked some breakfast for the next day at the convenience store.
The Osaka Castle and surroundings
The next morning we woke and got ready. Since we had the flight in the evening we still had plenty of time to move around. We went to the Osaka Castle, which is one of the main tourist attractions in the city. It takes its time to get from the station to the Castle, but approaching the fortress through all the gardens is nice, you can see some locals jogging or practicing some sports, and most of the tourists ending up in line for the tickets.
The government remodeled the interior and now it is a museum mostly dedicated to the Castle’s history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The interior of the castle is big, and it even has an elevator to facilitate the flow of visitors. Once we reached the top and admired the immensity of the city of Osaka, we headed downstairs slowly floor by floor and trying to enjoy the history lessons in forms of dioramas, videos and other documents.
Our last (great) lunch
Once out, it was time to head to the southeast corner of the castle and find the Tokumasa Udon restaurant near Morinomiya station. We had some great udon noodles with pork cutlet and rice. No wonder there was a line waiting outside!
By then, we had been walking a lot for 3 days and Hyekyong felt some pain on her feet, so we found some coffeeshop and rested for a while. Jordi went to check some local products at a supermarket near that Morinomiya station. After a while, we took the subway and headed to KIX Airport to come back.
All in all, it was an intense short trip that we prepared very well in advance. Google Maps helped us a lot to arrange the trains schedules so we didn’t have to wait long or miss any train. We made the most of it. We keep recommending to our friends a visit to Koyasan since it’s not that popular and not many people know about it. After many trips to Japan, this was a good final one, before starting our world trip. Or…maybe we still have some more visit pending?