Our first stop in Japan was Osaka and I wasn’t sure what to expect. As this was our first time in Japan, all my knowledge came from blogs and guidebooks, and many sources said that Osaka is nothing special. In the end, I agree that Osaka doesn’t have a lot of famous sights, but it was an interesting place to see.
We of course had our share of jet lag, so we did sleep more than usual on the first couple of days, so it was kind of nice to do the sleeping in a city where we knew we can still manage to see what we want even with spending some extra time sleeping. 😉
Our first day started with a sushi lunch at a place called Sushi Hayata. Most of the Japanese restaurants are seriously tiny and we walked past this place twice before really focusing and seeing the entrance. Place had an English menu, but nobody really spoke English, which set the tone for almost all our restaurant experiences in Japan. Also even if we chose our restaurants a bit randomly, the food was good almost everywhere and even at its worst, it was decent, so no worries there that you would get bad food in Japan. 😀
After lunch, we headed towards the nearby Namba shrine, which was a strange oasis in the middle of concrete structures. It was a serene place where people popped in to quickly say their prayers and perform the rituals.
The cherry blossom season was already nearing its end by the time we arrived, but we still got to witness some great blooming cherry trees, which brought amazing colour splashes everywhere.
After the shrine, we headed towards Osaka Castle, which is one of the main sights in Osaka. The castle is surrounded by a moat and many cherry trees. And of course by hoards of tourists trying to take the best picture of themselves surrounded by cherry blossoms. 😀
You can visit the castle grounds free of charge, but if you want to see it from the inside, there are ticket machines and the entrance costs ¥600. The Osaka castle has a nice viewing platform, but that’s pretty much what you will get for the price as we didn’t find the castle inside very interesting. It has some historical tales and images, but they seemed a bit randomly chosen.
We had booked a Nightlife Osaka Food Tour with Arigato Food Tours. They were really strict (as were all other tours in Japan) that they leave exactly at the start of the tour and there will be no waiting. 😀 So, we decided to head there a bit earlier just to be on time.
The tour started in Dotonbori area and was both, a guided tour of the area, but we also stopped for food. I love these tours especially in the countries where I don’t speak the language as we usually stop in places where is no English menu and that we wouldn’t probably even set our feet in otherwise. It’s almost always a great experience!
I think Dotonbori area was very different from the rest of Osaka. Very lively and crowded with lots and lots of restaurants.
It seems that restaurants are everywhere as every tiny alley has a bunch of tiny places, which can fit maybe 2-6 people each.
This tiny corner hosts four restaurants!
Our first stop was the takoyaki place. Takoyaki are small pieces of octopus surrounded by batter and covered by sauce. It is very interesting to watch them being prepared and takoyaki originated from Osaka, so this is a very local dish although it is widely available.
The next stop was a restaurant that was serving kushikatsu i.e. deep-fried skewers, which were really good despite the appearance of everything just being covered in panko. 😀 You dip them in the tonkatsu sauce and they were delicious!
Our biggest feast took place in an izakaya, where we had everything from hot pot to vegetable tempuras. I also tried sake for the second time in my life and realised that sake isn’t hard liquor but rather wine! I have no idea why I never realised this before, but I guess in my daily life I never run into sake and I was convinced that only Japanese businessmen drink it to get drunk, so I never paid any attention to it. It turns out that I was missing out on some great wine!
After izakaya we were so full that when the guide announced that we have one stop left, we all groaned. It turned out to be a traditional dessert stand, which sold these fish-shaped cakes filled with either matcha or red bean paste. Asia isn’t really a place for dessert lovers and while red bean paste tastes better than it sounds, it was still an acquired taste type of dessert. 😉
Despite the previous night’s over-the-top eating, we were again hungry the next day. This might have been due to the fact that we woke up only around noon. We headed to a cafe called Goût where you could select all kinds of tasty looking baked goods.
After breakfast (or we should probably call this lunch) we kind of wandered around as there wasn’t any specific places on our list we wanted to visit. We went to see the Umeda Sky Building, but decided not to go into the building itself.
We ended up being back in the Dotonbori area and walked further into Amerikamura area. These seems to be very colourful neighbourhoods, which draw people. We wandered around for a couple of hours until we got hungry again.
We decided that it was time to try another Japanese specialty – okonomiyaki. We googled this place called Mizuno and there was already a line of maybe ten people in front of us. As we didn’t have any other plans and the line didn’t seem to be too long, we decided to stay.
It turned out that this restaurant can only seat nine people at a time, but the service was very quick and nobody really lingered, so it maybe took half an hour to get seated. We placed our orders already in the line, so the drinks came right away and the staff started preparing the food soon after. The entertaining part is that they make the food right in front of you and the okonomiyaki were delicious! Two of the okonomiyakis resembled an omelet but with a lot of toppings and the last one was a bit like noodle pancake. A very nice first experience with okonomiyaki for me.
After food we stopped at a small bar called Gulp and had a couple of beers before getting back to our hotel.