Osaka: January 22 2017
Last Sunday, my besties and I took our very first trip together to Japan – the motherland of sushi and all things amazing! I’d always admired Japan for its culture, and of course, its unique selection of cuisine. We spent a total of six days there – 2 nights in Osaka and 3 nights in Kyoto. We got back a few days ago and I promised myself I needed to blog about this soon and be more consistent in uploading photographs, so I’m doing my best to let these habits sink in and take root.
Japan was awesome – I’m talking top-notch, mind-blowing awesome! I’d been briefed about Kyoto’s ethereal beauty and Osaka’s thriving food scene by several friends who’d already been there before, but being there in person was a whole new experience. So let’s kickstart this travel log with our first day in Osaka:
Necessities at the airport
Landed at the Kansai International Airport of Osaka in the morning after a long, bumpy 6-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur. I was exhausted because I hadn’t managed to catch even a wink of sleep throughout the ride. The first thing we did was purchase our 2-day Amazing Pass at the Kansai Tourist Information Center in the airport. The Amazing Pass truly lived up to its reputation – it allowed us free access to the Osaka City subway, buses and trams, along with several other attractions within the city, such as the gorgeous Osaka skyline from the Umeda Sky Building and the Tempozan Giant Ferris Wheel. The pass also includes free trips to a number of museums, river cruises with stunning views, the natural hot springs, as well as the Osaka Zoo and botanical garden. You can view the full list of free facilities here.
The next thing we did after purchasing our Amazing Passes was collect the pocket wifi that we’d pre-rented online a couple days before our trip. I’d totally recommend renting a pocket wifi if you’re in Japan, because that little thing is so handy! There are many ways to rent one, but I was recommended this site from a coworker, so all I had to do was select the pocket wifi that best suited our needs (I chose the Standard Wifi, 75Mbps) and collect it from the post office at the airport when I arrived. It proved to be extremely convenient because we referred to Google Maps and Google Translate all the time. And the best thing about it was that it had unlimited data – so we never had to worry about running out of internet! I’d also recommend carrying around a powerbank to charge your devices.
After picking up our necessities, we paid about 920 JPY for a train ticket to the station that we needed to go to. Japan’s a really organized country, but understanding the subway and the various train lines required a bit of time. It’s not as simple or as straight-forwarded as the New York subway. Due to the multiple types of lines (JR line, subway, Keihan Line, etc), it got a little confusing at first. We couldn’t just take the subway from the airport, so we had to take a specific line that connected us to the subway.
Amazing udon for breakfast
We stopped over at Tengachaya Station and had breakfast (our very first meal in Osaka) at this quaint Japanese shop. It operated on a self-service concept, where you pick up a tray, select your meal from the limited menu, and then when you are done eating, you place the tray in the disposal area.
I wasn’t expecting much, actually. I figured this simple udon soup with a soft-boiled egg wasn’t going to taste great, but I was blown away by the richness of the soup and the texture of the noodles. The noodles were definitely handmade for sure. Even for a simple little shop in the train station – the meal was spectacular. And soon, I learned that everything in Japan was delicious – even the really cheap, seemingly boring meals from convenient stores. They all tasted so good!
It took us another 2 hours to finally arrive at our AirBnB studio apartment. It was located 5 minutes away from Daikokucho Station, but being non-savvy Google navigators, we actually went the long way and ended up taking an additional 30 minutes to get there.
We’d arrived in Osaka in the middle of winter, with gray skies suspended over the city like a blanket – thick, cottony clouds swollen with icy winter rain. The wind was a chilling blast that slammed at us the moment we emerged into the open streets. The last time I’d experienced winter was a while ago, so it was a refreshing experience to be in its throes again – but yet it was physically exhausting forcing myself to keep warm and fight the cold when we were trying to locate our apartment.
Osaka, as I soon learned, is not exactly the epitome of Japan. That would be Tokyo. Osaka is often overshadowed by Tokyo’s glitz and glamor and Kyoto’s magical beauty, but it’s still a charming city, sprinkled with exciting attractions such as Dotonburi, Shinsaibashi, Shinsekai, Kuromon Market, the Osaka Aquarium and the Umeda Sky Building.
Osaka Castle Park
Osaka Castle Park is free to the public. We took our time admiring the sweet plum blossoms, mistaking them as cherry blossoms at first. But cherry blossom season isn’t until March or April. The branches were still dewy from the rain, and since it was winter, golden hour happened unusually early at 3.30 p.m.
Kuromon Ichiba Market
We were supposed to go to Dotonbori but ended up at Kuromon Ichiba Market instead, so we stopped for some delicious takoyaki at this shop. Osaka is known for its amazing takoyaki, which are balls of flour stuffed with diced octopus, crispy tempura batter and other ingredients. Very tasty indeed!
Known for its wide selection of Japanese cuisine, Dotonbori is certainly the place to be if you want to go on an eating spree. And if you’re a fan of ramen, you definitely need to try the popular Ichiran Ramen, which has been ranked one of the best ramen places in Japan. The experience was incredibly unique and priceless. So this is how it works:
As you wait in line (there’s always a line), you’re given a slip of paper like the one shown above. You’ll get to customize your own ramen and flavor depending on your preferred choices – firmness of noodles, richness of oil content, amount of garlic, and so forth. You’re given the option to add other stuff like eggs or extra pork, but I didn’t add anything so mine totaled up to 890 JPY.
Then you pay up at a vending machine and receive a ticket, which you present to the chef when it’s your turn. You also get to pick your seating arrangement. My friends and I chose the counter experience, knowing that this was what the entire experience was all about!
The counter experience was designed to allow customers to really indulge in the richness of the noodles, sans the distraction of chatty neighbors. So you’re divided from your neighbors by a foldable wooden divider, and the blinds in front of you remain closed at all times, except when the noodles arrive.
The noodles were phenomenal. Firm, chewy noodles swimming in thick broth with tender slices of pork. The entire meal was so scrumptious. By the end of our dinner, we were just gushing about how amazing the whole thing was and how we had no regrets. Yes, a definite must-try if you’re in Osaka!
The rest of the night went by really fast. It was extremely cold – freezing, actually – and by nightfall the temperature took another plunge so we were literally shivering as we made our way back to our apartment. But through chattering teeth, numb fingers and frozen faces, we were still able to talk about what a great first night it’d been, and how we couldn’t wait for the rest of our trip to unroll.