The flight from Koh Samui to Osaka included a short layover in Singapore and was a relatively easy eight hours of travel thanks to the in-flight entertainment. We landed in the evening to true fall weather and having been in absolute warmth since Greece, it was a bit of a temperature shock but a welcome one. Konnichiwa, Japan! We bundled up at the airport and took time to grasp the intricate train and metro system which is very impressive and overwhelmed us at first. Once we plotted our route and got ready to pay we realized that the ticket machines only accepted cash so off to find an ATM we went… but none would accept our cards! Many tries later at machines across the airport, we finally found one that worked for us, withdrew Yen, bought our tickets, and made our way to the Kyobashi station. Thankfully it was an easy five minute walk to our Airbnb apartment and was an experience in itself. It felt like we were in an 80’s video game with neon lights, small standing-only restaurants, vending machines dotting the main road and Pachinko (slots) arcades ringing everywhere. Pretty damn cool. We were excited for our first five days in the Osaka.
Our dorm room sized apartment was clean, cozy, and perfectly comfortable. The shower room had a traditional Japanese bathtub, a deep and short tub (which we never used but found a little uncomfortable looking) and a state-of-the-art toilet which were both firsts for us. Why don’t we have these toilets in the States? Also, the pocket WiFi was clutch and is standard in most rental places in Japan. Just like it sounds you can use it in your house and then put it in your bag or pocket when you are out and about. On the way to our place we were a little worried about the loud Pachinko casinos bothering us but thankfully they were never an issue. We walked into one of the popular arcades and immediately walked out because it was super smoky and unbearably loud and we wondered how people could sit for hours at a time. We arrived pretty late in Osaka and were starving, craving sushi and luckily found an old school restaurant right around the corner that was open until 3AM… score! We ended up at Ichibazushi three times in five days because of its quality and relatively low prices. The fat slices of maguro, melt-in-your-mouth toro, and unagi were so fresh and delectable and the hand rolls and the clam miso soup were killer. The seasoned sushi chef was quick as lightning, so adorable and served us all three times. It was a really, really good first night in Japan.
We planned to visit the Osaka Castle which was within walking distance from our apartment but before that, Jenn needed some warmer clothes so we googled and found Kehian Mall which was right in our neighborhood and only sold women’s clothes. Jesse was pumped. The mall also housed our morning coffee spot, Toraja Coffee which was such a nice change from the mediocre coffee options in Thailand albeit three times the price and came with the thickest creamer we’ve ever had. Jenn bought a new jacket, boots and a sweater from three different shops and every time the service and attention to detail when packaging and even returning the credit card and receipt were amazing. Refinement in small details like this is prevalent throughout Japan. I mean, we haven’t seen a car, garbage truck, bus, train or any other form of transportation that wasn’t sparkly clean. There are even municipality workers who were digging up the smallest of weeds in between concrete slats in Osaka Castle Park where we walked around before visiting the castle itself. The park was absolutely beautiful filled with the trees just starting to change color and people walking and riding bikes – it was a perfect fall day. Osaka Castle was pretty cool although it was more of a museum and the layout was a bit dated. We checked out ancient Samurai armor, swords and pieces of artwork before taking in the gorgeous 360 views from the top.
Our first impression of the Japanese is that they are very friendly, respectful and quiet. Most people seem to keep to themselves, no one talks on their phone in public and everyone dresses pretty conservatively. Maybe our impression is skewed since its the Fall and most are bundled up, who knows. Either way, we started to fall in love with the country early on and not just because of the people and culture…the food is super spectacular (but expensive) as well. We imagine this last leg could get a little pricey, but why not go out with a bang!
Japan embraced us and hypnotized our taste buds when we visited Dotonburi to “kuidaore” or eat until you drop. This famous area of Osaka, known for street food, bright lights, tons of shopping and clubs is the go-to night scene for eating, drinking, people watching and entertainment. We hopped the train south a few stops and immediately took in the smells wafting at us in all directions. The main road of this area is filled with food and it doesn’t take long to figure out what’s on offer because of the gigantic crabs or bowls of ramen decorating store and stand fronts. The most famous street food in Osaka is Takoyaki which is essentially golf ball sized spongy round dumplings filled with a piece of cooked octopus, tempura flakes, green onion and topped with a dark brown sauce similar to teriyaki, seaweed powder and a mound of bonito flakes. The process to make these takes a while and requires constant rotation by hand to prevent burning. Watching the cook at work was the highlight for Jenn. She wasn’t much of a fan so Jesse enjoyed eating the rest of the six we bought. On to the tasty Ramen we bought from a machine and ate at the speed of lightning. The place was full and a line was starting to form so we decided to get in while we could. Wowzers – the texture of the noodles was chewy perfection and the miso broth brought it home with some added kimchi. The people at Kinryu Ramen know what they’re doing and they do it well. We also tried some charcoal grilled crab legs from one of the many stands that were average at best and on the expensive side for the amount that came with a small order. After the crab we wanted to grab a drink but before that, we walked down to the waterfront area and watched a girl band perform across the river. Jesse noticed a Sake Bar on the other side and we decided to give it a whirl which was one of our best decisions of this entire trip. We had no idea that we would be enjoying our sake tasting at Matsuzakagyu Dotonburi because we entered the in the back bar area. The restaurant is known for their high quality Matsusaka beef which rivals Kobe beef and some say its far superior. The cows are fed beer to maintain a healthy an appetite and massaged daily. Google this for more information, it’s so crazy. Once we realized where we were without a reservation, we took full advantage of the limited bar food menu as we sat directly in front of the chefs to watch the meat magic happen. Jenn’s dream. The words beef sushi will follow us forever because the bites we had were from another planet. We’ve never had beef so tender with a flavor that rocked our worlds. We took our bites at the same time and stared at each other in amazement, never wanting our experience to end. Oh, and we also tried an awesome local IPA from Minoh Brewery but who cares about that when your lives have been changed? Regardless, the beer deserves its recognition because it was delicious and brewed by three sisters from Osaka. We had about 4 pieces of meat heaven each because they were not cheap and by the time we left we were hungry for some dinner. On to the second mind blowing food experience in Japan at Ohsho. This multi-floored restaurant is known for their gyoza which is what we ordered, twelve to be exact and compared to everyone around us, the portion was half the size. Most people were ordering at least twelve per person… and now we know why. They were the lightest and most flavorful, crispy on one side pillows of heaven. The ratio of pork filling to thin dough was on point and the vinegar soy dipping sauce was sooooooooooo good. Our food tanks were full and we were officially kuiadore. Mission accomplished. Before heading home we wanted to walk around a bit and found ourselves sipping a Habiki twelve year whiskey at Bar Core which is probably the smallest bar in the world. It can hold no more than six or seven people and only serves whiskey, scotch, and Guinness on tap. We chatted it up with the bow tie clad bartender and the three others as best we could. It was a really neat experience and capped off our Dotonburi night.
You can probably tell by our overwhelmingly high accolades thus far how seriously the people of Osaka take their food so we think it’s appropriate to dedicate most of this post it. This city is known for their food across the country and we were pumped to have some great authentic eating experiences. There are a couple other places worth mentioning. The roast beer can chicken lunch from Hoteiya Lodge was one of the best (and that’s saying something because Jenn’s mom makes a mean roast chicken). Each of us got a half chicken which was served with some mashed potatoes and slaw that were just okay. The star was the juiciest and most flavorful chicken ever! Each bite was as savory as the last, it was amazing how consistent the texture and flavor were. What a home run for this charming place. Another great spot was Wine Kitchen Garde located directly across from the sushi restaurant in our neighborhood. On our last night we decided to grab a glass of wine before having our last sushi dinner in Osaka. We sat at the bar and after seeing some of the plates come out, we agreed to try an appetizer, a duo of sausages which were fantastic and served with a great grainy mustard. The last and final food destination on the morning we were leaving was all Jesse. His sweet tooth kicked into high gear and he wanted pancakes for breakfast. So we walked to Mog and he got pancakes topped with bananas, walnuts, warm chocolate sauce and oh, two big scoops of vanilla ice cream! Another mission accomplished.
Osaka was a fun, delicious experience and a great first in Japan and when (not if) we come back, it will definitely be at the top of the list!