Short getaway: Osaka

Sunset from the plane en route to Kansai International Airport.
Sunset from the plane en route to Kansai International Airport.

Right off the bat, Osaka is not an inspiring place.

I don’t mean that as an insult. I probably didn’t do enough background research on the area. But when you only have 3 full days in the city, it’s hard to not feel slightly bored from the routine mall-hopping experience.

It’s even harder to plan when you’re traveling with a parent who completely relies on you for guidance but is also easily overwhelmed from the onslaught of sensory overload. Getting far was a challenge.

So I’m just gonna lay it out here that this is not a post about new experiences. This was a “revenge visit” to make up for the lacklustre time I had here when I first visited two years ago. Yes, Osaka Castle was gorgeous and that famous aquarium was somewhat impressive. But I got bored quickly enough to travel out to Hiroshima and Nara for two days during that trip.

It’s time to head to Dotonbori/Namba with a vengeance. But I’ll group my visits as places instead of timelines.

Getting around

On a short trip – especially with the amount of time we had – buying a JR Pass does not justify the cost. It’s far more convenient to buy an ICOCA transport card that you can purchase for 2,000 yen first, and top it up whenever you need to at any station you’re at. So you don’t have to worry about sticking to a JR line all the time, and some of the other lines (like the Yotsubashi and Midosuji Lines) offer far more direct routes to Namba station instead of traveling half the circumference of the JR Osaka Loop Line.

The ICOCA card can also be used at convenient stores (Family Mart, Lawson, etc) and even some restaurants and retail shops like Tsutaya. You can request for a refund at the end of your trip at the JR ticket office at Kansai Airport. But I’d rather keep it as a souvenir. I still have the SUICA card from my last Tokyo trip in May 2014, and I had no problems using it at all.

Orange Street – Tachibana-Dori 立花通り

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Succinctly, Orange Street is to Osaka what Shimokitazawa is to Tokyo. There are some similarities between the two districts: Orange Street is a lane for the fashion forward. It’s not too far away from the highly commercialized Dotonbori/Namba area (in fact, it’s just a 15-minute walk), and there are cafes that are genuinely good. I got so caffeine-deprived I had two cups at Granknot Coffee and Urban Research. While the former isn’t along the main Orange Street line, it’s a comfortable pit stop between Yotsubashi Station (along the Yotsubashi Line) and Orange Street, with equal walking distances roughly 10 minutes each.

But unfortunately, this is also where the similarities end. Shimokitazawa is worlds better than Orange Street. In fact, half of Orange Street appears to be dedicated to independent furniture manufacturing. And you don’t need to spend a lot of time at Orange Street (unless you have a tendency to get lost, as I did). Also, Shimokitazawa has far more cafe and fashion options than its Kansai cousin.

Granknot Coffee – Kitahorie 1-chome 23-4 Nagano Building No.102 北堀江1丁目23-4長野ビル102

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URBAN RESEARCH – Postal Code 550-0015 Osaka-shi Nishi-ku Minami-horie 1-20-9 〒550-0015 大阪市西区南堀江1-20-9

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***There’s a WordPress blog dedicated to all things organic in Osaka, including cafes. You can check out the full list here.

Dotonbori/Namba

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It’s not hard to find some of the signature signages and neon lights that make this city so world famous. But it is very easy to get lost in all this crowd. They were bad enough to piss me off the first time and give up within an hour.

My latest experience was far more pleasant because I wasn’t limited to the JR Namba station – where I got lost the first time – and it was very easy to navigate the key landmarks from there. I may not have had my share of okonomiyaki, but I did finally find the ever delicious Ichiran ramen store (which had snaking lines at 5:30pm) and takoyaki squid balls (chewier than I imagined, but still good).

Kobe – just for the beef

My initial plan was to visit the sake museums in the area, and maybe check out the Earthquake Memorial Museum. But in the end we just went around Sannomiya and had kobe beef for lunch. I’ve seen great reviews of WAKKOQU, but you need to travel out towards Shin-Kobe, make a reservation, and have a slightly heavier wallet. I love food, but I’m not crazy. The other alternative was Steakland which is far more accessible (it’s also in the Sannomiya area actually), but the lines were snaking with tourists.

With a quick search (thank you Google!), I found our next kobe beef alternative at Yazawa, which was just 30 seconds away. If you’re going in groups of 2 or 3, you should be seated fairly quickly. The staff are also aware of tourists visiting the place, so if you’ve never had kobe beef (like me), they’re happy to take their time to explain where their beef comes from, and the set options available. They didn’t have anything in English unfortunately, so understanding Japanese is a huge advantage (like everywhere else). But you will appreciate their effort for trying to make your experience a memorable one. And of course, Yazawa did not disappoint. I would rather recommend this place over the other two options.

Yazawa (http://koubegyuu.com/yazawa/) – Postal Code 650-0021 Hyogo Prefecture Kobe-shi Chuo-ku Sannomiya-cho 2-3-1  〒650-0021 兵庫県神戸市中央区三宮町2-3-1

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Miscellaneous

At the end of it all, Osaka is about its glorious food options. Here are some of the addresses:

  • Tazumura (http://www.daimaru.co.jp/umedamise/restaurant/U-14-10.html) 鶴群 – for awesome tonkatsu pork cutlets. This was the only restaurant we returned to visit on purpose. Located in 14F, Daimaru Department Store, South Gate Building, Osaka Station City
  • Ichiran (http://www.ichiran.co.jp/html/kin_douton.html) 一蘭 – Currently the only branch in Osaka. Located one bridge away from the “Glicoman” billboard. Postal Code 542-0084 Osaka-shi Chou-ku Souemon-cho 7-18-1F 〒542-0084 大阪府大阪市中央区宗右衛門町7-18-1F

And of course, what is a getaway without a mini-haul of sorts. I didn’t realize how many products I purchased were green though…

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My next trip should be more productive – a week’s worth of driving around Tokyo>Nagano>Nagoya>Tokyo, during the hanami season. Although from what I’ve heard, this year’s winter has been colder than usual, so we may miss the season. But my fingers are crossed that we’ll have some wonderful sceneries in this road trip!

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