While we didn’t stay in Osaka, with it being so close to Kyoto we visited a few times during our week in the Kansai area. While 30 minutes on the train in Perth might only get you from Perth to Joondalup, this time on a high speed train from Kyoto will find you in a whole other world. While Kyoto was all temples and mountains, Osaka smacks you in the face with its bright lights and big crowds. We did manage to find some zen moments away from the crowds though, and also took the time to visit the port city of Kobe which was an unexpected delight.
The first day I spent in Osaka was mostly on my own, as Ollie had plans to sleep in and then catch a soccer game in Osaka, before we met up for dinner. As much as I say time and time again that I would like a relaxing holiday, I am usually up pretty early because I just cant stand the thought of missing out on half a day in a brand new city. I started my day at Kiji Sky Okonomiyaki, which is hidden away in the basement of the Umeda Sky Building. The basement is an interesting space, set up to look like the streets of an old Japanese town complete with lanterns, paved ‘streets’ and full on shopfronts.
I arrived about 10 minutes after they opened, but the place was already full and there was about 6 people waiting in front of me. Okonomiyaki is a dine and dash sort of meal though so I wasn’t too worried, and I sat next to a lovely couple from Tokyo who spoke English which was handy as the menu was exclusively in Japanese. I had wanted to have okonomiyaki with noodles in it, but the wait staff insisted I wouldn’t be able to finish it on my own – a bold assumption! It was only later that I would learn that noodles in okonomiyaki is not the done thing in the Osaka region but is standard a few hours away in Hiroshima. I still reckon I would have been able to finish the noodle one, but it was a pretty delicious breakfast nonetheless.
After breakfast, I was off to Nakazakicho, about a 20 minute walk away from my breakfast spot. Probably best described as the ‘hipster haven’ of Osaka, this little enclave is full of greenery, op shops, kitschy cafes and quirky art spaces – sometimes all in the same building. It’s the perfect place to get off the beaten path and wander aimlessly for a few hours, and that was exactly what I had in mind.
Despite having just had breakfast, the only thing on my agenda was to find some cake and a hot beverage, and there was no shortage of options. My first choice was Café Arabiq – doubling as a bookstore and a gallery, every spare spot in this café was crammed with something to delight to eyes or the mind. They only had about 10 seats inside though, which were all filled when I arrived and remained that way while I lingered for about 5 minutes. So I had to move on, but I realised it was a blessing in disguise when I stumbled across Café Muni a few blocks away. Filled with indoor plants and with a matcha and white chocolate mud cake and chai tea special, it was the perfect spot to stop and read a book for a little while.
After that I wandered around a little more – unfortunately a little gift shop I had read about, Jampot, was closed but I found some quirky art galleries to duck into and street art along the way. I was so tempted to duck into almost every coffee shop I saw, but my next stop was a café across town called Wad Omotenashi where I wanted to have the ultimate Japanese tea experience so I had to hold off.
After I had my fill of wandering, it was a short walk to the subway station to get across town to Wad. This second floor café slash ceramics gallery was up there with the most unique experiences I had in Japan. They offer a variety of teas served in beautiful handmade ceramic bowls, and a selection of small snacks. There are all sorts of interesting options – you can choose to have teas with multiple steepings at different temperatures, teas where you can eat the leaves afterwards or tea leaves roasted in a kiln. I chose to have an autumn harvest tea, enticed by its description: ‘the leaves have gone through hot summer receiving much sunlight. Powerful deepness of colour, wild taste.’ I also opted for the ice shavings with uji (green tea) syrup and freshly toasted mochi with sugar and shoyu. Sitting at the window watching the world go by, alternating the warm tea with the cold ice shavings was a truly delightful experience.
After that I walked across to the vibrant Minami area, Osakas prime nightlife area along the Dotombori Canal. We had plans to grab some dinner here but given I had been eating practically all day we abandoned those, instead just going for a short wander before heading home.
The next morning when we arrived we decided, quite ambitiously, to walk the 5km from the station to Osaka castle. It was a nice enough walk along the river, although not particularly exciting.
We did make a stop for coffee at Moto Coffee, which had a super cute balcony overlooking the river and a decent iced latte. We also stocked up for a picnic lunch at Boulangerie and Café Gout, a rather unappealing name for a really lovely little café. Unfortunately for me the quiche I bought that I was so excited about had tuna in it (which I hate with a passion!) but Ollie was nice enough to swap with me for his chicken sandwich. It wasn’t the first and it wouldn’t be the last time that our complete lack of Japanese would lead to some poor menu choices! The delicious mixed berry pastry made up for it though, and the grounds of Osaka Castle was a nice place to eat.
After we had finished eating we had a quick wander around the castle grounds, which was perfectly pleasant but to be honest I think after our few days in Kyoto we were a little bit done with castles/temples/other generally impressive buildings! A bit awful to think of it that way in hindsight but there is only so many buildings you can appreciate in one week. I did really like the colour scheme of this one though.
After that we walked over to Dotombori canal to check it out in the daylight hours. It was just overwhelming how many billboards, shops, restaurants and people there are here and how long it goes for – street after street of absolute madness. We spent a while checking it out before heading to Round One Osaka, a GIANT arcade stadium. Spread over 8 floors, along with playing traditional arcade games you can go bowling, sing karaoke, gamble on the coin machines, play with the filters in the photobooths or play pool. We spent a couple of hours wandering around here, interspersing games of Mario Kart with watching Japanese teenagers absolutely killing it at dance dance revolution. They had a giggle at our clumsy stomping when we gave it a go ourselves, but were very friendly trying to help us how to work out how to do it better.
We wandered around for a little while before deciding to get some Takoyaki at Takoyaki Wanaka, which is just around the corner from all the action at the Dotombori canal in the Kuromon Ichiba Market. Also known as Osaka’s Kitchen – an impressive title given the amount of food in the city – this market is packed full of fresh seafood, vegetables and vendors making street food right in front of you. I had done my research on takoyaki in Osaka and this one did not disappoint – crispy on the outside and piping hot in the middle. It’s usually served with bonito (tuna) flakes on top but I passed on that and just had it drizzled with creamy mayo and topped with nori flakes. Just as we ordered it the skies opened and it poured with rain as we squished ourselves into a doorway and munched away on our delicious snack – it was a kinda perfect moment!
After that we made our way over to Okonomiyaki Mizuno, because I was still thinking about my breakfast the day before and I wanted to have one more Kansai style okonomiyaki before we left. Despite it being a tiny restaurant we were lucky enough to get a seat at the grill to watch our dinner being made which was fun – these chefs have perfected their craft and watching them cook is almost entrancing!
Afterwards, despite our bulging tummies, we managed to roll ourselves back over to the canal for a bit more people watching before heading home to retire for the day – it had been a long day with a lot of food!
On our last day before heading down to Fukuoka, we jumped on a train for the 45 minute trip to the portside city of Kobe. The first thing we did was catch the cable car up Mt Rokko. Passing over one of Japan’s largest herb and seasonal flower gardens, it was a very pretty ride and it was just a bit of shame the city was shrouded by a layer of haze.
We just bought a one way ticket on the cable car, and opted to walk back down instead past the 43 metre tall Nunobiki Waterfall and reservoir. It was a really beautiful walk through a peaceful area, though the steep steps made me glad we had abandoned our plans to walk up as well.
After that we decided to walk through the city down to the port instead of taking the subway. It was about 4km so not a huge distance, and we thought given we would only see the city once it would be a nice idea. I was so happy we did, because it turned out to the one of the prettiest cities we visited. This beautiful city shows few scars of the devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake that shook the city in 1995, but memorials to those that didn’t survive are prolific through the city. One of my favourites was the ‘monument of memorial and reconstruction’ in Higashi Yuenchi Park . You can walk under this water feature and hear the water drumming above you, and all the names of those who were lost in the earthquake are listed in the underground chamber.
I had strangely become a little obsessed with manhole covers in Japan as well, and on our walk we found out that Kobe has so many cute ones! Most other cities we visited seemed to only have one or two, so I am not sure why there were so many here, but I got a thrill whenever I spotted a new one.
We finally made it down to the port, were we saw the earthquake memorial museum and a small stretch of the waterfront that has been preserved since the quake struck in 1995, with a damaged seawall and the streetlights still askew. There was also lots of beautiful street art, and the striking sight of Kobe port tower standing tall next to Maritime Museum with its dramatic steel sail frame.
Finally, one our way back to the train we wandered past a Patisserie Akito and as usual I dragged Ollie inside to get some sweet treats for the train ride back. A raspberry and matcha tart and chocolate mouse/cake filled the spot nicely for the train ride home.