Osaka & Nara

Woke up, head pounding. Dizzy. Confused. Five hours sleep, max. After a huge day, flying from Sydney at 6am.

Location; Shibuya, Granbell Hotel. Today we go to Osaka. What a night; that story perhaps another time. Suffice it to say karaoke was involved.

We had purchased Japan Rail passes before we left Australia. These gave us access to all public rail on Honshu – most metro lines, as well as the shinkansen (bullet trains) between cities. So, we hopped on a train at Shibuya station around 10am bound for Osaka. These shinkansen run every twenty minutes, and make the entire journey in around three hours of very scenic Japanese countryside, travelling at 300km/h.

Our destination: Hotel Toyo, a hostel near Tennoji in the south of Osaka, which I can endorse highly. It only cost us around ¥1400 ($14) per night, and each of us had our own individual room (although very small). Ben, being tall, had to duck to enter through the doorway, which Dan, Lou and I found very amusing. The hotel is clean, friendly and has a nice atmosphere, with murals adorning the walls. Couldn’t have asked for anything better really, and it is within walking distance to the shopping & entertainment district Namba, as well as the famous Dotombori. Next door to the hostel is a charming little cafe run by somebody’s grandparents, where you can have a boiled egg on toast & a coffee for ¥300 ($3) if you buy a voucher from the hostel. Good deal I say.

With an afternoon & night to kill, we decided to walk towards Dotombori, via a long street, Sakai-Suji. The street is very interesting, filled with stores from which one can buy literally anything at all. We stopped into a children’s toy shop, and walked out with a BB gun each. We got the cheapest ones (about $20 each), but if we wanted to, we could have spilled $300+ on a high powered M16 or similar. Crazy.

After Sakai-Suji, we veered off towards Namba, a huge area of covered pedestrian malls running in every direction. Thousands of shops. Millions of people. The deafening sounds of pachinko parlours, bars, restaurants and music stores all around. Here, we stopped for lunch. The way to pick a good eatery in Japan is simple; a line outside, full inside, preferably bar seating, chefs visible, minimal or no english, delicious smells. The kushikatsu bar we stopped into ticked all of these boxes. Kushikatsu is a delicious Osaka cuisine – all about putting things on sticks, battering, frying, saucing and eating them. We had chicken, beef, prawns, cheese, leek, potato and many more, all oishii. Coupled with a large bottle of ice cold Asahi, this place was great. I can’t tell you where it is though.

After lunching and more walking, a visit to H&M and one to Uniqlo, we eventually came upon Dotombori in the late afternoon as the sun was going down. Dotombori is the famous canal that runs through Osaka. By night, the buildings facing the canal come alive, covered in neon lights advertising all types of things. The bridge crossing the canal is popular with youth & tourists alike, I asked some girls to take our photo in Japanese before learning they were Korean. The streets parallel to Dotombori are filled with many restaurants, all with huge mascots adorning their outer walls. Giant crabs, dragons, chefs, it’s quite a sight.

We stayed around the Namba area that night before walking the long walk back to our hostel. We stopped for dinner at a nice looking sushi restaurant. It had a poster outside with about 15 different whales on it. I wondered for a while if that meant what I thought it meant,  before my question was answered on the menu. Whale sushi. Whale bacon. Whale fin. Whale Tail. Whale steak. To tell the truth, the pictures made it all look mouth watering, especially the whale bacon. Being Australians though, we took the moral high ground and stuck to eating the less beloved animals of the sea, fish.

We retired early this day, still hungover and exhausted from a huge day of walking. The sore throat I had before I left Sydney the day before was now a full blown headcold, and I hoped to give it a chance to go away with a bit of rest. Ha! Rest, in Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo? No way. So it persisted, and I found the only cure was delicious Japanese beer and food (and eventually Okinawa).

The next morning we broke our fast at the cafe for $3, marvelling that you literally cannot buy a single thing in Sydney for $3. We headed straight to nearby city of Nara, which, pre-Kyoto, was Japan’s capital city, many many years ago. Now it holds a huge temple and park complex, and about 10 000 deers roam it’s streets. Nara is about a half hour train from Osaka. The deers, once you are in the park area, are everywhere. One can buy a pack of deer crackers from a street vendor, and feed the deers with them. Be careful though, they will mob you if they see the crackers in your hand. They ain’t shy. Don’t tease them either; we watched as two adorable little twin girls teased the deers (bigger than they were) with the crackers, until the deers knocked the girls over and ran off with the bounty, leaving nothing but tears for the girls and laughter for us.

If going to Nara and walking around all day was not enough, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon checking out Osaka castle. Osaka castle is surrounded by parkland, and adjacent is an entertainment centre, where we had some greasy street chicken karaage. There must have been ten thousand people outside this arena, waiting for what seemed to be a dance competition that night. Osaka castle itself is a monumental structure with a gigantic moat and huge outer walls. It’s been burnt & rebuilt a number of times, notably in the battle in which the south fell to the Tokugawa Shogunate, hundreds of years ago. Inside the castle is a staircase that leads one to the top, via floors of interesting museum. The castle is worth seeing, if only for the viewing platform at the top, from which you can see the whole of Osaka.

To top off a gargantuan day, we all got Japanese-style drunk. First stop: Bic Camera. The department store sells cameras, sure, but it also sells almost everything else, including cheap alcohol. We picked up a few boutique Sapporos and some coconut vodka drinks to have whilst walking between bars. The first bar we came across was on a corner in one of the covered pedestrian malls. Inside the bar was about 3 square metres in which the bartender, Gori-san plied his trade, with customers standing at the bar on the street. Gori lured us in with his display of ice cutting for whisky rocks. We had a few whiskies and the most delicious dry sake I’ve ever had, as well as some broken conversations with some drunken, funny Japanese men.

Next stop was in a tiny back alley. We chanced upon an even smaller bar than Gori’s, a hole in the wall with five seats. The proprietor didn’t seem too happy to be serving Gaijin, but we made friends with two passing Japanese guys who had a drink or three with us. The barkeep eventually loosened up & had a drink too. Our new friends were boxers, apparently. They wanted to take us to another bar, after trying to pay for our drinks. Wary of this type of thing, I refused them their money and we parted ways. Making our way back home we stumbled on to a sake bar that looked pretty cool. It was. Reggae music playing, Marley poster in the bathroom. We made friends with the staff quickly – they spoke english well and were good fun to talk too. I think one of them had bright orange hair, and another was moving to Sydney. More sake, more beer, and then after one of us vomiting (not I), we decided to call it quits.

Somewhere in this blurry two night stay in Osaka we also went to the Umeda area, with the largest underground mall system in the world. It was good, not great. Above ground there was an Oktoberfest celebration – in May, with German bands and German beers. That one is still unexplained; I suppose a metaphor for the greatness of Osaka in general.

Next up, the final chapter in this latest Japan trip; Tokyo!

By the way, you can buy some of my photos if you like on 500px.

Walking Sakai-Suji at night
One of our boxer friends wearing my sunglasses in a small bar, you can see we are literally spilling out into the alley
The tiny bar with our boxer friends, and grumpy bartender in the background
Gori-san’s bar
Typical Osaka
Oktoberfest in Osaka
Nara Park Transport
Mr Deer
Hi Mr Deer
Dan & Deer
BB guns for sale
Dan & Deer
Suspicious Deer
“Don’t touch me.”
Buddhist pavilion at Nara
Schoolchildren in Nara
These little girls got topped by these big deer
Actually Bambi
Photogenic deer
Osaka Alleyways
Osaka Alleyways
Covered pedestrian walkways in Namba, many people
Dotombori lights
Dotombori lights
A sea of people

Next up, the final chapter in this latest Japan trip; Tokyo!

By the way, you can buy some of my photos if you like on 500px.


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