After our all-too-brief stay in Tokyo, it was time for us to reluctantly move on to our next destination: Osaka. We were looking forward to experiencing a more 'authentically Japanese' city, as many say Tokyo is more or less just another big city in the world.
While our experience showed that it was anything but, we were still excited to see the region that many tourists believe is more unique and special.
This was also our first experience riding the Shinkansen, or known by us westerners as the Bullet Train. Boarding at Tokyo Station, we braced ourselves to travel over 500km in just under 3 hours.
We did board the wrong train by accident, but managed to switch to the correct one at the next station. We were also graced with this beautiful view of Mount Fuji.
After a slightly disorienting ride, it took us two more lines in order to reach our Airbnb in the Nishi area. The first thing we did after settling in: head out in search of a legendary ramen chain.
鶏Soba 座銀 本店
This was some of the best ramen we'd ever had in our lives. Their staple pork broth ramen had a unique creaminess to it and was very mellow, but rich in pork undertones. The noodles had a perfect al dente texture, and their crab ramen, while slightly saltier than I would have liked, was filled with seafood flavour. We went here twice in our stay in Osaka, and wished we could bring it back to Vancouver with us.
Their staff weren't well versed in English however, so when there was a confusing incident involving a ramen egg, karaage, and me pressing the wrong button on the vending machine, we required a very friendly translator to help us convey our mistake. This is Waka, he was actually in Vancouver a few months ago, and we bonded over his favourite moments in the great white north.
PS: he lives a very interesting life and you can follow him on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/wakatawashi
The next day, we chose to make our way towards Dotonbori, the famous shopping district of Osaka. Along our way, we had a chance to explore the residential area we were situated in. Our accommodation was luckily situated a walkable distance from the main subway line and quite a few of our must-visit destinations.
During the middle of the morning, Osaka was much quieter than we anticipated. After getting used to the perpetual busy-ness that was Tokyo, this was quite a breath of relief. Breaks in the density were common, and although it wasn't as clinically spotless as many parts of Tokyo were, Osaka felt much more natural and made Tokyo feel almost sterile in some regards.
...this was, until we got to Dotonbori. Back were the throngs of tourists and the tax-free signs. We took a bee-line straight to our breakfast:
Known colloquially as "that place with the jiggly pancakes", Gram is one of those places that graces basically everybody's Instagram feeds in one way or another. While we assumed we'd just be able to wander in and order their famed souffle pancakes, it turned out that they only bring out these pancakes at certain times (check their website for the details before going or you may have to wait up to 4 hours)
We arrived at 10am, and the next interval was at 11, so we went with tiramisu pancakes to start. Even for regular pancakes, these were much lighter and fluffier than those you can find in Vancouver, where pancakes in most brunch places are basically equivalent to concrete made of eggs and flour.
Then the showstopper came: the souffle pancakes. They were every bit as light, heavenly, and scrumptious as we expected: like eating three clouds with butter, whipped cream, and syrup. The only thing to note was that they were quite buttery, that may irk some people. Me? Not at all.
The best part: they were only about $12 CAD. At less than the cost of a Vancouver brunch, I can definitely recommend taking a visit.
As you can imagine, we felt inclined to walk off the carbs after such a meal. We continued to explore the area and do some light shopping along the way.
In all honesty, the bulk of the Dotonbori area didn't seem too special at first. The many blocks of stores and restaurants all appeared to melt together, as each section looked almost identical. The rain could have also been a factor in this: it had been pouring the entire day, and there were no signs it would stop.
We did find a pleasant surprise while we were walking to our next destination however:
A chain originating in New York, we didn't expect to find a foodtruck in the middle of Osaka selling lobster rolls. Of course, things are slightly localized: you purchase your order through a vending machine, and they offered a wasabi lobster roll. Of course, I went for that option and was certainly not disappointed. While it was a little pricey for the size, the generous amount of lobster made it well worth it.
We eventually reached our destination: Namba Parks. It's yet another mall, but the architecture is quite unique, with curves and greenery that truly stood out in a region with nothing more than blank-faced skyscrapers
I was reminded of the images I've seen of Antelope Canyon at times. We didn't look much further than the initial exterior of the mall, as the rain and walking had us beat, so we found a place to dry up and recover for a bit.
In the end, we were saved by two different magical rings of carbs. The first being a bakery/cafe called BAGEL & BAGEL, which had as the name implies, many unique varieties of bagels. Particularly of note were the matcha/white chocolate and the earl grey milk tea flavours. They were tasty and affordable.
The next was Krispy Kreme. Why is it that every chain is so much better in Japan? I took a matcha donut for later, but just look at how tantilizing the top row looks!
We slowly started making our way back to our Airbnb, and as the sun began to set, the rain's magic started to come out.
The approaching darkness brought out the streetlights, turning the initially drab and hazardous puddles into mirrors reflecting and amplifying the magic. The transparent umbrellas were just the faceted prisms on top.
Despite the cold, rain, and the aching of our feet, we couldn't stop taking photos along our way back. We were so distracted that we realized we hadn't even had time to decide on dinner.
Having spent quite a lot in Tokyo, we decided that rather than splurging on another round of eating out, we should consider getting groceries and cooking at our Airbnb. After finding the first grocery store Google took us, we were in heaven the moment we stepped in.
Please note that this is all from a Canadian's perspective, so feel free to laugh at my ignorance. This Japanese grocery chain was heaven for us. The prepared foods and bakery kept us wishing that there was a store lie this somewhere in Vancouver.
Fresh warabi mochi, melon pan, sashimi better than many local Japanese restaurants of the same price range, rows of Japanese snacks, and some of the most beautiful strawberries I've ever seen. We came back a few times to stock up on veggies and grab a quick dinner, and were never really disappointed with what we found.
Sometimes the simplest pleasures are the greatest, and recovering from a cold, wet day over tea, boiled veggies, and a surprisingly decent $10 meal for two was just that for us.
We didn't get to spend as much time exploring the rest of Osaka, as it served mainly as our homebase for other adventures thanks to our JR Pass. It's a shame really, as there was so much in the city we missed. Hopefully we'll have a chance to visit in the future, but up next: the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima.