Since my travel visa was about to expire I decided to take a little trip over to Osaka, Japan before being ousted in a far less pleasurable way by immigration. My siblings were planning to come visit me and so we met up first in Japan to run around for a day and generally have a grand adventure while eating lots of delicious foods in Dotonbori.
On a side note I’ve discovered that flights are considerably cheaper if you go directly through the airline to book a flight instead of Priceline, Vayama, Cheap-o-air, or one of the many other discount booking sites. What is typically a $4-500 flight cost me somewhere around $230.
I wish I’d had more time to explore Osaka. We barely scratched the surface of all Osaka has to do, see, or taste. I arrived in Japan late in the morning and made my way up to the Namba area of Osaka where we booked our hotel and planned to meet up. A while ago I had stumbled upon a picture taken at the Namba Parks shopping mall located just outside the subway station and decided I had to go check it out for myself. I know, it sounds a little silly. I’m in Japan and I want to go see a mall instead of the other cultural places such as the Osaka Castle,
Shitennoji Buddhist Temple, the Sky Observatory or the Tsutenkaku. I planned to try visiting those too if I could. But this is no ordinary mall. Namba Parks is 8 stories tall and filled with gracefully curving walls segmented through the architecture itself and painted with reds and oranges and yellows in the semblance of sediment, busting with trees and flowers and zen walkways that immediately bring to mind images of canyons carved not by a stream of water, but instead of people.
It was a nice walk following the trail up the gradually sloping building and appreciating the beauty and innovation of utilizing the surface area of a building to create a beautiful green park in a highly urban city. I visited mid winter and it was still beautiful with a spattering of fall leaves and well as spring like gardens.
Once I reached the top and had my fill of the sights I moved inside to work my way down through the mall to see what they had to offer and maybe get a few things. When you step inside it’s as if you were transported to a completely different building. This is mainly because it is so easy to forget that the lush green gardens you were just walking through are a mall. It is a typical mall inside with very little hints of the outside gardens. The only exceptions are the walkways bridging the canyon and lined with benches to rest and enjoy the view. Various kinds of restaurants (Japanese, Korean, Italian, etc.) are located on the 6th floor, and shops are located on the 2nd to 5th floors. There is also a theater offering the latest films as well as an amphitheater in the center of the mall for live events or performances.
You can’t visit Japan without trying Tacoyaki, and Dotonbori has plenty of shops set up offering the hot and savory balls, each one simmering below the surface with rivalries and competition. It is said that Tacoyaki originated in Osaka where a street vendor named Tomekichi Endo is credited with its invention in 1935.
Tacoyaki is a ball-shaped snack made of a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special takoyaki pan. It is typically filled with minced or diced octopus, tenkasu tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. Takoyaki are then topped with the house special takoyaki sauce, similar to Worcestershire sauce, and sometimes mayonnaise. The takoyaki is then sprinkled with aonori, a type of dried seaweed, and katsuobushi which are shavings of dried skipjack tuna.
There are many variations to the takoyaki recipe, but all of them we tried were delicious. I expected the tacoyaki to be firm, like a fritter or pancake, but was pleasantly surprised when I broke through the thin crust to have my mouth filled with a soft inside and juicy flavor. The octopus was not chewy at all, lending a saltiness and fresh sea taste to the onion and tang of the sauce. It was all very fresh.
We also went in to try this small place that smelled delicious and offered the promise of chicken kabobs. Again we were blown away. It wasn’t just chicken kabobs, there was such a wide variety of cuts and flavors. All of it chicken, but very diverse. The place was more akin to a pub, wooden benched areas where small groups gathered and laughed and drank as well as ate. And none of it was in English. Nore with any pictures. The menu was hand written on plain white paper and hand bound to a thin wooden plank painted with a chicken. Very similar to what we saw outside. Luckily my sister spoke Japanese. For some she asked the waiter what he liked, he would point to something on the menu, and we would nod and smile and hold up our fingers for how many we wanted to order. For others we would point out a random item off the list and order some of those.
The first thing turned out to be grilled chicken breast chunks and onions grilled and topped with a sweet teriyaki like sauce. Then came a skewer of chicken hearts lightly seasoned and grilled. Thigh chunks grilled and brushed lightly with a tangy sauce then topped with a wasabi aioli. And finally some lightly battered fried chicken wings. We enjoyed everything.
There are so many places that smelled so good and so many sights to see. But we decided to head across the river to one of Osaka’s most popular night clubs.
The Giraffe Club is 4 stories, each offering a different atmosphere and music. They offer a discount for foreigners on Friday, and free entrance for everyone before 9pm on weekdays. Cover was 600 yen after 9pm, and you got a ticket for 1 free drink. No real dress code, the only thing I saw was that you might get turned away if you are a guy wearing sandals. Unfortunately they also don’t allow cameras in the club, which means no pictures. I had to rent a basket for 500 yen and leave it in there where they can make sure I don’t come get it and sneak it in later, which was fine because I could also leave my jacket and purse in there and just carry around my wallet while dancing. My siblings rented one of the usual lockers just inside the entrance for 200 yen and was able to fit both their stuff inside it.
The club was interesting. Brimming with lights and lasers and fog machines. There are 2 main dance floor levels, and the other two are more event based for socializing and drinking. We liked the DJ they had set up on the 4th floor and pretty much stayed there, listening to techno remixes and some pop music. It was packed, even on a Monday night when we were out. It was also very strange to witness the dance floors. They don’t dance at all. They might move side to side a bit, or raise their hand up when prompted by the song or DJ, or bob the head to the beat. But that was pretty much it. Even the outgoing girls up on the mini stage were dancing in a very awkward shuffle and swaying way, and the first row moved a little bit as well. That is just so strange to me for a dance club. Everyone packed in facing the DJ and watched them like a concert. We got our drinks and moved up to the front area and danced ourselves. Which led to some looks and some spreading boldness to those around us to dance a bit as well. And then the girls on the stage noticed us and pulled us girls up to join them in the center. We know how to dance, so we club danced and got some excitement and cheers and laughs from the crowd. 3 or 4 rows deep were now moving a bit. It was amazing….then they put on Gangnam Style. Haha, they had a routine but didn’t really know the dance so once again my sister and I led the way stumbling through a little better than most. We had a good time that night and crashed as soon as we got back to the hotel for the night.
We had planned to get up early and go to either the Osaka Castle, or the Shitennoji Buddhist Temple, but that didn’t happen. By the time we got up and ready, checked out, and walked to the Subway station we didn’t really have time to go visit either. It was sad, but we rented a locker and wandered around for the last hour of free time left to us. My sister got to have her onigiri bought at a convenient store, a rice ball wrapped in dried seaweed and filled with various flavored pastes. Sadly we couldn’t find a ramen place or any other restaurant besides McDonalds that was open. It wasn’t even that early, it was 10 in the morning. Japan is definitely a night life culture.
By the time we got to the airport and checked in we were starving. We ended up getting some delicious tonkatsu at one of the restaurants in the airport and shopping around a little more.
I wish we had more time to go around and explore Japan, but alas we had only the one day. Ah well, that just means I have to go back again right?!? Be sure to bring a good chunk of money when you visit because Japan is an expensive place to visit.
Coming up in the next post is the next part of our sibling adventure, a week of taking them around South Korea! Deoksugung Palace, Noryangjin Fish Market, Bar hopping in Songtan, and other doings.