Dispatches from the back of the sock drawer of life

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Osaka Pt. 2: Billiken

January 11th 2019:


Onsen to start the day, then checked out and dropped my gear in a locker at Nara station. Took a very long walk out into Nara park, my they do have a lot of deer here. Strolled back down through the temple complex, and to LBK one mo’ time for a light lunch, gyoza and edamame just the ticket.


Express train to Shin-imamiya station then changed to a local tram service – very cute old tram, sadly probably won’t get to ride more of this one this trip. Realised that I was very close to Tsutenkaku tower, another one of the one on the Towers association list – so of course had to tick that one off!


It was located in another shopping and eating district called Shinsekai, a little like Dotonburi. The tower is a famous landmark round here (large illuminated ‘Hitachi’ sign down the sides), so was much busier than Beppu. Great views from the outdoor observation deck at the very top. There was a shrine and a whole load of items related to Billiken, the good luck god – or as his many statues state on their base, “The-God-Of-Things-As-They-Ought-To-Be”. Apparently you tickle his feet to make him smile and bring you good luck.

Turns out the area I’m staying is known as Den Den Town – bit like Akihabara, lots of electronics and DVD/games store. Seemed to be a much higher percentage of ‘adult’ stuff advertised though…

Yet another long walk – was heading to a little brewpub called ‘Beer Belly’ to try a few locally brewed beers.

Minoh Beer: Makiochi Bright, seasonal. Very fresh, Kolsch style
Minoh Beer: Cabernet Ale. Belgian fruit ale in style, nicely balanced, cherry notes
Beer Belly: Winter Ale. Heavily spiced, so much clove! First taste too much, after that better. Chef/brewer thought he’d overdone it compared to last year!

The Umeda Sky Building observatory really does look like a UFO.

Metro back down to Namba, decided I’d try and find one of the izakayas – Uranamba Torameyokocho – that we’d visited with Yaeko.

After wandering around aimlessly trying to figure out where it was, I’d obviously wandered into ‘that’ part of the neighbourhood, as I was offered massage service several times in the space of 5 minutes. Finally got there, and decided to settle at the counter doing kushikatsu.

Started off with deep fried Avocado wrapped with bacon – OMG. Then followed with:

Quail eggs
Fry all the things!

No pickles though.

Dark Side of the Moo

Did I mention I love this place?

On the move again – Nara!

January 9th 2019:

Farewell cheese toast…

One more February Café cheese toast.

Shinkansen from Shin-Imamiya to Kyoto, magnificent views of Fuji finally as we passed Fuji City – I call this series “8 Views of Fujisan from Shinkansen”. Then express on to Nara, very pleasant weather and views.


Checked into the same hot spa hotel as last trip, very nice – and got an even better deal than last time. Guessing this week demand drops a lot compared to the New Year holidays just gone. Laundry into the machine then hopped in the hot spa for a soak – could get used to this…

Wandered out through the streets of the old town Naramachi, looking for the tiny brewpub I visited last year. Came across a ‘Brighton Tea Room’, and ‘Jump The Gun’ which had lots of mods and rockers inspired fashions – quirky!

Nara Beer

Nara Beer was still there, beer range expanded, had great chats with one of the two barmaids who was happy to practice her English (which was very good). She was studying at Nara University, and graduating and starting a job in April – similar to Yaeko, seems to be the timing here. She’d been travelling over the last few years and had holidayed in France, but was keen to come to England someday.

January 10th 2019:

Welcome rest

Nice lie in, and Starbucks for brekkie. Set out to hike the same forest trail again, much colder than the last time I was here. Hike up the river gorge just as spectacular in winter, no snow here just chilly. Was happy to see the Kubikirijizou rest stop – this marks the end of the steepest part of the climb. Had a nice new shelter since last time, with a guest book hanging up – jotted a hello from England. Lots more pics of deer as I walked down through the complex of temples.


Stopped into LBK for a sit down and swifty (just to check they’d be open for dinner later of course!) – was great to see that they’d expanded their range of local beers from the Nara Brewing Company. Then back to the hotel to soothe my legs in the onsen. Back out in time to catch sake tasting again at Harushika in Naramachi, second of the four collectable glasses (they do one for each season, different colours).

Architecture of the old town is wonderful. If it weren’t for the lamp posts and suspended power lines, I could be back in time hundreds of years.

Funky little bar called LIGHT – interior all looks like moulded concrete but is actually screed over wood, and when you look into the rafters you see that it is still a very traditional old Japanese building. The shopping trolley tables and plastics stools were pretty funky as well.

LBK for dinner. Sadly no Wagyu beef on the menu, but the 24 hour slow cooked ribs were a treat.

Nara and Osaka

Saturday 28th

Last full day in Nara, weather not great so decided to take breakfast at the hotel and spend a few hours catching up on the blog. On my arrival I had discovered that a once a year exhibition was occurring at the Nara National Museum, the The 69th Annual Exhibition of Shōsō-in Treasures. Ticket acquired, that was my destination for the afternoon.

In Nara, it seems it’s impossible to throw a rock without hitting a Buddhist temple or Shinto shrine – and then they get annoyed about it. I’d seen some of the further flung sites on my ramblings, but now it was time to tour the biggest of them all – Tōdai-ji, the largest wooden building in the world, even though it’s a third smaller than when it was last rebuilt in 1709 after being consumed by fire.

Damp – oh deer

My route took me past tourists, trinket shops, and many damp – but still picturesque – deer, some of whom were clearly annoyed at the drop in visitors due to the weather, and were bullying the more timid visitors for more shika-senbei. Passing through the nandaimon (Great South Gate) I viewed the 8.4metre tall guardians, dating from 1203, commonly known as the “Ni-ō (Two Kings) of Tōdai-ji”.

Onwards to the Great Buddha Hall, or Daibutsu-den. It’s an amazing sight, looming over you as you get closer. Once inside, the 500 tonne, 15m high Vairocana Buddha is just astounding. With his attendants either side, and two more guardians at the rear of the hall, it’s awe-inspiring.


Then onwards to the museum for the exhibition – information here. The Shōsō-in (正倉院) is the treasure house that belongs to Tōdai-ji in Nara, Nara, Japan. The building lies to the northwest of the Daibutsuden, and houses artefacts connected to Emperor Shōmu (701–756) and Empress Kōmyō (701–760), as well as arts and crafts of the Tempyō period of Japanese history. Once a year around 60 of the 9,000 items are selected to be exhibited – the collection is not open to the public, and since it is a revered resource of imperial treasures the items have been kept in amazingly good condition. It’s quite stunning to see a carefully restored gigaku mask used in plays – made of papier mache and leather, it’s around 1300 years old.

Rounded off the day at LBK Craft – round 2 of the wagyu beef!

Sunday 29th

Morning train to Osaka Namba station. By this time, the second typhoon of my trip was passing through earlier than expected, but further south offshore. Lots of rain and wind, but no disruptions to travel.

On the train, I spotted an advertisement for an art exhibition – a display of the works of ukiyo-e artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), whose “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” and “Under the Wave off Kanagawa” have become iconic images. I was so pleased – I had missed an exhibition of his works at the British Museum over the summer, so imagine my surprise when I found that this was the second showing of that same exhibition. After checking into my hotel and finding lunch, I headed for the Abeno Harukas building – tallest building in Japan and home to the Abeno Harukas Art Museum.

It was incredibly busy – a couple of hours spent queueing past many of Hokusai’s later works, once more I was one of the only Western faces in the massive crowd. Again, no photos allowed, so I picked up the exhibition catalogue afterwards. Most of the text was in Japanese – more reason for me to study! – but all the artworks were titled in English as well. I decided to pass on the Hokusai themed ramen noodle kit.

300m mark

Following the exhibition I took the elevator up to the top few floors, where the Harukas 300 observatory gives amazing views out over the city. And with the sky starting to clear after the typhoon, and the sun heading towards the horizon, there were some memorable sights.


Rounded off the evening with a mini pub crawl of 3 of the best local craft beer spots.

Monday 30th

With a slightly heavy head, I made an early start to Namba station, to catch the futuristic yet retro looking Rapi:t (ラピート rapiito) train to Kansai International Airport. The trainsets, officially designated as the Nankai 50000 series, were designed by architect Wakabayashi Hiroyuki and won the Blue Ribbon Prize in 1995, 1 year after entering service.

It was one last reminder for this trip of how the Japanese bring a unique, and detail focussed, twist to so many aspects of their lives. Once again, I really didn’t want to come home – one of these days I may end up staying there…

Sunrise from the Rapi:t


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