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?

Osaka: Art and aquarium

December 27th 2018

Breakfast at Honey Mitsubachi Coffee, a lovely little café that makes fresh donuts all day long!

Escher exhibit

Last year, I had just a half day in Osaka before my flight back. I’d missed seeing an exhibition of work by the ukiyo-e woodblock artist Hokusai back in the summer, and was amazed to find the same exhibition had travelled to Osaka. This year more weirdness: having visited an excellent exhibition of the Dutch graphic designer Maurits Cornelius Escher in Leeuwarden this summer, I now find (at the same gallery) another Escher exhibition. The world is messing with me ‘ead.

Exhibition was at the tallest building in Japan, the Abenu Harekas, and consisted of prints and hand drawn works by the artist. Some extremely rare items – even a hand coloured print of Gravity, numbered 3 of 13 in Escher’s own hand! Since I was in such a tall building, I figured I might as well head to the top, and was delighted to find that tours of the rooftop emergency helipad were available. Did I go? Hell yes!

As I had an overnight ferry to catch to Beppu in Kyushu, figured I’d head out towards the port. First stop was at the Tozan Ferris wheel for amazing views – one of the largest ferris wheels in the world overlooking Osaka port. Then went next door to the Osaka aquarium – very impressive, two whale sharks in the humungous main tank. Not sure I’d like the tank cleaning job pictured in the gallery though, bit like painting the Forth Bridge, but with scuba gear and a scrubbing brush.

After that, one more stop on the train and 2 on the tram line took me to dinner at the ferry port. Hamburg steak (hamburger ) in teriyaki sauce with fried egg, potato croquettes, peas and sweetcorn – simple but very nice.

My fellow travellers

On boarding the ferry found it pretty full. I had a ‘tourist berth’, basically rooms with spaces to lie down with thin futon and quilt, some storage for luggage, and a place to hang your coat. Cost less than taking the fast train + hotel for the night, so quids in. I was the only Westerner in sight, so the English part of the restaurant and shop announcements was just for me . And after stocking up on sake and snacks from the shop, spent a few hours reading then off to sleep.

Osaka: Christmas? What Christmas?

December 25th 2018

So it’s time for my 6th trip to Japan, this time I’ve decided to experience Christmas and New year… Uneventful run from London Heathrow to Osaka via Amsterdam, long and boring in the way these things are. But no unscheduled excitement like flames, screaming etc – much the way I like it.

I’m in the future…

Extremely efficient immigration. They have machines that take index finger prints and a photo, these were manned by extra staff (I’d guess drafted in just to deal with peak tourist times – some were definitely retirees). Very friendly, but when I greeted the lady good morning in Japanese (ohayogozaimasu) she proceeded to talk to me in Japanese. I explained I only knew a little, and she switched to very good English with a smile.

Customs – this was a bit more intense than the usual check forms, wave through. When I said this was my 6th visit in 3 years, he very carefully checked all the stamps in my passport, then had a rummage around my suitcase and backpack. Clearly thought I had a little import business of some kind going on!

Here we go again!

After grabbing my bag, I spotted the Nintendo check in sign and knew I was in Japan. This was very quickly confirmed by the sight of artwork wrapped elevators with Bowser and Princess Peach on them. Sadly since it’s the winter, coldbrew coffee is tricky to find so had to make do with Starbucks iced Americano.

rapi:tldier – no, me neither!

First sight of a mascot – the statue representation of the Namba Rap:it fast train, very martial. Rap:it to Namba, then subway to near my hotel. Cold here, down around 4degC (though I later found that a week beforehand it was about 20degC, and the autumn leaf colours had only just faded, very late).

Much to my dismay not only could they not check me in earlier than 3pm as I’d hoped, they actually had me down as a 9pm check-in! . Something to do with the price deal I’d booked. 1,200 yen later they’d agreed to 3pm, so I dragged my jetlagged bod around the neighbourhood to kill time. Nice shrine complex where they were burning last year’s charms (little wooden tablets or decorations kept from the previous year to ward off evil and bad luck). Then found a great gyoza shop for lunch.

Checked in, crashed out for a couple of hours.

Headed to Umeda Sky building in the evening, long walk from the hotel past some great illuminated trees – these stretch nearly 3km along one of the main roads. Got to Umeda around 8.45pm to find a German Christmas market in full swing. Decided to go up to the observatory deck first. The queues turned out to be a nightmare – in total 1hr45min to get a 15 min walk around the rooftop. Worth it though, but sadly just as I got back to ground level all the lights on the market turned off – and they’d run out of beer! Time for a big gallery:

Preston Ale Pale from Tochigi

Never mind, found a Craft Beer Market at Osaka main station – actual handpumps on the bar, a local brewery doing English style ales, very nice. They also had Brewdog Santa Paws on draft. 

KFC: so in the end, I didn’t get to try KFC for Christmas. But as I found out the next evening, this wasn’t as much of a loss as I thought…

December 26th 2018


Quick breakfast at Café Di Espresso – with possibly the sweetest most processed pancakes I’ve ever eaten!

Travelled a short way on the Osaka Loop bus and had it all to myself. Very friendly and helpful guide, turns out she was from Kumamoto – and was most impressed with my Project Kumamoto Kumamon lapel pin. She also had the other tickets that came as part of the trip package – a 2 day Osaka Metro pass, and a cruise ticket for the afternoon.

Da boyz!

Walking across to the grounds of Osaka castle, I came across a massive queue outside the Osaka-jo event hall. Almost all were women, turns out they were after last minute tickets for a J-Pop boy band called Bullet Train. They’ve been together 7 years, but look about 15…

Heard the strains of Christmas songs and turned to see a very cute Dotto land train driving along with a load of passengers. I’m familiar with these from seasides in the UK, but hadn’t realised until now they are actually all made in Italy. As I came to the Gokuraku bridge over the moat that leads to the castle, I saw some beautifully decorated boats giving tours of the moat. These were Gozabune – golden boats modelled on one found on a folding screen painting of Osaka dating from the 17th century.


So of course I had to take the ride – very pleasant 20 mins going up and down the moat getting a good look at the steep walls that protect the castle. In one picture you’ll see an unusual shaped round stone. This was referred to as ‘human faced stone’, or ‘Jin-nem Iwa’, and was thought to have been installed to expel evil. It faces north-east from the main building which is thought to be a direction of bad luck.

Most of the stones making up the wall have symbols engraved on them, each representing one of the 64 feudal lords who were commanded to assist in the construction of the castle. Further down you can see closeups and some of the reference keys to the clans represented.

Then on to the main castle keep. Like many of the magnificent castles open to the public this is a 20th century detailed replica of the original wooden keeps – most of which burned down at one time or another over the centuries. It contains a great exhibition about Hideyoshi Toyotomi who ordered the construction of the castle, and has great views of Osaka from the top. One thing is for sure – I wouldn’t have wanted to be among an attacking force on this castle, the layout and steepness of the walls (complete with arrow slots) would likely make it a suicide mission.


More gold

Stopped at the castle café for my first taste of takoyaki (octopus dumplings). An unexpected texture – the batter inside is still quite liquid and slightly chewy, very tasty. They also showed the obsession that Hideyoshi had with gold leaf, with matcha ice cream cones decorated with it.

River boat

Took to the water on a river and canal cruise from near the castle down to the entertainment district of Dotonburi. Started on the Ogawa (literally ‘The River’), then turned off onto the Dotonbori canal. This waterway runs for most of its length under an expressway giving it an industrial feel – there are old buildings here that probably haven’t seen daylight in many decades. At one point we stopped ahead of some lock gates, and waited while a swing gate rose up out of the water behind us – the level of the canal and the river are slightly different, and this also helps in times of potential flood to keep the area around the canal from flooding.

Got to Dotonburi and strolled one section of the canalside walkway. There is a serious intent to promote these parts of the city as a kind of Venice or Amsterdam – and with the crazy signage and lights around Dotonburi I’d say they are succeeding. Took a ride on the Don Quixote (discount store) vertical ferris wheel – great fun and good views.

Yaeko found a Nintendo DS version of Yaketate Japan, an anime about baking that James liked…

Then to the evening entertainment. I’d booked a Bar Hopping Food Tour around Namba for the evening https://www.magical-trip.com/product/a9a2ebd9-ced6-4793-a0cf-14488d92b03a. Met with our guide, the brilliant Yaeko Tanaka, and a couple from San Diego Jason and Taryn. Luckily for us the other 4 people who’d booked didn’t turn up, so we had a nice little group.

Visited 3 different izakaya, and tried kushiage (deep fried skewers of different foods), oden (simmered foods) and then finished at Uranamba Torameyokocho, which was a great little food court style of restaurant with 9 different places selling food. Finally got to try seared chicken sashimi – yes, raw! – was very tasty. Finished with lots of sake and then a stroll to the Glico sign by the Ebisu Bridge. A brilliant evening. https://www.instagram.com/p/BsAT1r7na5k/

KFC update: during our discussions I mentioned the KFC thing to Yaeko. Turns out that if I’d pitched up there in the evening, I wouldn’t have found anything special – in fact all the Christmas specials would have sold out long before. Turns out they almost always order in advance, and even pick up in the morning – then reheat in the evening! Yaeko said it wasn’t so good after having to do that…

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