I loved Osaka. It was kind of like Tokyo’s sassy punky little sister – where Tokyo can be glamorous and reserved, Osaka was brash and loud – it had character. Like the Italian South in contrast to its Northern counterparts; It’s also a foodies’ paradise, dubbed “the nation’s kitchen” with a number of dishes unique to the area.
I stayed with a lovely Japanese couple who took me to one of their favourite restaurants for Okonomiyaki (Okonomi-yes!) This is Japan’s answer to pizza and you just cannot find it in other regions of Japan. Its name is derived from the Japanese “Okonomi” meaning “what you want”… and this is definitely what you want… to be shovelling in your mouth that is, if you find yourself in the Kansai region of Japan.
It’s essentially a pancake made with shredded cabbage, and then you can choose the topping – typically Pork or Seafood. I opted for Pork and watched the server cook it on the table in front of me in Mustard (Yum!) I liked it so much I ended up going to Okonomiyaki places for my every meal (it has cabbage in it and cabbage is good for you right?)
The majority of local delicacies are fried… sea food lovers should also give Takoyaki a nibble – arguably Osaka’s signature dish, this is – crudely speaking, a fried ball of octopus with ginger and spices.
Stop yapping about food and tell us what there is to do in Osaka…
Sheesh! Okay, okay… I took a walk up to Osaka Castle – the castle has been rebuilt time and again (most recently in 1931) but it is still rather beautiful – the grounds are expansive and you can wander around the surrounding peach gardens, woodland and lake. The Osaka history museum borders this and makes for an interesting visit.
I love a good temple so I headed over to Shitenno-Ji – the first Buddhist temple in Japan, built in 593AD, and free to stroll around. This is probably one of the most active temple sites I’ve seen along my travels. The locals were there by the dozen paying their respects and participating in a flea market.
Dotonbori – write that down fellow foodies! You’ve probably seen pictures of this Times Square-esque strip if you’ve been thinking about a trip to Osaka. The streets are lined with restaurant upon restaurant selling local cuisines, eccentric arcades and theatres featuring Bunraku puppetry. At night time you see the true crazy animal that is Osaka unleashed as Osakaites fill the streets and head to the bars and restaurants.
“Hmm it’s quite quiet today… maybe it’s because it’s a Thursday” my host exclaimed with concern and a deadpan face as thousands of Japanese college students filled the streets singing and stumbling.
Shinsekai area is a lot of fun – home to Tsutenkaku tower, it’s an entertainment district that was built pre World War II and remains largely unchanged. It’s a popular area for eating and drinking amongst locals and the streets are lined with arcades and local bars.
Umeda Station bustles with J-Pop street performers as hipster school girls stand watching and giggling. This is effectively Osaka’s city centre featuring a number of department stores and malls.
Headed out to Osaka? Did I mention the Okonomiyaki? 😉
A day or two is plenty to explore this food filled City.