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Japan 2015 — Day 1: Cairns; Osaka — Dotonbori

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On a spur of the moment one morn­ing last September, D and I bought tick­ets to Japan. It was a ridicu­lously cheap deal ($540 return, includ­ing checked lug­gage) that we couldn’t res­ist, so we were off to Japan come November 2015.

Ridiculously cheap means that we woke at 3:45AM to catch a 6AM flight to Cairns.

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We have a three hour trans­it in Cairns, so hav­ing learnt from our pre­vi­ous trans­it that there is a dearth of food options in the International Terminal, we stick around the Domestic Terminal for some Hungry Jacks before col­lect­ing and recheck­ing our bags for the Carins to Osaka leg.

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It’s a sur­pris­ingly mild 25 degrees in Cairns (a 40 degree heat­wave was fore­cas­ted for Sydney that day), but it’s still sticky and humid as you can expect in trop­ic­al north Queensland.

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The even­ing we arrive in Osaka is one of the wet­test days we’d exper­i­ence through­out our time in Japan. We spot a coin laun­dry (and later find out there’s one on the top floor of our accom­mod­a­tion).

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Our Airbnb host picks us up from Nippombashi Station so we get to our accom­mod­a­tion in one piece , although he does this even in fine weath­er (accord­ing to the reviews left on his airb­nb pro­file) in typ­ic­al Japanese hos­pit­al­ity fash­ion. We chose airb­nb this time around out of neces­sity — all hotels with­in our budget were booked out for November/​December. Hotel rooms in Japan are known to be small, but the nav­ig­able space in this room is by far the smal­lest not least because they put in two single beds, rather than the usu­al semi-double. For the same price or less, we’d usu­ally be able to get decent sized rooms (albeit small by Western stand­ards) with the added lux­ury of turn down ser­vice in Japan, which we man­aged for all our stays in oth­er cit­ies. It turns out Chinese tour­ists have arrived in droves.

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It’s pour­ing buck­ets, but we head out to get some din­ner. We for­get our map in our acco­mod­a­tion so we wander around in the gen­er­al dir­ec­tion of Dotonbori. It’s our third vis­it to Osaka, so we weren’t entirely wan­der­ing blind!

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And we find it! Much to D’s relief.

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We don’t stay around Dotonbori for long and ven­ture into the covered areas of Shinsaibashi.

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There’s a place selling takoy­aki with whole baby octopus but we pass in anti­cip­a­tion for din­ner.

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Dinner is at Isono Ryoutarou, a kaiten­zushi where all the plates are ¥100.

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The interi­or is dec­or­ated with lan­terns and there’s a shrine like booth at the back. Matcha green tea is com­ple­ment­ary and self ser­vice from matcha powder and a hot water tap at your table.

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You can sample a gen­er­ous vari­ety of dishes either by pick­ing them off the con­vey­er belt or by order­ing from the screen in front of you.

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D loves his fried food, so we end up get­ting panko crumbed prawn (top left), battered prawn (bot­tom left), battered cala­mari (top right) and bartered white fish (bot­tom right). Japanese deep fried food avoids tast­ing oily so we quite enjoy these, the panko prawns for their crunch espe­cially.

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I love corn, so we were quite amused to see a plate with corn ker­nels piled high (top left). The corn ker­nels were tossed in may­on­naise and super sweet. The nigiri with extra tuna (top right) (extra tuna means you get twice the fish but only one piece of nigiri on the plate) was deli­ciously fresh — I’d eaten half the fish before tak­ing a photo — and the fatty sal­mon that was also beau­ti­fully melty. The tuna maki rolls (bot­tom left) hit the spot — there’s some­thing sat­is­fy­ing about these simple rolls that neither D nor N appre­ci­ate. Finally, the salt water eel (bot­tom right) — without being grilled and slathered in sauce you taste more of the subtle fla­vour and tex­ture of the eel.

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After a healthy serving of sushi and green tea, our sleep depriva­tion catches up to us. We’d come back to Dotonbori at the end of our trip.