It’s our first day in Japan and there’s nothing really planned other than to wander around and settle into the groove for travelling. We try to wake up late as shops don’t open until 10 – 11am. We’re still on Sydney time, so we end up watching TV for a good hour before venturing out.
It’s quite soggy outside, but thankfully, the rain has let up overnight.
We’re about a 6 minute walk to Nippombashi, which is suitably distanced from the hustle and bustle but convenient enough to walk. We’re staying on the east side of Osaka this time, so there’s plenty of new things to see as we’ve always stayed on the west side.
We’re on our way to Kuromon Market, but we pop into the Copenharvest a block from the entrance to the Market for some breakfast so we don’t fill ourselves up with expensive market food.
Japanese bakeries serve a delicious variety of breads and have far more European influence than the Asian bakeries in Australia.
I go for an apple custard cream donut (top), which is pillowy soft with just the right sweetness and apple flavour (no apple chunks though), while D goes for his curry pan (bottom), which is fluffy and flavourful but sorely needs potato.
We first found out about Kuromon Market while watching Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food on SBS. At 10am, many parts of Kuromon Market are open while others are still setting up. It’s already swarming with tourists, though.
We duck into one of many supermarkets in Kuromon market for a drink. D and I love visiting supermarkets, especially in Japan, to see the interesting things they sell — we’re supermarket tourists.
We find this nashi pear soda that’s deliciously refreshing. Like Korean pear juice but without the grit and carbonated. We go back at the end of our trip for a last drink but it’s sold out, alas.
The supermarket’s also selling these ginormous, pristine, and uniformly shaped strawberries from coming from Kumamoto city in Kyushu, Japan, and so branded with the city’s mascot, Kumamon. Coming from Australia where fruit is cheap as chips, we’re constantly baffled at the price of fruit: Y980 (~AUD10)/punnet.
Back in Kuromon Market, we stumble upon a shop selling raw coffee beans and roasting them fresh for takeaway.
There are sacks of raw coffee beans ready for roasting.
The sign says that the ‘minimum order for fresh beans is 300 g. One order requires approximately 7 – 10 minutes for roasting and cooling, after which the beans will be bagged, sealed and ready to take away’. The machine for roasting the coffee beans is in the background (right) — I would love to wake up to the smell of roasting coffee!
Also from Ainsley Harriott’s Street Food, we spot and try these baby octopus with a quail egg inside their head. Surprisingly, it was served cold. The octopus had a slight sour tangy preserved quality to it, while the egg was hard boiled. It was interesting, but we’ll pass on these next time.
Den Den Town
After Kuromon Market, we intended to visit Namba and ended up stumbling into a part of Den Den Town we’d never seen before. We’d been once before during our first visit to Osaka in 2011, but having come during the day, half the stores were closed (as is characteristic of otaku stores, I’ve found) so we didn’t venture far enough to reach its belly that is the main road.
At a 100 yen Lawsons store, we find a 0% alcohol lychee cocktail that we planned to come back for (but forget) and bought a Mets Litchi drink by Kirin. D and I are fond of lychee flavoured drinks (and nashi pear!) and this one was particularly delicious with the added fizz that D loves.
Opposite the Lawsons, we spot Anna Colors Coffee. They have a cafe menu with pasta and pancakes and fruity drinks. We’d arrived in between their breakfast and lunch times, so they were closed unfortunately. We planned to return for lunch later, only to find that even though the menu was in katakana (and hence extrapolatable to english) we still could not understand the food items as well as we’d hoped, so we pass on this one.
Amusingly, Anna Colors Coffee also has a dog food menu if your lunch date is a pooch. You can treat your dog to dishes like strawberry mousse (bottom right).
Instead we head over to Cafe Di Espresso for D’s morning coffee fix.
Their smoking section is on the first floor, which is where the service counter is, and the non-smoking sections are on the second and third floor. Luckily, Japanese service is quick.
D has a mocha (above right), while I get the almond latte out of curiosity. The almond latte tastes like a hyper nutty milk coffee. It tasted decent — I love nutty flavours — but I think cow milk gives the coffee a rounder and fuller flavour, which I find more enjoyable.
The vast majority of Den Den Town is still closed at noon, so we walk through the streets towards Namba. Close to the cafe, we spot this 16bit map showing where you are in Den Den Town, which amuses the geek in us.
And we pass by the closed Pombashi Rice Dog, which sells rice burgers and hot dogs for a fraction of the price of those sold at One Tea Lounge in Sydney, as well as over 30 different flavours of soft serve. The Japanese love their soft serve! Isn’t that a retro rice dog sign?
We spot these cute figures in animal costumes at the base of a sign for a maid cafe.
And with that we’re out of the ghost town that was Den Den Town. We’d head back later in the afternoon to check out the (then open) stores.
We pass by Doguyasuji, Osaka’s version of Kippabashi Street in Asakua, Tokyo. It sells all sorts of kitchen ware, including takoyaki pans, taiyaki pans, oden trays, and wax models.
The only reason we go down Doguyasuji is because the main shop of our favourite takoyaki chain, Wanaka, is very close to the other end (the entrance) of street.
Their takoyaki is kept on the pan, so you can always be sure to receive piping hot takoyaki when you order. Piping hot makes a difference, I tell you.
For a pre-lunch snack we go for eight with the usual toppings of takoyaki sauce, mayonnaise, aonori and bonito flakes. They’re just as tasty as ever!
With the takoyaki fuelling us, we head into Muji to check out their cafe section. Muji is like a beautiful version of Ikea but much to unaffordable if you want your entire house to eschew that minimalist wooden aesthetic. But that’s all right, I note down a number of teas I want from their selection and the factory/how things work geeks in us become mesmerized by the glass cladding the escalator leaving it’s internal components exposed for viewing.
It’s almost Christmas, so Muji has cookiebread displays on show.
You can purchase kits for each of these houses to make yourself.
We head upstairs to Loft to check out the cool things they sell, one of which is silicone moulds in the shapes of a polar bear and whale so you can create rice dishes with animals paddling about.
We fall in love with the cup on the right, which we end up buying later on in the trip along with another that shows pictures of the actual fish used in sushi (rather than the text as in the left).
I have a fondness for building and making models and these paper ones of famous landmarks around the world are no exception.
In particular, I love models of temples and castles in Japan. I had my eyes set on these but ended up buying different models at Joshin in Den Den Town later on in the day
We spot these cute umbrella stands that double as cages for zoo animals. I’d go for the bear one, though in reality, I’d need two as I have too many umbrellas.
There’s this super cool geeky iPhone case illustrating the subway and train lines in the Kansai area as if it were a circuit board. Alas, D and I are Android owners.
After Loft, we head over to the food hall at Takashimaya for a look at their cake selection. We find these cute chocolate bears being sold in boxes that resemble a book.
And we then get seduced by the samples of dried fruit at the Middle Eastern Bazaar. They’d offered us samples last year, but we caved with dried pineapple this time.
We tried samples of pineapple from two countries and ended up with the one from Mexico. They heat seal your purchase to keep it fresh!
This dried pineapple is unlike any we’ve tried covered in sugar in supermarkets. There’s a distinct smell of soy sauce to the pineapple, but it tastes nothing like soy sauce — just intense pineapple flavours.
And in a pharmacy in the basement of Namba Parks, we meet kerochan and kurochan at a pharmacy in the basement. Pharmacies in Japan sell a lot of stuff other than medicines, from snacks and laundry detergent to other goods you’d expect in a 100 yen store. If you’re ever thirsty, a pharmacy is a good place to find a cheap cold drink.
We take a short rest at this mechanical contraption/Rube Goldberg machine in the basement of Namba Parks. There is more than one track for the balls to travel. It’s quite mesmerising tracing them.
Den Den Town
It’s past lunch hour and we’re hungry, so we head back to Den Den Town in the hopes of eating at Anna Colours Coffee but the katakana stumps us.
Instead, we end up at Chikara Meshi, a rice bowl vending machine chain restaurant. This is a new restaurant for us, having only seen it in Tokyo once before.
We have some brief trouble ordering from the vending machine before I manage to convince D that you need to put the money into the machine before ordering. There’s no English option on the vending machine, you see, so we couldn’t understand the error message that kept popping up. All’s well though.
D ordered smoky grilled pork on a bowl of rice, which comes with miso soup. The meat is deliciously juicy with the pile of shallots being the only complaint.
I ordered grilled pork on a hot plate, which comes with rice, miso soup and salad. I’m not sure whether the salad is mine or D’s as I already had salad underneath my pork, but D’s convinced it’s mine. The pork was juicy and the drizzled miso sauce was flavourful without being overwhelming like the red miso pork we had in Nagoya in 2014.
After lunch, we head back to Den Den Town, which has now awaken. We walk past a store that sells only trolleys and replacement parts for them. Oh, Japan and your specialty stores!
I observe skeptically to D that I don’t see how we can kill 3 – 4 hours between the end of lunch and making our way to dinner and Christmas lights in Tennoji. I end up eating my words, though, as we spend about that time in Joshin, a 5 level craft and hobby store. I love hobby crafts and indulge in model making kits.
Clockwise from top left, I choose a green tea store, a taiyaki stand (to complement my takoyaki stand at home), a fish monger and a butcher. Now I just need the time to make them! Joshin also sells all the parts you’d want for life-size model guns and true-scale train sets and buildings and all the glues and paints you’d ever need. I love these stores. Nothing on this scale and in such detail exists in Australia.
On the way back to our accommodation to drop off our shopping before heading to Tennoji, we come across a store selling miso paste as if they were tubs of gelato.
We’re at Tennoji to see Christmas lights but before that is dinner at Torikizoku, a yakitori chain with all items on their menu for ¥280.
Even the alcoholic drinks are ¥280.
D tries the cassis grapefruit (above left) made with Lejay Crème de Cassis de Dijon, a deliciously sweet berry blend with slight bitter citrus notes that makes it rather refreshing and far too easy to drink. I read reviews about their green tea series so go for their green tea soda (above right) made with BOLS Green Tea, which is a sweet green tea liquer with a slightly more pronounced alcoholic note than D’s and also very easy to drink. We also later order a green tea highball but the waitress gets the order wrong even though we ordered correctly and the waiter who took the order passed it on to the waitress correctly. This is one of the rare few occasions where we’ve been disappointed by Japanese customer service.
There’s a wide variety of yakitori to choose from.
Clockwise from top left, we have chicken thigh, torikawa (sinfully delicious fatty chicken skin — think eating only the fatty skin of a chicken wing), chicken wings beautifully juicy meat), chicken liver (the waitress got our order wrong again even though she repeated it back to us fine but our limited Japanese would not be up to complaining) and cow heart (I was sceptical about this but tried it on D’s recommendation, and it’s tasty muscle with decent bite).
We also get a plate of chicken wishbone that comes with instructions on how to eat it correctly. They’re quite salty and dry in stark contrast to the juicy chicken wings.
From the restaurant, which is right outside Abeno Station, we walk the length of the main street up to Tennoji Park. The trees on the street are illuminated for Christmas.
This is the major intersection at Tennoji. There are no pedestrian crossings here — all foot traffic is on elevated walkways.
From Tennoji, we can see Tsutenkaku Tower in the distance. It’s a landmark located in Shinsekai, Osaka’s ‘dangerous’ area where crime is said to flourish along with a large concentration of prostitutes and homeless people. According to Wikipedia, ‘the lights on top of the tower show tomorrow’s weather by a combination of different colours’. I can only imagine that the red we see in this photo signifies good weather ’cause that’s the weather we got the next day!
At the entrance to Tennoji Park, we see lights illuminating a circular building.
Animals are projected onto the ground around the building. I imagine it’s got something to do with the zoo that’s located in Tennoji Park.
D and I stop by a Lawsons for dessert before heading to the Abeno Tennoji Illuminage. Royce chocolate is particularly delicious — our only other experience was with Royce chocolate covered potato chips made fresh at Calbee+ in 2014. The centre to this Royce Ice Dessert was particular hard to bite through as it was made of pure chocolate. The cone was your typical chocolate cone with nuts and very tasty as usual.
Abeno Tennoji Illuminage is an annual light show held in Tennoji Park. Entrance is Y1,000.
Animals are whthe theme for 2015 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Tennoji Zoo. One hundred animals feature in the illumination.
Clockwise from top left, life-size zebras, a giraffe, elephants and a rhinoceros frolick.
Clockwise from top left, life-size pandas, snow leopards, tiger cubs and lions are all in proximity.
Clockwise from top, flamingos, paper cranes, owls, a frog and a deer almost make an appearance.
From the initial area with the animals, we reach the Ten Heroes of Sanada that recur in each annual illumination as the area around the park is associated with Sanada Yukimura, a samurai warrior known as the leading general on the defending side of the Siege of Osaka.
From the Ten Heroes of Sanada we enter a winding path illuminated by lanterns (above top) before reaching a rainbow sectioned tunnel that wraps around the lake (above bottom).
A wider view of the rainbow section tunnel with a lifesize boat on the lake and Abeno Harukas, the tallest skyscraper in Japan, in the background. Aren’t reflections on the water pretty?
From the lake, we visit (clockwise from top left) the polar bears, penguins, camels and reindeers.
And then (clockwise from top left) the ducks, koalas and kangaroos.
Walking back to Tennoji Station, we get a good view of Abenos Harukas (we’d been there in 2014).
And we see a number of quirky signs suggesting that cats must not ride bikes or skateboard or play golf in the park, and that two headed, six legged animals can be found in their zoo.
We head into the shopping mall to reach the subway station and see some more Christmas decorations along the way.
It’s late and in my exhaustion we catch the Midosuji Line instead of the Tanimachi Line, so end up having to change lines at Namba.
But that’s serendipitous because the bakery in the train station is having a 40% sale!
We get two of these apple tarts, which are delicious with their still firm apple slices, as well as two beef curry donuts in anticipation for tomorrow’s walk through a forest.
Just before we head home, we grab a Calpis Sour from the supermarket. A Calpis Sour is an alcoholic version of Calpis and tastes essentially the same with an added alcoholic kick.