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Japan 2015 — Day 2: Osaka — Kuromon Market, Den Den Town, Namba and Tennoji

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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.

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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.

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Japanese baker­ies serve a deli­cious vari­ety of breads and have far more European influ­ence than the Asian baker­ies in Australia.

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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.

Kuromon Market

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Back in Kuromon Market, we stumble upon a shop selling raw cof­fee beans and roast­ing them fresh for takeaway.

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There are sacks of raw cof­fee beans ready for roast­ing.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Instead we head over to Cafe Di Espresso for D’s morn­ing cof­fee fix.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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We spot these cute fig­ures in anim­al cos­tumes at the base of a sign for a maid cafe.

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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.

Doguyasuji

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Namba
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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.

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It’s almost Christmas, so Muji has cook­iebread dis­plays on show.

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You can pur­chase kits for each of these houses to make your­self.

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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.

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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).

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I have a fond­ness for build­ing and mak­ing mod­els and these paper ones of fam­ous land­marks around the world are no excep­tion.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

Tennoji

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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.

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Even the alco­hol­ic drinks are ¥280.

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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.

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There’s a wide vari­ety of yakitori to choose from.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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This is the major inter­sec­tion at Tennoji. There are no ped­es­tri­an cross­ings here — all foot traffic is on elev­ated walk­ways.

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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!

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At the entrance to Tennoji Park, we see lights illu­min­at­ing a cir­cu­lar build­ing.

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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.

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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.

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Abeno Tennoji Illuminage is an annu­al light show held in Tennoji Park. Entrance is Y1,000.

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Animals are whthe theme for 2015 to cel­eb­rate the 100th anniversary of Tennoji Zoo. One hun­dred anim­als fea­ture in the illu­min­a­tion.

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Clockwise from top left, life-size zebras, a gir­affe, ele­phants and a rhino­cer­os frol­ick.

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Clockwise from top left, life-size pan­das, snow leo­pards, tiger cubs and lions are all in prox­im­ity.

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Clockwise from top, flamin­gos, paper cranes, owls, a frog and a deer almost make an appear­ance.

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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.

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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).

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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?

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From the lake, we vis­it (clock­wise from top left) the polar bears, pen­guins, camels and reindeers.

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And then (clock­wise from top left) the ducks, koalas and kangaroos.

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Walking back to Tennoji Station, we get a good view of Abenos Harukas (we’d been there in 2014).

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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.

Namba

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We head into the shop­ping mall to reach the sub­way sta­tion and see some more Christmas dec­or­a­tions along the way.

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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.

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But that’s serendip­it­ous because the bakery in the train sta­tion is hav­ing a 40% sale!

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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.

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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.