It doesn’t take long for D and I to adjust to the time difference, so we sleep in gloriously late before greeting the blindingly bright weather outside to visit Minoh Park. Minoh is a city about 15 km north of Osaka City and is best known for Meiji no Mori Minō Quasi-National Park, one of Japan’s oldest national parks. It is one of the best places in the Kansai Region to see the autumn colors in a natural setting.
Osaka — Umeda
Any trace of the cloudy and wet weather forecasted for Osaka has vanished by now. Even the dampness from the previous day has evaporated under the crisp blue skies.
We come across this building with the word ‘Atlantis’ atop it and fake stone/concrete render and waterfalls covering its facade. We see people coming down the fire stairs, and intend to Google what weird establishment it was but always forgot. Googling it now, it’s Hotel Atlantis, a love hotel with seven floors featuring six world regions and outer space.
We’re on the hunt for a Chococro St Marc’s Cafe but we end up in the basement of a the Hankyu Department Store where we spot this very awesome birthday cake — the placement of the blueberries corresponds with the days of the month on a calendar, and the square for the current day (i.e. someone’s birthday) is marked with a red currant.
Outside the Hankyu Department Store we see Christmas displays gracing its windows.
Just as we’re about to give up on finding a Chococro St Marc Cafe and settle for the Travel Cafe, I spot it right in front of me!
The Umeda branch of Chococro St Marc Cafe is the most lavish we’d see during our trip.
D orders an iced coffee, while I try their iced yuzu cha. The iced yuzu cha would be one of two things that keep drawing us back to this cafe during our trip. It’s refreshing with, as D aptly describes it, the uplifting flavour of yuzu. I surmise that it’s made from yuzu marmalade, but we’d have to come back and watch them make it to confirm.
The black sesame croissant (above top) is what caught D’s interest and sparked our quest for a Chococro St Marc Cafe in Umeda. It’s somewhat of a let down though, being only 10cm long and not being very strong on black sesame flavour. The eggs benedict roll (above bottom) is what cements our love affair with this cafe though. It’s still warm from being fresh out of the oven, the eggs are oozy and the saltiness of the ham and hollandaise just make this ridiculously delicious and so moreish that I told D I could happily eat many more of these (and we do, later!)
With our quest for Chococro St Marc Cafe over, we’re finally on a train to Minoh Park.
One transfer and two trains later, we’re at Mino-O Station.
We’re greeted at the entrance to the station by this adorably grumpy mascot for Minoh city. We later find out he’s a samurai with a tender heart called Takinomichi Yuzuru.
The walk to the entrance of Minoh Park from the train station is very intuitive — you walk in the direction of the shops.
We spot a bunch of yuzu paraphernalia. The area around Minoh is known for its yuzu. Yuzu grown in Minoh is distinguished from that grown elsewhere because it is raised from seed rather then grafts.
On the walk to Minoh Park, we see an exposed lift that’s part of the hotel complex situated on the mountain behind.
At the entrance to Minoh Park we meet vendors setting up shops seeing oasted chestnuts, and trying to tempt passerbys with samples.
There’s a foot bath at the entrance. It’s completely empty when we take a look at it in the morning since people generally use it after their trek back from the waterfall. It’s completely packed on our return and we opt out of risking contracting horrible feet diseases.
Another old man is selling fresh persimmons out of the back of his van.
And this shop set up next to a restaurant is selling dried fruit, including mango.
The use of wood in Japanese architecture immediately elevates the elegance of their buildings.
And we’re finally at the start of Minoh Park!
We see beautiful man hole covers depicting the maple leaves and the waterfall famous in the area.
Even their fences get beautiful consideration.
Minoh Park is known for its autumnal foliage, so we’re visiting earlier on during our trip in Osaka.
A rocky river runs through much of the walk to the waterfall.
Here, we’ve just reached the first set of restaurants along the walk.
It’s still early in the day (~11am) so the walk is rather calm. The morning crowds have already made it to the waterfall and have yet to turn back.
It’s a beautiful day, making for a beautiful backdrop with the soothing sounds of water.
We reach the grounds of Ryuanji Temple around half way into the 4km (8km return) walk. Moss, autumnal foliage and a stone bridge on a sunny day? The best!
The temple grounds serve as a rest stop for big groups. We encounter a bunch of elementary school kids on their excursion.
Ryuanji Temple is part of the Shugendo mountain worship religious sect. It looked to be a very recent reconstruction.
Outside the temple are ema and fortunes attached to its wall. Ema are wooden plaques upon which Shinto worshippers write their wishes or prayers. Separately, if you receive a bad fortune, worshippers fold up the strip of paper and attach it to the wall of wires alongside other bad fortunes in the temple to ward it off.
Monkeys decorate the base of the stone lanterns outside the temple as well as this rock.
A local gentlemen riding through on his bike tells us that the view this bridge is amazing.
So we make our way across.
And so the view is beautiful!
Back on the trek to the waterfall, we pass by this sign embedded into a maple leaf.
And a sign about wild monkeys, with strict instructions not to feed them, or tempt them with food, or approach them.
Past the temple begins the steeper half of the walk to the waterfall. The walk is also more forested and obviously in a valley. We see people walking in heels!
The steeper incline leaves us rather tired. Luckily, the Japanese account for everything and there’s a rest area, along with bathrooms and some shops half way there (about 3 km of the way).
We refuel with the curry pan we bought at the discounted bakery last night. The dough’s gone a bit soft, but hungry stomachs do not discriminate.
By now, the scenery is all green and gets a bit repetitive — we just want to get to the waterfall!
We reach some shops about 85% of the way there.
There’s sounds of gushing water getting louder, but we’re still only seeing the river.
But! The sun breaks through and we can see the waterfall in the distance!
A view from the red bridge is mandatory if don’t want to push through the crowds of people congregating around and behind the seats in front of it.
The views with the autumnal foliage and the river make the trek worth it.
D and I aren’t keen to join the crowds congregating in front of the waterfall, so we look for higher ground to enjoy the view, and find it at this lookout.
The sun’s at its highest (at all other times, the sun is just low enough to be always in your eyes) so we get a beautiful view.
There are (pricey) food shops in abundance at the waterfall.
After seeing the waterfall, we head back the way we came, and drop by a couple of shops for some snacks that had caught our eye. First, are yuzu cider (non-alcoholic) and yuzu juice. They are deliciously refreshing and we go back for more for the road!
And of course, we can’t visit Minoh Park without trying their momiji tempura, or deep fried maple leaves. The maple leaves are preserved in salt before lightly battered and deep fried. The don’t really taste the leaves, so they’re really just tasty and crispy crackers with the taste of sesame.
I’ve always liked yuzu, and after the yuzu drinks, D’s on board. We buy some yuzu marmalade.
And visit some more shops around the station to see what other yuzu things we can find.
Yuzu soft serve! It’s vanilla ice cream flavoured with yuzu, and topped with a drizzle of yuzu marmalade. Delicious!
And I find some cards with Takinomichi Yuzuru.
Osaka — Umeda
After Minoh Park, we head back to Umeda for some shopping and dinner. There’s a long concourse overlooking all the train platforms at Osaka Station that connect the north and south buildings of Osaka Station City.
We take a quick look through Uniqlo in the Daimaru on the way to Tokyu Hands. We find this surreal section selling printed T-shirts — mostly featuring various characters from the Disney franchise, including Star Wars.
Above Uniqlo, we spot an ABC Cooking Studio, a place that gives lessons on cooking in their fully decked out kitchens for very reasonable prices.
And then we’re back to the Yobodashi Camera building for dinner at Kushiya Monogatari.
Kushiya Monogatari is a 90 minute all-you-can-eat, cook-yourself kushiage (deep fried skewers of meat and vegetables) restaurant.
You can find all sorts of skewers in the fridge — there’s English as well as Japanese describing what each type is if you’re not sure.
Amongst other things, we try the baby wieners, the mini taiyaki, white fish, mushroom, pork, chicken, eggplant, baby corn, takoyaki, quail eggs, konjac jelly and prawns. The prawns were super tasty — we had a lot of them!
To cook them yourself, you’re dip the skewer into the batter (right) and then the panko (left)…
…before dropping them into the deep fryer at the centre of the table…
…and retrieving them for their deep fried goodness. D manages to turn the baby wiener into a perfect octopus like in anime on his first try in the deep fryer, which put mine to shame as only half the legs splayed out as they should. Not to worry though, as I perfected by the time we finished eating!
We were nursing food babies by the time we finished with the kushiage, but we managed to squeeze in some fresh fruit and jelly (left, clockwise from top left: peach, coffee, grape, apple). Indeed, the fresh fruit made us feel better!
And these bamboo jars hold evidence of (most of) our kushiage consumption. Another plate held another bunch of skewers with the prawn tails.
After dinner, we see the winter illumination at Osaka Station City. While pretty, the scale of it — much exaggerated in photos of it on the subway — was a let down, like last year.
Osaka is still bustling with activity, but the exhaustion from our morning at Minoh Park and our food babies beckoned us home.