Japan 2015 — Day 3: Osaka — Umeda; Minoh

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Outside the Hankyu Department Store we see Christmas dis­plays gra­cing its windows.

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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!

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The Umeda branch of Chococro St Marc Cafe is the most lav­ish we’d see dur­ing our trip.

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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.

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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!)

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With our quest for Chococro St Marc Cafe over, we’re finally on a train to Minoh Park.

Minoh

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One trans­fer and two trains later, we’re at Mino-O Station.

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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.

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The walk to the entrance of Minoh Park from the train sta­tion is very intu­it­ive — you walk in the dir­ec­tion of the shops.

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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.

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On the walk to Minoh Park, we see an exposed lift that’s part of the hotel com­plex situ­ated on the moun­tain behind.

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At the entrance to Minoh Park we meet vendors set­ting up shops see­ing oas­ted chest­nuts, and try­ing to tempt passerbys with samples.

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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.

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Another old man is selling fresh per­sim­mons out of the back of his van.

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And this shop set up next to a res­taur­ant is selling dried fruit, includ­ing mango.

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The use of wood in Japanese archi­tec­ture imme­di­ately elev­ates the eleg­ance of their buildings.

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And we’re finally at the start of Minoh Park!

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We see beau­ti­ful man hole cov­ers depict­ing the maple leaves and the water­fall fam­ous in the area.

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Even their fences get beau­ti­ful consideration.

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Minoh Park is known for its autum­nal foliage, so we’re vis­it­ing earli­er on dur­ing our trip in Osaka.

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A rocky river runs through much of the walk to the waterfall.

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Here, we’ve just reached the first set of res­taur­ants along the walk.

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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.

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It’s a beau­ti­ful day, mak­ing for a beau­ti­ful back­drop with the sooth­ing sounds of water.

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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!

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The temple grounds serve as a rest stop for big groups. We encounter a bunch of ele­ment­ary school kids on their excursion.

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Ryuanji Temple is part of the Shugendo moun­tain wor­ship reli­gious sect. It looked to be a very recent reconstruction.

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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.

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Monkeys dec­or­ate the base of the stone lan­terns out­side the temple as well as this rock.

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A loc­al gen­tle­men rid­ing through on his bike tells us that the view this bridge is amazing.

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So we make our way across.

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And so the view is beautiful!

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Back on the trek to the water­fall, we pass by this sign embed­ded into a maple leaf.

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And a sign about wild mon­keys, with strict instruc­tions not to feed them, or tempt them with food, or approach them.

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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!

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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).

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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.

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By now, the scenery is all green and gets a bit repet­it­ive — we just want to get to the waterfall!

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We reach some shops about 85% of the way there.

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There’s sounds of gush­ing water get­ting louder, but we’re still only see­ing the river.

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But! The sun breaks through and we can see the water­fall in the distance!

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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.

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The views with the autum­nal foliage and the river make the trek worth it.

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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.

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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.

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There are (pricey) food shops in abund­ance at the waterfall.

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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!

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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.

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I’ve always liked yuzu, and after the yuzu drinks, D’s on board. We buy some yuzu marmalade.

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And vis­it some more shops around the sta­tion to see what oth­er yuzu things we can find.

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Yuzu soft serve! It’s vanilla ice cream fla­voured with yuzu, and topped with a drizzle of yuzu marmalade. Delicious!

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And I find some cards with Takinomichi Yuzuru.

Osaka — Umeda
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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.

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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.

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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.

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And then we’re back to the Yobodashi Camera build­ing for din­ner at Kushiya Monogatari.

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Kushiya Monogatari is a 90 minute all-you-can-eat, cook-your­self kushiage (deep fried skew­ers of meat and veget­ables) restaurant.

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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.

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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!

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To cook them your­self, you’re dip the skew­er into the bat­ter (right) and then the panko (left)…

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…before drop­ping them into the deep fry­er at the centre of the table…

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…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!

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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!

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And these bam­boo jars hold evid­ence of (most of) our kushiage con­sump­tion. Another plate held anoth­er bunch of skew­ers with the prawn tails.

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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.

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Osaka is still bust­ling with activ­ity, but the exhaus­tion from our morn­ing at Minoh Park and our food babies beckoned us home.