Woke up early on Thursday morning and cleaned up our AirBNB place a little bit and prepared to move out. Most of the places that we stayed at in Japan, including hotels and AirBNB places required an early checkout, around 10am. The Otsuka AirBNB place was a lot more convenient when compared with the Tateishi AirBNB in terms of location. It was about 10 minutes from Shinjuku and Shibuya on the JR line.
The place was a small one room apartment though, with small area for a kitchen and tiny bathroom. When we unrolled our futons at night there was pretty much no more space in the room. A said that she would never stay in that place or another AirBNB again for that matter, but J and I didn’t care as long as it was convenient and affordable. It was relatively fuss free, but we didn’t see our host during the whole time we stayed in the Otsuka place, which was the same as the Tateishi share house I stayed in. It was one of those times when reality differs from your expectations- the AirBNB reviewers had talked so highly of the welcoming hosts, which was one of the main reasons we had picked these places. For next time, I’ll keep in mind that the hosts probably won’t be around to greet us and take us out, although I did meet the Otsuka host on the day I was hungover and spent the day sleeping. It was a brief greeting though, and he didn’t come by again.
After checking out, we dragged our heavy luggage down the steep stairs and dragged it down the street. We still hadn’t tried the ramen stall near Otsuka station yet, so we decided to have our first meal of the day there. We dragged our luggage to the stall and ordered, while A said she was going to do the laundry and come back to eat later.
The shop attendants were kind and helpful but spoke no English, so A and J ordered a basic ramen which was Y600, and I ordered the Chashu-men for Y900, which was the only menu item that I could read.
The ramen was already made, and all that had to be done was put the noodles into the bowl and add a heaping of soup. We received our ramen instantaneously after ordering, and the shop attendant looked dismayed at having to leave A’s bowl of ramen waiting for her.
What followed was hands down the best bowl of ramen I ever ate in my life. Before this, I had eaten ramen only a few times in Sydney, being a food that I seldom enjoyed. This bowl of ramen was totally incomparable to any I had ever eaten before. The soup was creamy, thick and flavoursome but without being heavy. Chashu-men is pretty much standard ramen with double or triple the amount of pork slices. Normally I don’t like to eat pork very often, but the pork slices were tender and thinly sliced.
The noodles were the best part. The classic egg noodles were used. They were cooked to perfection, soft and chewy but still retained a mild firmness. They were such a pleasure to eat that I tried my best to finish them all and the entire bowl of ramen as well, but it was just too much.
The shop attendants at this place were so lovely as well. It was another sweltering day in Tokyo and as we were outdoors, both J and I were sweating profusely. They had a few small fans at this shop, but they didn’t do much to cool us down. One of the women working at the shop saw me trying to get my hair from sticking to the back of my neck and gave me a hair tie to tie my hair up. The little Japanese I spoke allowed us to have a simple conversation about where we were from and what we were doing in Japan. J and I were already finished our bowls of ramen when A returned, who said she got lost trying to find the laundromat. After A finished her bowl of ramen, we paid and left and walked a few paces to Otsuka station and asked the station attendants for which train station to go to to get to Osaka.
We caught the train from Otsuka to Tokyo, and from Tokyo had to book seating for the shinkansen (bullet train) to go to Osaka. While we were at Osaka station I saw someone inside the station selling Tokyo Banana. I had previously heard about how good Tokyo Banana was and had been looking forward to buying some in Japan. I decided to buy a box of 8 at the price of 1,000 yen. I waited until we boarded the shinkansen to unwrap it.
Inside the box were eight individually wrapped cakes shaped like bananas. The colour and shape imitated that of a banana perfectly. The exterior of the Tokyo Banana had a velvety soft texture. The interior contained a banana flavoured custard. I was addicted from the first bite and ate almost the whole box on the train. After gorging on Tokyo Banana, the three of us napped as Osaka was the last stop and there would be no chance of missing it. It was about a 3 and a half hour trip on the bullet train, and the journey felt very fast and smooth. The train carriages resembled that of the trains traveling between countries in Europe, and they had a person selling small snacks and drinks on a cart during the journey.
When we arrived at Osaka-shi, it was around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and we had to change trains to get to our destination station, which was Shin-imamiya. We had booked another AirBNB place in Osaka and they had given us detailed instructions as for how to get to their place, which was supposed to be a few minutes from Shin-imamiya station. However, when we got there we were still exhausted, and decided to just get a taxi there.
The cab ride ended up being less than 3 minutes. When we arrived at the place, there was a code to enter, but another friend S was already there and opened the door for us. When we came in, there was a Japanese woman who said she was the AirBNB host’s friend and that she lived there as well. We chatted to her a little bit about our time in Japan, and the things we were planning to do in Osaka. She told us to come by the bar owned by our AirBNB host, Noco, that night.
The AirBNB place we had booked for Osaka was a share house. We had our own bedrooms, but had to share bathrooms, kitchen area and living room with other travellers. J was worried about having to share bathrooms as she was concerned with waiting times, but it ended up being okay. We barely saw any other travellers, except for on a few occasions in the morning. After checking into our AirBNB, we entered our room and settled in. We had two rooms, one with a futon and another one with a sink and large single bed.
Although I had informed Noco previously that 4 people would be staying, only two futons were laid out in the tatami room, and there was a sign in the cupboard saying not to use more futons than the ones that had been laid out. I considered the bed in the other room to be too small for 2 people to sleep on comfortably so I thought this would be an unusual arrangement. I suggested to S that she join J and I in the tatami room for sleep, but A made a fuss so S and A ended up sharing the tiny bed for the duration of our Osaka stay.
Osaka was slightly less hot than Tokyo, but still quite humid, so we showered again before heading out for dinner and drinks nearby. The area that our AirBNB house was located in was called Shinsekai, and we wanted to go to Namba for dinner, which is a an area famous for its large variety of restaurants. Instead of going to Namba for dinner though, we decided to explore our local neighbourhood of Shinsekai, which was a short walkable distance from our house.
Shinsekai was a lively area filled with people talking and roaming the streets, as we were. Like many other areas of Japan, at night it was lit with bright lights. The place where we ended up in Shinsekai was a main strip with a line of restaurants next to each other. With so much choice and variety, we felt a little overwhelmed. Also, because of the variety, there were restaurant workers from each restaurant standing outside, enticing people to come in. It reminded me of Chinatown in Sydney.
None of us was particularly fussy about what we wanted to eat for dinner, or had anything in mind, so we finally settled upon a random restaurant and walked in.
A decided to order a Caesar Salad, which was pretty standard as far as caesar salads go. J, S and I wanted something more traditional, so after having a look at the menu, S and I decided to share a sushi set and beef sashimi, while J opted for a beef bowl with raw egg that resembled Sukiyaki, but was referred to as something else on the menu.
S and I were disappointed when the beef sashimi came out. The colour of the meat made it look rancid and grisly. We ate it anyway though. It definitely wasn’t good. After one bite, I didn’t want to eat anymore. This is one of the setbacks of ordering food when you don’t know what kind of restaurant you are in. During our meal, we saw other diners all ordering deep fried things on skewers. At this point, we didn’t know what kushikatsu was and were wondering why everyone was only ordering this one thing. Soon we figured out why.
We were eating in a kushikatsu restaurant. NTS: Do not order anything other than kushikatsu in a kushikatsu restaurant. This applies to all restaurants that specialise in a certain dish. In Japan, the majority of restaurants specialise in one dish, and may serve other dishes as well.
When our sushi set arrived, S and I were disappointed once again. The sushi we ate here was the worst quality we ate in Japan. That being said, it was probably on par with sushi at a standard restaurant in Sydney. J’s dish of beef and raw egg in soy sauce arrived, and she was happy with it and said that was delicious.
After noticing all the other customers eating deep fried skewers around us, S noted that we should probably have done the same thing, so we then ordered a bunch of deep fried skewers as well, including chicken thigh, mushroom, avocado, cheese and beef.
In Sydney, I normally don’t like to eat anything fried as I’ve experienced lots of badly fried food in my life. I ate lots of fried things in Japan though. All the fried foods I ate in Japan were perfect, not greasy at all and had a well cooked interior. The kushikatsu was no exception. Shinsekai is actually an area famous for its kushikatsu, so we were in the prime location to eat this dish. The kushikatsu was eaten with a very dark liquid that tasted like a sweet soy sauce, which was in a large metal canister on our table. I didn’t take a picture of this as it was very grimy in appearance and we hesitated before dipping our kushikatsu in the sauce, but it was delicious.
After finishing dinner, we were all stuffed, and decided to find a bar to drink at. We walked around for a little while, keeping our eyes peeled for signs saying bars on the streets. In Osaka, the atmosphere was very different to Tokyo. We found it a little less modern in some parts, and the part we were walking around that night, Shinsekai, reminded us of the 90’s.
While walking around Shinsekai, we found a games arcade and proceeded to play. S put a few coins in a random machine that had drums at the front. I played with her for awhile, but really had no idea what I was doing. We also stopped in a convenience store to buy drinks, while A bought some snacks.
After walking around for quite some time and having a hard time finding a bar, we were ready to give up and settle for anything. Luckily, soon after that I saw a sign advertising a jazz bar on the street we were walking on. I think the area we walked to was around Shinsaibashi. All the districts in Japan are very close to another- from our place near Doubutsuenmae station, we walked for 15 minutes to Shinsaibashi, which was about 5 or 6 station stops away.
We had to ascend a spiral staircase from the street to enter the jazz bar (jazz bars were definitely on my radar on this trip). There were no other customers inside, and only one bartender. It was a small, intimate bar with dim lighting. The decor was really interesting, with records covering shelves in the bar and an old television set from the 80’s or 90’s that was purely for aesthetic purposes.
The bartender and owner was an older Japanese man who spoke minimal English, so we relied on my Japanese and A’s Google Translate to communicate with him. Google is one thing that never fails to come in handy when you’re travelling. There was no menu for drinks, so we told him what we wanted and he made them. S and I had Asahi beer, while J drank a Gin and Tonic, A ordered a sour cocktail. After he gave us our drinks, we were about to pay, but the owner informed us that we would pay before we leave. This is customary in bars in Japan, and something my friend had told me about before. I liked it, and wished we had something like it in Sydney.
While we were drinking, the owner chatted with us about where we were from and became very interested when we told him we were from Australia. I had this reaction from a lot of other Japanese people while I was travelling as well, it seems lots of Japanese people are interested in Australia. He showed us some records of a jazz artist from Australia but we’d never heard of her. While we sat drinking, we listened to the sounds of Louis Armstrong in the background.
When it came time to leave, the bill was cheap. I think we paid less than Y1000 each. We walked home, satisfied, tired, and taking in the sights of the Osaka nightlife.