Thursday, August 1, 2013

Japan: Osaka Day 1 - Dotonbori

Konnichiwa, minna-san! Genki desu ne!

With the visa waiver for short-term trips, Japan had just become all the more appealing to Malaysians as a holiday destination. No longer do you need to prepare sheets and sheets of documents and forms and drive down to the middle of Kuala Lumpur to apply for a visa at the Japan embassy. Ironically, I had just gotten my Japan visa a week before the waiver was announced but no matter. The pretty sticker made a nice memento in my passport to my travel adventures for my June visit to the second biggest city in Japan, Osaka.

 After a 6 hours and 30 minutes overnight flight onboard AirAsia X, my mom and I were eager to check-in at our hotel at Swissotel Nankai Osaka, to dump our bags and start exploring.

At the Kansai airport, we purchased two travel passes, the Kansai Thru Pass and Osaka Unlimited Pass that enabled us to travel on major subways and buses as well as gave us discounted or free access to several of Osaka's main attractions.With the Kansai Thru Pass, we boarded the Nankai Airport Express and rode the 45 minutes scenic route to the center of the entertainment and shopping district, the Namba area.

Swissotel Nankai Osaka was located right above the Nankai station with easy access to the main Namba subway station and the underground Namba shopping mall. After dumping our bags unceremoniously at the hotel lobby as our room wasn't ready for check-in, we wandered our way back into the Nankai station in search of food and to get our bearings. After wandering through the Namba Parks and Takashimaya's flagship department store, we grabbed a quick bite at a small but adorable bakery in the Nankai station that captured passerby's attention with their cute Cat Hand cakes and yellow bird buns. Not only were their pastry presentation befitting of their kawaii culture, they were yummy too.

We eventually found our way to the famous Dotonbori street. Formerly a theater and pleasure district, this single long street has become the prime location to try out all of Osaka's cuisine. Osaka itself is known as Japan's kitchen, amongst its people and travelers worldwide. As it was a Friday afternoon, Dotonbori wasn't crowded and that allowed us a proper look at the restaurants and shops available. We found a Takoyaki stand and couldn't resist the piping hot, melt-in-your-mouth octopus balls to fill our tummies as we continued down the colourful, vibrant, sign-filled street.

We spotted this old-fashion restaurant and beside it was a narrow alley with paper lanterns illuminating the way. Stepping into it was a step into the city's past as along the walls were pictures depicting the lifestyle of ancient Osaka. There was also a small shrine where people could make offerings.

Dotonbori was also connected to Shinsaibashi-Suji by a bridge near the Tsutaya Starbucks and from this bridge, the iconic Glico Man can be viewed. When I was there in June, he was decorated in a Star Wars theme with two light sabers by his sides.

Shinsaibashi-Suji was simply heaven for girls as it was practically a long stretch of clothing boutiques, makeup stores, brand outlets and cafes featuring the most wonderfully displayed desserts. My mom and I only managed to cover half of this long cover shopping street before we were drawn by a growing queue outside the famous cheesecake tart bakery, Pablo. Being typical Malaysians, we joined the queue and after 20 minutes of waiting, made our order for one cheesecake tart to go. It seemed that this place was fairly popular amongst locals and known by tourists through tourist guide books.

My mom who did a little research of her own prior to the trip, dragged me over to Sportaka, a 10th storey corner shop lot across a main road from Shinsaibashi-Suji. There she went crazy with the wide collection of running shoe brands they had while I sat on a stool, watching in amusement as she tried communicating with the staff for her shoe size. Unfortunately, they didn't have her size and they were very apologetic about it too.

We headed back to Dotonbori and found Lord Stow's bakery that sold the really good egg tarts with fluffy pastry crusts. This bakery is famous in Macau and I am glad I got to try it at its only outlet in Japan.

Rain was to be expected in the summer and rained it did in the early evening. Fortunately we came prepared with an umbrella and a raincoat. By now, our hunger pangs were triggered by the egg tarts and we backtracked to a Ramen restaurant that had captured my attention earlier. And it wasn't only because the food looked appetizing.

credit to

Kamakura: Soup with Noodles has a vending machine outside that also doubled as a menu in Japanese and English with enticing pictures of their food. Uncertain of how it worked, we observed a man using it and followed his lead. To order, you basically insert the amount of your chosen dish in it and press the button. An order ticket will be issued which you hand over to the chef inside after taking a seat. I found this quite a convenient process as it erased the time needed to decide what to eat, order and pay. I would consider bringing this concept to Malaysia but knowing our penchant for destroying and vandalizing things, the vending machine wouldn't last a year in our lovely country.

Our meal came in less than five minutes along with two complimentary refillable glass of water. My mom and I shared a medium (big) bowl of Roast Pork Ramen with soft-boiled egg (850yen) and it was divine especially on a cold rainy evening.

We headed back to our hotel after dinner although my mom got side-track by a Mizuno outlet along the way. Once showered, I couldn't help myself but dig into the Pablo cheesecake tart only to find it sorely disappointing. It was too creamy for my liking and the crust wasn't as fluffy as Lord Stow's smaller version. Still I managed to get halfway through (since we did pay for it already) before calling it quits on account of its creaminess. My mom gave up after the first two helpings.

It was off to dreamland for us as we had a long day ahead the next day in two of Osaka's famous neighboring cities.

For photos, check out my photo album here: Osaka Day 1 - Shinsaibashi & Dotonbori

Read about: 
Transportation around Osaka tips - Getting around and about Osaka 
Osaka 2013 Day 1: Shinsaibashi and Dotonbori
Osaka 2013 Day 2: Nara & Kyoto
Osaka 2013 Day 3: A Day in the City
Osaka 2013 Day 4: The Last Day and also, Momofuku Ramen Museum
Osaka Flight & Accommodation: Osaka Flight & Hotel package


Anonymous said...

Hi Tania
Thanks for your wonderful sharing. Very interesting blog and photos. As my family and I are going to Osaka and Tokyo in two weeks time, your blog comes in very handy to guide us in our planning. Thanks again. Have sent you a friend request in fb . Raymond

Tania said...

Hi, Raymond. Thank you for your kind words! I hope you have an awesome trip to Japan and I look forward to seeing photos. Have accepted your request :)

Sarah Quay said...

Hi Tania, just finished ready your first day episode and will be reading through the rest, time permitting. Peter and I and the boys Jon and Ben will be heading to Osaka and Tokyo and I think we will be following some of your exploits to minimise backtracking and wandering around aimlessly.
Cheers....Sarah Chew

Tania said...

Hi, Sarah
Thanks for dropping by! I hope my blog will be able to help you during your trip. Have a great time in Japan! :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Tania, very nice write up and very good guide for others who are going to Osaka. I would be very much appreciated if you can give some suggestions for 8 days 7 nights in Osaka & Kyoto areas. TQ...Chong

Tania said...

Hi, Chong.
I could send you my itinerary from my recent trip (March 2014) to Osaka. (yes, I went again) Just drop me an email or leave your email in the comments and I'll get back to you on it.