Convocation or a trip to Japan. This was the dilemma my dad had thrown at me when I graduated in June.
Papa Chen had been busy with work, is busy with work, and will always be busy with work. So when he told me he was unable to make it to my convocation, I was devastated. When I graduated high school, he couldn’t make it either. I wasn’t really sad or anything back then because I knew there would be next time – university. But when university really came to an end for me, I realized how big of an achievement it was to actually finish another four extra years of school and so I really wanted both my parents to be there to share my accomplishment and to be able to feel proud and say “Hey, that’s my daughter right there”. I ended up crying to my dad and he tried to make me feel better by offering to take me to Japan as compensation. And then few days later he eventually worked out his schedule so that he could make it to my convocation, but then no trip to Japan. Hence it was either or.
I was completely torn between these two options, but as days went by, I got over it. So heck, Japan it was! And worse comes to worst if I really wanted him to come to my graduation, I could always go back to get a Masters.
We departed from Taiwan and flew with EVA Airlines because Papa Chen got hook ups and this was a 7-day mini vacation for us. Our plan was to spend two nights in Osaka followed by a quick stop to Nara and another two nights in Kyoto, one night in Kinosaki Onsen, and the final night Kobe. Exciting!!
To not make this post too long, I’ll only be covering the Osaka adventures. The other destinations will each get their own individual post so stay tuned!
As soon as we landed in Osaka, we checked in at Floral Inn Namba in the Dotonbori area. The hotel was steps from the subway and super close to the shopping district, pretty much almost within it. Great location without a doubt. Oh and Japanese hotels are generally really tight and small, so don’t expect to have too much luggage space.
We took a stroll in Dotonbori and enjoyed late lunch at the famous Ichiran Ramen.
The ramen was alright, I think, mainly because people hyped it up too much for me. And I eat very light, so I tend to find most ramen to be on the saltier side. The dining experience was definitely something special though! We each had to sit in our own little cubicle and the server would deliver the food from the blinds in front. And because Japan has a big bowing culture, the servers would actually turn sideways and bow so that you could see them clearly (you can see it in my vlog at the end of this post). Then they would close the blinds and let you enjoy your meal. Very cool!
Glico Man is probably one of the most iconic figures in Osaka, but I still don’t understand what’s the big deal with taking a photo with him. Then again when everyone else crowds in front of him for pictures, it’s hard to resist not following the norm.
We did a little bit of shopping and as it got darker, the streets got brighter and busier. It was a lot livelier, a lot more animated, I’d say even more so than Downtown Vancouver!
Oh! And we had takoyaki!! Definitely can’t leave Japan without trying these delicious savory snacks! We picked a random stall and just look at that ginormous piece of octopus! You sure don’t see that at Japanese restaurants here in North America. Although these didn’t photograph too well, they were absolutely to die for.
Later on the evening, we switched over to Namba Parks, which is another shopping (and office) complex just a little away from Dotonbori. Instead of shopping, however, we came to see its architecture.
I’d found out about Namba Parks from Tripadvisor and what caught my attention right away was its rooftop garden. Japan compared to Canada is tiny in size yet their population density is much higher than that of Canada’s. That said, there isn’t as much room for green space, which is exactly why I was so intrigued by this building complex. Not only does it combine botany with urban development, it has a beautiful view over the Osaka horizon. The rooftop garden also has a romantic atmosphere and we sure saw quite a few couples in uniforms on dates after office hours.
The next morning, we promenaded back to the Namba Parks area and had breakfast right around the corner at Brothers Cafe. Their pancakes were nice and fluffy, but it tasted really floury and was boring on its own without the butter or whip cream toppings. But then again butter and whip cream instantly make any pancake taste good so I’d say these pancakes were mediocre. The breakfast sandwich, on the other hand, was delightful. I liked the dressing they used for the egg salad but I was confused why there were eggs in the sandwich and another extra egg on the side. And it was funny too how they only gave us a quarter of a banana. I guess eggs are cheap and bananas are expensive in Japan? Gotta split one banana between four customers ya know.
In terms of the serving size, the pancakes obviously weren’t as big as ones you’d see here in North America, but both my dad and I were pretty stuffed so it was filling nonetheless.
We had to check out from Floral Inn Namba because I put off booking hotels until the last minute hence I was only able to secure a room for one night. We moved location to APA Villa Hotel and this actually worked out great because this hotel was closer to Osaka Castle Park (walkable distance), which we’d planned to visit on our second day here in Osaka. I’ll draft up a different post about these hotels in detail for those interested.
From APA Villa, it was a 15 to 20-minute walk to Osaka Castle Park. It was a nice neighborhood to stroll in and we also passed by the NHK Broadcasting Center.
Matching polo with Papa Chen!
Both my dad and I had been to Osaka Castle before. Papa Chen’s visit was about ten years ago while mine was back in 10th grade when I toured Japan on a student exchange trip. It’d been awhile since so we didn’t mind revisiting this famous monument.
In terms of crowds and the number of tourists… The first time I visited was at the end of October close to Halloween time and the castle grounds were fairly empty. Still tourists, but not as many, and we ran into a school group on field trip. This second time round we visited at the end of August, and because it was summer vacation still, it was quite busy, but not extremely packed as it was close to the end of the break. If you’re planning to take a good look inside the castle, I would recommend visiting during off peak seasons to avoid the crowd and enjoy a tranquil tour.
We’d both seen the insides of the castle so we didn’t go again. Alternatively, we took the leisure to explore around.
Lunch took place at Chabuton inside the Yodobashi Camera Multimedia Umeda building on the 8th floor. Again, I found the broth to be too salty, but I enjoyed it more than Ichiran’s recipe. It was more rich and creamy, more flavorful, but not heavy that it was sickening. Even though Chabuton took the win for the broth, their noodles did not compare to that of Ichiran’s. Overall I would rate them about the same, but the Ichiran cubicle experience was more special.
And I forgot to say this about earlier, but in Japan, when you go to a ramen restaurant, it is common to see a vending machine facility where you press a button to place your order, pay, then receive a ticket, which you would then hand to the server. I think it’s great. Restaurants like these are generally fairly busy and a lot of customers are rushing in for a quick lunch break, so this saves quite a bit of time for everyone.
After we’d eaten, we walked over to Umeda Sky Building to check out the Floating Garden Observatory.
The floating garden was located on the 40th floor and admission was ¥800 (~$8 CAD) per person. It was both indoors and out and offered amazing 360-degree panoramic view of the city. Weather forecast estimated rain for our entire stay here in Japan, except for the first day, so it was a bit cloudy but we were lucky that there were only drizzles here and there that we were still able to enjoy a clear view of Osaka. We visited during the day time, but I imagine the night view would be even more beautiful with the whole city lit up against the evening sky.
For dinner, we found ourselves back in Dotonbori. Because we landed in the late afternoon yesterday and had late lunch, we weren’t exactly hungry later on the evening hence we didn’t get a chance to try okonomiyaki at Ajionya. This was supposed to be a favorite spot even amongst the locals so being the foodie that I am, I was determined to come back.
Okonomiyaki is like a Japanese pizza. “Okonomi” means “what you like” or “what you want”. The base is a pancake batter with shredded cabbage and on top of that you can add whatever meat or seafood you like. Sometimes you’ll even see noodles or an extra egg on top, but that depends on what region you’re in because different parts of Japan have their own twist on this delightful dish. When I make this at home, I usually go with bacon so we ordered the beef for a change.
After you order, the server will grill it right in front of you. The whole process will have you drooling at your seat, but it does take a little while to cook since it’s so thick so you just gotta be patient and wait.
This was my dad’s first time trying okonomiyaki at a restaurant (according to him his first time trying it at all since he did not recall me making it at home pfttt) and he was thoroughly pleased. He actually didn’t care about coming back, but afterwards he admitted that it was sooooo worth it. And like I said, you can say okonomiyaki is like a pizza or a pancake, but at the same time it isn’t and it’s just so amazingly delicious. You really have to taste it for yourself to understand. Even to this day my dad still raves about how good it was.
To end the night, we visited one more observatory, the Cosmo Tower.
We took the subway to Cosmo Square Station where we then had to walk approximately 10-12 minutes. Even though we’d rented a pocket Wi-Fi and had access to Google Maps, I wanted to be sure we were walking in the right direction, just in case. As soon as we exited the subway, I asked a taxi driver for directions. Except he didn’t know what the Cosmo Tower was…..
There weren’t that many skyscrapers around in sight and I was certain it was one of the two closeby because it looked like the Google images I’d seen. So there I was trying to communicate with my broken Japanese, but the driver told me that was simply an office building. It was dark, the streets were freakishly empty. My dad was just completely dissuaded to go. But we were there already and I wasn’t about to return to the hotel after coming so far (literally because Cosmo Tower is actually pretty far from central city).
I followed my instinct and we walked towards the high rise. As much as I was trying to put on an adventurous, brave act, I was pretty wtf myself too because the streets were super empty. No cars, no people, no nothing. Not to mention my dad kept being pessimistic about how we were in the middle of nowhere and if we were to get robbed, no one would even come to our rescue. Thankfully we finally reached the tower, but like the taxi driver said, it was an office building and the lights were dim, there were no souls to be seen and the building didn’t look like it would have any sort of observatory. Well thanks to my stubbornness, we walked around the lobby and eventually found a sign for the observatory.
Admission was ¥510 (~$5 CAD) for one. And sorry for the dark photo, but it was hard to take pictures and not have the windows reflect glare from the indoor lights.
I definitely think we should’ve switched this around with the floating garden in terms of time and scheduling. Here you could see more of the harbour and bodies of water at night time is, well, dark so it wasn’t exactly exciting. Although there was a ferris wheel that lit up rainbow colors, a day or perhaps even a sunset visit would’ve been better in my opinion.
When we first arrived, there were very few people and they were all couples. Going up the escalator towards the observatory, there was one pair who kept staring at me and my dad the whole time they were coming down and as they got closer, I heard them say “sugoi, sugoi” (cool in Japanese). I was pretty sure they’d mistaken us as a couple or thought I was some young mistress (thanks to my genius idea of getting matching polos). The whole visit was kind of awkward because it did feel like a date spot. When we left though, we actually saw lots of families and Chinese tourists, but I was more intrigued about how everyone found their way here.
If you are planning to visit, just a heads up that the Cosmo Tower is actually more well-known as the Osaka Prefectural Government Sakishima Building. I only found out now that I’m writing this post so if you get lost finding your way, this name should ring a bell in more heads.
We returned back to the hotel only to feel our stomachs grumbling once more so we found a gyoza place nearby called Harenohi. It was actually more of an after work hangout place with great beer (hence the beer glass handles).
Growing up in a strict Asian family, I was never allowed to drink except for at times when I was sick and my mom would make me goggle/take shots because that apparently “kills bacteria” in the body. So obviously my parents never found out about my little hobby of casual drinking. But it was such torture sitting in front of the bar with those beer kegerators calling out to me and the bartender making eye contact every now and then asdjflksjdfkjdfk…………….
Ok. Gyozas. Right. That was the main purpose of this mini food hunt. These gyzoas were the bomb. Don’t ask what we ordered because my katakana sucks and I had no idea what the menu said. But man were these bad boys good. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside with meat filling packed with rich, flavorful juices, yum! What a fantastic late night snack. Could’ve been better though, better paired with local Japanese craft beer.
And so this concludes our two nights in Osaka. But before I end this post, I got to share with you the goodies that I bought.
Osaka is simply just amazing for shopping. I didn’t expect myself to spend this much since I don’t do much shopping while traveling, but Japan will have you amazed with the stuff that you can get and for a good price too. So be sure to bring a fat, stuffed wallet and treat yourself!
Besides shopping, Osaka is also very conveniently located and close to nearby cities such as Nara. Jonny and Sidra from Backpacking Man have some awesome recommendations for day trip destinations from Osaka. Be sure to give that a read!
Also don’t forget to check out my vlog and tune in again for more on our Japan journeys.