Sadly, Osaka would be the last stop on our trip to Japan. Well, not really our last stop as we left Osaka early and decided to grab lunch at Tokyo Station.
As always, the Shinkansen was perfectly on time. It's such a comfortable way to travel.
People watching is such fun........and we saw this group of folks; mostly men having a great time in the rows in front of us.
There was one guy taking photos.....I guess the designated photographer. As soon as the Shinkansen started; they started....breaking out the beer! 8am in the morning! I sent Kat a text and a photo and she explained that it looked like a company outing......hitting the brews at 8am? That's one heck of a company outing! They sure were having a great time. What was even more impressive.....after they exited I walked past the seats and it was spotless! As if no one had even sat there.....they sure did a great job cleaning up.
We had a small bento to share......
We decided to spend our last few hours at Tokyo Station before heading to the airport. They call it Tokyo Station City and if you ever visit there it becomes quite obvious that it's large and populous enough to qualify as a city.
There was one last eating destination that I wanted to try. It is located in the basement of Tokyo Station near the Yaesu exit. Here you'll find Tokyo Ramen Street. Here you'll find one shop with a line that stretches around the corner....like a bunch of teenyboppers waiting to buy Justin Beiber tickets. This is the very popular Rokurinsha..... Hyped by folks like David Chang, even people I know who wouldn't know Tsukemen from Tsukemono have heard of this place. The line says it all. I will say, it moves pretty quickly...there are signs along the way telling you what the projected wait is from that location.
This is one of the those order from the ramen ticket machine places.
We ordered a Ajitama Tsukemen, the standard issue Tsukemen here. Along with some extra chashu, menma, and another egg. This ended up being enough for the Missus and I to share.
I really liked this....the Missus on the other hand didn't care for the heady niboshi (dried baby sardines) - sababushi (mackeral flakes) flavor, with a topping of bonito powder, calling it too fishy. The broth is thick, perfect for sticking to those thick and chewy noodles....did I say chewy noodles? Let me say, very chewy noodles. This was also a bit too much for the Missus.
It was also a bit much for the quite...ummmm....hefty young lady seated on the table next to us. The Missus kept laughing as the young lady, who had ordered a large bowl of tsukemen, with chashui and extra egg....in other words more than what the Missus and I were having combined, kept complaining about how chewy the noodles are...making her jaw sore, in Mandarin. But that sure didn't stop her from finishing off her bowl and the remainder of her eating companion's as well. In fact, the other young lady looked a bit tense. When the Missus mentioned this to me, I said, "she's afraid that she's going to be dessert!"
The chashu was very nice; it looked too tough, but was tender and well flavored. The egg....well, you can tell how good it was. I loved this, the Missus, not so much. Oh well, that how it goes. I will say that for some reason the broth gets cool quite fast.....it was getting less pleasant to eat at the end.
For me, it was a nice way to end our time in Japan. And makes me want to return soon!
Rokurinsha (Tokyo Station) 1-9-1 Marunochi, Chiyoda, Tokyo
For a number of reasons, I'd always hesitated when travel to Japan was mentioned. Those reservations were misplaced, we both loved Japan. Travel was easy....while finding addresses were not. We noticed that each city we visited had it's own distinct personality and of course wagashi (confection). The food.....oh yes, the food, from Sushi Iwa and Suzunari to Okariba and Mizuno, I don't think we've ever eaten so well!
On our last evening in Osaka, we finally managed to meet up with one of my favorite Food Bloggers, Kat and her husband Satoshi. Over the years I've seen blogs come and go, I really do miss many of them. But Kat has been a constant with me since probably late 2007 and has been blogging as many years as I. We'd come close to meeting up a few times, but timing and scheduled were never in synch. So finally, the Missus and I got to meet the both of them. We met them at the local Don Quixote had some snacks and coffee and basically strolled around and chatted.....the thing about knowing each other in the bloggas - sphere is that there was a wonderful familiarity to the whole thing.
When dinner came along, we just popped into this Kushiage shop, named Gokakuya.
First rule of Kushikatsu...."no double dipping"!
Satoshi did an amazing job of calling back our orders.....the Missus loved the sauce.
Our last full day in Osaka was going to be a rather "easy" one....well, easy in relative terms. We woke a bit later than usual, then hung around the apartment a bit. We then headed off South. Walking was quite easy and we eventually came to the first of two gigantic shopping malls; the first, Namba City, basically two huge multifloor complexes, going two floors underground and two stories above ground with over three hundred shops. The second Namba Parks, built on the site of the old Osaka Baseball Stadium has a huge roof garden with waterfalls....and to keep the Missus busy, a ton of cosmetic shops. All of this was fine with me because just a block or so away on one of the side streets is a location of Ippudo Ramen. I'd been wanting the Missus to try classic Hakata style Tonkotsu and this was our chance.
We basically found the place based on the unique sign. It was dead on opening time and we walked right in.
Ordering was dead on easy.....the Shormaru Special; the classic tonkotsu with chashu and egg.
We'd gotten into the habit of ordering one bowl of ramen, with the Missus ordering a rice bowl and extras, and basically sharing.
The Missus got the "Hakata Chikara Meshi" - basically chashu gohan. This was pretty darn good...the pork just tender enough, moist, it was a very nice bowl.
We got an onsen tamago for the Missus to have over the rice.
I gotta say, the ramen was excellent, perhaps the most picture perfect example of Hakata style ramen I've ever had. Rich, but not too rich or oily. The broth temp was nice and hot.....
Nothing super fancy nor over-the-top about the broth. Just a nice tongue coating richness, without sodium overload.
The long and thin Hakata style noodles are a problem for the Missus...She dislikes them. But I believed the main reason was because most places over-cook them, even when you ask for it extra firm. This was spot on perfect. Nice pull, just perfectly chewy.
Check out that egg.......I don't think I need to add any commentary.
Since I'd be sharing my bowl with the Missus, we hedged our bets and added a couple of extra "toppings".
I actually heard the Missus say "aaahh" when She sipped the broth.
This was a super solid, no frou-frou, no fancy marketing BS, no noodles made by "blond haired virgins from a remote island in an unknown archipelago" tonkotsu ramen. It was perfect for the day and the best bowl I had on this trip.
The place started filling up as we exited.....
The Missus, even with Her perspective clouded by the Santouka effect, still was impressed. Something else really got to Her as well; "I don't see some senior guy running the place like other ramen shops....it looks like a bunch of college students. It's kind of amazing that they put out something with such attention to detail. There's no way that happens at chains in the US."
And now with some perspective, She's even more impressed.
This time around we were more accustomed to the area and spent a good amount of time checking out the back streets and arcades.
And while most were a lot more quiet than the main streets...there was still some major crazy storefronts....what the heck is this?
We had no destination planned for dinner and just wandered around until we came to this Yakitori shop.
Fairly non-descript and the yakitori wasn't anything to write home about, but the beer was cold.
The mimiga (pig ear) was decent. The menu was huge with everything from Chicken Tail to Camembert Cheese (?!?)
We ordered a selection and wasn't overly impressed.
Nothing really stood out, but the food was cheap.
Folks started arriving soon after we entered....folks in a good mood, ready for a beer and a nice time.
We headed back to the craziness of Shinsaibashi until the Missus got tired of all the window shopping.
Deciding to walk back to the apartment, we ran into this little shop near the beginning of Dotonburi.
A little older woman saw us peeking in the window and waved us in then sat us at one of the well worn tables.
The bar area seemed to be doing some nice business when we arrived.
Again, the place had a huge menu of grilled and fried items.
We made a few choices; quail eggs wrapped in bacon and chicken skin.
And while things seemed much better prepared than our previous stop, it was nothing special.
The kawa was pretty good, but very salty.
There was one item on the menu I wanted, I saw one of the guys on the bar eating it.... was the torisashi; chicken sashimi. At first the woman ignored my order. So I later went up to the bar and ordered it. I saw a look of apprehension on the face of the Missus when it arrived. The stigma of raw chicken had followed the Missus to Japan it seems. Personally, having had torisashi before, I had no such qualms.
It was pretty darn good, much more tender than you'd think, almost melting away in your mouth. The flavor is quite mild and it went well with the shoyu-wasabi and slightly sweet raw onion. The Missus was shocked at how tender the texture of the raw chicken was.
Now, I'm the last person in the world who is going to twist your arm and make you eat raw chicken (please don't start scarfing that package of Foster Farms raw) or raw horse. But if you enjoy it, why not? And like our good friend Kat says....."if you're going to eat it raw, eat it in Japan."
There is one last funny anecdote. We went back to the apartment and I had a beer. After turning in for the evening, I awoke and noticed the Missus sitting in the dark. I asked Her what was going on. Her answer, "I'm sitting here waiting to get sick....." Sheeesh. Old beliefs die hard. And no, She didn't get sick.....
I don't think a trip to Kyoto/Osaka would be complete without a short detour to Nara, once the capital of Japan.
It was a quick 45 minute train ride to JR Nara Station. From there, we decided to take a leisurely walk to Todai-ji.
It was a quiet and rather relaxing walk...... we passed an interesting looking "local-kine place" along the way.
We saw a branch of Ko Hi Kan Coffee along the way, so we decided to stop and get our caffeine fix for the morning. Pour-over of course.....per the Missus.
The women working here were very friendly.
It was a nice cup(s) of coffee, which energized our rather tired bones for the walk.
It was just a short walk to the Nara Park area.
We ended up spending the most of our time in a couple of areas; the first being Kofuku-ji, once the temple of the Fujiwara-shi, once one of the most powerful families in Japan.
The Pagoda here was undergoing repairs when we visited; but the grounds were really quite beautiful....in a stark and spartan way.
We soon entered the heart of Nara Park; famous for their temples...and of course the aggressive deer. Actually, I found the deer here to be much more mellow than the super aggressive deer in Miyajima. Though you might have a different opinion if you've ever read Lynnea's post on Nara. That last photo in that post is still a favorite of mine.
Just in case you hadn't been informed of the risks of screwing around with the rather cute four-legged friends....there are signs that explain the possible hazards of messing around with them.
I believed that the biggest draw to Nara would be Tōdai-ji.
Based on the crowds that lines the Main Gate, I'd say that my statement is pretty much correct.
The Daibutsu-den, which houses the world's largest bronze rendering of Buddha is quite impressive.
The bronze Buddha which is also quite impressive at 49 feet tall and 92 feet across at the shoulders! This is a image of Dainichi Buddha, the "Celestial Buddha", the source from which all other Buddha's emanate.
There's a lot to see here. There are other statues, like the rather mencing and imposing looking Komokuten; Buddha's Guard who is stepping upon a demon, yet brandishing a scroll and brush, symbolizing both the power and wisdom of the Sutras over ignorance.
To the right of the Buddha sits Nyoirin Kannon.
In contrast to the rather scary and imposing Komokuten, the Nyoirin Kannon represents compassion and boundless love for all.
And, for those who want enlightenment.....you can try to pass through a hole in one of the pillars deemed Buddha's Nostril. Passing through the hole means that you be granted enlightenment....though I believe it doesn't happen until your next life. Plus, I read that it's only about 20 inches wide....the size of Buddha's nostrils.......better leave this to the one of the school kids; many of whom still struggled to get through.
It was fun watching all the school kids trying to pass through the hole....each one had a photo taken...proof that enlightenment will be bestowed upon them. Personally, I did gain a bit of enlightenment....but it happened in the form of the restroom sign. I learned the power of a single space...where Gentleman....became "Gentle Man". Now that's powerful, right?
Kids of all ages came to visit Tōdai-ji. This group of really young ones seemed so cute and charming. They were so little, that a few of them needed help going down the stairs.
And of course, they sell "senbei".....crackers for the deer...which means every group of school kids became a feeding frenzy.
It was starting to get really crowded. Which meant it was time to "hele".
It definitely is a must see if you're in Kyoto or Osaka.
Initially, the plan was to have lunch in Nara, but we decided to head back to Osaka. Just a few blocks from the busy arcades of Dotonburi resides Kuromon Market.
Along with the numerous shops were countless food stalls, selling everything from live blowfish to Kobe Beef. And there was even a good sized supermarket in the middle of it all.
It was quite a variety. We then decided to just buy a couple of items and have lunch in the market.
It also wasn't easy deciding on what to get. We actually did a walkthrough of the entire market area before making our selections. It was hard resisting all the Kobe beef....especially since you could "burn your meat after ordering"....
In the end I chose some really nice toro from one of the market stalls. The woman sliced everything quite nicely and provided me with wasabi and shoyu.
The Missus chose a selection of nimono and ohitashi for a nice meal from the very friendly folks at another stand.
It made for a very nice lunch.
After finishing up, we headed to the market to grab some beverages and snacks for the evening. At first I was just going to grab 2-3 items, but ended up with quite a load. While walking the aisles I felt a tap on the shoulder. I turned to find a kind looking, elderly gentleman smiling at me. He had two shopping baskets in hand....and passed one of them to me. Such a thoughtful gesture. You gotta love Osaka.
We were both excited about staying in Osaka. Even after stopping in Kobe for grade A5 beef for lunch. Wouldn't you get excited about visiting a place whose love for eating is expressed with the term "kuidaore", which means to eat oneself until bankrupt, to ruin one's self with food? In other words....eat until you drop. But first we had to find our apartment. Upon arriving in Osaka we got kind of turned around in Namba Station. Eventually, we just took an exit. We had been instructed to find a taxi at the taxi stand....which proved to be a bit problematic since we didn't know where the heck we were. Seeing a parking lot attendant I asked....in very, very poor Japanese something along the lines of "Takushii noriba wa doko desu ka". The gentleman smiled and made a motion for us to stay jogged away and came back with a cab! There were a couple of these little interactions which led us to believe that folks in Osaka were a more friendly, more outgoing, fun loving, and they all went to the right side of the escalator instead of the left! Go figure. It was a bit of an adventure finding the apartment we were staying at. But we got there, freshened up, checked our location with the map left for us by the apartment's owner....that's the view from the balcony above.
We then headed off......to try and ruin ourselves with food. In Osaka, that meant finding Dōtonbori.
I'm not quite sure how many eateries and bars are located on this street parallel to Dōtonbori and all the arteries and arcades emanating from it; but it must surely number in the hundreds. Along with all the amazing signs it's truly sensory overload.
It gets more boisterous as darkness arrives and the crowds of tourists start mixing in with the locals.
And then there's the sign that I'd seen a hundred times; the mechanical crab that is the sign for Kani Doraku Honten.
This was Osaka and I had a short list of places; none of which were particularly fancy or expensive. The one we both really wanted to try was Mizuno. So there we were, pocket wifi going strong, knowing we were close. In fact there was that dot on the screen....but it seemed we kept walking around that dot. What the heck. Finally, we saw "Mizuno" actually written on a small sign in front of a restaurant, with a pretty good sized line.
Things move pretty quick. Within minutes we were seated behind the customers, menu in hand and placed our order. When seats opened up, they'd have our order, and things would get started rather quickly.
We had ordered the "Popular Set", which included three mini (though not so small) okonomiyaki; a yamaimoyaki, "mizunoyaki", and a negi yaki.
It was a blast watching these guys work.....
The Missus favorite by far was the yamaimoyaki. She loved the lightness, creaminess, and of course, the scallops.
I enjoyed the mizunoyaki (6 ingredients)....well, there's noodles of course.
We noticed that these were much lighter than what I've had here in the states.
We had a blast.
It was delicious and we seriously contemplated returning the next night.
Unfortunately, I think things have changed since we visited. Two people whom I recommended this place to had terrible experiences with surly staff (?!?), undercooked okonomiyaki, and there's now a "no photos" rule in place. Sad if true.....because I would want everyone to have the same great meal we had here.
Mizuno 1-4-15 Dotombori, Chuo-ku Osaka
After dinner we walked around the area......checking out the bright lights. Just walking up and down the streets is entertainment itself. As the sun set, we could see the Salarymen headed for drinks, dinner, and possibly a long evening. This was fun.....totally different from the just as bright, but quite orderly and quiet Tokyo. Folks were out having a good time laughing and carrying on.
Right across the bridge and over the canal is the major shopping area known as Shinsaibashi. As crazy as Dotonburi was, it was even more packed here.
And as boisterous as we might say folks from Kansai are....they got nothing on the packs of Chinese tourists, whom you could hear loud and clear, and see cutting in front of folks standing in line. Crazy....
There was one shop the Missus just had to check out.......
It was a multi-floor shop full of dog accessories. The Missus was smitten. I was truly afraid She was going to buy something sweaters for Sammy and Frankie. Sheesh......
Man, I was getting tired.
It was time to head back.
I was starting to feel like this little guy.
We walked the half mile or so back to the apartment. And while we could make out the bright lights of Dotonburi from the patio, it was quite and peaceful. A world away from the crowds of Dotonburi....