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Bright lights in the City: Osaka Edition

One thing I love about traveling is that inevitably something will take me by surprise. Whether it’s a city, new food, or the ability to stretch out in a park with a book in one hand and cider in the other as the hours melt away, each trip is punctuated by places and moments that astonish me in the most delightful ways. While we were in Japan that was delivered by our days in and around Osaka.

Prior to getting there I was looking forward to two things about Osaka – the ability to head out on some amazing day trips and the food. Osaka is a mecca for delicious food. It’s known for sooooo many delightful things including takoyaki, okonomiyaki, kushikatsu… and now my stomach is growling. Fun fact – instant ramen was invented in Osaka (yes, seriously – there’s even a museum dedicated to instant ramen).

Neither of these things disappointed but there is an energy and grit to the city that I fell in love with. Hard. It’s loud, bright, brash and unapologetically not Tokyo or Kyoto. It feels like a city that’s still waking up to its own potential and everybody is hustling hard.

We spent a total of four nights in Osaka, broken up between time there and trips to nearby cities including Hiroshima, Miyajima, Hijemi Castle and an overnight stay in Kinosaki Onsen (posts on these are coming soon). Here are some of the highlights from our time in this bold metropolis:

Americano on point 👌🏻

We wandered into the Shinmachi neighbourhood for a cuppa joe at Mel’s Coffee Roaster, a teeeeeny pocket of a shop that amazingly roasts its beans on site (tucked into the corner of this shop) and delivered some amazing espresso. We were craving some post-coffee sushi (as one does in Japan) and the woman working at Mel’s sent us to Kaiba Sushi, which ended up being some of the best sushi we had on our trip.

After being mesmerized by the knife skills, textures and flavours at Kaiba we decided to further explore the Honto and Shinmachi neighbourhoods. This area is adorable – it felt like a perfect mix of Brooklyn and Venice Beach, full of delicious food (the bakeries 😍), coffee pockets and quaint shops selling everything from hipster fashions to gorgeous textiles.

What sushi dreams are made of 🍣

Shinsaibashi is definitely the place to shop in Osaka. It has pretty much any and every store you could imagine, several along a covered shopping arcade (shout out to the Shinsaibashi Tokyu Hands for their stellar collection of Anello backpacks❤️). The arcade is actually a pretty long street that extends from Shinsaibashi station up towards Hommachi station and is seriously great for people watching. It’s also an excellent way to traverse the city on foot during rainy days 👌🏻

Paul was very adamant about getting kobe beef while we were in Osaka (Kobe is just 20 minutes away on the train) and he lucked out on our first night there when we found Craft Burger Co. in Shinsaibashi. This delicious joint serves up local craft beer, Kobe beef burgers (and delicious chicken burgers!), is owned by an Aussie who loves basketball and was showing Titanic while we were there… does it get any better than this?

Feelin’ like the King of the world with my chicken burger.

That said, the best meal we had in Osaka was definitely at this hole in the wall we stumbled upon in the America-mura neighbourhood. I can’t remember the name but it was near Triangle Park and it haunts my dreams… this little ma and pop shop had maybe 12 seats, all lined up along the grill where your delicious yakisoba, takoyaki or okonomiyaki would be served. We were there for the main event: okonomiyaki, an amazing savory Japanese pancake. It. Was. Soooooo. Good. Ugh. Despite the best of intentions, I straight up forgot to snap a photo of the delicious food (because I was too busy stuffing my face), but it was a thing of beauty.

Oh delicious savory pancakes, I miss you. I just might have to test Toronto Life’s roundup of the best okonomiyaki in the city.

Small place packed with big flavours and personalities

One night we headed to the very touristy but delightfully hilarious Dōtonbori neighbourhood. This area is famous for its restaurants with massive 3D signs – everything from dragons to crabs. It’s completely absurd and packed with people but this wonderfully weird little nook somehow made total sense in Osaka. It’s worth checking out (you kind of have to see it to believe it), but beware that it’s set up for all the touristy traps, particularly loooong lines for mediocre food (we heard so many complaints). In a city with soooo much good food we opted to take in the sights of Dōtonbori and head elsewhere for a delicious late night snack.

The Glico sign: a must-see in Dōtonbori

We stayed near the Hommachi subway station and it was perfect – walking distance to all of the sights we wanted to see (often through the arcade) but a quick ride to the train station for days when we wanted to get out of town. Before we left just about everyone we knew told us it was very difficult to get around outside of Tokyo – this wasn’t an issue we personally encountered. Having a few words in Japanese on hand was helpful, but generally we were never far from someone who could help us. The subway in Osaka made announcements in both Japanese and English, which was very helpful. Since getting back I’ve had similar conversations about navigating major subway systems in foreign countries – if this is something you have experience with, Osaka and Tokyo make a lot of sense. But if not (or you’re just super stressed about it) here are a few key pointers to help you subway like a champ:

  • Take a deep breath
  • Map your route before you leave – and know that you can get cell service (or use your pocket wifi!) on the subway
  • Look up major stations along the line and figure out which one you’re going towards – most lines use these as their destinations (for example, Hommachi station is a stop on the the Midōsuji line – if we wanted to head out of town we went towards Umeda station; if we wanted to go into town we went towards Namba station – these are clearly marked on maps in the station so don’t fret, you got this!)
  • On the screens you’ll see numbers next to the upcoming stations – this tells you the time it will take to get to the those stations (SO brilliant)
  • Know 1-2 stations just before and just after the one you’re going to (this way you can anticipate getting off the subway and know if you’ve missed your stop

Stay tuned for Travel #Hustle posts on Hijemi Castle, Hiroshima, Miyajima and Kinoseki Onsen

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