Traveling Osaka, Japan: Dotonbori, Osaka Castle, Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
What a vacation! With three weeks of non-stop activities and plenty of new experiences, I'm so excited to recap my adventures and of course, share all my eats abroad. As a newbie traveler, I packed the lightest out of my friends and also hit a few road bumps along the way (like a back injury early on), but I came back alive. There's a whole lot to recap, but I'm categorizing them by location, so check back every now and then for updates. Day 1 - Arrival to Osaka
After a 12 hour flight from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), my friend Lucy and I landed in Kansai, Osaka, Japan. Luckily, I spent most of my time watching movies and sleeping the entire flight, so setting foot on Japan wasn't too bad until we came across custom declaration. We got through security and baggage claim without a snitch, but custom declaration made us wait an additional two hours before we were on our way to the train station, which was another 30 minutes to our hostel. Getting onto the right train was also another hassle, but one we didn't mind too much. We mistakenly took the Express train with reserved seats, so it was an additional fare. We paid the fare difference and allowed ourselves some time to just soak it in. It still felt surreal that we were in another country! From Namba station, it was a 10 minute walk with our luggage before we finally got settled into our room. What a night!
Once we checked into our room and freshened up, we hit the streets to explore and figure out where to eat for dinner. Our hostel, Yamatoya Honten, is situated right next to Dotonbori and a 5 minute walk to the nearest station entrance, Nipponbashi. We walked past rows and rows of restaurants and were indecisive on what to eat, so we finally narrowed it down to two gyoza shops next to each other. We walked into the smaller establishment with a 6-seater bar and run by a wife and husband duo.
Started the night with a glass of Asahi draft beer and some gyoza (pork, chicken and shrimp). The owners had very limited English, but tried to keep us engaged the entire time. Surprisingly, the other guest also had limited English to translate bit by bit, while Lucy also knew some Japanese to understand most of the conversation, so we were able to piece together parts of the conversation just to get by.
The owners were very hospitable and generous, even giving us maguro (tuna) sashimi on the house! As our food started to come out, a couple walked in and they were tourists too! One of them was from Arizona while the other is from New Zealand and they were just on the tail end of their stay in Japan with Osaka being the last few stops. We spent most of our time talking about the sights and what to do/see while we were here. It was a very interesting first night in Osaka. As we returned to our hostel, we took advantage of the onsen on site.
With an onsen located on the basement level, it was so convenient to relax our muscles in the warm bath. Onsens are public bath areas and are separated by gender. There's a separate place to shower before you sit in the bath, but the space is small here with a max capacity of 3-4 people in the bath and about 6 shower stations. Luckily, we didn't have anyone else to worry about so we had the space to ourselves, which helped with easing the mind before bed.
Day 2 - Osaka Castle & Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
We started our day bright and early, but mostly because we haven't quite had time to acclimate to Japan. We took a stroll around Osaka to the nearest 7-Eleven, where we grabbed breakfast to be eaten at the Osaka Castle. I picked up a cafe latte, ham & cheese croissant and a random onigiri, which turned out to be pickled vegetables. We sat on the waterfront underneath the blooming cherry blossoms (sakura) and enjoyed a relaxing breakfast before the tourist groups started to settle in.
Soon after, we took to the trail and did the touristy thing. Take a ton of pictures of sakura (cherry blossoms). They were still in full bloom, even with the rain washing away some of the florets leaving some trees bare, but we had made it just in time to see them all.
Once we had our fill of cherry blossoms for the day, we headed back to our hostel to rest. However, we headed into a bakery about halfway back because it had just opened and the fresh baked goods smelled amazing. We bought ourselves a custard bread and sakura ichigo mochi/bread/bun, which we brought back to our hostel to enjoy.
For lunch, we headed to Dotonbori to shop and walked along the path to Shinsaibashi, where there were more fashion stores and food options to choose from. We headed into an unassuming shop known for wooden rice bowl sets and luckily, they had English menus available. I decided to go with the Ohitsu-gohan kaisen-sanmi for 950 yen, which was topped with slices of sea bream, seared salmon and tuna with pickled vegetables, roasted sesame to grind, soup and dashi for chazuke included in the set.
There were directions in both Japanese and English on how to enjoy this set in four ways: 1) By itself to enjoy the flavors as is 2) Grind up the roasted sesame and pour soy sauce in to dip the fish with 3) Season with seasonings on the table 4) Chazuke - pour the dashi into your rice bowl and enjoy as a rice porridge.
Once we finished up lunch, we made our way toward Osaka Aquarium by train. Admission is 2300 yen, which is considerably less in comparison to Long Beach Aquarium valued at $25. The aquarium was also extremely organized in that there's one giant tank in the middle where the whale shark is and then there's surrounding exhibits on the outskirts. The path in which you follow spirals downward around the tank so you get a glimpse of the whale shark at every angle. On our visit, there was only the baby whale, but I guess there's three in total that are displayed on rotation. Regardless, it's pretty neat to see them up close and personal.
One of my favorite exhibits was the jellyfish. There were so many!!
We finished up with the aquarium with some souvenir purchases and headed back to Nipponbashi station to put away our bags at our hostel. We headed out to Dotonbori in search of dinner and ended up in front of Tatsutaya for some warmth. There were English menus available here as well, which made it easy to order. The server also knew some English to get by and got our order in a hurry. I got the sukiyaki and it came with a raw egg on the side. Since I let it sit while waiting for the food to arrive, our server beat the egg for me, lol, so that I could dip the beef into it.
Lucy had the pork shabu shabu, but unlike the shabu I'm used to at home, the pork was already pre-cooked in the soup in a single bowl.
After dinner, we returned to our hostel for a warm bath and prep ourselves for the day trip to Nara.
If you're traveling to the area, I've included details to the hostel I've stayed at in Osaka. The page is super informative and offers English translations.
Namba Dontonbori 2-17-4