11 Jul 2015

Back to Japan - Day 2: Osaka

I hadn't visited Osaka on either of my two previous trips, but hubby had heard that there was a good craft beer scene there, not to mention some excellent food, so we scheduled a night there. We took a subway up to Hiroshima's main train station and activated our JR Rail Passes and booked seats on the next Shinkansen (bullet train).

It was a quick journey from Hiroshima, leaving on the dot, getting a brief glimpse of the castle at Himeji, before arriving at Osaka Shin less than two hours later, from where we then took a subway trip down to Namba, where I'd booked us a hotel near the Dotonbori restaurant area.

It was a sweltering humid day, drizzling a little too, but luckily we only had to walk for five minutes with our backpacks to get to our hotel, the Grand Vista. The room was a little disappointing, especially compared with the previous day - the "grand vista" was looking out over a derelict building - not quite what I'd had in mind. It was still pretty cheap and quite spacious at least.

Once we'd dropped our bags off in the room we headed out to find our second dose of okonomiyaki (this time the Osaka-style one like we'd tried in Abeno in London). I was armed with my 50mm f/1.2 lens, thinking it would be good to capture some of the street atmosphere.

Dotonbori is quite a scene - heaving with people, the streets lined with takoyaki stalls, often surrounded by an audience watching the little octopus balls being prepared (it's quite a fascinating process!). We wandered around through an arcade, watched people playing pachinko through the window, and meandered down some little back streets, before deciding to find somewhere to eat.

A lot of the restaurants were now closed, but we stumbled upon Chibo, along the main street, a busy okonomiyaki restaurant which was still serving food after 3pm.

We sat at a table with its own grill; the okonomiyaki were prepared on one big hot plate away from us (the grill was just to keep it hot once it was cooked). We could see a number being prepared, Osaka and Hiroshima-style, by a female chef (the staff took it in turns to cook and serve). Eventually the food arrived, smothered in teriyaki sauce and decorated with Japanese mayonnaise and we covered the things with dried bonito flakes and watched them fluttering strangely in the heat. Unlike the Hiroshima one it's much flatter and more pancake-like, with all the ingredients mixed up together before being cooked. As a result it was also far easier to eat. We'd picked the perfect place - they were absolutely delicious, the atmosphere was great and we definitely preferred them to the Hiroshima-style ones.

Feeling suitably full we headed back out into the heat and wandered around the area a little more. The street was generally non-smoking (there were some tiles saying "don't smoke in the street") but people congregated in "smoking areas" which seemed like quite a good idea (smoking is clearly a big deal in Japan - everywhere seems to have a smoking room or smoking is just still allowed). The place was also crawling with mainly-Japanese tourists taking photos.

We stopped for a while with a small crowd of other tourists to watch the making of the takoyaki - pouring the batter into the pans and then moving the balls around with fine chopsticks.

We headed north across the river and up through the Shin Sai Bashi-Suji shopping arcade for a bit, marvelling at the vending machines, bizarre shops and game arcades.

We headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit before heading out again, this time on our little craft beer crawl. Hubby had been doing his research and marked a few on the map, most of which were fairly close to each other, although a little north of where we were staying. We started off taking the metro up to Osaka central station in search of a little bar at the top of a skyscraper; I left the big camera at home - didn't think a beer crawl and expensive gear would necessarily be conducive. We found it quite difficult to get our bearings, coming out of an exit of the enormous station, with Google Maps placing us in the wrong place and moving in the wrong direction. Eventually we found our way to the right building (Hankyu Grand) and up to the 31st floor to the Craft Beer House Molto bar. The view was definitely better than from our hotel room in Osaka, although it's not the prettiest of city skylines. I took a few iPhone shots as we watched the skies darken, and we tried a couple of different small beers. The place had a cover charge, but they at least gave a pot of snacks for that, and after a few minutes we were moved to a window seat. We tried some tuna ceviche too, which was delicious.

After trying a couple of beers we paid and left and headed down to their sister bar, Beer Stand Molto - a tiny little bar in the station, hidden away down a little corridor (we found a great blog with detailed directions so found it easily). It was packed with after-work drinkers huddled around tiny tables. The beer list was the same, but slightly cheaper, and with no cover charge, as well as some different beers in the fridge.

From there we headed south-east a little way by subway to Yellow Ape Craft (no cover charge), where again we stood against a narrow bar (there might have been sitting room upstairs but the atmosphere was nice downstairs). We just missed a massive downpour which drove a few additional people into the bar for shelter. There we picked up an Osaka Craft Beer Map, which had a few additional pubs that we weren't aware of (for another trip, since we were leaving in the morning). We tried a couple of interesting ones, including a cabernet beer by Minoh (one of the popular craft breweries that we came across a lot).

From there we walked a few streets away to Garage 39, only to find it shut - the garage door firmly shut. Not far from there, though, was the World Beer & Cafe QBrick bar, where we had a another couple of beers (another place with an annoying service charge). After a couple of beers there we realised that we needed to make a move to get the last subway back to Namba. We just made the last train, which was remarkably quiet (compared with London, for example, and - it turns out - Tokyo).

We hadn't had much to eat, apart from the ceviche and some nuts and rice crackers, so before heading home we decided to try out the takoyaki (one place was still open). We were quite disappointed, as they were much runnier inside than we'd hoped, too piping hot and a bit tasteless. Not quite hitting the spot we then headed to another café that was still open, ordered some gyozas from a machine, then sat watching them being grilled in front of us.

In spite of being dirt-cheap and ordered via a machine, they were a delicious end to our stay in Osaka. We bought what we thought was some sake at the 7-11 beneath the hotel to have a little nightcap back in the room, but it tasted like paint thinner, so ended up down the drain. After a rather boozy night it was probably just as well, and our trip to Kyoto the following day was easier as a result!

Click here for blog on Day 1 - Hiroshima & Miyajima
Click here for blog on Day 3 - Kyoto & The Philosopher's Path

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