After two busy days in Tokyo, we took the Shinkansen bullet train to Osaka. If you ever get the chance to do it, please do.
It cost just under £90 per person to travel 319 miles (514 km) and took around 2.5 hours, with an average speed of 200 miles an hour. You can reserve seats with luggage storage in advance. On a good day you can see Mount Fuji, but we were out of luck. There is a drinks and snack service on board but most people opt to buy an ekiben (traditional bento box lunch) at the station before boarding. These were delicious and beautifully presented and cost on average £5.
Osaka has a population of 2.6 million, but according to locals they feel they are more laid back and friendly than Tokyo and everyone we met was lovely, including the world’s sweetest and most excitable bar maid that we almost adopted.
One of reasons I wanted to go to Osaka was to see Osaka Castle, which is really impressive. Easy to reach by metro, the castle has largely been rebuilt, so inside is more like an exhibition space rather than being able to see original parts of castle and how people lived.
There is a lift for anyone with mobility issues which will take you to the 5th floor but there are 3 floors above this that can only accessed by steps. The castle is set in gorgeous park land, and with Autumn arriving it was beautiful, but spring is when it’s really popular at the cherry blossom festival. The castle dates back 450 years and if you’re a history nerd like me, you’ll love the descriptions of various feuds and downfalls of Shoguns, it also has a great displays of samurai armour.
We stayed close to the Dotonbori area, named after the river that flows through it. This is a busy and cosmopolitan area with high end designer shops on one side of the river and local shops, bars and restaurants on the other. Street food is really big in Osaka and squid balls are the local favourite.
By the river you’ll find the oblong Ferris wheel, which is built around a 24-hour discount shop locally known as Donki (formal name is Don Quijote). This may have been the busiest shop I’ve ever visited and if you plan to go early because an average Friday evening felt like the January sales. But there is literally everything a human being could ever need in this shop.
Another local speciality is okonomiyaki, this is a very thin pancake stuffed primarily with fried noodles and shredded cabbage and leeks/onion. Other toppings can include pork, fried egg, bonito flakes, nori seaweed. pickled ginger or kimchi, this is then drizzled with a rich savoury sauce and mayonnaise. I realise my description is not selling it, but it was one of the nicest things I ate in Japan (and I pretty much loved everything).
Dotonbori never stops. In early evening families are out with their kids enjoying the waterfront and street food. Later in the evening “Salary Men” (office workers) get stupifyingly drunk in the hostess bars, and the local petrol heads hang out and compare cars. People are friendly and the area feels very safe and a lot more pleasant than most UK and European city centres late at night.
I like to think of myself as an adventurous eater, but I stalled at some of the local offerings which included “fish abductor muscle” and “beef nerve”, but maybe next time.