After a fairly relaxing (by our standards) day in Miyajima, it was time to return to the mainland and head for Osaka – a ferry, two trains and a subway ride further north. In the interests of enjoying our inclusive breakfast, we had a slightly later start to the day. There’s a degree of subjectivity to enjoyed as neither of us were accustomed to consuming miso soup, Japanese pickles or tofu for breakfast, but we did our best (and sought sanctuary in the fruit mixed with jam and yogurt).
Fortunately, since Obon festivities were drawing to a close, we were able to get seats on the Nozomi Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka. Shinkansen stations like Shin-Osaka are comparable to some TGV stations here in France, in that they’re located at a distance from the city centre. Navigating Osaka’s subway was a piece of cake – though we made a bit of a hash of the relatively simple walk to our hostel at the other end. Luggage stowed away and bunks paid for, we set off on foot to explore Osaka.
After a bite to eat, we headed in the direction of Kuromon Ichiba Market, which was conveniently located in the same neighbourhood as our hostel. Not all the shops were open – it was a Sunday, after all – but it was nice to wander round without being jostled by crowds of people. One stall was offering white strawberry juice at ¥1000 a pop (that’s just over £7), whilst others hawked exotic fruits, seafood and takoyaki to go. Takoyaki is, to quote Wikipedia, “a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of batter and filled with octopus”. Colloquially, it goes by the name – I’m laughing as I type this – “octopus balls”.
Next, we ventured to Nipponbashi, an area of Osaka which specialises in duty-free electronics and was buzzing with people. Continuing onto Ota Road, the anime, manga and cosplay hub, we came across some of the, erm, quirkier aspects of Japanese culture. Maid cafés, anyone?
Having had our fill of busy streets, we headed for Sennichimae Doguyasuji, an arcade filled with specialist cookery shops selling everything from plates and bowls to kitchen knives and glassware. To our utter amazement, one shop’s humungous blades were on display for the world to pick up and handle – no glass cases here! Other stores had devoted more floor space to surplus stock than customers’ feet, with plates and bowls stacked in teetering piles along every aisle. Edging along each aisle, I was petrified The Leaning Towers of Plates and Bowls were going to tumble down like a Jenga tower (fortunately none did).
En route to Orange Street, we passed through Dōtonbori, Osaka’s premier entertainment district. The lantern-lined canal looked rather industrial by day, so we decided to return later to see Dōtonbori in all its neon glory.
Orange Street is home to dozens of cafés and quirky shops selling clothing and homeware – at both sky-high and budget prices. After browsing a few of the shops, we stopped for a drink. (During our visit, we also encountered the Musical Toilet. Needless to say, we both found this a wee bit strange.)
When we left it was beginning to drizzle – and this drizzle quickly morphed into a downpour. Seeking shelter in Shinsaibashi Suji, one of Osaka’s oldest shopping arcades, we went in and out of a number of shops in search of the best-value matcha powder for Laurence. Matcha purchased, we wandered off in the direction of Osaka’s gourmet hub (according to our map). When we finally hit the street in question, everything turned out to be closed. Not wanting to have made a wasted trip (and have been soaked to the skin for nothing), we popped into a cheap supermarket to pick up some budget-friendly snacks for the next day.
We then made our way back to Dōtonbori, where we had tea before wandering the neighbourhood to see it all lit up. Animatronic crabs and octopuses (not octopi, according to Oxford Dictionaries) adorned the façades of restaurants, softly-lit lanterns lined the canal and skyscrapers were bedecked with technicolour adverts. Taking centre stage was the iconic Glico billboard, which was quite fun to watch as the scene changed to show landmarks from across the world.
- The ratio between location, price and overall hostel atmosphere was spot on at Khaosan World Namba. The sleeping pods in our dorm were surprisingly spacious, common areas were clean and there was ample storage for both our larger luggage and smaller valuables. A three night stay clocked in at roughly £72 each.
- Although our hostel was located a stone’s throw from a subway stop (Namba) serving three different lines, we found our own legs to be more than sufficient for traversing the city.
- In Osaka, subway fares are calculated according to the distance travelled, so expect to pay anything between ¥240 and ¥370 per ride.