Japan, Day 1: Osaka, Interrupted

Remember the typhoon?  There was a typhoon.

We had one day in Osaka, and well – most of the city shut down.  We emerged from the underground entrance of our hotel into what had been an absolute madhouse of people and commerce the night before to find… nothing.

Osaka train station, deserted

Osaka station was deserted.  Every one of the gazillion small shops was shuttered. It was incredibly surreal.  We had a breakfast of onigiri, yogurt, and some pastries from a convenience store (“combini” in Japan) because it was literally the only thing open.  All of the tourist attractions we had planned to see, including the indoor ones like the aquarium, were closed.

New plan: let’s go find an arcade and spend some time there. Arcades in Japan are cool, right?

Arcade is closed.  We wandered around a large ridiculous store called “Don Quixote” for a bit.  Don Quixote is hard to explain.  Did you ever need to buy whisky, earbuds, sex toys, and a watercolour set in the same trip? Don Quixote has you covered.

We decided to go downtown on the subway and see what WAS open. Turns out the famous covered shopping street, Kurumon, was open.  In fact, since it was still POURING rain (typhoon, remember?) the slightly smaller absolute quantity of tourists was packed into a MUCH smaller area, so it was quite packed. Or so we thought at the time.  We actually had no idea what packed was going to look like later in the trip.

Kurumon market

Half the reason to come to Japan is for the food, so lets get started.  On our graze up and down the street, we managed to have the largest oyster either of us had ever consumed, some octopus on a stick and grilled scallops. (As will become apparent, we frequently started eating BEFORE remembering to photograph our food on this trip.)

OystersScallops and octopus

One thing that took some getting used to is that you don’t eat while walking in Japan.  If you buy an oyster, you stand in front of the shop that sold it to you, and you eat it there.  No matter how crowded the shopping streets get, you still pack in to wherever you bought the food to eat it.

In our continuing quest to find places we could reach while staying dry, we went to an old school coffee shop for some cake, our first of many shrines to find a geocache, some more covered shopping streets near Dotonbori (frozen fruit on a stick acquired), and finally bought a crappy plastic umbrella which we would haul around for the remainder of our trip.

CakeFrozen fruit on a stick

Dotonbori, by the way, is the famous canal district in Osaka that everyone takes pictures of.  For good reason – it’s got some great signs.

Signs near Dotonbori
The area of the actual canal itself was a bit on the soggy side.

The one other thing we were fairly sure we could check out despite the conditions was Shinsekai, a neighborhood that is to Dotonbori as the old Vegas strip is to the new one.  Slightly seedier, but in a way that makes it in many respects cooler.  

Shop in Shinsekai neighborhood

We had takoyaki sitting on a oil drum in a puddle, and it was the best takoyaki we’d ever had.  Burn your mouth hot and everything.

Tsutenkaku tower

Tsutenkaku tower. Also note the crappy, hastily purchased umbrella.

After going back to Dotonbori to see if the area around the canal would be a little drier by now for sightseeing (it wasn’t) and attempting to go to an arcade (still not open), we gave up and went back to our hotel to see if we could find some Osaka style okonomiyaki.  (We didn’t). Eventually we ended up at a chain izakaya that was perfectly serviceable, and turned out to be one of the largest restaurants we would eat in for the entire trip.   We ate crispy chicken and gyoza next to some boisterous Italians and went back to our room to try again the next day.

And that was our Osaka experience.  Memorable? Yes. Possibly not the precise set of memories we would have chosen, but definitely memorable.

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