Some of the best meals this trip13 December, 2012 by Chad
Today was our last day in Osaka. Having already covered all the places that Eri and Randy wanted to visit, today was a bonus free day. Had originally thought to bring the group over to Nara to see the free roaming deer there but Randy predicted rain for the day, so we decided to keep it within the city just in case.
Fortunately or perhaps unfortunately, the information turned out to be wrong, as a light rain only fell in the morning. So we ended up missing an opportunity to do some more touristy things. There were some pluses in staying in Osaka though, as we would learn later.
In the morning we’d be visiting Shinsekai, Osaka’s slum town. Had originally planned to skip the place, since the last visit ended up being quite uneventful. But the company did not have much of an opinion on what they wanted to do and I was running out of ideas too.
There are a ton of Billiken statues all around Shinsekai. It’s strange and a little sad, since the Billiken was actually an old American mascot toy that was brought to Shinsekai a century ago, but the people here now call it the “The God of Things As They Ought to Be”. It’s like having our descendants call Mickey Mouse a god. Though in Japan, he already kind of is.
Sure enough, walking around Shinsekai wasn’t too enjoyable. Primarily because it was a touters paradise this Friday morning. Had to dodge lots of them while looking around for the main store for Daruma. Had previously visited a side shop together with Wilson and Yan.
Eventually found it, but the prices were too ridiculous to consider. Neither Eri nor Randy were too keen on it, and I didn’t have that good experience with it either during our last trip.
Decided to give most of the shops we’d come across here a miss. Randy was rather weary of such shops, after having had a bad experience with such stores with plastic tents in Korea. I guess it’s a universal rule that such shops tend to be tourist traps.
Instead, we backtracked to a sushi shop that we encountered right when we first entered Shinsekai. The prices here were some of the cheapest for any sushi shop ever. Wasn’t expecting much from it, so was pleasantly surprised when the sushi turned out to be really fresh.
Both Randy and myself went with a 1,000 yen plate consisting of some 10 pieces of various sushi. Eri went with the slightly more premium 1,200 yen plate.
We ended up having some of the most enjoyable sushi this trip here this afternoon, without our wallets being much lighter than when we entered. Proves you don’t have to spend a ton to get great food in Japan.
Noted to myself to get more sushi this trip. Despite my love for raw fish, always ended up not having as much as I’d like in past trips since the rest didn’t share the sentiment.
After lunch, we made a stop at the adjacent Tennoji Zoo. Osaka’s Zoo is one of the oldest and supposedly bigger zoos in Japan.
One funny thing about Tennoji Zoo. There was a ticketing machine at the entrance but after purchasing your ticket here, you exchange it for another bigger ticket at the counter right beside the machine. For all its conveniences and efficiency, Japan also has lots of pointless, wasteful things like that.
I guess the counter lady really didn’t like dealing with people.
True to warnings, Tennoji Zoo turned out to be quite disappointing. It wasn’t so much about the size of the place. Instead, it was more about the state of things. The age of the zoo did show through its infrastructure and now that we’ve seen free roaming monkeys in Arashiyama, seeing the animals kept behind cages here did seem a little sad.
The enclosures were actually surprisingly big but in many cases only one of each kind of animal was kept. Must had been lonely for the animals. Nothing really unusual here either, just the standard popular zoo animals. The bigger enclosures meant that there were overall less animals being kept.
Interestingly, all the animals seemed to be in hiding this afternoon. But at the presence of the noisy school children, they came out to take a look. Perhaps the animals are trained to parade in front of visitors, or they were just so lonely that any company was appreciated.
About halfway through the zoo, I had suddenly realized that the viewfinder hood for my camera had gone missing (again). Had dropped it in Changi Airport even before making it to Japan during the last trip. I’m not sure why they make it a separate element, or as loose as they are. It drops off easily with a slight brush of movement on the camera. Seeing as how the camera was slung across me, it could fallen off at any point.
Backtracked through the parts of the zoo that we had passed by earlier in hopes of perhaps finding the viewfinder hood. No luck with that though, it was difficult to make out things on the ground, with all of the fallen leaves on the ground.
The zoo had a team of cleaners constantly sweeping the grounds too, so gave up on that. Between the damaged lens and this hood, was starting to incur lots of loses this trip. Thankfully this cap was only a minuscule fraction in cost to the lens but it still helped to dampen the mood just slightly.
We came across a large dome shaped building at the eastern corner of the zoo that turned out to be a bird sanctuary. Lots of retired types here were busy snapping up pictures of the birds with their chunky DSLRs. It’s interesting to see these folks continue to pursue their hobbies even in old age.
This was actually the first time since the first day here that I was using a 50mm fixed lens. Had purchased one just ahead of the trip for the sake of losing some weight off the camera. Wasn’t quite used to it at first, but was slowly starting to get the hang of it.
Prior to getting this 5dm2, my primary camera used to be a Pen with the fixed 35 mm equivalent lens. One thing I noticed was that I tend to pay more attention to composition with a fixed lens. It’s also a lot more enjoyable to use. It’s no wonder that many people have raved about the 50mm. It makes for a nice traveling lens, though a 35 would still prove more useful when taking landscapes.
On the way out, we spotted a little kid who was feeding pigeons near the entrance. Her parents passed her crumbs to throw, but she ended up eating some herself.
Apart from the school full of kindergartners, the only other people around the zoo were children and their parents. It’s quite amazing how the Japanese women still look as good as they do after having a kid. Some of them look right at home with the teenagers in Shibuya.
After Shinsekai, we decided to head over to Osaka Port. The place looked a little bit like Odaiba, if it were built in the 90s instead. Buildings here were quite run down. There was one especially tall building, the Osaka Prefectural Government Sakishima Building that was apparently Japan’s second tallest building.
The former Osaka World Trade Center somehow didn’t seem that impressive up close and expensive too. Instead we spent the rest of the evening at a mall between the Port’s ferry area and connecting Asia Pacific Trade Center. Read that there would be some shopping to be had there.
There wasn’t much shops here either. The mall turned out to be deserted too, and the few shops around looked like they were from a past decade. The entire situation was quite akin to our experience at Otsu and perhaps even Shinsekai. The port was likely developed years ago for some major event in Osaka, but has since gone into disuse and faded into obscurity like many other towns in Osaka.
We spent the rest of the afternoon looking around the few gift shops here. There was one shop that resembled “Mini Toons” in Singapore, selling mostly plushies and stationery gifts. Like the equivalent shop, it also sold various loose candies and old school snacks.
Spotted a cute Kiki’s Delivery Service Jiji plush in a metal cage. Wanted to get one, but these things are pretty common so decided to grab later in Tokyo.
There were some interesting tees at an American themed gift shop just beside. Randy wanted to get some for souvenirs but they only had them in children sizes. Beside, I spotted a children’s clothing store called “Starvation”. I guess it was fitting for the mall’s whole bleak theme.
At the arcade upstairs, Randy messed around with a catcher machine here with chibi Kamen Rider figures. Didn’t manage to win anything. These crane games are always more difficult than they look. Like the rest of the mall, all of the arcade cabinets here were really old too.
Many of the shops in the mall were closed, some perhaps permanently this afternoon. Nothing much else to see around so the only other thing we could do was perhaps grab an early dinner.
Look around, but there wasn’t much of a choice. We spotted a yakiniku buffet (or “viking” as they call it in Japan) called Sakon near the entrance to the mall. It cost only 1,600 yen for all you can eat dinner. We were a bit skeptical since it really sounded too good to be true.
Was a bit hesitant since was afraid that we might be slapped an extra charge at some point later on, but decided to give it a try anyways. Was glad that we did.
We felt a little uneasy inside, when we learned that the cuts were actually really good. Dinner was really satisfying as far as the food went, though would had liked to been able to cook the meats myself. Everything ended up “well done”. I’m sure everyone has friends who insist on cooking everything at barbecues too. Eri and Randy took lots of sirloin at first, but after teaching them the wonders of short ribs, we mostly just had a lot of that then.
One embarrassing incident was that we thought that the Oolong Tea here was free flow. The person who showed us to our seats spoke so fast that didn’t quite catch what he was saying. Only after taking 3 cups, did he ask us to stop. I believe he was as confused about the situation as we were. Was thinking that perhaps they’d charge us for it but they didn’t. Turned out the tea cost about 280 yen a cup. Dinner would still had been worth it if they did.
Felt a little bad for the shop at first, since they probably never anticipated Singaporeans to have such healthy appetites. But later a tour group of middle-aged Caucassians appeared (likely from one of the ferries) and seeing their sizes, was pretty sure they could eat more. They looked American, but Randy manage to overhear some of them speaking and likened their accent to M from James Bond. I guess that made them British.
The group was lead by a young women, who had an undeniably Singaporean accent. Randy and Eri suggested that perhaps I could get a job leading tours in Japan too, since I often end up showing people around here. Sounds like a plan. Was thinking that perhaps could do some private tours, with a bonus photography service. If anyone is interested let me know. Told them that they were lucky for using the service for free now.
Turns out all of the Sakon outlets located in obscure locations like this to cater to large tour groups both local and foreign. Still, not sure how they could afford to provide such an extensive spread at such low cost. Given the dilapidated state of the mall, we joked that perhaps the shop would eerily disappear after we stepped out later.
Sakon had a sizable spread of desserts and an ice cream bar too. You could help yourself to the pudding, mochi and various jellies here. Tried a little bit of everything. The soda flavored jelly was quite interesting.
Stuffed full, it was time to head back to our hotels to pack. We would be heading over to Nagoya tomorrow morning. All of our attempts at sightseeing ended up in failure today but we did walk away with two thoroughly satisfying meals so visiting all these obscure areas turned out to be a blessing in disguise.
Was relieved that the price of dinner amounted to exactly 1,600 yen. All of us agreed that we would definitely be visiting another Sakon should we come across another in Tokyo. Sadly, checking online, we would learn later that the franchise is limited to the Kansai area only. If you’re hitting up the area any time, do try to check it out.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.