Peeks at classic and modern Osaka city03 March, 2011 by Chad
On this first morning waking up in Osaka, we headed to the suburban fringes of the city seeking a sushi restaurant that Yan had heard about from a Singaporean food blog. It was Located inside the Osaka Chuo Oroshiuri Shijo, a large complex dedicated to the wholesale of fresh produce and the daily haul from the ocean. Here we would have our heartiest and most expensive breakfast ever.
The plan for the day was to make time for the NMB48 show at Namba in the evening, in addition to checking out the Tennoji and Shinsekai parts of Osaka today. But first it was sushi. Endo Sushi.
Being located right inside a wet market, the fish couldn’t get any fresher. Endo Sushi was apparently pretty famous and lots of celebrities from beyond Osaka had visited the restaurant. The walls were lined with photographs and signatures from some familiar names and many unknown ones. The boss, Endo sat at the restaurant reading his newspaper, occasionally stopping to chat leisurely with his henchmen or give out orders.
Endo sushi was notable for serving omakase or “I’ll leave it up to you” style. For 1000 yen, you were served a plate of 5 different pieces, one of which would always be the premium otoro (tuna belly), the fattest and priciest part of the fish.
The store opened at 5 AM, staying open only until 2 in the afternoon. Apart from us, the only other customers were a couple of wealthy married kinds who were here for breakfast.
First plate was definitely an eye-opener. You haven’t quite had sushi, until you’ve experienced fish as fresh as this. There was no way to put down a price on how much a similar plate would cost in Singapore.
Being allergic to eel, I traded away my slice to Yan for something else. Joked about how I didn’t want to end up looking like Kitarie for the next two weeks. Oh, the wota-ness.
The two women had left to go about their shopping or whatever them tai tai kinds do after breakfast. A lone traveler from Korea came looking to try the famous sushi here too. On recognizing his foreign-ness, the boss tried to strike up a conversation in English but couldn’t find the words he was looking for. He tried to asking the other chefs but they were equally clueless. He eventually gave up and resorted to exaggerated actions.
We were pretty full after our second helping and agreed to stop there. The only thing left to do was order their tamagoyaki which Yan wanted to try.
One of the staff returned after we had finished our plate. He asked “okawari?. Yan said “Ok” and asked for some tamagoyaki. The staff replied “Ok” too.
My reaction was “Dude you just ordered another helping”.
Yan was like “No way. I asked for Tamagoyaki and he said ok!”.
Then I was like, “But he asked you if you wanted seconds before that.”
Then Yan went about commenting about how I should have stopped him since I was the only person who knew what he was saying. Touche.
Not that the 3rd plate was a bad thing. It was seriously good, great even. But by the time we left the stall, our stomachs were over stuffed while our wallets all that much lighter.
On the way out, we told Endo-san we were from Singapore and he was quite delighted. He said a couple of Singaporean girls had dropped by last Thursday too.
He then proceeded to take out an album of photographs and explained that he had dropped by Singapore last year as part of a round the world cruise. Endo continued on to show us all the different places he went to.
Eventually, though we left for our next destination.
This morning we visited Tennoji for Shittenoji. Japan’s oldest temple. The original establishment predates more than 1400 years. But the current incarnation is a more modern structure. The Osaka Unlimited Passes we had purchased yesterday continued to function today so we didn’t have to pay the usual 700 yen entry fee.
Here we would cleanse at the fountain, spin the dharma wheel, burn some incense and even make monetary donations like at other shrines. Anything, to win concert tickets next week.
Shittenoji complex was actually made up of a number of different gates, towers and halls. The Kondo, a five floored pagoda being the central and most prominent landmark. The inside was dedicated to Kannon, the Goddess of Mercy. Out of respect, no photos of course.
While moving along the walls of the central courtyard we spotted this cat seeking the attention of people passing by outside. The guy in the photo ignored it.
With no one to turn to, the cat approached this three evil tourists beckoning it from inside the temple. It tried looking around the perimeter but it couldn’t find a way into the temple and eventually gave up.
Another middle aged man passing by tsk-ed us and picked up the cat to hug it. It was only then that we realized what a-holes we were being. Protected by our comfy layers of clothing, we had forgotten that the temperature was only 4 degrees this morning. Poor cat just wanted some warmth.
We headed into a waiting area for a short rest. The structure turned out to be the temple’s charm shop too.
After catching our breaths, we explored the other sections of the temple before leaving for the Shinsekai area. Having spotted Tsutenkaku in the distance on the way to Tennoji, we decided to brave the long walk toward the tower.
After passing by a few more temples scattered around the streets and a zoo, we eventually approached the area where the tower was located.
The whole Shinsekai area was kept in such a way as to enact nostalgia. Calling the place preserved, wouldn’t be quite appropriate though.
The Shinsekai (New World) area was built in the image of New York and Paris in the 1912s, as sort of an over optimistic theme park. The idea didn’t quite catch on and the place soon fell into ruin, becoming the poorest neighborhood in the whole of Japan.
Like any other slum, crime has flourished at Shinsekai. Over the years tons of homeless have also flocked to the area from all around Japan. Sure enough, we were greeted by a hobo urinating on the street on our way to the tower.
Attempts to revive or commercialize the area has been made. Such as building the Tennoji Zoo or marketing the Tsutenkaku tower as an attraction but still you can’t shake the feeling that you’re in Japan’s “bad side of town”. Many of the old businesses in the area had long bankrupt and even the Spa World building was left in a semi-demolished state.
The elevator up the tower was themed as a time machine, telling us that we were stepping into “old” Japan.
There was an interesting, somewhat bleak view from the top of the tower.
The lower floors housed a historical gallery explaining depression history of the area and some items collected from the people living there in the past. There was a plastic model of how the place looked like prior to its failed development too. Something like a planetarium projector displayed pretty moving artworks while a voice narrated the story.
Beside the gallery was a small cafe and gift shop. It was completely empty. I wonder how successful the Tsutenkaku was as a date spot. We headed downstairs instead where yet another souvenir shop was located. This one sold the more common tacky trinkets and omiyage. Here we spotted another coin vending machine.
Wilson and I bought the Hello Kitty one. It didn’t come in a plastic container like the one at Tokyo Tower. Yan bought the one that said “I Love Takoyaki”. I see what you did there.
Apart from the crime rate, Shinsekai was also famous for an original dish called Kushi Katsu (Skewered Cutlets). We entered what looked like the most popular outlet at the junction below the tower.
Kushi Katsu was basically sticks of meat or vegetables deep fried in batter. You dip them in the Japanese equivalent of Worcestershire sauce made from fermented apples and mustard. Really sinful stuff. Notice we were clocking 3 days straight of nothing but deep fried foods.
There really wasn’t much to do in Shinsekai, except to perhaps bask in the atmosphere of shattered dreams. If the deep fried cutlets weren’t enough, Yan ordered some Takoyaki to share.
Spotted this vending machine selling drinks that no one ever wanted to drink, for as low as 60 yen. Tried this Melon Soda. It was pretty nasty.
Finally, it was time to head over to Namba which was just one stop away on the JR line. Yan was scheduled to see their live performance there later in the evening.
NMB48 (Namba48), was Osaka’s version of AKB48. They had just started performing earlier this year, holding live concerts daily at their theater in Namba. I was pretty psyched to see them perform some old favorite AKB48 song sets and spent the past week explaining to Yan how awesome Watanabe Miyuki and Yamada Nana were. He reacted by saying he couldn’t see her charm and swore he’d never ever find Nana favorable.
I honestly didn’t have a clue as to where the Namba theater was located. Having lost all attempts to get tickets, I wasn’t too keen on dwelling any more on the subject. You’d think that being new the odds of getting tickets would be good but we would learn that the number of crazed locals hanging around the theater there outnumbered even AKB48.
For some reason, I ended up taking them to Namba Hatch. Before remembering that that was the location of AKB48’s last concert and not the NMB48 theater. Fortunately, Yan’s email had the address of the theater, YES Namba.
We spent the next hour wandering around Namba looking for the theater. The area was huge. The first people I approached, an elderly couple along the street pointed us toward the relative area but had never heard of the building. At Den-Den town, we entered a 7-Eleven for more help. As before, the clerk could point us toward the area but had no recollection of a YES Namba either.
Here we wandered around a large area of the city featuring nothing but Pachinko buildings. NMB48 was owned by a Pachinko company, so we had to be close. But still, no sign of the place.
Fortunately, we found a random shop selling unofficial idol goods. Surely a fellow wota would know the secret location of the theater.
True enough, the young girl at the counter told us to head a street down and turn left while looking out for the NGK Building.
It was only there that we finally understood why no one had heard of such a place. The NMB48 theater was located in the basement of another building opposite the NGK Building. The only indication was a banner and single flight of stairs leading down to the theater. The hordes of wota outside of the theater that would have been a good landmark formed only later.
We dropped by the NMB48 merchandise shop, which was a one street and a corner away from the theater. I grabbed some Miyuki, Nana and Yamamoto Sayaka photos for safe keeping. Yan bought a pack of Yoshida Akari and Ogasawara Mayu, whom he had been keeping a lookout for the most. Swag was given to us in a special Valentine’s Day plastic bag. Yan commented that those could probably be sold for good money. Sure enough, there were people selling the plastic bags some time later. The madness.
Wilson and I dropped Yan off for his concert and went about our own business. We explored the new Takashima building nearby and walked the rest of the streets around Namba and Den-Den.
Tired, we decided to look for a donut shop to settle at for a snack. But we spent a good 20 more minutes walking around before finding one, back near the theater. You could find donut stores everywhere in Tokyo but here in Osaka, they were quite a rarity. No love for donuts Osaka?
We chilled for a while at the Cafe Andonand, which was just a fancy more expensive branch of Mister Donut, Japan’s largest donuts franchise. Later, we spent the remaining time browsing around the bookstore above the NMB48 theater. From inside, I could hear the familiar tune of Namida uri no Shoujo echoing from the basement.
People started coming out of the theater, so Wilson and I headed outside to catch Yan. But he only appeared after a long wait, from one of the side streets. He had rushed down to the NMB48 shop as soon as the show ended to grab a whole lot more photos.
We left the concentration of noisy Pachinko buildings and walked toward the neon filled streets of Dotonbori, Osaka’s principal tourist destination. Yan would spend the rest of the night trying to convince me how awesome Yamada Nana is. Oh the irony.
If you thought that the shops around Tokyo closed early, wait till you visit Osaka. At 8 PM, most of the shops around this night life area was already starting to close.
The must see touristy landmark for Dotonbori is the giant neon Glico man sign. We looked around the area but it initially eluded us due to some construction works going on beside. We looped around the other end to get to the bridge, the neon signs were beside the river it passed over.
With that achievement done, next was to get some grub. We had missed our first night’s plan to visit Tengu, Wilson and my favorite Izakaya place so I commented about how great it was if we could find one nearby. But we were in luck as it turns out Wilson had spotted a store on our way to the station this morning.
Apart from the many other people walking in the direction of the station, the shopping broadway was also home to lots of homeless sleeping outside the closed stores. The homeless here could afford fast food.
Along the street we found a Mister Donut and made a mental note of its location. We also spotted a foreigner trying to use his gaijin-ness to get laid.
Wilson and I introduced to Yan the budget goodness of Tengu, while he continued to rant excitedly about his evening’s experience. He’ll be putting up a detailed impression soon enough.
Sadly they had stopped serving the amazing Lemon Steak but at least the garlic version was still around. Two of that, a couple of incredible bacon pizzas, sukiyaki, salad and some curry fried rice set us back only $20 a person. That was the charm of Tengu.
We ended the day satisfied, some more so than others. Tomorrow, Kobe!Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.