Just when you think you’ve seen it all we land in Osaka. Osaka is full of energy just like Tokyo but not as polished. There is a grittiness to this city but it still has the cleanliness and order Japan has exemplified this entire trip. As soon as we arrived, we put our things in the rental apartment and headed straight for Dontoburi.
This neighborhood of Osaka is filled with shops and tons of takoyaki stands. Takoyaki are balls made from a wheat flour-based batter and cooked in a special molded pan. The battered balls are typically filled with minced or diced octopus tempura scraps, pickled ginger, and green onion. In Osaka, takoyaki is very popular. Takoyaki’s cooking process is fun to watch.
Dōtonbori is full of colorful shops selling snacks. Snacks ranging from chocolate to whole dried fish are sold throughout the store. All of them are colorfully packaged and some are wrapped nicer than presents.
An iconic happy clown named Kuidaore Taro was once the mascot of a famous Dōtonbori-based restaurant known as Cui-Daoré. The restaurant closed down in 2008, after 59 years of operation but Kuidaore Taro remains a landmark of Osaka.
Amerikamura is also known as America Village features imported clothing new and vintage, used records and other things from the western coast of the United States of America. The clothing is geared towards American hiphop and streetwear styles. American streetwear seems to be a trend here. The younger crowd of Osaka has an edgier dress code than the girls I’ve seen in Kyoto, Tokyo and Shimokitazawa.
Speaking of shopping, there are many covered shopping alleys weaving through the city. Everywhere we turned there was a long walkway of shops.
Nara is a town with a park area full of temples dating to the eighth century and wild sika deer roaming freely. At one time Nara was the capital of Japan from 710 to 794. According legend to deer from this area were considered sacred and killing one was a capital offense punishable by death up until 1637. Today the deer are national treasures and are protected. The deer love to eat. In fact they can get quite aggressive when they smell or see the treats on you. A man at the entrance of the park sells “deer biscuits” for $1.50 (USD) per bundle. I bought five bundles and set out to feed as many as I could see.
After a thirty minute walk we arrived at the Tōdai-ji temple. A couple of deer were just relaxing under a tree and allowing people to take turns (me included) to sit, pet and take a picture with them. They didn’t budge or flinch when people were petting them and staring at them. I’ve never seen a deer do this. They are usually scared to death of human beings let alone letting humans get close enough to even see them.
Nakatanidou’s pride and claim to fame is their dramatic mochi-pounding process, a tradition known as mochitsuki in Japanese. We were lucky enough to see the process while visiting Nara.
Osaka is packed with colors, characters and signs. Donuburi reminded me of a Disneyland metropolis and other parts of Osaka were quiet with characters of a downtown city.
Puffer fish is called fugu in Japan. The fugu or puffer fish has toxins 1,200 times more deadly than cyanide. This makes eating this deadly fish very dangerous. Japanese people have been eating it for centuries. Osaka is known for many restaurants that feature puffer fish on the menu.
Puffer fish can be eaten raw or cooked. Preparation is strictly controlled by law in Japan and only chefs who have been through over three years of training are allowed to serve the dish. It ordered fried puffer fish and it was good. It tasted like a firm mild whitefish. I didn’t have the guts to try it raw.
Another popular dish served everywhere in Osaka is kushi katsu. Kushi katsu is deep fried meat or vegetables on a stick. A kushi is a wooden skewer and katsu means fried. Unfortunately we chose the wrong place to try it and left unimpressed.
Speaking of food, Osaka is where I had the most unique ramen noodle experience. Ichiran Umeda restaurant in Donuburi has a vending machine ordering system and the ramen noodles are served through a small window at your assigned individual booth with panels on each side preventing you to see the person next to you.
Overall Osaka was fun and there is no shortage of visually stimulating areas. There is a older edge to this city that sets it apart from pristine Tokyo and Kyoto.