Every trip, my ability to wake up early gets worse and worse even though that’s what I tell myself to do to maximise sightseeing time, especially since days are shorter during winter in Japan. That obviously didn’t work, as we got up at like 10 am 😞. At least I’ve planned ahead and taken care of breakfast, with the Kyoto-style sushi I bought from the ekiben shop before we left Kyoto yesterday.
The sushi that 99% of people are familiar with is the Edo-style sushi, with Edo being the old name for Tokyo. Kyoto-style sushi is similar to the kakinohazushi from Nara, where sushi is topped with cured fish such as mackarel, wrapped in persimmon leaves to preserve its freshness, as Nara (and Kyoto) were both too far from the ocean to receive fresh fresh. The only difference really is that Kyoto-style sushi don’t have the persimmon leaves.
Also something else I noticed, which may or may not be an actual thing, is that Kyoto-style sushi tend to be pressed into more of a rectangular block, with a big chunk of fish compared. One look and it’s clearly different to Edo-style sushi.
Obviously it doesn’t taste as fresh as Edo-style sushi, which is what I enjoy about sushi, so I have to say it’s not as good. Treat it as more of a snack you can eat anytime of the day, so freshness doesn’t really matter that much.
Waking up late today wasn’t that big of a deal, because I actually haven’t planned much for Osaka. In all honesty, and I’m sure Osaka fans are gonna give me shit for this, I didn’t think there were too much to do in Osaka, at least during the day. Sure it’s got the awesome Dotonbori at night, but Osaka isn’t full of historical landmarks like Kyoto, nor does it have the big variety of “things” to do like Tokyo. One of the main reasons people come to Osaka is to visit the Universal Studios, but Karl has already done that in Singapore before coming here and I wasn’t that interested in spending so much money in one day, besides I’ve been to the one in LA already. That was precisely the reason I decided to go to the Fuji-Q Highland theme park instead, and that was so much fun. That being said, there’s still definitely enough around here to fill up 2 or 3 days. Our first stop is a must visit for all tourists in Osaka, the Kuromon Market.
The Kuromon Market is located just south of Dotonbori, so it’s easily walkable from Osaka Hana Hostel. Think of it as the child of Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market and Kyoto’s Nishiki Market, with food being the star attraction, living up to Osaka’s name as the Nation’s Kitchen. Okay but first look at this adorable shiba inu pup at a pet shop at the entrance.
Kuromon Market takes up a whole neighbourhood and is extremely popular with both tourists and locals doing their groceries, which gives it a very authentic feel despite all the tourists.
Sometimes locals just come here to hang out and window shop, like this guy with his husky in a pram! Kinda defeats the purpose of walking the dog though…
But make no mistake, tourists love this place. In fact this place even has it’s own mascot!
Nearly every second stall inside Kuromon Market sells some kind of food, starting with fresh seafood. Half the time (okay probably more) I don’t even know what I’m looking at.
Given Osaka’s proximity to the Kobe and Matsusaka region, two of the top wagyu beef producing areas in Japan, ultra high quality wagyu beef is also available throughout the market. Get ready to see truckloads of Chinese tourists wading through the market and casually drop thousands of yen on Kobe beef without even batting an eye. Ugh.
Damn that looks good. They don’t make beef like this anywhere else in the world. But if you’re just hungry for some meat and don’t wanna break the bank, there’s a stall here selling horumon, which is yakiniku but with beef and pork innards, so think intestines and the like. Might sound a bit disgusting, but this is a Osaka specialty!
Okay enough looking, time to start eating. I just could not ignore those massive Hokkaido oysters, I’ve never seen one that big before. And if I’m going to try one, might as well go all in for the extra large, even if it does cost over $10 for just one.
I really should’ve used something for scale so it’s easier to tell how big it is, but trust me it is HUGE. I’ve never had an oyster where I couldn’t just slurp it down in one go. I didn’t even know they could grow that big! It’s also super fresh like you could taste the ocean. 900 yen well spent.
This stall also does live demonstrations of how they shuck oysters and prepare uni or sea urchins, which is very interesting to watch. You can’t get any fresher than this, it’s literally opened and then placed right in front of you!
Next up some grilled unagi, just because it looked like solid value compared to nearly everything else here.
Decided to blow the rest of my budget on sushi when I saw a stall selling ootoro, the fattiest of fatty tuna. If you remember my previous bad experience with ootoro when trying to skimp out, you’ll know I said I’ll be back. And back I am. No skimping out this time, 1,800 yen for 3 piece of plump, sizeable ootoro nigiri
Oh my god it was soooo good, can definitely taste that melt-in-your-mouth feel. It’s so soft and buttery, goes perfectly with the rice and some soy sauce. Now I can finally say I’ve tried some real ootoro. It’s not something I’d eat all the time though, not because I can’t afford it (I can’t) but the fattiness is too much and I’d probably get sick of it after a while. But I’d still eat it if anyone wanna fund that challenge 😂. Oh yeah and add on some salmon and scallop nigiri, couldn’t resist at 750 yen. It might sound expensive but they give you BIG pieces of salmon and scallop and its soooo fresh.
I love scallop even though I can’t really describe why, so I just had to also try some of the charcoal grilled scallops that are very common here. I think I just like the chewy texture.
Kuromon Market also has its fair share of desserts, in case you want something sweet at the end of your meal.
And if you’re up to do a bit of shopping on a budget, there’s a stall here selling all the lost property they’ve found over the years here. You can probably find a huge bargain buried in this pile of mess if you’re dedicated 😂.
Kuromon Market, along with what I’m about to show you next, is probably the most recommended place to visit in Osaka from me. I liked the vibe here more than both Tsukiji Market and Nishiki Market, people are much more friendly and you can definitely see the contrast between the stereotype of Osaka and Tokyo people I mentioned earlier. But you can read my reviews on them to decide, or even better just go Japan and see for yourself.
So coming back to the other highly recommended Osaka destination, it is the Osaka Castle. Remember how I said the Nijo Castle in Kyoto isn’t really a castle but more of a palace? Well the Osaka Castle should fit any preconceived ideas you have about what a Japanese castle should look like. A little bit of history, the Osaka Castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a daimyo or feudal lord, who unified Japan through his conquests and intended the castle to be his base of power, from which he will rule over Japan. However, that plan went down the drain after he passed away and his one time friend and ally Tokugawa Ieyasu (the same one that built Nijo Castle) overthrew Hideyoshi’s son and heir to become the new ruler of Japan, the first shogun. In the process, he burnt down Osaka Castle, but his son later rebuilt it, except then it was struck by lightening and once again burnt down a couple decades later. Talk about bad luck.
The current iteration of Osaka Castle was built in 1931, so while they tried to stick to the source material, it’s relatively new rather than a relic of history. It’s luck did change however, surviving all the air raids during WWII. Nowadays while the castle has kept to its original exterior design, it’s interior is completely modern, it even has an elevator connected for accessibility.
The entrance to Osaka Castle is guarded by a loyal hound.
Nah just kidding it’s someone’s dog. I just can’t resist taking a picture of a dog when I see it, especially if it’s a golden retriever wearing clothes.
Anyway, the real guardian of Osaka Castle is the moat system just like Nijo Castle, although this one looks much wider and deeper.
You enter through the Otemon Gate, the same name as the gate guarding the Imperial Palace at Tokyo that we tried to visit (but failed).
Someone was even bothered enough to rake all the dead leaves to spell out “Welcome Osakajo” (jo means castle in Japanese), wonder how much time that took.
Inside is a large area known as the Osaka Castle Park with several points of interest, like the Nishinomaru Garden, a shrine dedicated to Hideyoshi and Shudokan, a martial arts hall.
I’m not sure if we were just allowed to walk in, but there’s no guard or anything and the entrance was just open, so we went inside to check it out. The actual training hall was closed, but through the window you can see a bunch of sparring session for what looks to be black belts in judo, judging by their grappling.
Before you get to the actual Osaka Castle, which takes about 10 minutes of walking after passing through Otemon Gate, you might encounter this strange UFO like structure.
I looked it up later, this is a time capsule built by Panasonic and the Mainichi Newspaper for the 1970 Japan World Expo, to document life as it was back then. At the time it was meant to be opened in the year 2000, then once every 100 years there after. I wonder how the people felt when they opened it in 2000 🤔.
Now it’s time to get to the real reason why we’re here, the Osaka Castle in all it’s glory.
It really is a magnificent structure, totally reminds me of the castle in Age of Empires II for Asian civilisations. The page on Age of Empires Wikipedia even references this, glad I wasn’t the only one!
The East Asian Castle bears an uncanny resemblance to the main keep of Japan’s Osaka Castle.
But once you know it’s not even 100 years old and everything is super modern inside you really can’t ignore it 😞, especially with that elevator to the left reminding you in every picture. However, this is the symbol of Osaka and there’s nothing wrong with making it accessible for everyone. Almost felt like going up the elevator just for the sake of it, but decided to take the long way and walk like a pleb. There’s also a little basin here you can wash your hands in, caught just the right moment as a tiny sparrow drink out of it.
It cost 600 yen to enter the main castle building and you’ll be directed into an elevator inside which will take you straight to the top. The idea is you start at the top and work your way down. The top level also serves as a lookout point, giving you 360 degree view of the city of Osaka. Just note that even though my pictures below don’t show it, there’s a fence extending from both below and top of the floor so you can only get a clear view at around your torso section. The roof is also decorated with golden fish ornaments, so you’re gonna have to do a bit of work to try get a clear shot and include the ornaments in your shot. I guess they put the nets there for safety, but it’s kinda dumb.
Then as you make your way down through the levels of Osaka Castle, there are various exhibits explaining the history of the castle and it’s founder Toyotomi Hideyoshi, which is quite interesting to read and translated into English well, good place to learn about some of the most famous figures in Japan’s history.
There’s also an art exhibition showcasing some drawings of the Osaka Castle by primary school and kindergarten kids. Kinda mean but good fun judging some of the hilarious depictions 😁.
You can easily spend 1-2 hours inside taking in all the information, but it was quite crowded up there so we didn’t spend too long, just gleamed over the most important information, most of which I can no longer remember 😅. By the time we got out, the sun has started to set, which gave the Osaka Castle a golden glow.
Regardless of when you visit Osaka Castle, it makes for a great photo, so definitely check it out. If you’re at all interested in Japan’s rich history of wars and conquests, then the exhibits should be very engaging as well. The Osaka Castle is located northeast from Dotonbori, reachable in about 20 minutes using the metro system.
We returned back to our hostel and with some time to kill before dinner, decided to wander around the Daimaru Shinsaibashi department store. Of course we had to check out the depachika, although I won’t spend too much time here seeing as I’ve already went in more depth on depachika before, which you can read here and here.
Also this isn’t food, but I thought it was interesting that a fancy kimono can cost almost $1,000!!!
The top floor of Daimaru here is an art gallery, and we thought it’d be fun to check out what kind of pretentious artwork they have up there trying to fetch an unrealistic price tag. The results were beyond anything I could have imagined…
Seriously, I wonder who actually purchased any of these, and who drew up some random stuff that in all honesty doesn’t look very impressive and thought hey, I think my painting is worth 10 million yen. Wouldn’t you rather just sell it for like, I dunno $500, so it has a chance of actually being sold so you can eat for a while?
Look you know what, there’s many kinds of “art” and I obviously don’t understand it too well, so I’m not gonna get into it, but it is that much of an ask to make it look nice, or just even not disgustingly bad??? But I bet you could take that kindergarten kid’s drawing of Osaka from before, slap on some famous name like Picasso on it, and people will praise it using all these fluffy artistic adjectives and pay through the nose for it. That should tell you all you need to know about “art”.
I think that art gallery visit made me more annoyed than anything, so it’s time to eat something and make myself feel better. I love meat and I love value, so in theory nothing makes me feel better than an all you can eat yakiniku. While we wandered around Dotonbori last night, one of the restaurants we took note of was Yakiniku Zen, as their 3,500 yen all you can eat menu with Kuroge beef seems like great value. If you need a refresher on what Kuroge beef is check it out here.
But when we showed up, they said since we didn’t have a reservation, they didn’t have a table until 8:30 pm. That’s fine, but it means we have more than 2 hours to kill until then and I’m a little hungry already. So we made our reservation and went out in search of some light snacks, and we settled on gyoza from Osaka Ohsho in Dotonbori.
Cheap, tasty and filling, nothing more you’d ask from a couple of gyoza. The stand is easy to find along the main street of Dotonbori, there’s a giant gyoza sign hanging above the entrance that can’t be missed.
Looking for things to kill time with until 8:30 pm, we walked around Dotonbori and found some interesting activities for all ages. In one store here you can literally go fishing, and it seems like both adults and kids are enjoying it.
It’s just known as the fishing arcade, not even sure if it has a proper name. You pay 750 yen for 30 minutse of fishing, but you can’t even keep the fish because you gotta release anything you catch. You gotta be a real fishing addict to pay for this…or you know, just go fishing for reals…
We settled instead on playing some pool and darts inside a random building we walked by. For about the same price as the fishing place, we can get a whole hour of unlimited pool and darts, now that’s value.
I’ve played pool enough times to not be completely horrible at it, but it was my first time playing darts, although Karl played it a lot when he went on a short exchange to Korea. So unfortunately I lost at both, along with the 100 yen we put up 😂.
That killed just enough time for us to return to Yakiniku Zen and begin our glorious feast. I think this place is great value as all the meat you’re getting is at least grade A4, they look like they have some legit marbling. We started by ordering a bit of everything…
…but soon realised we should just be spamming the three Kuroge beef items on the menu until we can’t move anymore.
Each bite was like a little bit of heaven in your mouth. I think A4 is perfect for me, since it’s not overwhelmingly just fat so you can still taste that meatiness in there along with the juicy fat. Blows Gyukaku, which we tried in Kyoto, out of the water for sure. If you’re just looking for an all you can eat yakiniku place to satisfy your cravings for wagyu beef, but don’t wanna go bankrupt ordering a sizeable cut of the really expensive stuff like Kobe beef, then come here to Yakiniku Zen and eat to your heart’s content.
We were so full it was legit a struggle for us to make the 20 minute walk back to Osaka Hana Hostel. But when Karl spotted something on the way and said, “dessert?”, we somehow forgot all that. What he saw was the Pablo Cheesecake shop at Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade, which sells Japanese style cheesecakes.
They actually do have a store in Sydney next to Town Hall Station and we’ve both tried it already, but we wanted to know what the real deal in Japan tastes like. So we ordered a whole cheesecake to split just before they closed up for the day.
If you didn’t know, there’s only one type of cake I like and that’s cheesecake, unless you also count ice cream cake as a cake. Regular flour based cakes are just too dry for me. However, Japanese cheesecakes are a little different to say New York style cheesecakes, it’s less sweat and super fluffy compared to the thick cheesecakes you get in the west. It’s also not supposed to have any crust, but ours did since we technically got the cheese tart.
The insides are just so fluffy and light, it’s almost like I’m just eating melted cheese and cream rather than an actual cake. To be honest, my love of cheesecake stems from the New York style baked cheesecakes, so I have to say I don’t like the Japanese version as much. It is still very good though, but trying to shove it down my mouth after eating a ridiculous amount of meat (glorious meat at that too) probably didn’t help.
That was way too much food for one night, I’m really gonna have to sleep it off now. Tomorrow we’ll be visiting some of the saddest parts of Japan’s history, so that should tone my appetite down a little to compensate for today…