For our sixth wedding anniversary, my husband gave me the best present ever — he buggered off and took The Child with him to visit his family in Tokyo, giving me four precious days of complete freedom to go on a trip to Osaka and Kyoto with my long time travel buddy and old time Trini friend, Laura. We’d have two days in each of the most popular cities in Kansai, and then I’d take the bullet train up to Tokyo to fly back all together.
Oh the luxury, of having total and absolute freedom of movement, of time, of liming and drinking sake in tiny bars without thinking, ‘I better go home because I have to wake up at 6am’. Instead of the daily routine of childcare and school drops and coaxing a small child to eat, my brain and soul and body returned to those days when I woke up, consulted a map, and determined what interesting thing I was going to do that day. Joy of joys! I’d waited a long time for this.
After a quick and relatively painless flight on low cost carrier HK Express, we arrived in Osaka (airport code KIX) and headed to our destination for the next two nights, Namba. What a perfect area to stay, with everything was right outside our door and many attractions were within walking distance. Bars, restaurants, pachinko, shopping, street markets, temples, you name it, you got it. The hotel, Le Botejour Namba Annex, was dingy and small, but the location made up for it. (Plus, it was cheap. Which leaves more money for sake and shopping.)
After checking in, we dumped our bags and headed out the door. Night time was falling and the brights lights of Namba were coming up. We wandered around the shopping arcades, taking in the sights and sounds, and just when we could walk no more we were somehow inexplicably drawn into a little hole in the wall bar with a sign promising draft beer for ¥100 (under US $1). After parting with a few of our ¥100 coins, we found a tasty little izakaya, filled up on some Kansai cuisine, and stumbled back to the hotel to get some rest.
When we awoke in the morning, Namba was a ghost town in recovery after the previous night’s indulgences. We barely found anything open to serve us breakfast, and wandered around for ages trying to find something decent to eat. The normally raucous Dotonbori area was subdued, closed up, and empty. We finally gave in and decided to have some coffee and onigiri from the Family Mart (which is not a bad way to start the day, if you ask me).
In terms of tourist attractions, we did the obligatory stop at Osaka Castle (my advice: don’t bother to pay to go inside unless you really want to see the view from the top, which isn’t that amazing anyways). But mostly we just hung around Namba and Umeda, enjoying the vibes.
I’ve heard people say that Osaka is ‘just another big city’, but I found it a really charming and interesting place that I’d definitely go back to. I liked how within the busy entertainment district, you could turn down a tiny alley and find a quiet little temple, with big yellow lanterns and the smell of incense in the air. I liked that it was a LOT smaller than Tokyo — we were never on the train for more than 20 minutes, whereas in Tokyo you can be on the train for 90 minutes and still not cross the city.
Most of all, I liked how Osaka people were cool, easy going, and not afraid of foreigners. On our second and last night, in one of the above-mentioned tiny alleyways that we wandered down, we found a miniscule nomiya (drinking spot) with only five bar stools and one friendly lady manning the bar. We squeezed in, ducking through the wooden doors, and got cosy. She took good care of us, doling out generous amounts of masu-zake (where they put the glass inside a square cup and let it overflow as they pour), feeding us whatever she was cooking (the healthiest bar food ever — spinach with sesame) and engaging us in conversation. This would be a big contrast to what we experienced when we arrived in Kyoto. But more on that later.
Anyway, Osaka gets two big thumbs up from me. And even for a short trip of just two days, it was very, very fun.