Japan Day 15 - Kyoto to Osaka

The strange “hotel” room we were staying in had given us a checkout time of 10:00 - 12:00. We took that as permission to have a lazy morning and took our time packing up. At 10:00 sharp someone was knocking on the door to make sure we were out of there. So much for that plan.

Japanese people are very into water conservation. If water is going to be running to flush the toilet anyway, why not have it run through the sink first? 

We rode the bus back to the train station, walked across the street to the drug store to return the key, and then went up to the 11th floor to look at food options. Kyoto station was a very cool building architecturally, that extended upwards instead of downwards like the other stations we had grown accustomed to.

Kyoto Station

We were two weeks into our Japan travels and I was craving a vegetable like nothing else. Every day I kicked myself for not packing multi-vitamins. I love Japanese cuisine, don’t get me wrong. They have carbs and proteins down to an art, but I was definitely beginning to notice a staggering void in the fruits and vegetables department, the stuff I live on. My body was begging for vitamins. I had resorted to drinking juices simply because that was the closest thing I could find to fruits. A Korean restaurant looked to have a few vegetables on the menu. At last!

We ordered two meals and a side of Korean pancakes, and somehow ended up with an entire feast arriving at the table. So much food arrived that it almost didn’t all fit onto the little table. We had salad (hallelujah), kimchi, pancakes that came with the meal (oops), the additional Korean pancakes we had ordered (not realizing we were already getting some with the meal), soup, and finally the big bowl of rice and veggies I had ordered as an entree. Thank you Korea for caring about the greens. I was reminded of how when I had lived in Japan ten years before, I had missed spicy food. My host family had finally taken me out for Korean food to give me the spice I was craving. Now Korean food was saving me in the vegetable department. It seems as though if there’s something you’re missing in Japanese cuisine, try finding a Korean restaurant.

A Korean feast!

Fueled and ready to conquer the next city, we bought our shinkansen tickets and rode the bullet train 13 minutes over to Osaka. 13 minutes to jump between two major cities on the bullet train! A local train brought us the remaining 4 minutes, and a 10 minute walk brought us to Hotel Mystays Dojima. The quick trip meant that we had arrived early, but luckily the reception desk allowed us to check in.

The room was the largest we had been treated to yet, at a whomping 19 square meters. It even had a two-sided desk jutting out into the middle of the room so that we had a place to set things. It seemed like the farther we got from Tokyo, the bigger the rooms got.

At dusk we headed out to Dotonbori, a street in downtown Osaka famous for its dazzling, brightly colored lights, and most of all, food. Osaka is a gastronomist’s dream. The city’s unofficial slogan is kuidaore, or ‘eat until you drop.’ (As if the whole of Japan wasn’t already food-centered enough).

We walked from the subway stop and took a right turn and wham, there it was. Dotonbori was overwhelming. It was a hundred times what I had ever imagined. The pictures didn’t do it justice. The nicest, professional-level photos they publish in guide books and travel magazines didn’t even begin to capture the scale of the buzz and energy emanating from the city streets. Take Khao San Road in Thailand and put it in a more modern city. Take Burbon Street in New Orleans and splash it with neon lights (that was sacrilege, sorry for that one). Of course there were thousands of people, all here for the spectacle, but they weren’t as much a bother. Unlike the shrines and forests were the presence of people had killed a part of the mystique, here the people drove the energy. Throngs of people, both locals and tourists alike, made the whole night come alive.

My phone's camera couldn't begin to capture the lights, so I stole this photo off of Google.

Since this was the food street, in the food city, in a country already renowned for its food, the lines pouring out of every restaurant and street stand were outrageous. We walked the length of the street, taking it all in, the lights, the animated crab signs, the crowd, the essence of downtown city vibes. When we reached the end, we were content. We walked around the block and found ourselves an okonomiyaki restaurant away from the crowds.

Okonomiyaki is the best Japanese food you never heard of, and one of the specialties of Osaka. It is a savory pancake made out of a yam-based flour paste, eggs, and shredded cabbage. I know that sounds dreadful but you’ll just have to take my word for it. It is grilled on a griddle and topped with whatever meat your heart desires (the name literally translates to “how you like it”), and finally drizzled with mayonnaise, a thicker, sweeter version of Worcestershire sauce, and bonito flakes. The texture is like a pancake, but it’s an entire savory meal instead of a sweet, flat cake. The result is the ultimate comfort food. I don’t know how eating raw fish ever caught on in America before okonomiyaki did.

We sat down at the bar, the entirety of which was covered in the griddle. The only option on the menu that didn’t contain pork was the seafood version, so that made my decision easy. I had consumed enough 7-Eleven beverages by that point to have a pretty good grasp on the Japanese language. Fully confident in my abilities, I ditched the point-and-grunt approach and ordered in flawless Japanese. Well not flawless, but good enough to be corrected in my choice of counters by the server. I have a theory that when someone is barely scraping by with the words they know, you just smile that they got the point across. When someone knows a bit more and has obviously made the effort to learn, you begin to correct the small mistakes. That’s how you learn, right? Anyway maybe it was silly, but I was proud that my Japanese was good enough to be corrected.

Okonomiyaki in action!

The girl cooked our okonomiyaki right there in front of us, and I hardly remember it landing on our plates, because there we were inhaling it right away and it was every bit as good as I had remembered, if not better. I’m pretty sure I got Fletch hooked on it too.

Freshly made okonomiyaki, hot on the griddle. 

We rode the drunk subway home with all the other Japanese people done for the evening. That was some highly entertaining people watching. Fletch stood in front of me like a gentleman to allow someone else to have his seat. The girl next to me had a hundred of the exact same photo on her tablet, just all in different colors; it was a logo of some sort. She was showing her friend and they finally chose the right color, so she set about tracing the outline with her stylus, to make it darker maybe, I don’t know. To watch someone trace an outline with perfect precision on a moving subway was oddly satisfying. I would have been hitting the ‘undo’ button at every bump and turn. To my left, a dude with a chain full of keys was trying to find the exact right emoji to send. I may not have been able to read Japanese, but everyone speaks emoji. I forget which one he chose but he was obviously texting a lady friend.

Our subway eventually dropped us off at our stop and we walked the ten minutes back to our hotel. The night was just getting started in Osaka; people were hanging out on every block like it was their backyard. We had to call it a night though, and so said ’til tomorrow’ to the city lights.