It was a gloomy morning as we packed our bags and soaked in our last few hours in Osaka. We got lucky as there was only a light drizzle when we were dragging our luggage to train station.
We killed a couple of hours near Starbucks before we boarded our train and the ride itself was way shorter than we expected. It only took around 20 mins to get to Kyoto.
It was a quick train ride!
Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan. Famous for temples, gardens, shrines and traditional wooden houses.
Within 5 mins of walking in Kyoto, we already notice how different Kyoto is compared to Tokyo and Osaka. There were fewer high rises and the architecture is completely different.
Our first meal in Kyoto was at Katsukura Shijo Higashinotoin, which was a tonkatsu restaurant.
Tonkatsu: a Japanese dish, which consist of a breaded deep fried pork cutlet and often served with shredded cabbage.
We got the loin cutlet, along with yuba rolled seasonal vegetable cutlet and savory tofu.
First meal in Kyoto!
Our meal came with unlimited miso soup, rice, shredded cabbage and pickled vegetables! This was by far the best pork cutlet I ever had. I was surprised at how light the whole meal was. Usually I’m in a food coma after eating pork cutlet because of how heavy it is. I guess it might be the pickled vegetables and yuzu salad dressing that helped to negate the oiliness of the cutlet.
We explored Nishiki Market afterwards and it was very similar to Shinsaibashi but more narrow and more crowded.
Majority of shops sold mochi, honey, seafood and tea. These food stands were completely different compared the food we often saw in Osaka. Too bad we were too stuffed. We passed by a matcha shop, Sawawa and made room in our bellies for dessert.
Matcha icecream with matcha mochi.
We got the Okoicya & Warabi, which is thick matcha icecream and matcha mochi. It was creamy and refreshing, with a slight kick of bitterness. The mochi was the star of the icecream. It was so soft that it didn’t require much chewing at all. There was no line when I ordered the icecream but as I was taking a picture of it, there was a sudden influx of people lining up for icecream. You’re welcome Sawawa.
We spent the rest of our night browsing the rest of the market, which was way bigger than we expected. Outside of the market and on the Main Street, it felt like we were walking down Herald Square. We decided to end our night early as we have an early start the next day.
For our last full day in Osaka, we started the morning off with a quick, cheap and delicious breakfast from 7 Eleven. 7 Elevens in Japan are completely different compared to the ones in the States. They are exponentially better. From the selection to the employees greeting you when you come in and when you leave. (Well the latter part is pretty much a custom in Japan). It seems like a popular morning spot as well. We saw a lot of locals eating breakfast and smoking outside.
I got an egg salad and pork cutlet sandwich which was the BOMB by the way. There was horseradish mixed in with the mayo in the egg salad which gave a nice kick to the whole sandwich. I’m surprised I don’t have a picture of this, but I’ll definitely update this post once I get it again.
We spent our morning at the Tennoji Zoo, which was awkwardly located in near a highway in the middle of the city. For the size, I was surprised they had a wide variety of animals. There were tigers, lions, monkeys, birds, elephants, giraffes, a polar bear and many more.
Zebra and a giraffe
Ruth playing with a ball.
Pico the puma with unique eyes.
It was great that they had so many animals, but the enclosures seem too small for many of them. Hopefully, they are treated well.
After the zoo, we explored the markets surrounding the Tsutenkaku tower. It was the perfect time to try kushikatsu as literally almost spot around the area was a kushikatsu spot.
Kushikatsu – a Japanese styled deep fried kebab. Kushi refers to the skewers and katsu means deep fried cutlet (of meat). Apparently it originated from Osaka in the Shinsekai neighborhood.
It took us a while to find Kushikatsu Janjan since the actual restaurant name was in Japanese. Thank god for Google maps with pictures. I found Kushikatsu Janjan from a blog and what drew me to this specific restaurant was that they served scorpion.
We got a variety of meat and vegetable kushikatsu.
I wanted to try scorpion at least once and it wasn’t good. It was mostly shell, kinda of similar to biting/chewing on crab shell. There wasn’t much meat and it was too much of a hassle to eat the whole thing. The other skewers were pretty good. My favorite two were the mushroom and the eggplant just because they weren’t as heavy and oily as the meat ones. Personally kushikatsu is a bit too fried for my taste. I feel like I can only enjoy it if it was freezing out.
After lunch, we checked out a discount store called Mega Don Quijote. The store basically had everything. It had a wide variety of items like a Target but felt like a 99 cent store with their flashy bright signs.
It took a while to get out the store since it was just one big maze. Once we escaped, we headed north to Osaka Castle Park. The park itself was massive and kind of reminded me of a fancier oriental version of Central Park. There were trees that looked like giant mushrooms and cats roaming around. It was a wonderful escape from the city.
Mushroom trees (I named the tree)
One of the many cats in the park
The crowds got bigger as we approached closer to Osaka Castle. Although we didn’t go in the castle, we got to appreciate the building from the outside. It was beautiful with its gold accent and color.
Got lucky with my shot with the sun shining directly at the Osaka Castle.
We were pretty damn beat from just walking all day. It was time for a much needed coffee break at Granknot Coffee. We both got Iced Vienna coffee which came with cream on top.
The coffee itself was good and I’m not usually a big fan of whip cream. The cafe itself was pretty hipster and something you would expect to find in Williamsburg.
We couldn’t leave Osaka without trying Kobe beef. Especially if we didn’t have time to make a trip to Kobe, Japan for it. We ended our night with dinner at Steak Misono. We watched our steak prepared in front of us, kind of like when you eat at a hibachi restaurant. We started off with appetizers as the chef showed us our A4 Kobe beef.
Look at that beautiful marbling.
Our chef preparing the meal for us.
We watched as our chef grill our steak to perfection. Each bite melted in my mouth like butter. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten. I don’t think I can ever go back to regular steak. Despite my wallet feeling a lot lighter, no regrets. This is probably the most expensive meal we will have in Japan but totally worth it. Highly recommend trying Kobe beef, but expect that hefty bill afterwards.
It was a frustrating morning trying to navigate around Umeda to find this one cafe I had on my list for breakfast. Mainly because the only way to cross majority of the main streets was through a sky bridge. To make matters worse, the cafe wasn’t even open, none of the restaurants or shops were opened around the area.
Plan B – Eggs ‘n Things, a pancake/breakfast chain. The one we went to was Hawaiian themed – not sure if its standard since a couple of other ones we saw didn’t have the same decor.
Loved the interior of Eggs ‘n Things
Everyone around us ordered pancakes but we weren’t craving sweets so we got egg benedicts with salmon and a poke bowl to share.
Egg Benedict with salmon
Ahi poke bowl
After lunch, we took a 30 min train ride up to Ikeda for the Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum. To our surprise there was no entrance fee and you only pay for your customizable cup (¥300).
The cup is dispensed from a vending machine and markers are provided for you to design them.
My badly designed cup on the bottom.
Once you are done designing, you bring your cup to the station where the noodles are inserted into your cup. You get to choose 4 toppings of your choice next.
Available toppings to choose from.
(left: mine – scallions, narutos, pork, onions with a curry flavor.)
Once your cup noodle is sealed, you’ll receive a plastic bag to insert your cup into. You get to blow the bag up and carry around your cup noodle in a see through bag which is pretty cool.
The museum itself was pretty small, there was really only one exhibit that displayed all the different cup noodle packaging throughout the years and also packaging for different countries.
Later we learned that there was a noodle making class within the museum as well (you would probably need a reservation).
After dropping off our creations back at our hotel, it was time for our late lunch. We have been in Japan for 4 FULL days and we still haven’t had any sushi. I EXPECTED TO EAT SUSHI EVERYDAY (probably when we get back to Tokyo).
I was researching sushi spots in Osaka a couple of days ago and found an interesting spot called Yoshino Sushi which has been opened for business since 1841. Yoshino Sushi specializes in Osaka styled sushi, also known as hako-sushi (“pressed sushi”). Unfortunately, it was closed but we were lucky enough to get a takeaway box. First layer of wrapping of our takeaway box.
Second layer of our takeaway box.
Osaka styled sushi from Yoshino Sushi.
It was a light snack as we shared the box between the two of us. Just from the packaging, you can tell how much work was put into it. Overall, it was good and you can really appreciate every part of it – from the presentation to my belly. I never had pressed sushi before so I don’t have anything to compare it to. I guess the only way to find out is to try more.
Another night back at Dotonbori, mainly because I was upset that Hanamaruken Ramen was closed the day before. This time it was opened and we got there just in time because there was no wait.
We ordered their special – slow cooked pork rib ramen. Oh boy – it was the best fucking ramen I had so far.
Slow cooked pork rib ramen from Hanamaruken Ramen.
I was wowed at that big chunk of meat they give you when the bowl came. The broth was so rich and the noodles were firm and bouncy. The meat from the pork came right off. It was fucking delicious. So fucking good, that I wanted to apologize for being upset that it closed yesterday.
After the hearty meal, I felt guilty if we didn’t walk it off. We ended our night after walking around Namba City, a big shopping mall that had Christmas decorations everywhere. I guess Christmas is a BIG thing? The decorations and music was relaxing though – kind of reminded me of playing Maplestory back in middle school when the Christmas event was going on.
We started our day with a light breakfast at Elmer’s Green Cafe, inside of the Kitahama Station.
My “light” breakfast, Croque Madame and cold brew
The cafe itself was very rustic and Brooklyn-esque with the exposed brick wall, hipster decor and denim coasters. The Croque Madame was good, but the seasonal scone was the highlight of the breakfast. Pretty damn good cold brew too.
After breakfast, we took the train to Osaka Station and found ourselves surrounded by department stores. We window shopped at LUCUA and Daimaru and was amazed at how many of these massive department stores were within the same area.
We couldn’t leave until we checked out the Pokémon Center. The last time I had been to one was when New York still had one.
Ditto Dragonite Plushie
Snorlax and Ditto from the Pokémon Center gachapon.
Gachapon are vending machines that dispense capsule toys and they are all over Japan.
There were loads of plushies, games, people playing Pokémon Go, etc. It was a childhood dream come true and I left the store hit by nostalgia. All I wanted to do was play Pokémon afterwards. Now I’m excited to to visit the one in Tokyo.
What’s interesting about walking around Umeda is how the walking paths were built out. There were so many sky bridges(?) that connected to different buildings and we were moving up and down different floors. You really feel the complexity of the city and it’s also kind of annoying to get across the main streets.
Next stop, Gudetama Cafe – which is basically made for Gudetama fans. Gudetama is this depressed egg cartoon Sanrio character. I haven’t watched the cartoon before so for me it was just another quirky experience off my checklist.
Gudetama Cafe’s interior
Oyakodon with the Gudetama egg
We got the curry, oyakodon and pancakes.
The curry and oyakodon was better than expected. I wasn’t a big fan of the pancakes, too sweet for my taste and not fluffy enough.
I for one love aquariums so its given I’ll be going to the one in Osaka. We took the train west to Oskako where the aquarium was. Distance wise, on the map it looked quite far but it was a relatively short train ride (~20min). It’s crazy how much scenery can change from a short train ride. It feels less dense than the city and a little bit rural. The aquarium is right by the water and you can see ships pass by and cars.
The view near the aquarium.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan:
The aquarium didn’t look too big from the outside, definitely larger than Seattle’s and smaller than the New England aquarium.
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Inside, the route was similar to the New England aquarium where there was a large cylindrical tank in the middle. Notable marine life that were hard to take pictures of: whale sharks, penguins and sunfishes.
Overall, the Osaka Aquarium makes it to my top 5 list of aquariums.
Right above Shinsaibashi:
We needed a pick-me-up during the late noon and decided a tea break would suffice (most of the coffee shops I wanted to check out were closed at this time anyway). We ended up at Wad Omotenashi Cafe, a tea shop which also sold ceramics. The cafe had an aura of tranquillity, I don’t remember the last time I felt so calm and mellow.
Tea brewer? Or is is tea master? Preparing our tea.
The best ice matcha latte I ever had.
I got the kabusecha paired with 3 pieces of sweets. After each cup, the tea leaves were brewed 3 more times. Each brew with hotter water. You can definitely taste different levels of sweetness and bitterness after each brew. At the end, the tea leaves are prepared with soy sauce and bonito flakes (I believe) to be eaten.
The final experience of the kabusecha tea.
Honestly Wad is my all time favorite experience during my trip in Japan so far. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone who is visiting Osaka even if they are not into tea.
Shinsaibashisuji and Dotonbori:
We spent the rest of our night out back at this infamous tourist spot. I was craving ramen since it’s been 3 days in Japan and we still haven’t had any!! I wanted my first bowl of ramen to be something special and unforgettable. Unfortunately Hanamaruken Ramen was closed for the day so we opted for Ichiran Ramen. This ramen shop doesn’t need an introduction. But for those who never heard of it, it’s chain that tries to minimize human interaction as much as possible. You order from a vending machine and it dispenses a ticket. You take the ticket and hand it to a staff member through a window of the booth you’ll be sitting at and then your order will arrive.
Not the first bowl of ramen I wanted in Japan but it did not disappoint. We ended our night walking around Dotonbori, trying our luck at claw machines and noticing that there were a lot of slot machines around the area.
Our short morning in Tokyo consisted of eating breakfast at the Rhiga Royal Hotel (our hotel) and exploring the surrounding neighborhood of Waseda. Unfortunately there weren’t any good breakfast options around our hotel, so we opted for the breakfast buffet which to our surprise was better and unique compared to the typical buffets in the States.
Egg, simmered eggplant, bacon, smoked fish, hash brown and this was just my first plate.
After stuffing ourselves, we took a stroll around Waseda and soaked in the neighborhood vibes one last time before heading to Tokyo Station.
We took the Hikari bullet train which took ~3 hours to get to Osaka from Toyko. It was one of the best train rides I have ever been on. Our seats were super comfortable and there was plenty of leg room. If you stare out the window, you’ll get to see different rural and urban parts of Japan.
One of the cities our train passed through.
Despite sitting for 3 hours, our bodies took a toll from the train ride. We were exhausted from lugging our bags around but couldn’t let the rest of the day go to waste so we dropped our bags off at the hotel and hopped on the train to Dotonbori.
Dotonbori: one of the most popular tourist destinations in Osaka. Historically a theater district and now a popular nightlife area with tons of food options.
Walking through Dotonbori
One of the many takoyaki stands
Since we were starving, we decided to save the snacks for later and searched for this one okonomiyaki spot (savory Japanese pancake) that was on my list, Mizuno. Either we were way too early or it was just another lucky day for us, we only waited for 10 mins or so. Similar to Gyukatsu Moromura, there were around 10 seats and our okonomiyaki were cooked in front of us.
We got #2 and #4 on the menu
Overall one of the best okonomiyaki I ever had, but since this was the first one I had in Japan I have a couple of more spots to try before giving Mizuno the crown. The line was insane afterwards and I’m glad I got to cross this restaurant off my list.
We took a walk across Ebisu Bridge which was known for having tons of bright billboards to get to Shinsaibashisuji Shopping Street.
Best picture I have of the billboards, it was impossible to stop due to constant moving crowds.
Shinsaibashisuji: Osaka’s main shopping area with all kinds of stores. From big brands to boutiques.
Aside from the typical stores we checked out, GU was the only one worth mentioning. GU is Uniqlo’s sister brand and pretty much similar to Uniqlo in terms of the clothes they sell, the prices and the layout of the store.
To reward ourselves for refraining from buying anything, we got the famous Cremia icecream. It’s known as “softcream” and according to their site, it’s made with fresh cream and high fat milk content and has its own special cone.
You can taste the richness after the first lick. It has a similar taste as condensed milk and is smoother than regular icecream. The cone was my favorite part, WAY better than waffle cones and has a similar taste and texture as Chinese biscuit rolls. PSA: Cremia can be found almost everywhere in different cafes.
I’m a sucker for gyoza so we trekked back to Dotonbori for Osaka Ohsho to get some.
Can’t miss Osaka Ohsho when it has this giant sign.
For around ~¥200 you get 6 pieces of gyoza; so cheap and delicious.
We couldn’t end the day without checking out the flashy Japanese arcades and throwing our money away on claw machines (“crane games”).
All these machines taking our money
One of the many treasures you could win
We had pretty good luck on our first claw machine, after 3 tries I won a Ron coin purse.
Ron coin purse
It would’ve been a great end to our day but I just had to try to win a puppy plushie and ended up wasting ~$10.
Kicking off our first day in Japan with a traditional Japanese breakfast at the Girandale Park Hyatt.
Girandale’s traditional Japanese breakfast: Appetizers, grilled fish, simmered vegetables, egg, tofu, miso soup, rice, pickled vegetables, fresh fruit, rice and green tea.
It may look like a light meal at first glance but it was surprisingly filling. The egg was my favorite dish, every bite was like a buttery explosion in my mouth.
Breakfast at Girandale’s was the most expensive meal we had all day but I would recommend it if you’re looking to indulge on your trip. It was definitely a “treat yo-self” meal (¥4,200) but it was worth every sen.
After breakfast, we took a walk to Takashimaya Shinjuku as we had a couple of hours to kill and wanted to explore the department stores/shopping district nearby. Nothing too crazy, the usual luxury brands such as LV, Hermes, SK-II, etc had stores here. The only store we checked out was Books Kinokuniya Toyko, which had a wide selection of English books. I was surprised that there was only one floor, way smaller than the one in New York.
As we were making our way to Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho, we stumbled upon a bright cafe called Alfred Tearoom. Tempted by the pastel pink and Wes Anderson vibes, we couldn’t resist but to get iced milk tea.
Too sweet for my taste but it was refreshing as we sipped on it until we arrived at Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho (literal meaning ‘Memory Lane’ but also known as ‘Piss Alley’).
Interesting tidbit – It started out as an illegal drinking quarter in the late 1940s and became a prime spot for cheap drinks, yakitori and due to a lack of restrooms, patrons were known to wander off and relieve themselves on the train tracks nearby.
We arrived at Shinjuku Omoide Yokocho around noon, and it was pretty empty probably because it was still early. There was one spot where we saw a long line of locals waiting for lunch.
Unfortunately due to still being stuffed from breakfast and our schedule, we are saving this spot for second half of our trip when we are back in Tokyo.
First thing we noticed when we got off the Akihabara station was that we were surrounded by anime, manga and electronic stores. There were all sort of cafes too – Gundam, Maid Cafes, Square Enix.
Right when we got off the metro.
We decided to save Akihabara for another day and went straight to Abika Fukurou for a reservation we made to play with owls!
I have been waiting for my whole life to to play with owls and it was an unique experience that you probably won’t be able to do anywhere else. Turns out you can only pet an owl once by placing your finger on its head which shattered my dream of petting an owl the same way you would pet a dog. After a hour at the Owl Cafe, we decided to get some snacks from Lawson (convenience stores similar to 7/11, all over Tokyo) and from some food stands near the Akihabara station.
After stuffing ourselves we headed across the city to Harajuku aka hypebeast central (internationally known as the center of youth culture and fashion). Supreme, Kicks Lab, Bape, Nike, Undefeated and vintage stores like Chicago INC were all within the same radius.
We were overwhelmed with the amount of stores in Harajuku. It’s like walking around an outlet without expecting any deals.
We ended up taking a relaxing break at the Roastery by Nozy Coffee Cafe and finally experiencing a Japanese coffee shop. We ordered two iced hand brews and got to pick the beans we wanted after smelling and learning about the taste of each selection.
We lounged around the front of the cafe for well deserved break before making a trek down to Shibuya.
I knew we were in Shibuya when the crowd around us was gradually getting bigger and then there were foot traffic. Our surroundings started to resemble Times Square and we found ourselves right in the middle of the busiest intersection in the world, Shibuya Crossing. When the lights turned green, people were waking from every side, it was the definition of organized chaos.
We missed the Hachiko Memorial Statue (loyal dog from the movie, which was based on a true story?) nearby since it started to pour and we didn’t have an umbrella since I thought it would be sunny all day. The rain didn’t stop us from ending our night with the best beef cutlet EVER. We got to Gyukatsu Moromura drenched, but lucky since we were the 3rd party in line. We waited around ~40min before we got seated, not surprised since there were only ~10 seats or so. Gyukatsu Moromura was one of the most anticipated meals for me because everyone who went to Japan has recommended it and spoke highly of it. It did not disappoint at all.
Each bite was like having multiple orgasms in your mouth as the beef melts in your mouth like butter. Definitely the BEST katsu I ever had. The only con was having the smell of meat stuck on my clothes afterwards. Gyukatsu Moromura was a great end to Day 1 in Tokyo.