Once I arrived in Osaka, it was a bit confusing getting to the local subway because the bullet train stops at a station called Shin-Osaka. I, of course, assumed incorrectly that this was the same as Osaka Station; they're actually one stop apart, so once I figured that out, I was able to make my way to the hotel.
After resting for a few minutes and flipping through the television channels only to find local news and home shopping networks, I decided to walk west to the subway line that would take me into Downtown, specifically, the Namba area which is known for its shopping and local food. I was steps away from the subway entrance when I looked up and saw entrances to a food and shopping market both to my left and right. Wow, in either direction, the semi-enclosed market (Tenjinbashi) extended as far as I could see. As has often been the case on this trip, a couple minutes of checking it out turned into me deciding to stay put for a meal. While the breakdown seemed to be about 50/50 food establishment to retail, instead of the 80/20 I usually see, it still meant there were tons of places to eat being that the market was so long. I later found out that it's 1.5 miles long, the longest such market in Japan which I'm sure qualifies it as one of the longest in the world. Completely by luck, I headed south to that end of the market and came across a small yakitori joint that turned out to be my most memorable food stop so far. I'm glad knowing that positive atmosphere and personalities are almost as important as good grub when sizing up a new place. After I gobbled down my dishes, the owners showed me photo albums of their daughter and her family, all the while handing me skewers of food I didn't order and giving me servings of wonderfully smooth sake. Hey, who am I to complain? Leaving these nice folks a whopping $7-tip had them bowing the entire time as I exited the place.
After a couple hours here, I started walking home...when I discovered another yakitori joint still open on the 2nd FL of a small building along the Tenjinbashi Market. This place had a much younger crowd. The food was about as good as at the place I'd just tried, and after eating my fill and finishing my order of house sake, it was a nice walk home....
January 11, 2018
"I have a feeling two days here will be two days too short."
View of Mount Fuji from Shinkansen Nozomi bullet train heading southwest from Tokyo en route to Osaka.
Tenjinbashi Market north of Downtown Osaka. It extends as far as the eye can see.
Killer grilled chicken at Sumibi Yakitori at the southern end of Tenjinbashi Market.
This lovely couple definitely puts the "mom" and "pop" in "mom-and-pop joint."
One of two very smooth brands of sake the owner was liberally pouring (and sampling) to us customers at the bar.
Yebisu draft: just what the doctor ordered in a chilled mug and with floating ice chips.
January 13, 2018
"Why am I always given hotel rooms that are accessible?! There are bars by the bed, by the bathtub, by the sink. I mean, I use them, but still...."
I met up with my yakitori friends at the restaurant at 11:30 AM, and we hopped in a cab for a quick ride to a wonderful kaiseki restaurant near the ANA Crowne Plaza in Downtown Osaka. It was in the fourth floor of this very small office building, so I know I wouldn't have found it in five years of working and living in this town.
The eight-course meal with its set order of dishes (app, sashimi, soup, veggie, cooked fish, meat, tempura, dessert) was really terrific, everything tasting incredibly fresh, even the pickled veggies. The three of us were given a private four-top with servers coming through the sliding door to present and describe each dish and take away the previous one. We washed down our meal with some Asahi that hit the spot perfectly. Mr. Makoro, the yakitori owner, sprang for lunch, much to my dismay, as I was totally prepared to treat the three of us. Funny, I've known these folks about 36 hours and can barely communicate with them, and they're already more generous and thoughtful than 97% of the people I've known for years and decades.
Kiyotaka got us our coffee and tea at Osaka Station, and after a few more minutes of using our translator apps, it was time to say "goodbye." I promised them I'd return, hopefully for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, and spend at least five days in Osaka next time. With their recent generosity, they didn't even let me spring for the cab ride to the kaiseki joint, I made sure to take down their home addresses. Gosh, I wonder what I can send them from the US to show my gratitude that won't be a nightmare to clear customs.
Kiyotaka and Mr. Makoro at the kaiseki joint with me near Osaka Station.
A potpourri of pickled veggies, cooked fish, duck, sweet black beans.
Tempura of shrimp, crab, snapper, broccoli rabe.
January 12, 2018
"Kobe, you're such a tease!"
As if two days in Osaka weren't enough, to spend several of those hours in Kobe made things even more frustrating! I headed to Kobe in the morning to have lunch in Chinatown, as recommended to me by the owner at that first yakitori place last night, and to check out the waterfront.
Lunch was unremarkable, though the harbor there in Kobe is quite beautiful. Kobe Station was nearby for my 25-minute trip back to Osaka.
After chilling out in my hotel room for a bit, I headed back to Sumibi Yakitori, as promised to the owner and to Kiyotaka, one of the regular customers there. It was another great meal with plenty of laughs, and tonight, a neurosurgery resident joined us at the bar. His English was quite good, and he served as a welcomed translator. I asked Kiyotaka, who was born in Kyoto, if he knew of a good kaiseki joint I should try during my visit there. He and the owner then got to talking and invited me to join them for a kaiseki lunch here in Osaka before catching my train to Kyoto. I, of course, accepted gladly. The owner's wife already had plans, and the neurosurgeon couldn't join us as he was proctoring a college-entrance exam in the morning.
I'll talk more about my impressions of the people I've met when the moment hits me. Suffice it to say that there seems to be this wonderful level of congeniality almost completely devoid of affectations amongst these few individuals I've met or the many people I've observed during this entire trip.
Chinatown in Kobe. It was a small area by Far East Asian standards.
The Kobe Port Tower and the Maritime Museum.
The obligatory Ferris wheel with a good view of the waterfront.
I barely know the yakitori owner's name, but he and his wife are a very nice couple. I don't know how long it takes to get those wood coals to burn, but he only replaced them with a few new ones over the course of the night.
A piece of fatty tuna at a conveyor-belt sushi joint in Osaka's Namba district. It tasted more like lean tuna, but it was very good, nonetheless.
Various shellfish ready to be broiled on skewers at the Kuromon Market near Namba. I think some items, like the crab legs, were already cooked, so I wasn't too keen on trying some of the stuff.