Osaka – Eat Till You Drop!

“Osaka wa kuidaore!”

(A famous saying used to describe Osaka, which literally translates to : “Osaka people eat ’til they drop!”).

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Known as the “Kitchen of the nation”, Osaka is indeed a food haven – there seem to be restaurants and food stalls at every corner you turn. Not sure if this is only in Shinsaibashi /Dotombori area where we stayed or is it in all of Osaka. I tried quite a few things here – ramen, yakisoba, udon, and of course, Osaka’s 2 famous delicacies : Okonomiyaki (Japanese style pancake/ pizza) and Takoyaki (octopus balls).

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Can’t help it, the fragrant tempting aroma of the steaming hot, freshly prepared Osaka street food seem to be wafting into my nose and beckoning to my olfactory sense at every corner I turned!

Vending machines are so common in Japan that they have it even for noodles. So the challenge is reading the labels on vending machines before ordering anything.

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Takoyaki – not to be missed in Osaka, the birthplace of takoyaki. There are stalls selling this delicacy at every corner.  Golf-ball sized, made from a batter of flour, eggs, grated yam, with a piece of octopus inside. The batter is poured into small round holes on a hot plate and rotated till golden brown. When ready, the round plump takoyakis are covered with a tangy sauce, mayonnaise, seaweed powder and dried bonito flakes, and eaten with a toothpick.

There is a gigantic mechanically animated Octopus that’s a famous landmark of Dotombori, and even a cute little “takoyaki theme song” that fills the air; i still can’t get this tune out of my head till today!. The chorus goes like this : “Ta-ta-takoyaki….Ta-ta-takoyaki….!!”

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Okonomiyaki (or as the local dialect says it : Kansaiyaki) – the most popular of teppanyaki food, especially here in Osaka. Chopped cabbage mixed with flour and cooked on a hotplate with an egg, pork/beef slices, or seafood, depending on your preference. Then added with sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, ketchup and mustard. Eat like how you would a pizza. Cut it into small slices when it’s still piping hot,… and put it directly into your mouth! Holy cow! It almost burned my tongue!!

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Shinsaibashi / Dotombori

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Staying near this area has its advantages other than it being a food paradise. It is also a long stretch of huge continuous shopping streets that stretches few kilometres from Shinsaibashi to Dotombori, Namba area, Ebisubashi, Hozenji Yokocho and Sennichimae Doguyasuji. All the youngsters seem to hang out around here at night so you can take a round just for people watching. A little further on is Kuromon Ichiba “Osaka’s Kitchen”, the most well known marketplace in Osaka; and Nippombashi’s Den Den Town, the electronic district. So you’ll never run out of places to walk.

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Anyway, it ended up that we have to walk through these miles of shopping area every day to get back to hotel. Seriously, i think i must have walked about 10-20 km every single day for my entire stay in Japan! I don’t know why Japanese like to stand and walk so much. There are hardly any benches in the parks. In the small restaurants, i see people standing even as they are eating (ramen, grilling stuff or even steamboat!). Don’t they have arthritis or anything?!

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The historical icon of Osaka. A 16th century castle built by Hideyoshi Toyotomi who played an important role in the unification of Japan. A huge palace garden with moat surrounding the castle.

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Shitennoji Temple

One of the oldest Buddhist temples in Japan. Founded in the 6th century, and subsequently burned down and reconstructed several times after…. as in most other temples in Japan.

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Sumiyoshi Taisha  Grand Shrine

“A housing complex for gods!” – as faithfully described in its brochure. It sounds kind of funny though. Well, it is said that the advantage of visiting Sumiyoshi Taisha is that it saves you the long trip to Kyoto. Why? Because here, you can pray to various ancient gods that are enshrined here, eg.: those ensuring safe travel, good fortune in matchmaking and marriage, safe childbirth, prosperity in business, welfare of the family, military valor, beauty and skilful entertainment, among others.

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The shrine’s symbol is the gracefully arched red Taiko-bashi bridge, which spans over a pond before entering the main shrine.

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The shrine grounds are rather quiet on the day of our visit, but on New Year’s Day, there could be as many as 2 million visitors here.

The majestic Hongu buildings, a total of four here. They are all national treasures which resemble a fleet at sea.

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The pebble charm – a small enclosure filled with pebbles inside. You can’t enter it but you can stretch your hand through the fence and pick up the pebbles inside. Some of the pebbles are marked with a word, either ‘Five”, “Big”, or “Power”. They are blessed by the gods, if you are lucky you may find a set of all three words, they are your personal charm. Make a prayer with these 3 stones and your wish may just come true!

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Universal Studios Japan

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The distance is not too far from town but we have to change 3 trains to get here. As expected, everywhere is full of people, no matter if it is a weekend or weekday, school holidays or not. In Universal Studios, everyday is play day!

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There is a consistent and diligent queue for almost everything : popcorns, turkey drumsticks, pretzels, souvenir shop cashiers, fast food restaurants, trick or treats, or taking photos with Elmo, Hello Kitty or Spiderman, even to take picture with the cute lamp post outside the entrance. Oh, and the queue for rides? Average 1.5 to 2.5 hours each, doesn’t matter at which time of day. Single riders could save you a little time perhaps. Highly advisable, if you want to get on any rides at all.

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Halloween seems to be fun. I’ve never seen it before as Malaysia doesn’t celebrate Halloween. So we see pretty eye candies all dressed up in jack-o-lantern attire with full makeup and hair do, and complete with accessories of their chosen character. So you can’t really tell who are the patrons and who are the staff who work there. Hmm… who really cares? If you want a picture with them, they would gladly pose for you, happy that their costumes are appreciated.

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At daytime, USJ seems to be a lively and cheerful place with cute colourful backdrops and cartoony settings with party mood and cheerful music fills the air. Sesame Street and Snoopy characters dominate the scene with lots of elaborately decorated buildings and playthings. It’s hard not to feel like a kid again here… 😉

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After sundown though, the whole place seems to transform. The atmosphere changed drastically from cheerful to fearful. One whole part of the theme park slowly transformed into Raccoon City, the city where the T-virus infected all innocent residents to turn into carnivorous zombies in the popular franchise Resident Evil.

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I must say that the light and sounds effect is marvelously done. Eerie music fills the air, blood covered zombies come out unannounced walking amongst the crowd, terrorising everyone. You will know the exact location of the zombie when you hear some silly girls screaming hysterically running away from them…. Hmmmm…  Me, I just took out my camera and chase after the zombies to take pictures of them. Hahaha! Well, here’s my zombie collection!

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