Kansai 2018 – Osaka

I’m back in Kansai once again! Yes I know I just went on a trip in March, but I wasn’t crazy to plan trips to Osaka just 2 weeks apart. The trip in March was only confirmed 1 day prior to taking off since it was a lucky draw prize, while this trip was planned for much earlier! I am not complaining though, because I love Kansai. It’s my 5th time coming to Kansai out of all 10 trips I’ve had to Japan. My very first experience in Japan was exactly in Osaka and so this city has a special place in my heart.

This area is not as refined as Tokyo, but I love it precisely for this reason. I like the abundance of everything from drugstores, 100 Yen shops to Takoyaki stalls. The whole place was pretty much the same as I remembered it to be 5 years ago when I first stepped foot here; the only difference being that there’s now a lot more tourists (from the same country, go figure) to squeeze with. Within the heart of the city (Shinsaibashi/ Dotonbori) you’ll probably see as many tourists as locals and queues for tax refund in department stores can be crazy long (like 45 minutes – 1hr kind of long). Venturing out of the crazy zone will be a good idea if you can.

Osaka is conveniently located in the middle and well connected to other prefectures of the Kansai region, and it makes a very convenient base to be when you want to check out neighbouring prefectures. The abundance of hotels makes the lodging rate more competitive and less expensive compared Kyoto or Tokyo. The abundance of Tax Free drugstores and 100 Yen shop makes cheap shopping possible. Takoyaki and other casual street food stalls everywhere makes inexpensive dining possible in an expensive country like Japan. Prior to my first time in Japan, I thought it was going to cost a bomb but my first Osaka trip turned out way more inexpensive than I assumed, thanks to Osaka being a relatively more affordable place!

Booking your trip 3 to 4 months ahead guarantees cheaper tickets and most of my trips to Osaka tickets cost around $300. I booked this trip during the popular spring season and it cost me $400 this time, but I ain’t complaining because it can’t be lower than this and the flighs were non-stop.

My plan for this trip was to spend the first 3 nights in Osaka, 1 night in Arima Onsen, 1 night in Kyoto and the last night in Osaka. For convenience sake I’ll write everything about Osaka in this post so it’ll contain my first few days and the last night and day.


Getting around Osaka

With so many different tourist tickets available for this region, it takes a bit of effort to figure out what’s best. I’m just going to share what I got this time:

Haruka + ICOCA

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Haruka + ICOCA

I chose to get a Haruka + ICOCA this time. This package is offered by JR West and can be ordered online and picked up at the JR West ticket office in KIX. Getting this package gives me a cheaper Haruka ticket. Haruka is an express train that goes all the way to Kyoto from KIX, and stops at Tennoji and Shin-Osaka. ICOCA is basically like an EZ Link card, a charge card which makes commuting convenient. When bought in this set (¥3100), the ICOCA comes with ¥1500 value and ¥500 deposit. ICOCA can be used around Kansai area on most modes of transportation, as well as for payment in convenience stores, certain vending machines and some other shops. It’s the equivalent of Pasmo/ Suica in Kanto area and you can top up when it’s low in stored value.

For repeat travellers who already have an ICOCA, you can still enjoy the discounted Haruka ticket at ¥1100 (U.P ¥2200) as long as you present your ICOCA when purchasing Haruka at JR West ticket office!

My first hotel was near Shinsaibashi, so I chose to take Haruka to Tennoji and then transit to the Midosuji subway line. If I was staying at Namba area I would have taken the Nankai main line instead and not get this package.

Osaka Enjoy Eco Card

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Enjoy Eco Card

If you were to make multiple subway trips within Osaka, like more than 3 trips a day, getting a One Day Subway pass is highly recommended. These One Day passes, which they call the Enjoy Eco Card, cost ¥800 on weekdays and ¥600 on weekends. Considering how one single trip would cost an average of ¥200, it’s more worthwhile to get an unlimited day pass. This pass can be purchased instantly at any ticket machine in subway stations within Osaka; no reservations necessary! In Kyoto they have something similar too. I’ll talk about that in my Kyoto post.

JR West Kansai Area Pass (1 Day)

If you wish to make a day trip out of Osaka, it’s recommended to get a 1 day JR West Kansai Area Pass. I planned a day trip to Shiga prefecture and that’s pretty far. My journey would have cost ¥3840 if I paid the full price. The 1 day JR West Kansai Area pass with online reservation it cost just ¥2200 (U.P ¥2300) for unlimited rides on JR West Lines (excluding Shinkansen).

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Valid lines for Kansai Area Pass

I picked this ticket up together with my Haruka + ICOCA at the JR West ticket office at KIX on 5th April but told them to set the valid date as 7th April. You can pick it up earlier so long as it’s not more than 27 days in advance and the latest period you can reserve online is 2 days before.


Day 1 – Shinsaibashi

My first meal in Osaka was dinner. I picked CoCo Ichibanya because I love it and because it’s everywhere! It could be an Osaka thing that popular food chains are everywhere because I managed to find 2 shops located rather near my accommodation for the first night. This particular shop is near the north end of Shinsaibashi shopping street and an Ippudo ramen (with a queue outside) was in the vicinity.

It’s actually my first time trying CoCo Ichibanya in Japan. I love the chain in Singapore and it’s my favourite Japanese curry house, hands down. I decided to first try it when my YouTube idol Ryan Higa featured it in his vlog. They had it at least twice during their visit to Singapore a few years ago!

 

In Japan, they have way more options on the menu and it’s a bit overwhelming to choose so I just settled for something random. It turned out good. I could highly recommend CoCo Ichibanya for a casual, simple, fast and inexpensive meal in Japan. I like how they have a retail section which sells their own curry and I bought 2 boxes home to try!

CoCo Ichibanya Minamisenba 3 Chome
Minamisenba, 3 Chome−11−26 Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka-fu, Japan
(Multiple locations available)

My dinner ended pretty quickly and I still had time to browse around Shinsaibashi area before the shops started closing around 9pm! Shops usually close between 9pm – 10pm here.


Day 2 – South Osaka: Namba, Shinsaibashi, Kitanahada

My agenda for today was to do shopping within Osaka, try out food I’ve seen on Instagram, do a lesson at ABC Cooking and to check out the newly opened Muji Supermarket in Sakai. With such a plan, of course I had to get an Enjoy Eco Card since I was going to make many trips around Osaka. It was a Friday so my card cost ¥800.

My first stop for shopping was Namba area. Namba is a really good area because of the convenience. There are several train and subway lines within Namba and they have an underground connection with tonnes of shops along the way between stations. It extends all the way to Nipponbashi station and that’s crazy. For tax free shopping, you have BIC Camera, Don Quijote, Namba City and Takashimaya. From Namba station, you can also find sheltered shopping streets like Sennichimae which is full of shops and food, like a little version of Shinsaibashi + Dotonbori (not that these 2 are very far away… they’re literally just 1 stop away from Namba but in Osaka, more is more).

I started my shopping at Namba City because I wanted to get stuff from Afternoon Tea Living. This mall is almost entirely tax free with a tax refund counter at the basement. There’s a 1.1% service charge though, similar to the procedure at department stores. They also have a few tax free shops whereby the tax is not charged and the tax free procedure is processed within the shop itself. For these shops they usually do not impose that 1.1% service charge, but you need to hit the minimum spend within each shop to qualify. For tax free counters of a mall/ department store, you can combine your receipts and get tax refund of it collectively hits the minimum amount. Learn more about tax free shopping in Japan here.

Namba City
5 Chome-1-60 Namba, Chuo, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture , Japan

Within the vicinity is this Japanese dessert shop called Shiratama+. It’s a little shop away from the main shopping street, located very near Don Quijote and Takashimaya in Namba. I found this place through Instagram and I’m glad I did because I would never find it through randomly walking! It’s located on the 3rd floor of a small building and the only clue you’ll find is this little wooden sign along the road.

They serve beautiful shiratama in rainbow colours and that’s exactly what attracted me. On the side is yuzu-an, sweet potato-an (an means bean paste), kombu and kinako. The texture was soft and chewy like shiratama should be. Besides these rainbow coloured creation, they do have several other types of shiratama desserts as well. I wish I could try more but this portion is not small. I like how hidden this little cafe is but still within a very accessible area. I hope it remains a secret.

Shiratama+
13-18, Nanbasennichimae, Maruwa Building 3F, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, Japan 

I booked a One Day English lesson at ABC Cooking Daimaru Shinsaibashi and I was going to make Snow Rabbits wagashi. I had a Cooking Traveler’s ticket obtained from ABC Cooking Singapore. The ticket cost S$60 and can be redeemed for any One Day English Lessons in several studios in Japan (it would otherwise cost more if you pay for the class in Japan). If you’re interested to take a culinary class in Japan and want to break the language barrier, do get this Cooking Traveler’s ticket and attend a class in English at ABC Cooking! They do have cake, bread and cooking classes too, depending on the studio you’re attending the lesson at. For more information on choice of lessons do check out their website.

ABC Cooking Daimaru Shinsaibashi
Daimaru 13F, 1-7-1, Shinsaibashisuji, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, Japan

Yup, my whole day revolves around food. After my class at ABC, I did some shopping within Shinsaibashi area before moving on for afternoon tea break. Just a short walk westwards from Shinsaibashi you’ll reach America-mura, a trendy shopping area with  foreign street wear brands and non-mainstream labels. It’s not filled with drugstores and not sheltered so it’s totally different from Shinsaibashi. But it happened to be raining, so I did not bother trying to shop around the streets. I went straight for my A Happy Pancake, which I had reserved online. Others who did not have reservations had to queue. It seems like this souffle pancake chain is very popular in Japan!

I tried it and loved it in Tokyo so I wanted to have it again but with a different flavour – Tiramisu. I’ll say stick to the original or black tea flavoured creations – this tiramisu flavour didn’t quit work. It was excessively bitter and barely anything like real tiramisu. On hindsight, I should have went for it in Kyoto instead because they have a Matcha special pancake for Kyoto only! Matcha fans take note.

A Happy Pancake 幸せのパンケーキ
2 Chome-10-32 Nishishinsaibashi, Smile Step B1F, Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka, Japan

The plan for the evening was to check out the new Muji supermarket. It’s located in AEON Mall Sakai Kitahanada, which is in Sakai city of Osaka prefecture. The Midosuji subway line stops very near the mall, Kitahanada station.

Unlike a normal Muji store, this place is way bigger and comes with an actual supermarket section. You can buy fresh produce here!

They also have dairy products, long life products, fresh meat and ready-to-eat food.

The usual Muji household items are of course, part of this mega store as well.

Other than the Muji Cafe we’re familiar with, this Muji  houses a few other dining options, like this Kaisen-don booth. There is also a ramen booth, bakery, and many ready-to-eat options in the supermarket area like sushi, bento and stuff you’ll expect from an actual Japanese supermarket. There is a sit down area is available for you to have your meal.

My tuna bowl with fatty tuna cost just ¥1080 (this is so unreal!!!) and the salmon bowl even less. It’s such a steal! Not to mention really fresh.

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Map of the whole area

Muji AEON Sakai Kitahanada
4-1-12 Higashiasakayamachou, Kita-ku, Sakai-shi, Osaka, Japan


Day 3 – North Osaka: Umeda

The first half of this day was spent in Shiga prefecture so I’ll talk about it in another post, but I returned to Osaka for the evening. I took the Tokdaido Sanyo Line connecting Shiga and Osaka, so I alighted at Osaka station and took the chance to shop around the area.

Umeda/ Osaka station area is another major shopping place in Osaka with many building surrounding the stations. Here you don’t get shopping streets like in Shinsabashi/ Namba area, but you have an underground network of shops and many department stores in the same area. Hanshin Umeda, Hankyu Umeda, Isetan, Yodobashi,  Daimaru Umeda are major department stores you won’t miss. There are also shopping malls like Grand Front Osaka, NU Chayamachi, EST, LUCUA, Hankyu Sanbangai – just to name a few (no I did not get to check them ALL out. Way too many!) and two Don Quijotes – one within the station itself (also known as Ekidonki) and one bigger 24hr store.

Located in Grand Front Osaka is the Panasonic Center Osaka. This place showcases Panasonic home appliances and it’s quite interesting to steal inspiration from! It spans over 3 floors and there’s quite a lot to check out. The only other Panasonic Center is in Tokyo.

Panasonic Center Osaka
Grand Front Osaka South B1F -2F, 4-20 Ofukacho, Kita-ku, Osaka, Japan

Over at Hankyu Sanbangai, a shopping center connected to Hankyu Umeda station, they have a Snoopy Town Shop and Kiddy Land. Both these places carry the Hankyu exclusive collection of Peanuts with Hankyu. It was only launched very recently on 1st of April! It is definitely a collection that’s unique for fans of Peanuts to collect.

Hankyu Sanbangai
1 Chome-1-3 Shibata, Kita, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0012, Japan

Got tired of shopping so random ice cream and parfait for tea break. 🍓 + 🌸 = ❤️

Dinner was an inexpensive and simple option – Gyoza Ohsho which has over 700 shops in Japan and I picked a random outlet near my hotel. It’s strange how this is obviously Chinese food and in Japan, this is considered as a Chinese restaurant chain without a doubt. Nobody will call the dishes served here Japanese food. However, in Singapore we have a similar chain called Osaka Ohsho (also from Japan, serving around the same things) but we generally see it as actual Japanese food instead of Japanese-style-Chinese food. It’s just strange. Anyway, the meal was no frills and satisfying. I love good gyoza and fried rice and this meal was around S$20 for 2 pax.

Gyoza no Ohsho
1 Chome-7-10 Doshōmachi, Chūō-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka, Japan
(Multiple locations available)


Day 6 & 7 – Namba

On day 6 I came back to Osaka from Kyoto for the evening. The plan was to remain in Namba area to eat and shop.

Finally some Takoyaki! There’s no need to walk up to Dotonbori for some Osaka street food if you’re staying in Namba area – there are plenty of options around Sennichimae as well. I found Takoyaki Wanaka on Google Maps and the rating was quite good. Takoyaki Wanaka has a few branches but Sennichimae is the main shop – and it did not disappoint! They have a seating area at the back so you can sit down and enjoy. I MAJOR REGRET not having more of these while in Osaka. These were SO GOOD. When in Osaka Takoyaki is so plentiful to the extent that you won’t think it’s special, but I only realised once I’m back in Singapore that we no longer have decent Takoyaki available commercially. The only decent chain, Gindaco, have closed down. The only remaining ones in shopping malls suck. I need to learn to make Takoyaki myself. Or book another trip to Osaka. Either works.

Takoyaki Wanaka Sennichimae Honten
11-19 Namba Senju-si, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, Japan

Using Google Maps once again, I searched for Okonomiyaki in the vicinity. This restaurant Chibo was along the sheltered shopping street and even though it looks quite touristy, I decided to try anyway. Chibo has a chain of 64 shops in Japan and 5 overseas but this Sennichimae shop is their main shop. I was never a fan of Okonomiyaki but I’m ok to have it in Osaka. I chose the Dotonbori style Okonomiyaki because this is Osaka. They also serve Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki, Yakisoba and some other side dishes. One serving of Okonomiyaki can feed 2 or 3 pax since you probably want to have some street-side Takoyaki as well. I felt it was alright but nothing that you die-die must try.

Chibo Sennichimae Honten
Michikaze Bldg. 1-2F,11-27 Namba Sennichimae, Chuo-ku, Osaka, Japan

Sennichimae and Namba at night

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Sakura Kinako Kit Kat

I planned my shopping at Don Quijote to be after dinner because this shop closes late. Don Quijote needs no introduction because I’ve mentioned it so many times before and we have one in Singapore too. Just showing this unique flavour of Kit Kat which I’ve not seen anywhere else! I don’t think the actual flavour has much to do with sakura though.

Don Quijote
12-7 Nanbasennichimae, Chuo, Osaka, Osaka, Japan
(Multiple stores available)

So there’s some back story regarding my accommodation at Swissôtel Nankai. I actually booked an Airbnb but upon entering, I immediately didn’t want to believe I had to stay the night. The entire room looked so unwelcoming with warning signs pasted everywhere and the entire room looked so non-Japan quality. The toilet was the grossest ever and I later realised they did not show an honest picture of the toilet on the Airbnb listing – they merely zoomed in to objects which looked decent, but never showed the whole picture of the disgusting toilet. Bathing in a public bath even flashed through my head, like you know how some Japanese hotels have a public bath if you do not wish to bathe in-room, but then I realise this was an Airbnb and there’s no onsen downstairs. Long story short, I looked for another hotel within Namba area and the only one which screamed out to me was Swissôtel Nankai – if I had to choose something now I might as well go for the best and most convenient.

Swissôtel Nankai is located on top of Takashimaya and Namba Nankai station. I was going to take the Nankai main line to get to KIX the next day and this would provide the most convenience. It’s simply one elevator down, no escalators involved! I also did not need to think of looking for coin lockers to keep my luggage before leaving for the airport. The room rate for a Classic Room was ¥19000 (S$230) per night, payable at hotel. Upon check in at 7pm, they informed us that they will upgrade us to the Swiss Advantage Room because the Classic Rooms were fully occupied. That’s a 2 tier upgrade and their Swiss Advantage Room usually cost double of the classic! I was so pleased.

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Swiss Advantage Room

The room was modern and comfortable. The bed was the best I’ve had in a long time. This could very well be the highlight of my trip and I felt my adventure just started!

They even have pillow menu, but the default pillows were already amazing.

The view was south facing, so no view of Shinsaibashi/ Dotonbori – not that it’ll be anything really interesting.

If you believe in having good and very convenient hotels, Swissôtel Nankai is probably the best you can get for Osaka!

Swissôtel Nankai Osaka
5 Chome-1-60 Nanba, Chuo, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 542-0076, Japan

Foreign guests of Swissôtel Nankai, will receive a Takashimaya 5% off shopper’s card upon check-in. The public can obtain one from Takashimaya’s information counter, but I like how they made it convenient for hotel guests. I purchased this beautiful lipstick from Estee Lauder in Takashimaya. This range is not available in Singapore and as a bonus surprise for me, Estee Lauder in Takashimaya provides free engraving service! Now I’m not sure whether all counters in Japan provides this service, but I do know that counters in Singapore don’t. Only on special occasions like Christmas they would offer engraving but with conditions and with some boring looking font. The engraving service in Japan has this beautiful cursive font and a selection of designs you could add on the sides. Selecting the sakura print was a no-brainier for me. I am SO pleased with this purchase! By the way, this lipstick is highly sough after on Airfrov and is apparently sold out in many places, like the duty free shop in KIX. I was lucky to spot it on my first attempt in Takashimaya AND get my name engraved for free!

As a big fan of cheesecake, I don’t know why it took me 5 years and 5 trips to Osaka before finally trying this famous cheesecake at Rikuro Ojisan no Mise. I blame it on Osaka having too much to offer that I often get stuffed and have no room left for cheesecake. Or that I’m too busy shopping. In my 2015 trip I stayed in Namba too and fully intended to try it, but I just couldn’t. This time made it a point to drag myself out for breakfast despite the wonderful bed tempting me to stay longer. Their main store at Namba comes with a dine in cafe on the 2F but they open only at 12pm. The takeaway store opens from 9am, and they have counter seats for dine-in. They did not sell slices so we bought one whole cheesecake for ¥695. That’s only S$8.50 for one whole cake! I intended to bring the remainder back to munch on later, but we ended up with no remainder. This cake nicely feeds 2 pax simply because it’s so good – totally worth the hype!

Rikuro Ojisan no Mise Namba Honten
3-2-28 Namba, Chuo-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka, Japan

That’s all for Osaka this trip! Stay tuned for my next post about Shiga, Arima-onsen and Kyoto.

 

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