Osaka has a central wholesale fish market much like Tsukiji in Tokyo, with its own 4:15am Tuna auction. Had we known that Tsukiji would be so restricted (we should have known and watched for this after the earthquake), we would have made more of an effort to make it to Osaka's version, which seems more welcoming to tourists.
But the real reason we journeyed to the Central Fish Market was in order to visit a tiny sushi-ya that's been around for over a hundred years (est. in 1907) we had read about from Chubby Hubby, and really, how could one go wrong having sushi for breakfast right on the grounds of a fish market?
Hideki had pointed out Ichiran from where we met on the Ebisubashi bridge, telling us that it was a pretty good ramen place, possibly the best, in his opinion. So on our last night in Osaka, after drinks in the Umeda Sky Tower at Sky Lounge Stardust, we headed back to the Dotonbori to check it out. It’s along the Dotonbori canal, near the Nihonbashi bridge, which flanks Ebisubashi. Like Ippudo, Ichiran serves a Tonkotsu Hakata-style ramen made with pork broth.
A bedazzling, maddening, whirlwind. An overstimulating experience. New York Times Square on steroids. Bright lights, big city magnified to the Nth degree. Seas of humanity pouring through the arcades, the endless covered shopping walks, the subway tunnels. Hawkers along the Dotonbori soliciting business, the collective staff in shops and establishments shouting “Irrashaimase!” as you walk in, cacophonous choruses of welcomes… Girls in uber short skirts and skorts (no matter how frigidly the wind blows) and uber seductive over-the-knee socks or tights…. Big eyes fringed by lashes that go on and on; pouty lips – almost anime-like, life following art/ artifice. Food is not a problem here, nor drink, as long as one has yen in their pocket. There is food and drink everywhere, any time of night or day. This despite the fact that establishments are not always outwardly welcoming, at least to these western eyes. The shoji are closed, windows papered – it’s sometimes difficult to see how full or how empty an establishment is… but the bright plastic food beckons, the exaggerated character mascot beguiles with its kawaii.
We got to Osaka at around 11:30pm. We had been traveling for nearly 24 hours straight, having left Los Angeles on the morning of the 25th of March, arriving Tokyo Narita after an 11-hour flight on the 26th at 3pm, after which we hopped on a shinkansen and various subways that would get us to Osaka and into our hotel a few minutes shy of midnight. Not that it was all that terrible... it was fun navigating the various transportation systems, and everywhere we turned there was always someone who kindly assisted when we had questions. We had slept a little on the flight, and snoozed/ dozed on the shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka. By the time we emerged from the Namba subway, and saw the huge Namba Hips amusement center looming in the dark, the sense of excitement kept growing. We walked around the corner to our street, directly the Dotobori itself, looking for the hotel's trademark 4 statues, named "Asian, African, Arabian, Western" and which, according to the hotel website, "...created with a desire to welcome guests from all over the world..."
We had perused the archives of Ramen Tokyo most assiduously in preparation for what to expect at a Ramen-ya in Japan. We had read of the interminable lines and of the push-button Nihongo-only ticket pre-ordering with no photos whatsoever. We read of tiny shops with only counter seating, and of patrons who dined solo, heads-down, looking and interacting with no one until their bowl is thus rapidly consumed. We read of instances where couples and friends may not necessarily get to sit next to each other. We read of having to procure your drinks prior to arrival, or at least while waiting in line (usually there is a vending machine or two nearby), of the need to bring a packet of tissues or your hankachi (handkerchief) since no napkins would be provided.
Hassun course at Kikunoi Roan: skewer of miso-marinated avocado, smoked salmon and Tai liver; grilled squid with nori seaweed and egg yolk; fava beans, mountain yam "butterfly;" poached egg-bearing octopus; Tai sushi with Kinome pepper leaf; Yurime lily root petals; Udo stalk petals; ikura.
Indeed, what about the food? The trip was planned after all, in CCDD fashion, around food. It's been absolutely glorious - from the high-end to the low, from street food or market stands to Michelin-starred establishments and smoky izkayas, train station ekiben or small ramen-yas filled with salarymen... we've been eating very, very well.
In Osaka, I think I quite had my fill of takoyaki; DD kept wanting to sample these wherever we went, and we ended up tasting some from 4 different vendors. We also loved sushi fresh from Kuromon market and Endo Sushi in Osaka's Central Wholesale Fish Market, similar to, but not as big as Tsukiji.
Small note: I started this post before we left Osaka on the 29th. Since then, we've been to Takayama and Shirakawa-go where we didn't have broadband access. We're now in Kanazawa, in a little guesthouse called Minshuku Ginmatsu. We wish we had another night here but we journey to Kyoto this afternoon.
What does one do when one has just spent a somewhat stressful and bewildering wandering about of one of Osaka's wards, looking in vain for an address that does not appear to follow any rational arrangements of ordering principles? What to do when you are the lucky beneficiaries of Japanese helpfulness and generosity, in the form of a wonderful couple out on a walk back from the suupaa, complete with cute long-haired daschund puppy and armed with gentle graciousness and working mobile phones with maps? What to do when the above-mentioned angels deliver you quite efficiently to your destination, just in time for your 7:30pm yoyaku (reservation) and you awkwardly burst upon a teeny, tiny sliver of a room where there are 2 seats left at the 8-person counter and all eyes swivel towards you? And, after getting through the formal bowings and greetings to the chefs behind the counter, after you've managed to order some sake somewhat successfully, what to you when you realize that you probably can't decipher in any meaningful way the beautiful calligraphy on the hand-written menu and that the chef does not appear able to communicate back, despite his smiles and goodwill?
A note: These update posts will be pretty minimal - but I'll try to write with as much detail as time allows, as well as include photos.
Where to begin? Even while wandering around at midnight in the Dotonbori, a quintessential Osakan entertainment district, running parallel to the Dotonbori canal, one couldn't get a true sense of the crazy energy from even more Osakans and other Japanese (very few foreigners here, from what DD and I can tell) who emerged and filled the streets around the Kuromon Market, Den Den Town (or Osaka's version of Tokyo's electronics district, Akihabara), and the Kappabshi Dogugai, a restaurant-supply area also filled with eateries and other food establishment. After we got to the end of the Dogugai, we managed to stumble upon the Takashimaya department store, where we encountered one of Japan's fabled depa-chika food halls for the first time.
While long, the process of getting from Narita to Osaka, I'm happy to report, was quite straightforward and utterly lacking in any sort of stressful near-misses or complications. Essentially we arrived at Narita Airport around 3:10pm, got through customs and immigration and finally made our way down to the train station by 4:45pm. There were so many helpful individuals at Narita, whether it was the information desk clerk in the basement floor of the airport near the train stations, or the JR clerk who exchanged our JR pass vouchers for actual passes, apologized profusely when she found out the next rapid Sobu express to Tokyo was leaving in about 3 minutes (we declined and opted to take the next one arriving in another hour), most helpfully booked us reserved seats on the Hikari Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka-Shin, and gave us exceptionally detailed directions in great English.