Osaka

“Ekinaka” – Shopping complexes at Japanese train stations

My Flipboard feed turned up an article on ekinaka at nippon.com. It was not a new idea me because I’ve seen such ekinaka first-hand on my visits to Japan. However, the term is new to me. Ekinaka literally means “inside the station.”

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Cheap Eats in Japan

Noodles Galore (Ramen/Soba/Udon)

Apart from all the fast food options in Japan, there’s plenty of authentic local fare to sample.  Noodles are a staple of many restaurants in Japan.  There’s usually more noodles than you can shake a stick at.  And there not very expensive at less than ¥1000 in most cases.

Ramen is the “pulled noodles” that are long and flat with a medium thickness.  Often the ramen is a bit on the curly side and not straight.  Ramen can be flavoured with miso, shio, and other soup bases.  Some come with wonderfully oozing soft boiled eggs and a slice of meat.

Soba is a round and long noodle.  It’s not a very thick noodle.  Soba can come in soup.  There’s yakisoba which is fried soba.  There’s also zaru soba which is a soba dish served cold with wasabi and dashi stock.

mochi soba

zaru soba set meals with sushi

Udon is a thick, round, and white noodle.  Udon is mostly found in soup in my experience.  It’s even the subject and title of one of my favourite Japanese movies.

Takoyaki

These wonderful chewy octopus balls hail from Osaka.  Little chunks of octopus are diced up and placed inside little balls of flower.  There is usually also slices of ginger and green onions.  Takoyaki is commonly slathered with okonomiyaki sauce (a savour sauce) and mayonnaise (gives a sweet tartness to it).  However, you can even have cheese and other sauces if you so choose.  The sky’s the limit when it comes to the variety of takoyaki found in Japan.

Cheese takoyaki (wife's photo)

Okonomiyaki

Okonomiyaki is what I commonly refer to as “Japanese Pancakes”.  The name doesn’t even begin to describe the variety found in this dish.  It’s basic ingredient is flour and egg mixed together, but what you put on top of it or mix inside with the flour and egg can be almost anything.  We’ve had okonomiyaki topped with giant chucks of leek with slices of beef.  We’ve had more plain ones with just sauce slathered on top.  Okonomiyaki is also another famous dish that originated in Osaka.

Okonomiyaki

Sushi

Sushi in Japan can be very expensive, but you can sometimes stumble upon a cheaper place.  I didn’t expect to find an all you can eat place in Japan, but we did.  It was the one with the little conveyor belts floating the restaurant wares in front of our eyes at about a few inches a second.  We did pretty well in this one sushi place on the busy Shinsaibashi-suji stretch.  What a find!

Conveyor belt sushi

Getting around Kansai – the Subway and JR

Update October 11, 2013: The outgoing links have all been updated.  This post is by far the most popular.  So I should try to keep this post up-to-date.  However, I haven’t been to Kansai since the Fall of 2009.  Happy transit travels to all you Kansai travellers.

Map of (almost) all the rail lines in Kansai

When one thinks about public transit in Japan, one often will think first about trains.  There are just so many trains in Japan.  The trains are famous for their punctuality and their crowds.  Initially, looking at the map of the Kansai rail network, it looks an electrician had purposely crossed all the wiring.

Where could I start with such a mess?  Well, first I looked for where the airport was and where the hotel was tried to figure how to get from point A to point B.  Originally, I thought we would be flying into Kansai International Airport (KIX), so I read about different trains that ran from KIX to Osaka.  There were a couple of ways.  The most direct and the fastest would have been the Nankai Airport Express, also known as Rapito-β.  That would have taken me into a part of town called Namba, which was one subway stop away from our hotel.  That seemed easy enough.

However, when we actually got our tickets, I realized we would be flying into the smaller Osaka International Airport in Itami.  That meant we would actually end up taking the Osaka Monorail (and yes, you would be right if you guessed there was an Expo in Osaka at one time).  We would take the monorail for a few stops then transfer to the red line (Midosuji) of Osaka Municipal Subway system.

Osaka Municipal Subway

Osaka Subway Logo

Osaka Subway System Map

So that was the start of figuring out the colours.  The most consistent colours belonged to the different lines of the Osaka Municipal Subway.  The Subway is made of 8 lines plus the New Tram.  The main line that we used was the red Midosuji Line.  It goes north-south through the major areas like Umeda, Shinsaibashi, Namba, and Tennoji.  We did use the Chuo line, a major east-west line, to get to Osaka Castle and to the Osaka Port area of Tempozan. These lines will likely carry you throughout most of the city to most of the major destinations.

Osaka Unlimited Pass

There is a transit pass in Osaka known as the Osaka Unlimited Pass.  The 1-day version allows unlimited travel on the Subway and some of the private lines.  The 2-day version of the Osaka Unlimited Pass is not so “unlimited”.  It’s restricted to unlimited travel on only the Subway lines.  If you buy the pass, it comes with a handy guide on how to get to different tourist attractions via the Subway only.  If you have a travel book, it may only suggest the nearest train station or the fastest train route without thinking about how you paid to get there.  So if you bought an Osaka Unlimited Pass, you will not be suddenly hopping on one of the private lines or the JR Line to travel that day.  You would want to travel strictly on the Subway system for that day.  Plus, you can get discounts at some of the attractions along the way.  I know we got our money’s worth out of our Osaka Unlimited Pass.

Shinsaibashi Subway Sign

The Osaka subway signs are very reminiscent of the Tokyo subway signs.  Perhaps all the subways in Japan have similar signage.  Each station has the name in Japanese (Kanji, Hiragana, and Romanji) and is also identified by a Letter-Number-Colour combo.  For example, Shinsaibashi Station on the Midosuji Line is station M19 (printed in red).  There is also a Shinsaibashi Station on the Nagahori Tsurumi-Youkuchi line which is identified as station N15 in olive green.

At the end of the day, I would say that if you are in Osaka only and you buy the Osaka Unlimited Pass, then the Subway will serve your needs very well.  However, if you plan to go a little further afield, then you may have to consider one of the other train lines.

Japan Rail (JR)

Japan Rail (JR) is probably Japan’s largest rail company.  There are JR lines everywhere in the country.  If you have to go from city to city, then JR is likely the way to go.  They definitely had some of the better seats compared to the subway and private lines.  It’s probably because you tend to go farther if you are riding a JR train.  You can also purchase JR passes in Japan or even before you leave.  Most travel agencies that specialize in Japan will carry this rail pass.  The pass will even let you ride the Shinkansen, or bullet train (but not the top end Shinkansen).  JR also does operate some inner city trains in Osaka.  The most obvious example would be the JR Osaka Loop Line that circles the Osaka’s central core.  It would be similar to Tokyo’s Yamanote Line.

We also used JR to get to Kyoto.  It was the quickest and most comfortable way to go from central Osaka (Umeda in this case) to Kyoto Station.  So the day that we took JR, we did not use any of the other train passes.  It was a quick half-hour ride from Umeda in Osaka to Kyoto Station and with forward facing seats.  We also had taken the JR train to the Sagano-Arashiyama area of Kyoto because, again, it was the quickest way and dropped us off right where we wanted to be.  In our case, we were going to take a scenic rail ride known as the Sagano Scenic Railway.  It is also known as the Torokko Train in Japanese.  Uji, another town just southeast of Kyoto, is also best accessed by JR.  The JR Uji Line is very direct with little stops.  It stops right in the middle of Uji and is steps away from the 956 year old Byodo-in Temple.

Links:

Outta town…to Kansai

Kansai?  Some of you might be asking where is that.  It’s in Japan.  The region around Tokyo is sometimes called the Kanto region; whereas, the region consisting of Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe are often referred to as Kansai.  Some of you may know of the Kansai International Airport (KIX), an airport which is sinking under it’s own weight partially because it is built atop a man-made island.

So October was a pretty big write-off in terms of blogging.  Work was very busy with a lot of out-of-office stuff to attend to.  There was Thanksgiving.  Then I was also sick for quite a few days.

Now in November, I’ll be out of country for over a week or so.  Blogging will again be sparse because I don’t have a laptop to cart around.  However, I hope to have stories, thoughts, and photos to share after I return.

Here’s some of the official tourist sites of some of the towns I will be in:

 

 

Giant Rubber Duck takes Osaka

Have you seen a giant yellow 10 metre tall floating and inflatable rubber duck in your waters?  If you were in Osaka, Japan from August to September this year, you would have definitely seen one floating about in the river in Osaka.  The Rubber Duck Project 2009 was a part of the larger Aqua Metropolis Osaka celebrations this year and Nederland in Japan promotion.

rubber duck project 2009

It’s not the first time the duck has been seen in the world, but it is the first visit to Japan.  The Rubber Duck is the brainchild of Dutchman, Florentijn Hofman.

Any votes for bringing the duck to Vancouver?  I’ve got two hands up.