… and returning home to the mister in one piece. This was the primary aim of the missus’ quick week-long trip without him by my side. Work exigencies (and extreme bad luck at balloting) had dictated that he remained in Singapore to earn his keep; it was so bad he could not even string 4-5 days together to make a shorter trip, and that was including a weekend. Now that this is all water under the bridge, let’s get on with the trip proper.
If there is any place in the world that we feel is relatively safer for a lone female traveller, it has to be Japan. I have had done parts of trips by myself before the mister joined me, and one of the trips was to Tokyo. It helped that I speak the language (only some, but sufficiently enough to survive) however when all else fails, playing the part of a damsel in distress always works. I just don’t enjoy travelling alone. It most certainly didn’t help that I was sorting out a lung infection (while nursing a fever) right up till the day of departure. A sick person tends to be more clingy and whiney than usual. Absolutely true for me.
Mid-air between Singapore and Osaka, I looked out of the window and saw this beautiful sky painted in hues of pink. Immediately everything felt better, looked better. I suddenly felt a lot more optimistic about the trip.
Like Nagoya (名古屋), Osaka (大阪) is considerably more compact and thus much more manageable than Tokyo (東京). Kansai International Airport (関西国際空港) is a mere 50-km away from Osaka city centre and approximately 35-50 minutes away by train, depending on which station one wishes to get to – Namba (難波) or Osaka Umeda (大阪梅田). Do take special note though, that Kansai International Airport is not the same as Osaka International Airport; the latter now handles only domestic flights.
There are two terminal buildings at Kansai Airport, and Terminal 2 is almost exclusively used by Low-Cost Carriers (LCC). Since we almost never travel with LCC for flights longer than 5 hours, I have never seen Kansai Airport’s Terminal 2. Apparently there are shuttle buses bringing travellers to that terminal, although a walk is also manageable. Just not in winter, I reckon.
I landed at Kansai Airport rather late in the night, slightly after 9 pm. Because I’m neither particularly familiar with Osaka city centre nor in the mood to dalliance my time away alone in the cold, I opted to take a high-speed train from Nankai Kansai Airport Station (南海関西空港駅) instead of an Airport Limousine. The Nankai Kansai Airport Station is just adjacent to the airport with an outdoors sheltered walkway. I was not properly dressed for winter since I just disembarked; the windbreaker that I had on was not sufficient at all hence I was real glad when I got to the train station. It was a mere 5-minute walk with my luggage in tow but it was freezing cold!
After pulling my winter cape out of the luggage, I stood there in front of the ticketing booth for several minutes, trying to decipher how and where I should purchase my train ticket to Namba Nankai Station (難波南海駅). Eventually, I gave up (brain was simply not working – probably froze in the cold) and decided to approach two Japanese ladies (who just purchased their tickets) for help. That was my first encounter of Osakan hospitality (although strictly speaking, they might not hail from the region) but more of that in a later post. Suffice it to say that the ladies were extremely helpful even though they didn’t know where I could purchase my ticket – they searched the complicated board till they found and pointed it out to me. I couldn’t thank them enough.
The train leaving the airport was not any different from the subway trains plying the other routes in Osaka. And that kind of took me by surprise because the trains leaving Narita (成田) and Chubu (中部) airports were different from the ones plying the cities, in that they came with special areas to stow luggage securely. There were more than sufficient seats for everyone though. I’m not entirely certain if the time of the day had anything to do with it but I was happy with my choice. Honestly, it wasn’t terribly comfortable having to hold on to one’s luggage lest it takes a trip down the train cabin but it was a short ride and everyone else was also doing it so there was no reason for me to complain.
In less than 40 minutes I arrived at Namba Nankai Station. As per arranged with my landlord, I took a cab to a nearby landmark to meet up with him so he could bring me to the little apartment where I would call home for a week. And once again, I experienced Osakan hospitality when I approached a local lady asking for directions to the taxi stand. Instead she walked me there. And it wasn’t that close by. I was so touched.
Through Airbnb I found an apartment located close by Namba Station (難波駅) just off Nipponbashi (日本橋) Denden Town, Osaka’s electronics district just like Tokyo’s Akihabara (秋葉原), albeit on a smaller scale. The apartment is located in a quiet 14-storey building a short walk away from Denden Town. Japan is relatively safe, and comes with security features like key-access entry even for entrance into the building. The apartment is small, but comes complete with all amenities including a functional kitchen, washing machine, microwave etc. Notably there are also two convenient stores close by.
It’s a small, quaint apartment in a quiet neighbourhood and I was living like a local. I liked that. This is the reason why I chose an apartment over a hotel room apart from its affordability, at something like ¥6,500 per night. You would have to top up a little if there is a 2nd person staying over at the apartment, or if it is during peak season. Get in touch with me at traipsypixie[at]gmail[dot]com if you would like to be know where exactly I put up at.
It was a short one-week trip to Osaka and the intention was to stick around in this city, hopping out to Kyoto for a day just for Kiyomizudera (清水寺). After a good night’s rest, I was raring to explore Osaka. But I had to wait around in the apartment till past noon for reasons I will elaborate in the next post. So with the whole morning burnt, and less than 5 hours of daylight left, I decided to explore Minami (南) area (which is the area around Namba Station). To start off, I went searching for my all-time favourite Tsukemen (つけ麺) from Taishoken (大勝軒). It’s not Ichiran (一蘭) or Ippudo (一風堂) Ramen that speaks to me (like how it does to many other friends) but Taishoken. And I was elated when I found out during my planning phase that the only one branch found in Osaka was close by where I put up at.
Although it was past the usual lunch time, the tiny Ramen joint with just about 10-12 counter seats was still filled with patrons. I had to wait outside for a little while till there was a seat for me. And it was cold. But well worth the wait because the Tsukemen was just as succulent as I remembered it to be. The soup sauce wasn’t quite like the one I had in Ikebukuro (池袋) though. Even the one in Nagoya (名古屋) wasn’t quite like it. I guess I just have to return to Tokyo again, soon, for my favourite Yasai Tsukemen (野菜つけ麺).
After the late lunch, I chose to walk around aimlessly, just soaking in the atmosphere (and cold air because I really like the cold!). I walked and walked all the way to Dotonbori, which is quite a long way to walk! Along the way I passed by so many restaurants I knew the mister would have really loved to dine in, including Yamachan (山ちゃん) from Nagoya and Gyu-Kaku (牛角). Unfortunately he wasn’t there with me, and I prefer to eat simply when alone. Which was a real pity because Osaka is really known for its food. Case in point, Tako-Yaki (たこ焼き), Okonomi-Yaki (お好み焼き), Kitsune Udon (きつねうどん) and Shabu-Shabu (しゃぶしゃぶ) are just some Japanese dishes that originated from Osaka. I was really, really looking forward to having Shabu-Shabu with him in Osaka since this is the city of origin and Shabu-Shabu is his all-time favourite of Japanese cuisine. Guess I don’t need a very compelling reason to convince him to visit with me soon.
My last stop for the day was Tokyu Hands at Shinsaibashi (心斎橋), the largest branch in Osaka. I don’t always have things specifically in mind to buy whenever I shop at Tokyu Hands – it’s just a place I love to browse at whenever I’m in Japan. But for that day, I was looking for a 2014 scheduler/diary like I do come every year end. And I was really spoilt for choice; might have browsed in that little section for over half an hour.
It’d been a while since my Tsukemen lunch so I was on the lookout for some snacks after a fruitful trip to Tokyu Hands. That was when I passed by the crepe kiosk parked just outside Tokyu Hands and suddenly remembered I wanted to try it when I first passed it by as I was approaching the store. So crepe it was. I’m not fanciful when it comes to snacks so I picked the simplest flavour – strawberries and cream. I sat on a bench nearby, out in the cold, savouring my delectable crepe. It was heavenly!
By then it was close to 9 pm and time for me to head back to the apartment. My first full day in Osaka all by myself successfully ended uneventfully.