Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Japan 2012 - Sunday Market at Shitennoji Temple Osaka

When I came out from touring the temple, I was surprised to find lots of stalls being set up in the outer courtyard of the temple complex. As I was there on a Sunday morning, this must have been a Sunday market - but I am not sure whether it happens every Sunday.

In typical Japanese style, all the stalls are very neat and tidy. There were stalls selling food, clothing, organic vegetables, furniture and other nick-knacks.

I particularly liked the stall selling potted plants - the plants are so well groomed !

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Japan 2012 - Shitennoji Temple in Osaka

Shitennoji Temple is one of the top tourist attractions in Osaka. It is the first Buddhist Temple built in Japan, and has a long and storied history. Prince Toshoku Taishi - a devout Buddhist when Buddhism was not very popular in Japan, built the Temple in the 6th Century. What is most interesting is that it was built by a construction company founded in 578AD - Kongo Gumi, which went on to construct many other revered temples and structures in Osaka, including the Osaka Castle. It must have been the World's oldest and longest running construction companies, but unfortunately went into liquidation in 2006 - after over 1,400 years in operation !

When you visit Shitennoji Temple, you may be surprised at how new and pristine it looks. That is because it has been completely rebuilt in 1963. Throughout its life, the Temple has been destroyed many times by fire, earth quake or wars, and each time it was rebuilt into its original form that you can still see today.

A priest stands just outside the main Torii gate.

The Saidaimon Gate.

The Chushin Garan - central temple complex.

A visit to Shitennoji Temple is a must in Osaka. You will need about half a day to see the whole complex.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Japan 2012 - Dotonbori Area in Osaka

While Shinsaibashi is the mecca for shopping in Osaka, Dotonbori is the mecca for entertainment and food. Running perpendicular to Shinsaibashisuji, Dotonbori is right at the centre of Osaka City. It runs parallel to the Dotonbori Canal which was built in the 1,600s. The street is about 600m long, and lined on both sides with all kinds of restaurants and food outlets. You can get the famous Japanese street foods okonomiyaki (Japanese Pancake) and takoyaki (Octopus Balls) here, the regular sushi and ramen shops, as well as Fugu fish restaurants for the more adventurous and fearless.

Running parallel to Dotonbori is the Dotonbori Canal. Many of the restaurants have large windows that look into the Canal. The sight is not exactly pretty, but the attraction of water is universal.

As there are so many outlets here, competition is fierce. Most of the restaurants try to outdo each other by putting up huge, colourful, and sometimes bizarre signages, which have become a trademark of Dotonbori and made it into the tourist magnet that it is today. Many credit Kani Doraku - a crab restaurant with a giant mechanical crab over its entrance, for starting the trend.

They have an unusual way of promoting the outlets here. You often bump into young girls in uniform handing out packets of tissue, with the shops being promoted printed on the packets. Unfortunately they are all in Japanese.

The biggest landmark in Dotonbori would have to be the Glico Man Sign. Its a 3-storey high neon sign next to the bridge that connects Shinsaibashisuji to Dotonbori.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Japan 2012 - Shinsaibashi Area in Osaka

The Shinsaibashi Area in Osaka occupies about 1 city block. This is the most popular shopping area in the City, and has been the main shopping district in Osaka since the 1,600s. It is a network of covered shopping streets and small alleyways filled to the brim with shops, cafes, restaurants, etc.

This is a great place to see Japanese shopping culture in action. The variety of goods and fashion here is amazing, so is the range in pricing. On the same street you can buy dresses costing thousands of dollars, to t-shirts costing a few dollars. 

If you are not a local, it is probably impossible to navigate all the maze of streets here. You simply don't have the time ! It is best just to hang around some of the main areas such as Shinsaibashi-Suji and watch the crowd in amazement.

Video arcades are a regular sight in Japan. They have lots of games catered to girls as well.

The crowd is amazing at Shinsaibashi day and night.

People-watching at Shinsaibashi is a must when in Osaka.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Japan 2012 - 1st Dinner in Osaka

By the time I reached Osaka City and settled down in my hotel, it was already around 8.00 p.m. I was staying near the Shinsaibashi area and the shopping streets were just across the road. Feeling quite hungry I tried to find a nice place for dinner. I bumped into a Ramen shop near Dotonbori which had pretty loud signages outside, though I couldn't understand most of it. I could only make out some Chinese (Kanji) words which meant "Osaka Style" and "Black".

It was one of those hole-in-the-wall outlets. There was only a counter next to the kitchen where everyone sat. Thankfully there was an English menu. They served several styles of Ramen here - Tonkotsu (pork soup), Tsukemen (dipping noodles) and dark soy sauce. I ordered the Tonkotsu with all items - which came with Chasu, eggs and woodear fungus.

If this is your first time having Tonkotsu Ramen, you will probably get a shock from the amount of fat in the soup. The broth is made by boiling pork bone, pig trotters and chicken bones for a long time until all the fat, collagen and marrow has emulsified into the soup. It has a thick and creamy texture - lots of "umami" flavour that is just so comforting. The Chasu was melt in the mouth, and the eggs had the requisite soft centre.

I would not say this was the best Ramen I've ever tasted, but it was damn good and definitely a fitting meal for my first night in Osaka.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Japan 2012 - Osaka City

Osaka is Japan's second largest city and is commonly regarded as one of the most fun cities in the Country. Osakan's love their food and they have a popular local saying - "kuidaore", which means "to eat oneself bankrupt". You can see they are serious about their food here !

Osaka City itself is probably quite typical of big Japanese cities - which are generally very utilitarian and not too pretty. If you have seen Japanese Manga you probably have quite a good idea of what they look like - lots of square and rectangular building blocks with nondescript windows. 

As you would expect, the streets here are very neat and orderly. Everyone follow the rules, and you would feel pretty bad trying to jaywalk here. 

Though large parts of the city are drab and uninteresting, they do have some magnificent historical buildings, and some spectacular modern buildings as well. Its just that you have to make an effort to seek them out.