Postcard from Osaka
Why it's not worth making a restaurant reservation and why you MUST visit a department store ...
Well. I got here. Bit of an eventful journey. Late taking off. Missed my connection at Tokyo. More than a bit stressful changing terminals but I finally made it.
So where to start?
I can’t tell you how much I’ve been looking forward to this trip. I’ve only been to Japan once before and had forgotten how wonderful it is. The food, the culture and the creativity is off the scale.
But - and it’s a significant but - being in a country where you don’t understand or even read - the language is hard. My problem not theirs, though it is surprising, given how popular a tourist destination it is, how little English is spoken.
Even in a hotel though again it may be my fault for choosing a Japanese one rather than an international chain. Considerably cheaper though and with the added bonus of a public bath. (Yes, exactly what it sounds like. Nude bathing. MTF but no pictures, you’ll be relieved to hear. Phones quite rightly not allowed!)
Anywayyyy, it’s food and drink you read this newsletter for so let me expand on the problems about finding a specific restaurant. Despite the fact there are literally thousands. It’s an oft-quoted saying that Osaka (which is pronounced O-sa-kaa with the emphasis on the last symbol btw not O-saa-ka with the emphasis on the second) that ‘you eat until you drop’.
As I usually do before these trips I reach out to anybody and everybody I know with any connection to the place to pick their brains and arrived with a massively long list to choose from. So what went wrong?
Any well-regarded restaurant is booked way ahead partly because a lot of them just have a few seats at a counter. Not that that mattered hugely as I wasn’t really looking for high end dining given Osaka’s reputation for street food but I nearly came a cropper at Pasania (above) a lovely little natural wine and okonomiyaki bar I’d been recommended when I turned up at the door without a reservation.
In desperation I pulled out my business card, they (amazingly) recognised the name and let me in. Don’t pull the same trick - they won’t thank me - but despite what I say about booking do try and and get one there if you’re into okonomiyaki. Some fabulous Japanese wines too, including a kerner. Who knew?
Not that making a reservation is easy. Not many websites have an English version so it’s difficult to book online but harder still on the phone when you don’t speak Japanese. Even getting the hotel to do it for you is far from straightforward (she says with feeling).
Other places are easier to walk into but tricky to find not least ‘cos you have to navigate the metro and its hugely confusing intersections.
Then you have to hope the sign outside is in English as well as Japanese. (Use the camera on Google Translate if you’re not sure. It will do it for you.)
It may also be on the 3rd floor of a large office block or, like Saketory*, in an obscure part of town nowhere near a station and then you have to take a taxi which involves explaining to everyone where you’re trying to go. Thank GOD for Google maps (although, as elsewhere, skyscrapers can send it off in random directions) and again for Google Translate. And for Uber which it didn’t occur to me to use until yesterday (🙄), found me in two minutes and got me back to my hotel.
(*Good place though. The kind Antony Bourdain would have hung out in. Still, I wouldn’t say it was worth the detour. There are many more accessible places in Dotonburi)
Another problem (yes, more!) is that you may find the place you’re trying to track down is only standing or takeout. Japanese people eat INCREDIBLY quickly. Often in 15 minutes, even 10. Food is slapped down on the counter the moment you order it. They make New Yorkers look like proper slouches
Or you have to have to pay cash (as is routine here) and so need to leave the queue and find an ATM. That happened my first night outside a ramen joint round the corner from my hotel but the wait was worth it. It’s just surprising in such a sophisticated society that cash is king.
All these difficulties I suspect reflect more on my basic incompetence than Osaka but it’s just been a bit discombobulating along with the jetlag and the heat (it was 36°C yesterday). As ever with travelling it’s a question of acclimatising and learning the ropes.
I did some things right though . . .