Archive for the ‘Namba’ Category

The Penultimate Post

June 10, 2006

Well, I'm back in Canada. Yep, the Japan Odyssey is over. More on that in the next, last, post. I wrote this after my fourth day in Japan:

Today was a day full of setbacks, and some really good eating. And that’s all that really counts, isn’t it? As long as the food is good, nothing else really matters. It was a Sunday, and my last day to wander around aimlessly, Monday being my first day of work. I decided to head back to Namba with two primary goals:

1) To see the Sony Tower, as I’ve heard this is an interesting place to check out, chock full of gizmos, doo-dads and gadgets.

2) To see Amerika Mura, or America Town, another must-see area, supposedly.

Before we get started, I’d like to submit the following for entry into the “only in Japan” file: “Mother Garden,” a store whose sole purpose seems to be to sell clothes for dogs.

First thing I set out to do was goal number one, Sony Tower. Easier said than done. I have a little map of the Namba area provided by Nova, with a bunch of interesting places to see marked down. Much like the other map, there’s very few road names. So attempting to find the tower was a confusing process of trying to find my way via random landmarks, as well as trying to match up my map with the many maps placed around the city.

In my confused wanderings, I passed a movie theatre, and something caught my eye:

They’re playing Memories of Tomorrow, a movie starring Ken Watanabe as a businessman who finds out he has Alzheimer’s. I’ve been wanting to see this since I first heard about it a few months ago. Do I really need to mention the cruel irony of being mere steps away from a theatre playing it, and still not being able to see it? Frustrating.

I started walking away from the movie theatre but then stopped dead in my tracks. Coming from some restaurant in the distance I breathed in the most enchanting smell to ever waft its way into my nose. You know in the cartoons when Yogi Bear smells a pie cooling in a window and finds himself floating towards it? That was me with that smell, which as it turns out was coming from this place:

This was a noodle place, and the ordering was conveniently done via vending machine.

As you can see, their vast and varied menu consists entirely of “noodle in soup” and “noodle in soup with extra pork.” I chose noodle in soup, and was presented with a ticket…

…which I brought into the restaurant. Moments later I had my bowl of noodle in soup, and I was ready to eat. Here’s a very blurry picture of the place:

You can’t really tell from the picture, but the tables are all on raised platforms, and what you do (or at least what I saw other people doing) is take off your shoes, and then sit at the table with your legs crossed. So I did that. Here’s my meal:

It doesn’t look like much, but it was quite delicious. It was basically like one of those instant noodle dealies, only about a million times better. Plus there were pieces of pork in there, which were definitely the highlight. They had some kind of seasoning on them and they were outrageously good (they were also what was producing that heavenly smell). I’ll order extra next time. I should probably note here that I am really glad I learned how to use chopsticks back in Toronto, because it seems like everywhere you go here, chopsticks are your only option. After I finished the noodles and the pork I wasn’t sure what to do with the broth; no spoons were provided. I kinda figured it was okay to just bring the bowl to your mouth and drink out of it, but I waited until I saw someone else do it. I didn’t want to horrify the whole restaurant with my oafish Canadian manners.

I wandered around some more after that, and after a lot of walking and wandering and backtracking, I finally found it! Success!

But wait… What’s this?

Closed! That’s right. The whole freaking building was closed. So it was a long (long long) walk for nothing. Oh well, at least I ate those delicious noodles.

Next it was off to Amerika Mura, which I actually managed to find quite easily, and which wasn’t all that far from the (closed) Sony Building. This wasn’t quite as impressive as I was led to believe. It was basically just a little area with a bunch of American-inspired clothing shops and such. It was clearly a hangout for the local youth, as I don’t think I’ve seen that many young people concentrated in one area since I got here. The only thing here I deemed photo-worthy was this weird looking McDonalds.

I also bought a candy bar in this area, called “Choco Bar.”

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this, but I was pleasantly surprised. The bar itself sort of resembled an Oh Henry, but the inside was primarily cookie pieces. There were also some peanuts and raisins, but the cookies were definitely the dominant flavour. The whole thing was held together by chocolate, which is sort of unusual, since North American candy bars are generally held together by something chewy, like caramel or nougat. I enjoyed it.

Next, I passed by that restaurant with the giant crab you may recall seeing a picture of a couple of posts back. This time there was a guy outside selling grilled crab legs. I saw Anthony Bourdain eat these on his show, so obviously I couldn’t pass them up. Here’s the guy grilling them:

And here’s the crab legs themselves:

Best crab legs ever. I’m not kidding. I’ve never had crab that tasted so good. I never even knew crab could taste that good. They just had a really robust, grilled flavour, and the meat itself was so soft and moist. Five hundred yen seems a bit pricey for the little amount of meat I was able to scrape out of these things, but it was still worth it. Again: best crab legs ever.

After this it was time for dessert. I went to a department store, always a reliable source of good food, and I found this place:

They seemed to only sell green tea soft ice cream, and they seemed to be doing pretty well (it was empty when I snapped this photo, but there was a line a few minutes before). I figured it looked interesting, so I gave it a try.

Well, they can’t all be winners and this certainly wasn’t one. I think it may be an acquired taste. For one thing, it could barely be classified as soft ice cream, as it was pretty thick and closer in consistency to regular ice cream. Whatever, that’s not a problem. But then there was the taste. It was barely sweetened at all, and it just had a really strong tea taste. I don’t mind the taste of tea, but here it just seemed bizarre (I’ve had green tea ice cream before, and it was way sweeter). I ate about half and then threw the rest out.

Since I didn’t finish that cone, I figured it didn’t count as dessert, so I set out to find something else. I came across this place and thought it looked interesting:

Basically what they sell are pieces of deep-fried sweet potato, tossed in some kind of caramelized sugar. Here’s what I got:

I wasn’t expecting too much out of these — I was more curious than anything else — but wow! Just wow! These things completely knocked me out, they were so good. The outside is covered in caramelized sugar, which is crispy and delicious and perfect. The potato on the inside is soft and fluffy and almost like cake. The combination of the crispy sugar and the fried potato was pure awesomeness. It’s definitely one of the best things I’ve eaten here so far. I’m going to dream about those potatoes for as long as I live.

And so, I ended the day on a high note, and went home. I’ll again leave you with a couple of pieces of mangled English I’ve run across. The first is just confusing:

I’ve read it several times, and I’m still at a loss. What does it mean? It’s almost poetic in its confusion. The second one actually made me laugh out loud:

“Let’s keep things friendly for our own good.” Is that a threat? What happens if we don’t keep things friendly?

Here’s a few random photos.

And finally, here’s a video I took of a guy outside a department store ranting really angrily about… something. I dunno. He’s really passionate about it, whatever it is.

Osaka: Day One

May 27, 2006

Okay, I think I'm going to be able to stay connected long enough to post this. This is an account of my first full day here.

On my first real day here I decided it was probably a good idea to go check out the city, so I hopped on the subway and went to Namba, a process which was surprisingly painless (other than the hour or so I spent wandering around the Namba subway station, trying to figure out the best way to exit to get to the city… okay I guess it wasn't entirely painless). The first thing I noticed walking around the city is how different it all is. That seems obvious, but it really does hit you when you’re walking around that it’s a completely different culture.

The other thing I noticed is that much of the shopping areas in the city are sort of indoor/outdoor type of dealies. By which I mean they’re outside and on roads, but they’re covered by a roof of some sort, and cars for the most part aren’t allowed to drive on them. They’re sort of like that area in Vegas, if you’ve ever been there. Here’s a picture of one of the many areas like that. You’ll notice it looks pretty empty. I took this picture pretty early in the morning. By late afternoon all these areas were so crowded you could barely walk.

It was probably around ten at this point (which was a mistake – most stores here seem to open at eleven). It was definitely too early to eat anything, so I just wandered around for a bit. Here’s some random pictures I took:

Here’s a slightly odd picture. Take a look at the billboard in the middle of the picture. Is it just me, or is that kid flipping the bird (and so happy about it, too!). The Flickr image is kinda small, so you've gotta squint. But it's there.

Here’s a theatre playing nothing but the Da Vinci Code. It was just a bit past ten when I snapped this picture and there was already a fairly large line for the 11:00 shows.

Take a look at this Wendy’s menu. Looks pretty normal at first…

…But wait. What’s this? A shrimp burger. I made a mental note to try this at some point and moved on.

At this point I was getting pretty parched, so I decided it was time to get a beverage from one of the many, many, many vending machines. An odd thing about these vending machines: despite their abundance, I have yet to encounter a single machine selling food. It’s all drinks, and occasionally cigarettes. Do the Japanese not snack? Curious. Anyway, I decided to go with Bubble Man Grape, mostly because I liked the snazzy astronaut on the can.

This was actually surprisingly decent. It basically tasted like carbonated Kool-aid. It was better than it sounds, though. It probably helped that I was really thirsty. I wandered around some more, and then I saw it: a vendor selling Takoyaki, or octopus balls.

I’ve been hearing that these things are an Osaka speciality, so I knew I had to try them. I approached the guy at the stand, and he immediately said all this stuff in Japanese, none of which I understood. I looked at him blankly, and at that point he realized I couldn’t understand anything he said (I really should learn to say “I don’t speak your damn language, so stop with the gibberish,” or something a bit more polite to that effect). So he just said “Six?” and I repeated “six!” and we were in business. I got my six balls and the whole thing ended up costing the equivalent of three or four bucks.

Now, before you get too excited, these are, disappointingly, not the actual balls of an octopus. They’re a piece of octopus, covered in some kind of dough, and cooked in molds:

They’re also covered in some kind of sauce and garnished with fish shavings. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I was a bit disappointed by these. The dough itself was a bit soggy; it probably would have been better if it were crispier. They were fine, I guess, but nothing I’d particularly want to eat again. Maybe at some point I’ll try to find out where the best place to get these are, and try them again. I mean, you can find these everywhere, so there must be something to them.

To wash down the balls, and while still impressed with how good that Bubble Man Grape was, I decided to get another grape soda.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the packaging obviously pales next to good old Bubble Man Grape. Aside from that the drink itself tasted pretty similar, but it seemed worse somehow. Maybe it was just the absence of the funky astronaut. I don’t know.

Next I went to an internet café, where I wrote that post you may or may not remember. As I was paying, I realized I had to go to the bathroom to take care of some business. The cashier said something in English, so I just assumed he could speak it, and I asked where the bathroom was. He looked all confused and repeated “bath…room?” So I just made a washing motion with my hands and he pointed me in the right direction. And that’s where it happened. An incident which I’m sure will go down as the single worst thing that will happen to me in this crazy country. I present to you… The WORST TOILET EVER.

The first thing I noticed when I sat down was that the seat was warmed, which I’m not sure I like too much. There was a control panel for the toilet on the wall next to me, but obviously all the buttons and knobs were in Japanese. I saw one knob, and I just sort of assumed it was to turn down the temperature. So I dialed it back a bit, and then suddenly I heard this mechanical buzzing noise coming from under me. The next thing I knew a powerful stream of concentrated water was shooting up you-know-where. I almost yelled out in surprise. I quickly got up but the damn thing kept shooting out water, almost to the ceiling it was so powerful, so I had to cover it up with my hands. Finally a few seconds later it turned off on its own. Who would like that?? Who wants water shooting up there? It was awful! I’ve never felt so violated in my life. I think that toilet smoked a cigarette after it was done with me.

I walked around a bit and tried to recover from the toilet incident, and then decided it was probably a good time to finish the lunch I started when I got those octopus balls. I headed to a department store (I can’t remember the name of it) and went to the basement. As far as I can tell, if you go to the lowest floor of most department stores here, there’s a big area where they just serve food. So I walked around down there for a bit, and finally settled on some sushi.

This was actually a bit disconcerting at first; I thought it was tuna, but I guess it was ground tuna or something because it was really soft and squishy. It actually wasn’t bad once I got used to it. To accompany the sushi, I got some apple juice. As you can see, the packaging almost rivals Bubble Man Grape in terms of snazziness.

I walked around some more, but I was really starting to get tired. It was probably three or four at this point, and I had been walking all day. I guess I’m just not used to this amount of walking, because my legs and feet really couldn’t take it anymore. So I decided it was probably time to find a subway and head home. But before I could do that, right in the middle of the city was this little garden/temple area. So I walked around there a bit and snapped a few pictures. It was actually a pretty good place to sit down and relax a bit.

At this point my camera’s battery ran dry, but I was pretty much done taking pictures. I sat around for a while on the benches you can see in the first picture there, then I found a subway and went home.

Here’s a few more random pictures I took throughout the day while walking around:

And finally, a fairly perplexing bit of mangled English I found outside a barbershop.

Wow, formatting, uploading and posting all these pictures took an absolutely ridiculous amount of time. I think you can expect less photos in future posts. Maybe I'll just post a few and put a link to my Flickr account or something. Jeez. Plus, all the pictures don't seem to want to center properly. That's it. I give up. Posting this entry has officially become the most frustrating, harrowing experience of my life. Expect a much more plain blog from now on, otherwise I think I'll end up punching a hole through the wall.