Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Japan Holiday Day 10 - Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan and back to Tokyo

It was our last day in Osaka and we thought that we'd finish off with the Osaka Aquarium - hopefully being a weekday the crowds would be less, because I couldn't handle the thought of another Universal Studios like day.

The Tempozan Harbour village also has a ferris wheel too and a Lego Discovery Centre - however we only had time for one thing, so we decided we'd come back to the ferris wheel.

Osaka's Kaiyukan is the best aquarium I have been to - though I haven't been to that many. Fortunately, being a Monday, it wasn't too crowded, and though the beginning part was a bit of a crush, once you moved away from the early sections into the downward spiral around the main tank, there was plenty of room for photos and for just sitting down to watch the marine life.

My favourite thing about the aquarium are the two whale sharks.

Hard to see but it's at the top of the picture in the background. The main tank (Pacific tank) also has an array of mantas and other Pacific fish in it and the aquarium path spirals downwards around it.

The second most impressive thing to me about the Kaiyukan are the jellyfish.  They look amazing and so graceful!

 What aquarium wouldn't have some sort of shark jaws in it??

And looking at these Spider crabs made me hungry. Yummm crab!

We then had a quick lunch at a Kushikatsu all-you-can-eat place (that's what the name translates to!) - it was not bad value for money, and the food was decent and fun for the kids. It was a buffet all you can cook kushikatsu with unlimited drinks for a timed period - for 70 minutes you pay 1580 yen for adults, 980 yen for children in primary school (I guess above primary school they pay as an adult) and free for children not yet in primary school (in Japan, that means kids under 6). Well, we were going to get value for money since my son who is not yet 6 eats more than an adult! It was also 200 yen per person for drinks.

So we loaded up on skewers and got started putting battering, crumbing and frying our food.  The kids had great fun cooking their food.

There were also a few desserts there too, and everyone helped themselves to some soft serve ice cream from the dispenser. That was great because that saved me on having to buy an ice cream on the way home. We took a photo of all our used skewers... it looked impressive at the time!

Then off to ride the big ferris wheel.  IT costs 800 yen per person and it does a full round in 15 minutes. We waited an extra 20 minutes for the fully transparent cabin, and perhaps we didn't utilise it to its full potential, but it was nice just the same.  It seems like looking at the view of Osaka from heights is a thing to do here.

There was no time to go back for crab, we needed to get back to Tokyo. So back on the shinkansen to Tokyo we went. Didn't really have time to grab food, so we had some snacks including these grilled mochi with honey soy sauce on them. Super sweet and sticky but yummy.

We debated whether we should catch a cab or catch a train to our hotel, as the hotel website didn't seem to tell us very much about costs and times. However, it seemed like it would be very expensive to catch a cab versus catching a train (5000 yen by cab vs 480 yen if we took the train) but we were worried about crowds on the Tokyo metro and JR lines in peak hour, as well as dragging our luggage around on the public trains with children in tow.  In the end, we decided to do it by train as we were all together as a group, and it turned out not too difficult. Just hopped onto the Keiyo line to Maihama station (240 yen) and then walked outside the station to jump onto the Disney monorail to take us to the Bay resort stop (another 240 yen) and we were there - it took about 45 minutes, even dragging the children and luggage around.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone next time, the stations are quite well signposted.

The Disney monorail is cute. Everything has Mickey on it!

Our hotel was a short walk from the station - maybe only a 5 minutes.  It seemed ludicrous to catch the shuttle bus there. But it would have been good with the luggage, if we'd known the shuttle bus was there (and free).

Our room is sickeningly cute, with these bedspreads and Sheraton penguin decorations all over the place.  The whole floor is like that, with even more down by the lift waiting area. We have an ocean view room (I think a Disney park view would have been better) but we are next door to our friends, which is convenient.

I really like the shower here.  The Japanese shower before they get into the bath to soak, and the shower and bath are both inside a shower screen with a nice little drainage edge around the bath so the water can go straight down the shower drain (which is great for the kids).  Also there is a little seat to sit on whilst you wash if you wish. I want one of these at home! And also, more Shiseido toiletries here. It makes me wonder if Shiseido is some cheapo brand in Japan...

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Japan Holiday Day 9 - Umeda Sky Building and Dotonbori

After the tiring day yesterday we thought we'd take it a little bit easy and eat in Dotonbori and visit Umeda Sky Garden and do some shopping.

Osaka is a popular destination for food - in fact, historically it was a merchant city, and has been known as the "nation's kitchen" (tenka no daidokoro). "Osaka wa kuiduore" (Osaka people eat till they drop) was a famous saying, and Osakan's love of culinary culture is also demonstrated in another old saying "Kyotoites are financially ruined by overspending in clothing, Osakans are ruined by spending on food". It was interesting to note that in Osaka I found many more chinese tourists especially around the food areas, than caucasians (which was the reverse in Kyoto).

Osaka is the birthplace of okonomiyaki, a Japanese pancake that has egg, cabbage and various other things in it, topped with bonito shavings and mayonnaise.  The restaurant hubby wanted to go, Mizuno, was listed as being one of the best okonomiyake restaurants in Osaka on many foodie blogger sites. It's so popular that people start queuing half an hour before the restaurant opens.

Dotonbori was a short walk from our hotel. This part of Osaka is famous for its food, bright lights and busy night life.

There was already a queue in front of the restaurant! We just missed out on the first round of seating, but we were first in line for the next seats when they came up.

Mizuno is small, and has 2 floors, the downstairs has 8 bar seats, and upstairs has 5 booths.  You can sit 4-6 in one booth and there is a cook top, teppanyaki style in the middle of the table.

We ordered #1, #2 and #4. They spoke English and were very polite, and there were tons of awards on the outside of their door.

There is a seat at the top floor where you wait to go into the next free table. I can imagine some people feel pressured to eat faster when there is someone sitting there watching you eating, but I had no such qualms. Besides, I was having fun watching other people eat. So here are the steps to making okonomiyake as done by the Mizuno staff.

A finished okonomiyaki
They precooked our other two okonomiyake at another stove top and did the finishing touches at our table.

Taste wise, I do love mountain yam so the first one (Yamaimoyaki) was my favourite, and it was also the most popular. The kids enjoyed the second one (Mizunoyaki) because of the prawns, and #4 (Modanyaki) felt lighter because there was less meat in it compared to the previous two. It was good okonomiyaki and I'm glad we waited around for it!

We then headed off to Umeda Sky Garden, which is another one of those tall buildings in Osaka where you can get a good view of the city.  It was a nice sunny day (another hot day) and we did get good views of the city from there.

It's not as easy to get to as some places, but it's not that hard, especially since it's so BIG you can't miss it when you get above ground.  We took the JR to Osaka station and then walked for 10 minutes or so from there. It's 700/350 yen to go up to the top and look around, and it's a little bit more romantic up there than Abeno Harukas.

These are escalators leading from the edges to the sky garden. I thought they were rather impressive from the ground but seeing them from the top added some perspective.

Great view! I did have difficulty trying to find Abeno Harukas though.. it turns out it was being blocked by a pillar.

In one section there was a fenced off bit and locks covering all parts of the fence.  This was the lover's corner and there was a cute little love heart cut out in front of some seats to take some cheesy love photos.

 Cuuuute! After that there wasn't much to do around Umeda Sky Building so we walked to the other side of the station to visit a this cake shop, famous for the "Dojima roll".

The cuteness of this shop, with it's Parisian outlook probably started the Osakan fascination with this benign looking dessert.  The Dojima roll looks like a swiss roll cake with cream in the middle. In fact, this egg-custard roll, with cream from Hokkaido, and dusted with a light covering of fine sugar, the cream is not overly sweet and quite light. Apparently it's a popular gift.

They also make an ice cream version now too - the "Ice roll", where the cream is replaced by ice cream.

So, we sampled a few of these delightful desserts and they did not disappoint. The other dessert at the bottom is an egg custard, topped with a light souffle like top.

We then headed for some shopping at Kintetsu mall in Abeno Harukas - I just wanted to show our friends the largest mall in Japan - and then we spent too long there because we got back to Dotonbori at about 730pm to try to get into Kanidoraku honten, and the crab was sold out. This famous crab restaurant opened in 1960 and I had been there previously ten years ago. I was sad we missed out!

In fact, many restaurants already had a one hour wait time, or were not taking any more customers due to wait times, and so we ended going to a quiet little restaurant that served simple food (and had LOTS of tables), and just ordered an oden (a winter pot dish with stewed ingredients) and a soba tempura set.

The oden was nice, the soba was average but at least the kids ate it.  We filled the rest up with some chicken nuggets from Maccas and some takoyaki and gyoza. Dotonbori at night is quite impressive.

We walked back via Shinsaibashisojo, an arcade parallel to the street our hotel was on filled with shops. Phew, the crowds were still out that late!