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Archive for November, 2009

Bar Zerro

November 25, 2009 2 comments

Bar Zerro (map here) is a sure place to go on a Saturday night (or Friday, if it’s late enough) to find drunken fun in Osaka’s Minami district. It advertises itself as falling somewhere between a bar and club, but I would call it more of a bar that knows how to cut loose. They host DJ events every Saturday night, as well as a number of other events and parties. They also have a Fussball table (no longer for free, unfortunately) and celebrate foreign holidays such as Halloween…speaking of which, Zerro offers “roast dinners” (turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, etc.) on Sunday nights, so if you are an expat sad about missing your Thanksgiving eats this year, drop by next weekend! The drinks are not cheap here, but the customers are always varied and friendly, and the bilingual bartenders help create a great atmosphere.

Zerro is conveniently located near Dotombori, Shinsaibashi, Minami’s Hub Pubs, and other bars such as Blow and Balabushka. The closest stations are Shinsaibashi and Namba subway stations. Zerro can be contacted by phone at 06-6211-0439.

Naniwa: Ancient Capital of Japan, Roots of Modern Osaka

November 19, 2009 1 comment

Naniwa-no-miya Remains, with the NHK building and Osaka Museum of History in the background

Long before the city of Osaka existed, there was an imperial capital called Naniwa. It first served as the seat of the emperor and his grand palace in 645, and for the second time in 744 (capital cities tended to move regularly as new emperors took power). Thanks to its strategic location, Naniwa developed into an important seaport for trade and cultural exchange not only between different regions of Japan, but with Korea and China as well. Even after the first permanent capital was established in 710 in Heijo-kyo (modern-day Nara), and in 794 in Heian-kyo (modern-day Kyoto), Naniwa acted as the seaport for imported customs and traditions that Japan integrated with its own to form the civilization we know as Japanese.
Besides sea routes, Naniwa was the trading hub for overland routes, much as it remains today. Militant Buddhist influence was be strong here, centering on the Honganji sect, but would finally be violently crushed by Oda Nobunaga in the late 16th century, and in the 17th century Toyotomi Hideyoshi would establish the great merchant’s capital of Osaka.
The name “Naniwa” remains in place names, such as Naniwa-ku (Naniwa Ward), Naniwa-bashi (a bridge on Nakanoshima island), Namba (the famous entertainment district, whose name is a modern reading of the same kanji characters (難波) for Naniwa).
Naniwa-no-miya, which was built two times on two different sites, was one of the grandest palaces in ancient Japan, and when its role as the imperial government center had ended, it served as a diplomatic meeting and lodging place for high-ranking overseas dignitaries visiting Japan. Only a small portion of Naniwa-no-miya remains, which can be seen in a small park adjacent to Osaka Castle Park. Next to the ruins is the Osaka Museum of History, which is the best museum in Osaka and one of the most enjoyable museums I have visited period. It is not only informative but engrossing, as it appeals not just to history buffs but average people who may not know anything about Osaka’s deep history. Additionally, you can enjoy a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the grounds of Osaka Castle and the Naniwa-no-miya remains from the tenth floor of this building. Both of these can be accessed from Tanimachi 4-chome Station (Chuo and Tanimachi Subway Lines).

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

Exploring Kansai: Day Trips from Osaka

November 13, 2009 4 comments
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Giant Buddha at Todaiji Temple, Nara

So far I’ve spent a lot of time talking about what there is to do in Osaka, but this time I want to give a quick overview of places that can be visited as day trips from Osaka. It is, in fact, the perfect city for this, because of its central location and its function as a transportation hub for the Kansai area.

The obvious destination is Kyoto, which is by far the most popular tourist destination in Japan among both domestic and international tourists. Then is nearby Nara (the imperial capital  from 710-794, before it moved to Kyoto), which like Kyoto is home to a number of famous temples and shrines including Todaiji, Koryuji, and Kasuga Taisha. I prefer Nara over Kyoto because it feels more genuine and is not as crowded. Kobe is known as a pleasant, cosmopolitan city with an international feel–I recommend the waterfront Meriken Park, which is a romantic hot spot at night. Then there’s Himeji, with its soaring castle that is more famous and impressive than any other in the country.

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Wakaura Tenmangu Shrine, Wakayama City

If you’re looking for something new, why not try Wakayama City? It has a number of gorgeous old temples, some great food, and lovely beaches and hot spring areas. Iga, one of the two great ninja towns of Japan (the other being Koga in Shiga Prefecture), is located in Nara Prefecture and features a ninja museum that you’re sure to get a kick out of. Kumano Kodo, a pilgrimage route that has been celebrated since ancient times, has recently become popular after being named as Japan’s newest UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yoshino is famous for its autumn colors and spring cherry blossoms, and also has a number of lovely old ryokan and baths. Further east is Ise Shrine (in eastern Mie Prefecture), the most important Shinto shrine in Japan. It is connected to the imperial family, and it has been rebuilt every 20 years on alternating lots using the same architecture and materials since the beginning of Japan as a unified civilization.

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Ninja train, Iga

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Yes, there are even ninjas inside the ninja train.

Heading north from Osaka, you will find Uji, which is famous for it matcha powdered green tea, and also for Byodoin, a graceful temple that is meant to be an earthly re-creation of the Buddhist paradise (you can find it pictured on the ten yen coin). Fushimi-Inari Shrine is a complex winding its way up a mountainside, featuring paths lined with thousands of bright-orange torii gates that create an impressive tunnel-like effect. The Lake Biwa area is also a treasure trove of great places to see and delicious foods to eat (read about my journey around the lake here).

There are more options available, but the places listed above are all great destinations for day or weekend trips out of the city. With the autumn leaves reaching their colorful peak, now is the perfect time to experience the many faces of the Kansai region.

Kansai International Airport

November 9, 2009 2 comments

Kansai International Aiport (KIX) is the second most important airport in Japan (after Narita in Tokyo) and the main airline hub for the Kansai area, which includes Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Wakayama, and many other large cities. KIX is located on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, near Sennan and Izumisano Cities in southern Osaka Prefecture. It is connected to the land by a 3 km (2 mile) bridge that carries rail and road traffic, and also by ferry services.

The island built for this airport turned Osaka Prefecture, formerly the smallest prefecture in Japan in terms of land area, into the second smallest in Japan, putting Kagawa Prefecture in last. There have been problems with the island sinking slowly each year, but they have been mitigated for the most part, naturally and due to technological innovations. Fear of strong crosswinds affecting rail traffic has also been assuaged through installation of protective barriers. KIX survived severe typhoon winds and the 1995 Great Awaji-Hanshin Earthquake without significant damage.

The airport was designed by world-famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, and the terminal is the longest in the world at 1.7 km in length (it is served by a tram/train). There are two runways, and a third is planned as part of a future expansion. KIX has a good variety of restaurants and facilities, and just across the bridge is Rinku Town, one of the most extensive and entertaining shopping areas in all of Osaka Prefecture. You can also stay in the ANA Gate Tower Hotel at Rinku Town, located in the Rinku Gate Tower Building, the second tallest building in Japan after Yokohama’s Landmark Tower (Rinku Gate Tower is the same height as Osaka City’s WTC Cosmo Tower).

KIX is about 35-45 min. by limited express train (JR or Nankai Railways) from central Osaka City, and JR trains continue through Osaka all the way to Kyoto. Check out KIX’s website here. When you visit Osaka next, come through Kansai International Airport and learn why it is considered on of the best airports in the world.

Here is another good post on KIX that focuses more on the interesting architecture design of the airport and contains a number of terminal-building photographs.

Recommended Ramen in Osaka

November 3, 2009 3 comments

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Here are a few of my favorite ramen shops* in Osaka. It is very hard to make recommendations for this sort of food in Osaka, as the city seems to be overflowing with mind-blowingly delicious options, but here’s what I’ve come up with. Some of them are chain stores, and some are small family businesses, but all are delicious in that, greasy, meaty, rameny sort of way.

Shitenno (四天王)

You can find Shitenno in many spots throughout Osaka, and it’s one of the better chain restaurants in the area. While some may criticize Shitenno (and other chains) for not using fresh noodles or providing good-quality chashu (pork), the shio (salt) broth chashumen is quite tasty and makes up for other shortcomings. Broth is the vital factor, after all.

Sodaisho (総大将)

Sodaisho is a famous little place with lines that stretch out the door. It has an incredibly rich, flavorful shoyu (soy sauce) broth as its specialty. Television stars and celebrities come here to eat often, and for good reason. The chashu-don, which is a donburi-style dish with rice, mayonnaise, nori and chashu, looks strange but tastes wonderful.

Hokkaido Nagurikomi Ramen Betsubara (北海道なぐりこみラーメン 米通腹)

This is a small, family-run shop in a quiet residential neighborhood near Nishinagahori Subway Station. It serves Hokkaido-style ramen with thick, filling noodles, using konbu and tonkotsu as the broth base. The amount of bowls served is limited to a mere 100 per day.

Men’ya Eguchi (麺屋えぐち)

Another small (and this time, I mean SMALL) shop that is a favorite among locals working and living near Esaka in Suita City, you will be waiting around the corner in line to get a bowl but be glad you did. The basic tsukemen at Men’ya Eguchi makes your taste buds dance and comes with enough noodles to make your belly burst.

Kio (亀王)

Kio (lit. turtle king)  is a chain store that you can find almost as easily as Shitenno. It’s main attraction is the chashumen, which features absolutely huge, savory pieces of pork. I also recommend the reimen (cold ramen) during Osaka’s hot summers.

Hakata Ippudo (博多一風堂)

Ippudo ramen, originally from Hakata, is popular nationwide, and I have personally been in love with it since my days as a student in Tokyo. It has two unique tonkotsu broths–“red” and “white”–both of which are just amazing (although I prefer “white” just a little more). The lunch set during the afternoon is a great deal and comes with ramen, gyoza, and rice (piss-poor students take note: this is cheap and will fill you up for an entire day).

Kinryu Ramen (金龍ラーメン)

What kind of Osakan would I be if I didn’t mention Kinryu? This is the iconic ramen shop of Dotombori, and you can find shops running all throughout the district. If you have been in Osaka for any length of time but haven’t visited Kinryu, don’t worry, I won’t tell…just get there before somebody finds out! This simple ramen costs almost nothing and is available at any time of the day or night in order to meet the lifestyle of  the denizens of Namba. You can recognize this shop by the freaking-giant dragon on top.

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Kinryu Ramen

*I have included the Japanese-language names as well as roman-letter transcriptions–Japanese fonts may not display properly in all browsers. The links provided are to Japanese pages.