It may seem as though I was just in Japan, and that is true. Following an incredible two week visit in January, we returned to the Land of the Rising Sun last week in order to spend time in Osaka and Kyoto. We left these two cities for a second visit because my youngest son had been studying in Kyoto and we wanted to return once he had an intimate knowledge of the area and we could travel as “locals” rather than tourists.
When I was booking our flights Japan was just reopening post-covid and the business class airfares were exorbitant from NY. Never one to waste money I decided to book tickets on Air Canada with a layover in Montreal on the outbound leg and Toronto on the way home in order to be economical. Initially I felt very clever as the fares were half the price of direct flights; but it turns out I made a few blunders. Most regrettably we ended up flying into Narita which is not the more convenient airport (that would be Haneda); additionally, when it came time to make our way to Osaka the connections were not easy.
I take full responsibility for this mistake (our return was also fraught with issues) because I did not give my travel agent a chance to weigh in. I booked the tickets myself and then had to make the best of it. The saving grace was we did save money, but wasted a lot of time and endured quite a bit of frustration.
Putting all that behind us, the trip to Osaka went pretty seamlessly all things considered. We flew from LGA at 8:30 am (I am still so impressed by that renovation) and landed in Montreal at 10:00 am. It must have been an off time because the airport was a ghost town. We were literally the only people in immigration, it was spooky.
We made our way to the Air Canada Lounge which was quite unexciting, but they did have poutine which made my husband happy. We finally boarded our flight to Narita at 1:45 which allowed us to really spend some quality time in the lounge.
The seats and service in Business class proved to be just fine, and most importantly the flight was on schedule. It was an awkward time to leave for a 13 1/2 hour flight, as going to sleep in the afternoon isn’t the most natural thing to do, but after soon after take-off the meal service began and the cabin lights were dimmed.
I believe that flight crews dim the lights as soon as possible so that people make fewer demands and have no alternative but to try to sleep. This strategy didn’t exactly work for me, I binge watched some tv and dozed off for a couple of hours.
When we landed it was 4 pm the day after our departure and we had to scramble to make our 5 pm connecting flight to Osaka. Thankfully we had the foresight to just do carry-on (a challenge for me) because if we had to wait for luggage we never would have made our All Nippon Airways flight
Our flight to Osaka was on time even though there was some heavy rain to contend with. When we finally arrived at 8 pm we were met by our driver and whisked away to our hotel where the plan was to meet our son, drop our bags and go grab dinner.
We booked two nights at the Conrad Osaka which enjoys terrific views (the lobby is on the 40th floor) as well as lots of sparkle. Communications with the hotel ahead of our arrival were a bit challenging with many inquiries and requests going unanswered, but once we were there we found the service to be very accommodating. The location was also convenient and we were able to walk just about everywhere from the hotel.
We were all pretty ravenous so after a quick check -in we went to our suite on the 35th floor, snapped some pix, dropped our bags and grabbed a chocolate before heading out for Okonomiyaki (Japanese cabbage pancakes) which are a specialty of Osaka.
We set off on foot to a local eatery my youngest had scouted out called Kyo Chabana. It was small, crowded, and best of all the food (and beer) came out quickly. Because the Okonomiyaki has flour as one of the key ingredients I left those to my guys to eat and instead ordered up some cheesy grilled lotus root which was very tasty. Our goal was to push through our exhaustion and stay up until around 11 pm.
Following dinner the consensus was we needed a nightcap and Japanese Whiskey seemed just the thing. We wandered into the tiny Grand Master Bar and chose several different ones to try. This definitely got us ready for bed so we made our way back to the Conrad and hit the hay.
One of my favorite parts of traveling in Japan has been the total sense of safety and security in every city we have visited. Osaka was no different, and walking back to our hotel late at night was absolutely no issue at all.
Our day started early, both with the jet lag and the pressure to squeeze a whole lot of touring into our one full day in Osaka. Breakfast at the Conrad came with a lovely view, and the food was pretty good as well. The service was not overly solicitous, but it was professional, and efficient.
Our exploration of the city started with a stroll in Nakonoshima Park, located between two rivers it was a lovely oasis within the city.
We couldn’t resist following this adorable pup into a Family Mart to grab a snack to keep our energy up.
Osaka Castle was our next stop. Surrounded by a gorgeous park, the Castle is stunning from the outside. Visible from many different vantage points within the city I believe the exterior is more impressive than the interior (it is for this reason that we skipped the lines and passed on the tour).
At this point in our exploration we needed some sustenance so we pointed ourselves in the direction of Dōtonbori, a very touristy area of Osaka that can be compared to a mini Times Square. There is no shortage of exaggerated billboards advertising all types of specialty restaurants. The lines spill out of the doorways into the streets and the energy is infectious.
One of the specialties we (I) couldn’t seem to get enough of were delectable red bean paste filled mochi topped with a strawberry. Super sweet, but sooo delicious.
Another Osaka specialty is Unagi (eel) which is served Kansai style (grilled) and considered a real delicacy. I am not an Unagi lover, in fact my only other exposure was during our last trip to Japan where I really enjoyed barbecued eel in Nagoya. This eel though did not quite measure up. It looked promisingly crispy but alas was somewhat slippery, as you might expect an eel to be. I am not going to include the restaurant details here because I wouldn’t recommend it.
After a somewhat disappointing lunch I was looking forward to our special sushi dinner at Michelin starred Sushi Hoshiyama where the owner-chef has an excellent reputation. The space is very calm and clean and the wooden countertop has room for 8 diners. The dishes at Hoshiyama are said to be in the classic “Edo” style, but while the knife skills of the chef were exemplary we found that the selection of dishes were particularly unappealing.
The meal started in a promising fashion with delicious sake, but then the first course was really hard to swallow (literally). We were presented with what seemed to be something of a seaweed slurry, but unfortunately it tasted like we were downing a cup of snot.
My husband who only likes things “crispy” looked over to me in alarm.
The second most difficult dish to get down was the melange of raw shrimp, squid and uni which may be a delicacy but we really had a hard time with it. Thankfully the dishes started to become more palatable and we actually liked the experience overall, but it was a rough start.
Pictured below are just a sampling of our dinner, our enjoyment increased once rice came into the picture. While we do love sashimi for some reason we had a hard time here. It was also the peak time for Sea Bream while we were in Japan so this was the first of many tastes during the week.
Following our Sushi dinner we all felt the need for something sweet to finish off the evening. We had a nice big Virtuoso credit to use at the Conrad so we settled in for a late night indulgence. A very talented musician serenaded us with pop tunes while we drank champagne and got our fill of chocolate treats. All in all our day in Osaka was a big success.
The following morning we made our way to Kyoto on the Bullet Train, and I will be posting a detailed review of those adventures shortly. As it happened we did return to Osaka later in the week to catch a baseball game (the Orix Buffaloes are the home team) so I will include that experience here.
The Kyocera Dome is very convenient to the Train Line (as most things are in Japan) so it was a very easy trip from Kyoto. It was raining the evening we went so we were very grateful for the dome. The Japanese LOVE baseball, and while all the seats were not filled on a Tuesday night, the enthusiasm of the crowd was impressive. The crowd and the “beer girls” delivering beer on tap, and the delicious food (especially the tremendous hot dog) helped to make the evening memorable.
Aside from the giant hot dogs there was also a MOS (the famous Japanese hamburger chain) outpost at the stadium. We decided to order a burger topped with both egg and yakisoba (stir fried noodle) as well as a melon soda. The melon soda was particlularly tasty.
Our final breakfast at the Conrad came with an impressive view of the growth happening in Osaka, and it all seems to be going upwards. I’m not sure how those cranes are actually stable, but it was fun to contemplate over our eggs and fruit.
I am very glad we visited Osaka; it wasn’t my favorite city in Japan, but the touristy areas are such that you can get a good overview within a short time. If you have the opportunity to visit I would recommend the Conrad, but maybe suggest you find some other restaurants to explore.
Stay tuned for my post on Kyoto, as I have lots of great discoveries to share.