We stayed in our room most of the following day to sort out and back up computer files and research Taipei – it had suddenly dawned on me that we were flying there in 48 hours and knew nothing about it, not even how to get from the airport to the hotel or what the currency was worth. I’d been so focussed on Japan that poor Taiwan had been forgotten; probably a regular lament for Taiwan actually! We finally emerged at 16:30 to visit the Minami area, to experience the neon lit streets of Osaka’s foremost restaurant zone.
Dotonburi, the main restaurant street, was swarming with sightseers and prospective diners, and almost every restaurant had a tout outside extolling its virtues. Some years ago a seafood restaurant decided to adorn its frontage with a large animatronic crab. Others copied the idea, so now Dotonburi is bristling with oversized creatures, robotic and immobile. The area’s best known neon sign is the Glico man, an athlete who has been running towards the Dotonburi Canal since 1935. He was upgraded to LED last year but he was disappointingly unlit when we were there – perhaps it wasn’t quite dark enough.
The restaurants in main drag were a overpriced, but we found a tempura shop on the way back to the subway station, where a set meal of vegetable and fish tempura, rice, miso soup and seaweed(?) plus very weak cold black coffee (actually not unpleasant) was only ¥1340 for us both.
As we headed out of the hotel the next morning we were ambushed by the receptionist demanding our key so that they could clean the room. Because we had failed to be out and about by 10:00am on the previous days, our room had not been cleaned (they just left a bag of clean towels on the doorknob, so now we had 15 towels, mostly unused). We didn’t need the room cleaning because we hadn’t make a mess. We didn’t want the room cleaning because we had laid out all our stuff ready for packing, and didn’t want it moving. But Toyoko Inn apparently had a rule about rooms being cleaned every 3 days regardless of what their customers want. Cue stand up argument in the lobby. Eventually the duty manager agreed not to clean the room if head office said it was OK, and we continued on our way to Nipponbashi.
Nipponbashi has a covered market alley similar to Kyoto’s Nikishi market; it’s shorter, with perhaps less variety, but it does have fugu. The live puffer fish are strangely boxy, and it has always mystified me how a food that is poisonous if incorrectly prepared ever comes to be popular. I mean – once the first diners have died, what sort of person thinks “Before I eat it I’ll try removing the eyes, ovaries and liver without puncturing them and hope that makes it less lethal”. At £10 for a few wafer thin slivers, it wasn’t on our menu anyway.
Closer to Namba station was a street selling kitchenware. It was mostly intended for restaurants and hotels, but there were some miniature takoyaki grills that could have tempted us if we’d been heading back to the UK (although, being cast iron, they were still pretty heavy). If I ever make octopus dough balls, it’ll have to be in a mini muffin tin.
Ota Street in the Den Den area is Osaka’s equivalent of Tokyo’s Akihabara with lots of electronic shops, but the otaku were few and half hearted, and there was just one maid cafe tout handing out flyers. It lacked the bustle and energy of Akihabara, so we didn’t linger. We ‘should’ probably have spent the day in Nara, Japan’s old capital half way between Kyoto and Osaka. Or gone to Himeji to see the castle. But, beautiful as Japan’s shrines and gardens are, we had seen enough for the moment. Our culture meters were still showing ‘full’.
And so the next morning it was time to say sayonara Japan. Up at 04:15, a quick coffee while finishing the packing, and on the subway platform for the first train of the day. The 05:55 airport express from Tennoji was surprisingly busy and stopped at least 6 times to pick up more passengers. Once we got to Terminal 2 (via a shuttle bus that was clearly not designed for the purpose – people with a lot of luggage really struggled to get it on board) our attempts to check in on a machine were rejected and we had to join a very long queue for the only 2 check-in desks. As foreigners, Peach Air had decided that they needed to check that we had onward tickets, as required for visa-free entry to Taiwan. Although this had been a requirement of many countries we’d visited on this trip it was the first time anyone, airline check-in or immigration officer, had actually asked about it. We shared a small and very overpriced cappuccino from the only café beyond security (Osaka really doesn’t seem geared up to being an international airport), ate our 7-11 breakfast pastries, and boarded an unexpectedly purple plane. I had been expecting a sickly peach colour. Or perhaps a peach blossom motif. Are Japanese peaches purple then? Beautiful, strange, enigmatic Japan – it surprised us right to the last.