Dotonbori is the gastronomic epicenter of Osaka, Japan. This world-famous street runs from Dotonbori Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge, and on both sides stand dozens of restaurants whose facades are adorned with enormous, electronic displays.
It was the trip I was so afraid to take.
The notoriety of Japan as an expensive destination hovered over my head for the longest time. Even when airlines offered bargain deals for flights to Osaka, I was reluctant to book. Not only was I worried about the visa not being approved for I didn’t have enough in my bank, I was also dreading how much I would be spending in the days after stepping on Japanese soil. Japan is expensive, I always thought. But someday, somehow, this trip has got to happen.
It finally did! And guess what? It wasn’t as tough on the pockets as I expected.
The moment that sushi graced my palate, I knew I had been mistaken all this time.
I was known in my circle as the guy who hated Japanese food. Well, ‘hated’ would be quite a stretch. I was just not a fan. At lunch or dinnertime and a friend would suggest a Japanese restaurant, I’d be the first to run to the opposite direction (unless they’re treating me). I’d always found sushi weird-tasting and many other dishes too dry. If there was one thing I wasn’t looking forward to in my first trip to Japan, it was the food.
But that changed as soon as I had my first meal in Osaka.
Hotel Chuo Oasis was my first choice when I was browsing online for affordable places to stay. Just by reading the reviews, I was already sold. It has a stellar 89% rating on Hostelworld, 83% on TripAdvisor, and 8.2/10 in Agoda. Although listed on Hostelworld, it is not a hostel but a hotel. A very affordable hotel, considering how expensive everything is in the mighty city of Osaka.
Even before six o’clock, I was already at the foot of the giant spinning wheel to catch the sunset. But I forgot one thing: I was in Japan. And in Japan, the summer sun sets much later, at around seven.
When it finally dawned on me, I painted a smile on my face. Just a few minutes earlier, I dashed from the train station to get here thinking I would be late for the heavenly show and worrying that I wouldn’t have enough time to explore the rest of the area. But look at that, I got an hour to spare. Sometimes the universe knows just how to surprise me.
Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi did not want a castle. No, he did not want just a castle. He wanted a castle modeled after his predecessor Oda Nobunaga’s headquarters but grander in every aspect. He wanted the grandest castle in Japan.
He knew what he wanted. And he had it done.
Ask any first-timer in Osaka and he will tell you it’s true: The hardest part of being in Dotonbori is deciding where to eat.
It was true the first time I was here. And it was true the second time around. Six months after my Dotonbori debut, I found myself in its chaotic embrace again. This time, I was still as confused as before. Even when I thought I had a craving for something, it went away as fast as my first relationship that I could barely remember what it was.
There is something mighty hypnotic about Dotonbori. The incessant grumbling of the empty stomach I was carrying magically stopped as soon as I set foot on the famed street. Perhaps it was the blinding neon lights. Or the inviting calls of the hawkers. Or the overwhelming crowd. Or perhaps it was the potent combination of all those that makes a walk here mesmeric, that makes everything else fade away.
As I marched down the street, squeezing my way through the flux of tourists, nothing else mattered. It was just me and a relentless bombardment of lights, colors, and food. All the things I love.
Endo Sushi ruined something for me.
The locals pointed us to Endo Sushi when asked for the best cheap sushi place. Still, there was a part of me that was strongly reluctant. At JPY 1,020, those who have tried it called it “dirt cheap,” and I just couldn’t get it. I refused to get it. I was aware that the cost of living in Japan was sky high, but JPY 1,020 for a serving of sushi was still too much for me.
“Heck, I don’t even like sushi,” I ranted to myself as I schlepped across a quiet neighborhood to the Osaka Wholesale Central Fish Market. Endo Sushi, the legendary sushi restaurant, stands just beside the market. But there I was, almost there, no turning back.
The waiter greeted us with the warmest smile and ushered us to our seats at the bar. Front row seats, I whispered to my companion. Right before us were the cooks preparing the sushi. On the table were two small porcelain bowls that cradled shoyu (soy sauce) and pickled ginger. The waiter set a cup of hot green tea and handed us the menu and a moist towelette.