This post should probably be titled What I Did in Osaka–because there’s so much going on in this city it’s insane in a very awesome way.
We had such a great time in Osaka, and even found some frugal differences from what we were used to at home while we were there.
Go to a Baseball Game
Our friend was super generous and got us some tickets to an Orix Buffaloes game. It was sooo much fun.
When we got there, I had a water bottle with me. I was expecting to have to throw it away, but instead they took it and poured its contents into an open paper cup. Score for not having to buy another once I got inside!
In between innings, there were dancers that came out to amp up the crowd. During plays, there were sections of volunteers who performed practiced cheers complete with arm movements and everything. These sections looked to be mostly or completely male, but I was across the field from them so I couldn’t tell for sure. If you watched the Olympics, it was similar to the cheerleading section North Korea had.
At one point, between one of the innings, everyone in the crowd let go of these blue, phallic shaped balloons (not purposely phallic–I don’t think) and they scattered all over the park as the gas escaped its blue, plastic cages.
There was a woman walking around with a keg on her back, selling beer. You could get the same thing for a little less money at the concession stand inside.
Like everything else in Japan, the park was extremely clean, and they still have cordoned off rooms for smokers.
Our team didn’t win, but we had a great time. Aside from all the excitement of the cultural differences, watching a ball game live is one of my favorite past times, and it was really cool to get to do so in another country.
Another big team in Osaka is the Hanshin Tigers. From what I can tell, they’re a bit more popular than the Buffaloes — Ichiro played for the Tigers before coming to the US.
Punk Rock Shows at Namba Bears
If you’re checking out any underground scene in Osaka, there’s a good chance it’s literally going to be underground.
That’s the way it was when my sibling and I caught a local punk show at Namba Bears. Beer was three yen and was stored in a cooler–like the type you’d take camping. Tickets were pretty much the same cost as they are here–somewhere around $20. I bought a t-shirt for someone back home and the artist was cool enough to throw in a free pin with the purchase.
So that’s the money side of things. The experience, though, was what really made the night. The music was amazing. In fact, I found a new favorite artist. I was totally digging the first act, though I wasn’t in a place where I could see the whole stage at first. My sibling pointed out that it was a one-man band. I moved so I could see better and sat there with my jaw on the floor for the rest of the act.
It was incredible. He had bells on top of the drums he was playing completely with his feet as he rocked his guitar and sang. And he sounded amazing–whether there had been three other people in his band or not. He’s currently recording–he only has one track out right now, but should have a full album up soon. You can check out USGKZ & The Equipments on Bandcamp.
The other two sets were amazing, too. But this guy was my favorite.
Disclaimer: My Japanese is horrible and I have no idea what the lyrics say.
Osaka is known for its standup. My sibling wanted to go to a show, but speaks even less Japanese than I do. Eventually they made the financially savvy decision to go to an underground show rather than to one with bigger comedians. It was super affordable–about ten dollars if I remember correctly.
We had no idea what these guys were saying, but it was pretty interesting to see some of the basics of how comedy differs from our culture. First, there were a lot more duos than single comedians. And pretty much all of them got into a character rather than just standing up there as themselves telling jokes.
My friend laughed particularly hard at this one comedian, and she said he was singing about all the little embarrassments he goes through in daily life. Like truly silly ones, and many of them were unique to Japanese culture–or at least completely new to me as an American.
As obvious gaijin, we got asked where we were from. When we said Pittsburgh, the comedians knew about our history with steel mills (which aren’t here anymore, but a lot of Americans don’t even know that,) and were excited about the Pittsburgh Pirates. Every Japanese person we met on our travels knew our baseball team–and we have a long history of sucking! (Our ownership actually makes money off of losing and it’s messed up.)
It was a fun experience. Worth the money, and–once again–literally underground.
Visit the Pokemon Center
A couple years ago, I downloaded Pokemon Go onto my phone. I was a nerd child, and actually played in a Pokemon card league when I was younger. Augmented reality seemed cool, I thought my kid would have fun with it, and really I just wanted to play Pokemon again.
My child did get super into it. Like we’ve had Pokemon-themed birthday parties we’ve been so into it.
I promised before I left for Japan that I’d catch all kinds of new Pokemon for them and get them some stuff from the Pokemon Center. There are multiple Pokemon Centers around Japan, but we went to the one in Osaka.
That place is expensive as heck. Super cool, but super expensive. I got a couple plates for the kiddos, blind boxes, a stuffed Squirtle, and–for myself–a notebook. And I spent too much money. And I wanted more.
I restrained myself, though! Even if you don’t spend any money while you’re there, it’s still a really cool place to visit if you’re into Pokemon even though it’s just a store.
Kushikatsu is the food Osaka is famous for. Essentially, they batter meat or vegetables and maybe other things–I don’t know–and then deep fry them. Ours came on a stick, and then you could dip it into this great sauce.
Our friend took us to Kushikatsu Daruma in Lucua Osaka. It looks and feels like a diner–though with completely different fare than what you’d be used to as an American. Daruma is celebrating it’s 89th birthday this year, so you know they’re doing something right! They have other locations around the city, and there are other places to get kushikatsu. But this was my only experience with it, and I absolutely loved Daruma.
I kid you not when I say that my sibling brought back an entire suitcase full of candy. It was kind of ridiculous, but also a little bit understandable, especially as a lot of it was for gifting when we got back.
But it was also ridiculous.
While in Osaka, we went into this huge candy store. And I mean huge. It was like the ToysRUs of candy. (Too soon?)
There were all kinds of new-to-us sweets–even from familiar names. Like:
- Peach gummies (that had liquid inside which exploded in your mouth when you bit into them.)
- Strawberry cheesecake Kit Kats.
- Wasabi Kit Kats.
- Five million other flavors of Kit Kats.
- Meiji Horns (which remind me of Milano cookies except way better–yes, it is possible!)
- Whatever is in those geisha containers in the picture.
- So, so much more.
Osaka is fun.
Of the three major cities we visited, Osaka seemed the grittiest to me, and I mean that as a compliment. In Kyoto, I got to visit ancient sites and experience the natural beauty woven into the city’s fabric. In Tokyo, I felt like I was in an uber clean, uber safe, uber tech-y modern metropolis.
But in Osaka, with business after business stacked on top of each other, squeezed into shorter high rises than those in the country’s capital, I felt like I was learning about and experiencing what Japan’s culture is becoming.
How fun! When did you go? I’ve got a pie in the sky goal to travel to Japan for a couple of weeks with our family but I haven’t formed a real travel itinerary yet and you’ve got me thinking hard about where we really want to be and what we’re going to do. Sorry if I just missed it but where did you stay?
Oh, man–go! Haha. I went at the end of March/beginning of April just in time for cherry blossom season. I hear fall is amazing, too, though with the leaves. If you click on the ‘Japan’ tag you’ll be able to see all the stuff we did (at least that I’m writing about) and the places we stayed. But for the sake of convenience, we stayed with my friend’s family in the suburbs of Osaka, and also in Wakayama, and also in Nachi Katsuura. We also did a night in Tokyo on SPG points, and a couple more nights in Tokyo on Airbnb credits. The only accomodations we ended up paying for were for a room in a guest house in Kyoto, and it was totally worth the money. We stayed in a pretty much perfect neighborhood. Not sure how that would go with a kiddo (would want to find one targeted towards foreigners because of noise restrictions–but not one that was a party house because you have a kid.)