Jul 23, 2015

Japan Travelogue: One Night in Fuji (28 Oct 2014)

Our last night in Osaka was quite a mess. With 5 days worth of dirty laundry piling up, we paid a visit to the coin laundry in Hotel Consort. Besides separate washers and dryers, they had this washer/dryer machine with smaller capacity. We chose the latter, thinking that our laundry would be less than maximum capacity but I was wrong. I ended up with a big pile of damn clothes for 500yen. Yes, DAMN clothes, which I ended up spending the night to hang in the room for drying.

Despite such chaotic night, words couldn't depict how reluctant I was to leave Osaka. I love the fact I could get a decent hotel for a cheaper price tag; I love the way how Osaka and Kyoto exult hints and scents of ancient towns.

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Oyakodon and Free Karaage @ Nakau なか卯
On our final morning in Osaka, we paid our last visit to Nakau なか卯, ordering Oyakodon and Niku Udon, and redeeming our free Karaages. Nakau did not disappoint thus far; with chicken cubes cooked just right to retain its juiciness and dressed in glorious coat of runny yolk, their Oyakodon was equally decent and satisfying like my past few meals.

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Niku Udon and Free Karaage @ Nakau なか卯
So was their Niku Udon. In fact, I liked the fact that their stir fry beef was lean yet flavourful. Our free Karaage was good too. With crispy batter just enough to cover the chicken, it was juicy, tender and well marinated.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 940yen

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Boon Boon Riding in Shinkansen
As we were ready to leave Nakau なか卯,, we realised that our Japan Rail Pass did not cover for Nozomi trains, which provided direct access to Fuji-san at RM500 per pax. Panic hit us hard and we were clueless for minutes. Then it occurred to us that we could take another train lines under Japan Rail Pass to ShinYokohama Station to bypass the need for Nozomi train.

So we arrived at ShinYokohama Station with RM1,000 extra in pockets! We then took JR Yokohama line to Hachioji Station, switched to JR Chuo Line to Otsuki Station.

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Thomas and Friends @ Keikyu Line
It was here at Otsuki Station, where I spotted this colorful Thomas and Friends train, which happened to be the train that bore us to 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station (via Fujikyuko Line 富士急行線) at 1,140yen per pax.

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Interior of Thomas and Friends train
My mood was instantly elevated by its colorful outlook. It definitely made a difference if you had to make 17 stops before arriving finally at 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station!

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Rushing River along Fujikyuko Line 富士急行線
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Japanese Houses along Fujikyuko Line 富士急行線
For those who like direct access to 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station, there is an express train that bypasses most stops but at a higher price tag. If given another chance to choose again, I would still pay 1,140yen for this long beautiful scenery ride to 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station.

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河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station
After an hour or so, we made it to 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station. It was a beautiful day on 28 October 2014.

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Fujiyama Cafe and Shop @ 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station
It was close to 1pm local time when we arrived at 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station. Yes, we were famished! Instead of walking to Hōtō Fudō for some Hoto, we decided to dine in at Fujiyama Cafe.

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Hoto @ Fujiyama Cafe
Hoto is a hearty nabemono local to Yamanashi Prefecture. It is made of thick wheat noodles in a miso based soup, mixed with pumpkins and other seasonal vegetables, and is often served in an iron pot.

In Malaysian term, it is Pan Mee in miso soup with lots of vegetables. Despite being a savory noodles, it was skewed to the sweeter end. I was more of a savory person though. Despite so, I liked the chewy texture of wheat noodles, just how I like my Pan Mee to be.

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Yoshida Udon @ Fujiyama Cafe
Similar to Hoto, Yoshida Udon is another noodles local to Fujiyoshida city, which is said to have originated from the Kansai region (Osaka/Kyoto).

In Fujiyoshida, te-uchi udon, is a thick, hearty, and chewy noodle that is unique to this region. Using pure spring water from Mount Fuji and made on a daily basis, it results in te-uchi udon with firm and thick texture. The broth is flavored either with miso or a blend of miso and soy sauce.

Compared to Hoto, I found my liking towards this bowl of Yoshida Udon, not only for the texture of te-uchi udon but for the balanced flavour of broth.

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Vanilla with Fujiyama Honey and Blue Rose Soft Serves (370yen each)
To end our meals, we ordered two different flavours of soft serve, selling at 370yen each. Sharing the same base, both Blue Rose and Vanilla and Fujiyama Honey were close to one another. However, you could taste the mildly distinct flavour in Blue Rose, while Vanilla and Fujiyama Honey was accentuated by the native flavour of Fujiyama honey.

Both also shared silky smooth texture which was a delight to tongue. It was difficult to choose which I liked more.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 2,790yen

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Juicy Fresh Kyoto Grapes (1,200yen)
Outside Kawaguchiko Station, we stumbled across this uncle selling grapes on a makeshift stall. Look at these fat juicy Kyoto grapes, it just couldn't be any fresher! We bought one, just to be sure. To our utter delight, it had jelly like texture with oozing sweetness due to its ripening. It was nothing like any grape I had tasted in my entire life.

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City of Fuji-san
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Tourist Information Centre @ 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station
Lugging our luggages and bagging this bag of Kyoto grapes, we headed to Tourist Information Centre to make our call to Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー. About 5 minutes or so, our hotel shuttle van arrived to pick us up along with another couple.

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Our Japanese Home for a Night @ Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
Our hotel check in was rather speedy, though not without the help of English speaking shuttle van driver. Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー is one of the hotels along Lake Kawaguchiko, which strategically positioning itself to the beautiful Mount Fuji. The hotel consists of two blocks, of which our assigned room, B416, is located at Block B.

Akin to the concept of studio apartment, our room was the replica of a humble Japanese home. What you see is the living room/dining area/bedroom, with a mini chilling area by the window, and separated bathroom and toilet.

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Mount Fuji View in Our Room @ Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
So we were told by our hotel shuttle van driver that they were giving us the best room, bet he wasn't lying at all! We can adore the beauty of Mount Fuji 24/7 within the comfort of our room, what is more to ask for?

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Mount Fuji in the Afternoon @ Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
Upon check in at 3pm, we spent most of the afternoon lazing around our humble Japanese home. In between, I managed to dip into some steaming hot onsen too! There are two onsens in Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー , each located in separate blocks. At certain hours, the onsen in Block A are designated for men, which will be then switched to women at another hours. Likewise for onsen in Block B.

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City Around Lake Kawaguchiko Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
In the afternoon itself, the ladies had got the privilege to enjoy the onsen located at highest floor of Block B, which commands the view of Mount Fuji. Lucky me had the whole onsen to myself too, which saved me from the awkward moments of bumping into another naked lady.

Imagine it was cold outside as the chilly wind blew past, yet you were in the comfort of steaming hot bath while admiring the beauty of Mount Fuji. I liked it very much, though it could be better if the onsen was enclosed with full length windows, allowing one to enjoy view of Mount Fuji regardless of where you sit in the onsen.

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Mount Fuji Caressed by the Setting Sun @ Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
You must be wondering how much it costed to stay a night in Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー. Considering this might be my one and only time in Fuji-san, I definitely went all out to pick the best hotel with Mount Fuji view, onsen and wifi. Priced at RM900 per night (tax inclusive), it was not for the faint hearted but hey, it came with dinner and breakfast too!

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Beauty of Sunset Around Lake Kawaguchiko
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Hear the Ripples @ Lake Kawaguchiko
As the sun set, we strolled along Lake Kawaguchiko, enjoying the chilly breeze, rippling water, and beautiful evening. At times, the wind had gotten so strong that I felt like being blown away but no words could explain how blessed I was to be here, with my tanner half. 

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Winter Flowers
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Feast like a King Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
Before long, it was time to return for our dinner. I was shocked when I saw the dinner set up. There were appetisers, sashimi, pork shabu-shabu, beef sukiyaki, and many other side dishes. I simply did not know where to start! Better still, these were not all of it! When they served one of the dishes, we were told, "Sushi has yet to come". By Malaysian standard, this dinner alone would easily cost you RM100 per pax?

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Beef Sukiyaki Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
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Dainty Appetiser/Side Dishes Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
Truth be told, I almost felt like we were having Kaiseki. Not only we were overwhelmed by the amount of food served, we were amazed by the quality of food served. Sashimi and sushi were so fresh that it almost felt like the fish just dead seconds ago. Not forgetting many pickles and side dishes which was so beautifully crafted and easy on tongue too.

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Sleep like a Japanese Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
We were totally bloated. When we got back to our room, our living room was already converted into bedroom. Yay, tatami bed for the night!

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Sake for the Night from Fujiyama Store @ 河口湖駅 Kawaguchiko Station
Better still, our room came with Astro On Demand, which we made full use of! Two movies back to back, with a bottle of sake, made from water from Mount Fuji. If you happen to be at Fujiyama Store, do grab this bottle of sake. It was middle bodied, easy on tongue, with stronger ending note but not dry at all. All in for less than RM50.

Now I only wish I could go back to Fuji again :(

IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:

  • Ambiance
    • Nakau なか卯 - 3/5
    • Fujiyama Cafe - 3/5
    • Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー - 4/5
  • Price
    • Nakau なか卯 - 5/5
    • Fujiyama Cafe - 3/5
    • Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー - 5/5
  • Food
    • Nakau なか卯 - 4/5
    • Fujiyama Cafe - 4/5
    • Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー - 5/5
  • Verdict
    • Nakau なか卯 - Decent meals at cheap price tags
    • Fujiyama Cafe - Convenient for lazy people like me but do expect the premium
    • Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー - Amazed totally by the quality of food, would definitely go there again!

DINING INFO:

Nakau なか卯
淀川区西中島3-23-9, Osaka, Ōsaka, Japan
Operation Hours: Likely to be 24 hours
Tel: Not available
Credit Cards: No (Payment is made at self service meal ticket vending machine)

Fujiyama Cafe
船津船津 3631番1号, Fujikawaguchiko-machi, Yamanashi, 401-0301, Japan
Operation Hours: Not available
Tel: +81 555-72-2214
Credit Cards: Unlikely (We paid by cash)

Hotel New Century Kawaguchiko ホテルニューセンチュリー
180-1, Asakawa, FujiKawaguchiko-machi, MinamiTsuru-gun, Mount Fuji, Japan
Tel: +81 555-72-1422
Credit Cards: Likely yes (We booked through Agoda)

Jul 9, 2015

Japan Travelogue: Last Day of Exploring Osaka (27 Oct 2014)

Now that we had ticked off Osaka Castle, Dotonbori and Hozenji Yokocho Alley, that left us with Sumiyoshi Taisha, Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street, and Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. To start our day, we went to Nakau なか卯 again to have our fast fast, good good and cheap cheap breakfast.

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Udon with Rice Poppers? @ Nakau なか卯
I must say Nakau なか卯 was a gem. Despite the lack of English menu and English speaking staff, the food and service was superb. This random udon with these delicate rice poppers was equally amazing. The broth was flavorful and the udon had decent texture that outmatched most of the Japanese restaurant's in Malaysia.

Total Damage for 2 Pax = 500 yen

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Red Bean Manju @ Gozasouro's Taiko-manju 御座候 (85yen, tax inclusive)
After breakfast, we headed to ShinOsaka Station to board our train to Osaka Station (via JR Tokaido/Sanyo Main Line), followed by another (via JR Osaka Loop Line) to Shinimamiya Station, before boarding Nankai Main Line (210yen each) to Sumiyoshitaisha Station.

Right before we entered into ShinOsaka Station's platform, we saw Gozasouro's Taiko-manju 御座候 opening. For all you know, I have been wanting to try theirs but most of the time it was either not opening yet or closed for the day. Without much hesitation, we grabbed two pairs, one with red bean, another with white fillings which was more starchy.

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White Manju @ Gozasouro's Taiko-manju 御座候 (85yen, tax inclusive)
The outer layer was similar to those of apam balik's but soggier due to the heavy fillings. Mildly sweetened, it was a good choice for non sweet tooth. With so much expectation on these manjus, I found myself rather disappointed by the lack of contrast in overall texture.

Total Damage for 4 Manjus = 340yen

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Torii Gate @ Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
Being Shinto shrines, Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社 is very similar to Fushimi Inari Shrine in many ways. Both shrines have torii gates marking the entrance of sacred ground at different directions, marking the borderline of shrine ground.

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Ema @ Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
Both shrines have Ema (as seen on the right in above picture), which is a sheltered wooden plaques bearing prayers and wishes.

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Entrance to Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
Both have Haiden (oratory, as seen in the centre of the above picture), where you can ring the Suzu and say your prayers.

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Blessing Corner @ Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
Both have blessing corners, where you can purchase a token and write your wishes or prayers on it.

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Honden @ Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
Last but not least, both have Honden (main hall, as seen on the right), fenced up by Tamagaki and surrounded by many sessha/massha (small auxiliary shrines) .

I must admit, what drew me to Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社 is no other than their signature Honden donned in bright orange.

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Yours Sincerely @ Taiko bashi of Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
And this orange Taiko bashi too. There is something about this Taiko bashi that stirs up the mood of romance, which would not be a bad choice at all to bring your another half for a morning walk or evening stroll.

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Little Girl in Kimono @ Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
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Devotee @ Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
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People Watching @ Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
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Pigeon Stalking @ Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社
If you are alone, you may also spend some time people watching, bird stalking or life pondering. People watching and pigeon stalking spoke well to me!

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Roasted Rice Tea on the Go @ Daily Yamazaki
After spending an hour plus at Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社, we decided to move on to Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street. On the way to Sumiyoshitaisha Station, we grabbed this bottle of roasted rice tea at Daily Yamazaki.

It was totally recommended if you are looking to quench your thirst but wanting nothing sugary. I loved particularly the aroma that lingered around your tongue.

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Sumiyoshitaisha Station
Being a Monday afternoon, Sumiyoshitaisha Station was in its solitary mode. To go to Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street, we took Nankai line (150yen each) to Tengachaya Station, switched to Sakaisuji line (280yen each) to Tenjinbashisuji Rokuchome Station.

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Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street
Our goal of the day was to visit Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, which should be located at 8th floor of the Housing Information Center, just above Tenjimbashi-suji Rokuchome Station. Based on these pointers, we looked high and low for any likely indication to Osaka Museum of Housing and Living but to no avail.

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Lunch @ Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭
Needless to say, we ended up with tired feet and hungry stomach. Luckily, we found Kitano Hachi Bantei, which looked rather promising compared to the other restaurants (if they are opening at all!) along Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street.

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Chashu Ramen @ Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭
Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭 is similar to Nakau なか卯, whereby you have to order your food and pay at ticket vending machine, grab your tickets and wait for your food to be served.

The tanner half decided to try their chashu ramen, which was not bad at all! Though the broth was not very thick, it had the complexity of flavor, which complemented the ramen very well. The portion of chashu was smaller than we liked but it went along well with the rest.

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Niku Don @ Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭
I, on the other hand, opted for niku don. Small it may looked, I actually felt bloated finishing it. I loved the gloriously orange running yolk sitting atop of stir fry beef. A poke was all you need to unleash its gravy potential. Beef was quite decent, though its fat proportion was too much to my liking. To add another dimension of flavour, I added few dashes of chilies.

Total damage for 2 pax = 1,870yen (free flow of green tea, few pieces of fried chicken to go with each mains)

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Double Cheeseburger in Black Bun @ McDonald
After our filling lunch, we proceeded to explore Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street. To our dismay, it was almost empty on Monday afternoon. 6 hours gone by and we ended up buying nothing. As we stumbled across McDonald, we made up of our mind quick enough to end our day with some local McDonald meals.

Double cheeseburger is one of the most value for money meals in Malaysia and same could be said in Japan. Coincidently McDonald was running their black and white burger promotion, so I had my double cheeseburger in black.

Bun aside, the double cheeseburger was no different than Malaysia's but the bun made all the difference though. Not only it was soft and fluffy, it was not dry at all.

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Sweet Potato McFlurry @ McDonald
Currently in season was sweet potato McFlurry. Since we had none in Malaysia, we grabbed one to try too! Similar to my double cheeseburger, the ice cream was no different than Malaysia's. The taste of mashed sweet potatoes was subtle yet somehow I liked the fact that it was not too sweet.

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Red Bean Pie @ McDonald
Besides McFlurry, we also grabbed their red bean pie for dessert. The pie was crusty and crispy, which I found much better done than Malaysia's. Similar to sweet potatoes, red bean pie was not too sweet yet of substance. I would like a little more sugar in this though.

Total damage for 2 pax = 1,740yen (for 2 double cheeseburger set meals + sweet potatoes McFlurry + red bean pie)

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Our Last Dessert (128yen) in Osaka
We spent some time resting our feet in McDonald until our feet regained some strength to move on. Before we finally retreated to our hotel, we made a quick detour to nearby Lawson to window shop and ended up buying this ice cream cone to end our final night in Osaka.

Our overall 4-night stay in Hotel Consort was excellent. Not only the price was fantastic (less than RM200 per night), the 14 sq m twin room was the largest among our budget stays in Japan. Room was very clean and well equipped. Bedding was top notch comfort. The only downside was the air conditioning was down for maintenance for last night of our stay and we were quite frustrated that it was not highlighted upon our check in.

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Ciaoz!
Oh well, let's suck it up and sleep well, for Fuji awaits!

IN SUMMARY,

My personal dining ranking (5 being the full score) based on following criteria are:
  • Ambiance
    • Nakau なか卯 - 3/5
    • Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭 - 3/5
    • McDonald - 3/5
  • Price
    • Nakau なか卯 - 5/5
    • Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭 - 5/5
    • McDonald - 4/5
  • Food
    • Nakau なか卯 - 4/5
    • Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭 - 4/5
    • McDonald - 3/5
  • Verdict
    • Nakau なか卯 - Decent meals at cheap price tags
    • Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭 - Another "Nakau" for some cheap and decent meals!
    • McDonald - Interesting promo items which were worth the try
My personal attraction verdicts for:
  • Sumiyoshi Taisha 住吉大社 - A good place to spend your chilly morning, be it for dating, people watching, prayers or for life pondering
  • Osaka Museum of Housing and Living - I simply couldn't locate it!
  • Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street - I would advise you to go on weekends for more activities!

DINING INFO:

Nakau なか卯
淀川区西中島3-23-9, Osaka, Ōsaka, Japan
Operation Hours: Likely to be 24 hours
Tel: Not available
Credit Cards: No (Payment is made at self service meal ticket vending machine)

Kitano Hachi Bantei 北野八番亭
3 Chome-2-23 Tenjinbashi, Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 530-0041, Japan
Tel: +81 6-6357-0341
Credit Cards: No (Payment is made at self service meal ticket vending machine)

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