Shingu, Kii Katsuara and Osaka

On our way back from Hayatama Taisha we made a long stop at a great little local clothing store called Mak Tub. Not sure what the name is all about but they had a good selection of Japanese made and or designed clothes, some of them organic. Score! I had to go into the women’s little apartment to try them on but it was my favorite of all of our shopping stops. My husband graciously waited on the bench outside and watched the world go by. The owner felt he deserved a fancy chocolate at the end of my shopping spree and he enjoyed it very much. Sadly there is no website but it’s right near the Shrine. We also stopped at a local makeup store where a gracious old man assisted me in choosing some Japanese mascara and an aproned older woman helped me select some garden tools at a dark and crowded hardware store which looked more like a garage.. I also bought a few postcards and a wee notebook at the stationers. No flashy shopping here just an old-fashioned experience and I loved it! I highly recommend shopping at Shingu. We also enjoyed seeing the fish and produce displayed on the outside of several stores. Citrus was in season and it was beautiful, varied and delicious.

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A fellow Shingu shopper

We looked around at the local restaurants but decided to eat at the local Lawson which is an Asian convenience store chain except way better than American convenience store chains. We feasted on my favorite little sandos aka sandwiches , karaage aka fried chicken, slaw and pickles. Sadly the pickles tipped into my shopping bag but happily nothing was damaged. Lawson also presents fabulous souvenir shopping opportunities such as candy and beauty items, little kawaii knick knacks and our favorite Oni beer.

We made our way back to the train station to pick up our bags from the luggage locker. We decided to take the bus back to Kii Katsura. Oku and inside Japan only included tickets for the longer trips although the both had rates and timetables for the shorter ones. We were becoming quite comfortable with the Japanese transportation system. With a15:00 check in time we were able to check out a store selling different types of fish products and other Japanese food and drink. I bought some plum wine.

 

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After our long trek we decided to treat ourselves to a night at Nakanoshima Hotel. Inside Japan called this the James Bond hotel and it does look like it’s out of an old James Bond movie.

It has huge rooms and  includes a generous kaseiki meal served in your room. We also tried out the private hot tub for a small extra fee.IMG_0916

 

IMG_0892 It’s on its own private island off of Kii Katsura and there is a free ferry that goes back and forth continually. I wish it was this cute turtle one but it was just plain. The Japanese have cornered the market on cute.IMG_0879

Every room that we stayed in came with a tea set similar to the one hereIMG_0919

And here is the toilet area of the bathroom. Even toilets out in the woods would have heated seats and a bidet stream. I thought it was funny that this one icluded Toilet slippers as the area was so small.IMG_0914

After our night of pampering we were ready for our last adventure in the amazing city of Osaka. After strolling back through Kii Katsura and procuring some lunch for our train ride with the help of a nice woman who left her shop unattended to walk me to the sandwich shop, we had a restful and scenic four-hour journey by train to Shin Osaka. A lot of it was along the beautiful coast. The scenery was just amazing. Further along we saw wild wisteria, tile roofing,old folks gardening, Japanese gardens, tea growing, people picnicking, schoolkids, rice paddies and vegetable gardens. A couple of nice women in the seats in front of us gave us each a little packet of fish flavored crackers, and there was an added bonus of tiny crunchy fish in them. We also saw this…IMG_1006

and other cute things along the way.

I wanted to stay near the Dontonbori area of Osaka so I booked us at the Swissotel Osaka.

I realized the hotel was attached to the subway station so we decided to show our Japanese transport chops and take the subway instead of the taxi. Go us! We were highly successful and were soon in our room with this view. Quite something!IMG_1043

Our extra bags which had been sent on ahead by takubin were waiting happily in our room. Since we were only in the city for 24 hours we headed right out again to Shinsaibashi shopping arcade. It’s easily the longest shopping arcade I have ever seen and there are people standing outside calling at you to come and shop. I wanted to get to a store called Tokyu Hands which is just outside the arcade. It’s has a reputation for having lots of craft supplies. I did buy a few pens and some gifts but I wasn’t as impressed as I thought I would be and pretty quickly headed back into the arcade where I picked up some Japanese dog biscuits and a stuffed Japanese beer mug for our dogs and green tea kit kats for my class back at home.

Inside Japan had arranged a Dontonbori food tour for us with Ayako Kiyana,a wonderful guide born in Osaka. It was really fabulous. Here is a YouTube video about eating in Dontonbori and here’s another one. We paid one flat fee for the guide services and the food and drink and we both had more than enough. We started out by seeing the famous crab restaurant sign. Then we moved on to the ubiquitous Osaka Takoyoki octopus balls. These are sort of like the mascot character of Osaka.Again, having a local guide was priceless because she took us to the best of the best and helped us order and pay.

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Ayoko buying Wagyu Tempura

Then, it was on to Wagyu beef tempura and beer. Yum! I had requested that we stop for okonomyoki and I was not disappointed. Stashing our bags in the bench seats and ordering more beer, we started with a delicious pork omelette, I wish I had one right now, while our okonomyoki was grilling on the table grill. It was everything I’d dreamed of and more. Ayako told us about she and her family would make it once a week at home and how there is a running 400 year old  battle between Osaka and Hiroshima about who originally invented the dish. I haven’t tried making it at home but there are lots of recipes online. I should probably make it to celebrate the anniversary of our trip.IMG_1064

Our final food stop was an Isekeya restaurant. It was most fitting as it was called the Tanuki restaurant! Tanuki is a common figure all over Japan. He is a shape shifting trickster/ Yokai and his name means get ahead. We sat around a huge grill , stashing our bags inside the cubelike seats. Patrons would request an item from the giant ice tray and the chef would grill it and hand it over on a giant wooden paddle. We sampled avocado, mushrooms, giant scallops, giant clams, chicken on a stick , prawns, quail eggs with sausage and sweet potatoes, and Ayako wanted to know if we wanted to try anything else! It was a great final Japanese meal, different then anything we had tried previously. Here I am going to insert Tanuki from the Isekeya as well as others from the trip. Sort of like celebratory tanuki fireworks.

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P1040709We said goodbye to our lovely guide and strolled back to the hotel for a soak and a swim in the fancy pool. I did a whole bunch of packing and we said goodnight to Osaka  as we looked out over this view.P1040958

One of the many great things about the Swissotel Osaka is that it is connected to a huge department store called Takashimya. After we partook of the bounteous breakfast buffet I got in one final round of shopping. While it was fun to see all of the fashions and try some things on, I was happier with my purchases at the smaller local store in Shingu. If you do try on clothes remember that you will have to remove your shoes to go in the dressing room even in a big fancy store like Takashimaya. I did have a bit of fun in the smallish craft pop up upstairs buying iron on patches from a friendly and eccentric Frenchman. I did notice that the duty-free lines were long so plan accordingly.  My purchases were minor so I skipped it. We had booked a taxi to the airport and it came promptly. We were soon at Osaka airport sharing one last stack of wee sandos and enjoying the fact that there was an apple snack vending machine with cute rabbits.IMG_1092

We had a bit of a heart attack in Tokyo because we didn’t realize we had to go through security all over again and had spent too much time looking at all the fun stuff in the Tokyo airport. All was well, however we may have gained a few gray hairs. Soon we were back in the sky, heading to Boston.IMG_1096

On April 29th I wrote this on Instagram and my Facebook page

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Dear Japan,
Thank you for an amazing journey. Your people are kind and helpful. They are ever so patient with lost tourists and language barriers. Your cities are clean, safe and comfortable with reminders of humor and cuteness everywhere, not to mention the most awesome vending machines ever.
Your Shinto/Buddhist belief system encourages peace, reverence and a sense of ancient magic and hope everywhere. Your hot springs are healing. Your land and sea and rivers are heartbreakingly beautiful . We will hold you in our hearts forever.
Love ,
Christa and Arnie

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Arigato, Okini!

 

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