Breakfast this morning was from Doutor, a popular coffee chain found across Japan at 900 locations. They offer a selection of breakfast sets with a sandwich and coffee for just 390 yen (about £2.90).
In every Doutor you can find a smoking room.
Our plan this morning was to buy ferry tickets as we were off to the island of Shodoshima tomorrow. Flower road goes from Sannomiya station and led us directly to the ferry port.
We could have easily bought our ferry tickets on the day but were concerned they might sell out. We finally arrived at the port and everything was going according to plan.
Once at the ticket office though the plan fell through. The ferry was not running on weekdays for the next two weeks due to essential maintenance. This was quite a blow and initially we wondered how we'd ever reach Shodoshima.
There was a back up plan though which would involve travelling by train to Himejji and catching a ferry from there. Hearing this was a huge relief as Shodoshima was somewhere we were so excited about visiting. Safe in the knowledge we'd get there we made our way on the train slightly East of the city to visit Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum.
Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum opened in 2002 to commemorate the tragic 1995 Great Hanshin Awaji earthquake that hit Kobe. The earthquake resulted in the death of 5000 people and destroyed tens of thousands of homes. The museum includes a large screen theatre with realistic images of the earthquake's destructiveness, a documentary film about the recovery process, lots of information about the earthquake and various interactive games about disaster prevention. Before leaving, one of the volunteers working here kindly spent time in educating us in what to do in the event of an earthquake or tsunami. If you visit Kobe I recommend visiting the museum, although a very sad and tragic event, the stories around how the people and city recovered are fascinating to learn about.
Outside the museum I called into a Lawson store for a pork katsu sandwich. This one was cut into small pieces and contained a really tasty tonkatsu sauce.
Also nearby was Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. We didn't go inside but we did visit this giant apple on the rooftop terrace named "Youth" by Tadao Ando. A quote next to it read "Youth is not a time of life, it's a state of mind"
Outside the art museum we also found "Sun Sister" by Yanobe Kenji.
Back in central Kobe I bought this freshly baked bread roll topped with a sausage and mustard, so delicious!
We cut through Chinatown towards the port area stopping for a snack on the way.The only vegetarian thing Ella could find were these sweet potato chunks coated in a sweet sticky syrup. They were served warm and tasted really good.
These duck pancake wraps from Chinatown cost just 350 yen (about £2.60) each. The pancake was wrapped around shredded duck, a generous piece of duck skin, cucumber and spring onions. Hoi sin sauce was then brushed over the top making for a very tasty snack indeed!
Japan Special Pepsi, it didn't taste much different to me so I looked it up online and found the following information about it. "All the flavor of Pepsi you enjoy but with apparent health benefits. It can stabilise ones glucose level, lower serum lipids, and increase the absorbance of nutrients."
From Chinatown we cut through some malls passing some really cute dogs in prams.
Eventually we arrived at the port where we made a beeline for Anpanman Children's Museum and Mall. We didn't visit the museum but did venture down into the basement to check out the mall.
The noise levels from very excited children in the Anpanman Mall were very high. There were restaurants, playrooms, gift shops and even a specially themed barbers shop.
In hindsight I'm still kicking myself for not buying an Anpanman steamed bun!
Outside was a ferris wheel, BBQ area and Anpanman train ride. We walked slightly further and explored Kobe's brick warehouses but didn't spend too long there as they contained mainly restaurants.
We returned back to the hotel enjoying some Hanami dango on the way. Just 100 yen (about 74p) for a pack of 3. For those that aren't familiar with these, they're basically rice flour dumplings that despite the different colours all taste the same.
There's always space for more food back at the hotel and tonight was no exception. Fried chicken with egg, pork and vegetable topped rice from the legendary 7-Eleven.
Our time in Naha was over and we caught the monorail back to the airport, catching a glimpse of Anpanman on the way!
With Spam still firmly on my mind I choose a Spam and egg sandwich for breakfast. Not quite as special as the onigiri version but enjoyable all the same.
I'd drank a lot of iced coffee since arriving in Japan but this morning I fancied something a bit different. This Summer pudding frappuccino by Starbucks is exclusive to Japan and it was so damn tasty! Caramel sauce is mixed with a purin cream and on top is a layer of mixed fruit jelly made from mango, apple and strawberries, topped off with a mound of whipped cream and a cherry garnish.
Our time in Okinawa was over and we were about to fly back to Osaka where we'd travel onto our next destination, Kobe. Looking back I wish we'd spent an extra night on Tokashiki and hired a car to further explore Okinawa. That said though Naha does have a lot to offer and certainly kept us busy for a few days, such a beautiful island!
The flight to Osaka was pretty empty, I'm still unsure why ANA use a Boing 777 on such a short route. Perhaps the flight before was busier, who knows?
We bought some snacks for the flight including these lime flavoured crisps. Not a flavour I'd have ever thought of for crisps but it worked really well.
I loved these Calbee potato sticks on previous trips to Japan. This time though they seemed quite bland and too solid.
We had planned on catching a train from Kansai Airport to Kobe. I'd noticed a high speed ferry was offering the journey to foreign visitors at a promotional price of 500 yen (usually 1850 yen) which was less than half the price of the train. It was a no brainer and the journey took just 30 minutes and takes you to Kobe Airport where you can catch the port liner train a few stops to Sannomiya. If you want to know more about the ferry deal, here's a link.
Our home for the next two nights was Kobe Sannomiya Union Hotel. A double room here cost us £46 per night and being on the 17th floor offered stunning views across the city.
Always keep an eye out for drain covers in Japan, each city features different designs.
I was feeling like I needed a boost so bought an Otsuka OronaminC Energy Drink. It's comparable to Red Bulland has a sweet citrus flavour and contains Vitamins B2, B6 and C.
Ella had been really looking forward to visiting a Tokyu Hands store to stock up on pencils. In Kobe the moment arrived when she spotted the Tokyu Hands sign far in the distance. She rushed there right away and explored the art and craft section with a huge smile on her face.
A few minutes walk away from the busy Sannomiya area we found this stunning Shrine, a giant tori arch on the main street lead us to it.
A Taiyaki stall had caught our eye so we stopped to try one. This fish shaped cake was still piping hot when it was served and filled with a delicious custard filling. The most common filling is red bean paste that is made from sweetened azuki beans. Other common fillings include chocolate, cheese, or sweet potato.
Nankin Machi is Kobe's Chinatown, this area has over 100 Chinese restaurants and shops. If you love street food then this is a place you definitely need to visit!
The selection of food is vast and very reasonably priced. I couldn't decide what to have and Ella was struggling to find anything that wasn't meat.
Eventually I decided to try a pork belly bao, it was incredible!!
We decided to stop for a beer and formulate a plan for this evening. Eating more stuff here was tempting but with nothing containing no meat or fish Ella's options were not looking very promising and I wanted to eat together.
I did try a Kobe beef skewer though which tasted amazing. This cost about £8 but a similar sized higher grade piece of Kobe beef would have set me back £40.
A quick google search of restaurants revealed a Hanbey Izakaya could be found in Kobe. We'd visited these places on our previous two trips to Japan and always enjoyed the food and environment. This one was located in the basement so we went inside.
Hanbey runs a chain of Izakaya restaurants in a number of locations across Japan. They vary in size but all have the same look inside which takes you back to the Showa period. This was one of the smaller ones we'd visited but like the others it had the kitchen in the centre and seating around the edge.
You pay a cover charge of 380 yen each but for this you get a plate of cabbage. This might not sound particularly appetising but the sauce that comes with it is really tangy and so delicious.
As my wife enjoyed a selection of vegetable skewers I ordered one of my favourites here, the fried chicken. The food arrives at the table as soon as it's ready and everything on the menu is so reasonably priced.
This okonomiyaki cost just 200 yen (about £1.50) and the beers were just 380 yen.
Back at the hotel I enjoyed the views of the city with a can of Sapporo. There were vending machines on the 3rd floor so I later ventured down in the lift for another drink. The 3rd floor must have been in the process of renovation though as the walls and carpets were covered in plastic sheeting. It felt like a set from a set from a Serial Killer film but was worth it for a can of Strong Zero!
It was a beautiful morning in Naha as I watched life go by on the streets below our balcony. I'd been researching spam onigiri online and read about the best place in the city serving it, so decided to head there for breakfast.
As we walked the streets of Naha we noticed that the bin lorries played happy tunes to warn people of their presence. We also spotted beautiful flowers and butterflies making the most of the sunshine too. We were just over a week into our holiday and being on the other side of the planet taking a break from my daily life in Norwich was sheer bliss!
Roadwork barriers vary from city to city in Japan but they always make you smile.
When I arrived at Porktamago Onigiri people were already queueing for their spam onigiri fix. A team of staff were working hard in the kitchen preparing all the orders, their team work was an incredible sight! I was handed a menu whilst a queued and finally made a decision on the onigiri I wanted to order.
Fried fish tartar and pickled Okinawa shallots were added to this Spam and egg onigiri and it tasted incredible! Everything is made to order here so you can enjoy the onigiri hot which makes for a far more juicier experience. I could understand why they were the best place to go for these in Naha and my only regret was only buying one!
In the shopping arcade next door my wife spotted these purple sweet potato mochi snacks. They came in different colours and flavours, each one was said to bring good luck or a blessing. This particular one was said to bless the children. It cost just 100 yen and tasted surprisingly yummy, probably because it was so fresh.
The temperature outside was rapidly rising but the air conditioned environment of the Okinawa Prefecture Museum provided some much needed respite from the heat.The building containing 24.000 square meters of floor space was constructed using Okinawan limestone, it opened in 2007. There's a huge lobby in the centre with the art museum and Natural History museum on opposite sides.
There's also a local history section covering the history of the Ryukyus Islands and it's people.
As we left the museum I tried this Shikuwasa Fanta which is exclusive to Okinawa. Shikuwasa is a green tangy, tangerine like fruit grown on Okinawa.
Last night we'd tracked down this Vegan restaurant called Mana but arrived too late and it was closed. Today we were in luck though so we stopped for some lunch.
The Dal curry was tempting but we both decided to order the Veggy Kara-age.
The food was beautifully presented and included a small side dish and miso soup. The karaage here was even better than what we'd tried in Osaka, it was served with rice and a beautifully seasoned salad. The ends of the chopsticks here (not quite visible in the pic) were like needles but very nice to eat with.
We paid the extra 500 yen for the coffee and desert which was beautifully presented too.
Back in Naha we further explored the indoor shopping arcades next to the food market. There was an excellent selection of vintage goods to be found tucked away in some of the shops if you explored hard enough.
This was the first can of jelly drink I'd found in a vending machine since arriving. If you shake the can about 5 times up and down you will be able to enjoy the jelly in a pudding like texture, if you prefer a smoother drink shake it for even longer. I'd tried many flavours before but peach was definitely my favourite so far.
These bright pink foam like bands were said to increase fertility. Not particularly enjoyable to eat though, a bit like chewing on polystyrene!
The Awamori promo event we'd visited on our first day here was still in full swing so we stopped off to sample some more. One of the locals kept offering us more drink tickets and even brought over some food to try. These cheese coated chicken skewers were delicious!
A quick pit stop at Family Mart before returning to the hotel to eat on the terrace outside. I'd been spoilt for choice with food from convenience stores but Ella's choices had been much more limited as it's quite difficult in Japan to avoid things containing meat and fish. The things she looked out for were edamane beans, plum onigiri and salad.
This evening though all I wanted to eat was an egg sandwich, pure bliss!
We started the morning with a walk to Naminoue beach which was close by to our hotel. Naminoue beach looked quite nice except for the view! A big imposing expressway crosses the water directly in front of it.
Just around the corner from the beach is the stunning Naminouegu shinto shrine nestled up on a cliff top. As it was still quite early we were able to enjoy the surroundings of the shrine before the crowds descended upon it later in the day.
Not far away was Fuzhoa Garden which cost just 200 yen to enter. The garden was constructed in 1992, in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the sister city relationship between Naha and Fuzhou in China. There are two pagodas, a waterfall and large ponds filled with koi carp. Definitely worth a look if you're visiting Naha as it's such a peaceful oasis in the centre of this busy city.
We hadn't had breakfast yet so stopped for some cinnamon toast and a coffee in a department store cafe.
Eventually we were back on Kokusai Dori again where I spotted a shop serving sweet potato cakes and pastries. This cream filled chocolate cake topped with a bright purple sweet potato frosting looked and tasted superb.
The covered shopping streets behind Kokusai Dori were nearly all open, this is a great area to explore as there's such a vast selection of shops to be found here.
You can find many fruit shops and a huge food market in the centre.
This shop sold a huge selection of postcards featuring images of Naha. The owner who had taken all these photographs told us we could ask him about any of the images and he'd tell us where the photo was taken in the city.
By one of the exits at the rear of the market was a stall selling kushiage, deep fried food on a stick. We bought a selection which all cost under 100 yen each, they included sweet potato, quails eggs and shrimp. Excellent value for money and so delicious!
I also picked up a freshly made spam and egg onigiri for 100 yen.
I kept seeing sea grapes (umibudo) so decided to try some. They're quite salty and have an interesting texture, the tiny bubbles burst in your mouth as you bite into them. These are very popular in Okinawa and are a good source of vitamins A and C, calcium, zinc and iron.
Rainbow ice cream, so many different flavours with every lick!
A local guy we were chatting with yesterday had recommended visiting Shuri Castle. You can get there using the monorail, it's the last stop on the network. Some of the monorail cars are themed, the one we caught featured Little Twin Stars.
We called into a supermarket for a beer before making our way up to the castle. Ella couldn't resist buying these cute Milky chocolate lollipops.
Shuri castle was almost completely destroyed in 1945 during The Battle of Okinawa. In 1992 it was reconstructed based on historical records and photographs. We went inside where a circular route takes you through the buildings and courtyard. The luxurious interior contains the throne and crown of the King of the Ryukyu Islands and other important treasures.
After exploring the castle we decided to walk along the Shuri Kinjo-cho stone paved path. The length of the path was 10km long, but after WWⅡ it was destroyed. Now the path is 300m. People live on the path and it is also a designated cultural property.
Close to Asato station is Sakaemachi Arcade, a bustling market area with heaps of character. We visited in the daytime but this area really comes alive after 6pm when the many eateries and Izakaya open up.
It had a been a long day so we grabbed a snack from Family Mart to eat back at the hotel. I enjoyed this mixed bento with an iced cold can of Kirin. Ella feasted on edamane beans, mixed salad and pickled plum onigiri.
The breakfast at Marine Palace Guesthouse was as impressive as the dinner we'd been served last night. The tray contained miso soup, rice, potato salad, pickles, fruit, meat cutlet, fresh fish, ham and eggs. An impressive spread for sure and combined with coffee it set us up for the day nicely!
Having eaten so much for breakfast we decided to walk it off by crossing the island to Tomari Port, this time armed with umbrellas which we did eventually need. The road across the island was steep in places and occasionally we'd stop to admire rice fields or this cute little goat.
When we arrived at Tomari port everything was closed and nobody was about. We only had a few hours left on the island so decided it was best spent back on Aharen beach where we returned to next.
The views as we crossed back towards Aharen beach were breathtaking and the clouds started to break up allowing the sun to finally make an appearance.
We were looking for somewhere to have some lunch when Ella reminded me that the perfect spot would be on the beach. We picked up some food and drink from the shop and found a good spot to have a picnic on the beach.
The tempura veg and pork was delicious but I was really chuffed to find the local shop selling spam and egg onigiri.
I'd read about how popular spam was in Okinawa after the Americans introduced it during the Second World War. I'd not eaten Spam in years but who'd have thought it could be so delicious with egg and rice wrapped in nori seaweed, I was impressed!
As I explored the beach for a final time Ella captured it's beauty in a sketch.
The kind guesthouse owner who had looked after us so well during our stay dropped us off at the port in time to catch our ferry back to Naha. If you visit Okinawa I'd strongly suggest visiting Tokashiki as it's such a beautiful paradise. Some people visit for the day but I recommend at least spending one night on the island so you can experience it at night time too.
A couple of hours later we were back in the busy city of Naha, we checked into Hotel Pesquera where we'd be spending the next three nights. A double apartment here with kitchen, washing machine, and private balcony overlooking the city cost £68 per night.
It was good to be finally staying somewhere for a few nights. This would give us a good opportunity to properly explore Naha.
We wanted to return to the indoor shopping streets we'd found a few days ago. On our way there though we were distracted by a promotional event offering free samples of Awamori. It's a very strong alcoholic drink made from long grain indica rice and is very popular in Okinawa. It's often served with water and ice and is pretty strong. We were given a ticket to have two drinks each but one was enough for us!
As the tram passed us overhead we were almost back on Kokusai Dori where the entrance to the indoor shopping streets could be found.
Once there we spent a long time looking around it's many shops, sampling biscuits and becoming aware of just how popular Spam was here.
This restaurant caught our eye as we passed so we decided to eat here.
The menu was extensive and offered a decent selection of meat free options for my wife. We sat beside the kitchen counter and ordered a few dishes.
I couldn't resist another Awamori and with it some deep fried cheese arrived, beautifully garnished with a flower.
The fried chicken here was excellent!
Ella ordered tofu with mixed vegetables and a beer. The prices were really reasonable and the environment was lively and friendly, definitely a great spot for some dinner!
Late night snacks from Family Mart on the way back to the hotel included a banana cake and bar of crunky.
We were up nice and early to catch the 10am ferry to Tokashiki, a small island about 35km west of Naha. We booked the ferry tickets online weeks ago as they sell out fast. There's usually a high speed boat too but with this being taken out of service for it's annual inspection the ferry was our only option.
We boarded the ferry and were grateful that the sea looked relatively calm as if the waves are higher than 4 metres then the ferry gets cancelled. This was the only ferry going to Tokashiki today and we were booked on the only one returning back to Naha tomorrow.
Before boarding the ferry I picked up a bento box for the journey containing a selection of meats, rice, pickles and egg. There was also some bitter melon which is a major part of Okinawan cuisine. The bitter taste I didn't particularly enjoy but it's said to be really good for you.
The ferry took just an hour and ten minutes to get to Tokashiki where we were greeted by the owner of our guesthouse at Tomari port. The journey across the Island was quite magical giving glimpses of its beautiful beaches along the way.
We were spending the night at Marine Palace near Aharen Beach which cost us £112 for a double room. The price included dinner, breakfast and transfers to and from the port.
On a previous trip to Japan we'd visited Cat Island but we couldn't help but notice there seemed to be a similar number of cats here on Tokashiki too. They all seemed really friendly and would come and greet you if you stood around for a while.
This was the only shop on this side of the island, we made a note of it's 9pm closure time in case we needed any beers or snacks later this evening.
The approach to Aharen Beach had a cluster of places renting out snorkeling gear, canoes and wet suits. I'm really scared of jellyfish so decided I wouldn't be going in the sea except for a paddle maybe! There was also a small restaurant and bar which I definitely planned on visiting.
Aharen beach is absolutely stunning and as it was out of season they were very few people about. The weather today was cloudy but incredibly humid, we walked along the beach and I couldn't see any jellyfish so I went for a paddle studying the water very carefully.
These flowers crept down onto the beach which further down was covered in pieces of coral.
Having explored Aharen beach we stopped for some lunch and an ice cold Orion beer.
Ella ordered some taco rice which is a popular example of Okinawan cuisine. It's usually served with ground beef but the cafe were happy to serve it without meat.
I ordered Okinawan soba noodles served in a delicious broth and topped with pork, pickles and onions.
Just behind the beach we followed a path where we met this beautiful hermit crab. He scuttled across the path before hiding in his shell before slowly reappearing once again.
The path led up to this brutalist concrete lookout tower.
The lookout tower offered excellent views across Aharen Beach and the light breeze up here was much needed as the temperatures were so high.
At the base of the tower we met this tiny caterpillar exploring a concrete post.
Back at the beach bar we ordered a mojito and sat back taking everything in. The people hiring out wet suits and snorkeling gear all chatted amongst each other with a beer. Island life seemed so relaxing and slow paced here on Tokashiki, sheer bliss!
I forget which flavour this was but the first three flavours I'd asked for were sold out so choices were limited. I do recall it tasting great though.
The school on the island had a row of unicycles lined up outside. Learning how to ride a unicycle is quite common in Japanese schools apparently.
It was possible to get around the island using buses but we prefer to explore on foot. We decided to check out another nearby beach which was also incredibly beautiful. When we arrived though some very dark clouds were appearing overhead which was a slight concern. Before long the heavens opened and we were stranded underneath a covered seating area.
The rain passed eventually and we returned to Aharen to see if a cafe we'd spotted earlier was open yet. When we arrived the lights were on so we ordered some drinks and took a seat outside on the porch.
The cafe sold great coffee, Ella ordered a cappuccino and I opted for iced to cool me down as it was still so humid outside.
At 7pm dinner was served at the guesthouse and there was so much food! Everything was beautifully presented and tasted exceptional. There was miso soup, pickles, rice, salad, tofu, chicken with vegetables and the most amazing tasting fish. Ella's meal was meat and fish free, something we'd requested earlier in the day.
After dinner we explored Aharen in the dark starting with a beer on the beach. The stars were really bright and the sound of the waves crashing onto the beach was so relaxing. The only place we found open in Aharen was this bar where we almost stopped for a drink. We were feeling really tired though so decided instead to call it a night.
Today we had a flight to catch but not until the afternoon so we walked back to the Totoro Cafe that we'd spotted last night. Outside we were greeted by Totoro, soot sprites and a breakfast menu.
Inside the Totoro theme continued and it also reminded me of the shops I used to enter in Final Fantasy 7 to buy potions. The owner was incredibly friendly and made us feel welcome as soon as we entered.
The breakfast here consisted of a thick slice of fluffy white toasted bread cut into eight tiny pieces and topped with egg and a drizzle of ketchup. With it came a really good coffee, the price was just 500 yen (about £3.65).
A quick dash back to the hotel after breakfast to collect our cases and we made our way towards Osaka station where we'd catch our train to Kansai Airport. Not far from Osaka station we passed through a shopping mall selling catering equipment and signage for restaurants. A takoyaki cooker was tempting but we had a flight to catch.
We did stop briefly at Namba Parks, a massive shopping mall with gardens on the roof. We relaxed with a plum wine in the gardens before catching the train back to Kansai Airport.
We checked in for our flight to Okinawa and whilst waiting to board I enjoyed this pork and egg sandwich. The pork was in a tonkatsu sauce and the egg had so much flavour, a Japanese sandwich never disappoints!
Return flights from Osaka to Naha in Okinawa cost £156 per person and the flight time was 2 hours. We were quite surprised to see we'd be flying there on such a large plane, a Boeing 777.
We bought some of these on the plane, sweet star shaped drops that melted as soon as you put them in your mouth. Quite fun to eat but they would definitely disappoint if you were feeling hungry!
Once in Naha we caught the monorail from the airport, it offers a frequent link to the city and is really cheap to travel on. It travels frequently through the city from 6am till 11.30pm and goes as far as Shuri Castle.
We were only spending one night in Naha before catching a ferry to the island of Tokashiki. We would be returning to Naha again later in the trip though. Red Planet Hotel was conveniently located close to the ferry port, a double room here cost £56 per night.
We'd asked where the best area to eat was in Naha and the guy on the hotel reception suggested heading to Kokusaidori Street as there were so many restaurants there. When we arrived though it felt so touristy with menu wielding staff trying to entice you into their restaurants. We searched for somewhere to eat for quite a long time before finally choosing somewhere.
The local Okinawan beer is Orion.
Whilst ordering food I noticed a giant jar of Habushu (snake sake) beside the bar. I didn't try any but later noticed it for sale all over Naha.
I definitely made a good choice by ordering this Akahachi soba. A spicy Tonkotsu based broth containing soba noodles, beansprouts, green onions and deep fried chicken. The bowl was huge so I didn't need to order anything else after eating this, really delicious!
Just off Kokusaidori Street we found a huge network of covered shopping streets which housed a huge food market in the centre. A fascinating area to explore but shortly after we arrived many places were closing so we decided to return here again later in the trip.
Back on Kokusaidori Street we were lured into the souvenir shops where it was possible to sample all the cakes and biscuits.
I ended the night with a snack from 7-Eleven. My wife reminded me that it was not a snack but actually an entire meal. Ok, I guess she had a fair point!
We woke up having finally got a decent nights sleep and were keen to start exploring. The guesthouse provided a basic breakfast of coffee, toast and jam which we ate outside in the sunshine. Whilst eating our breakfast we noticed the bikes which were available to use for guests. We only had today to explore Osaka before moving on again so figured we would cover more ground on bikes.
Osaka Castle didn't look too far away so that's where we decided to head to on the bikes. These bikes are comfortable to ride and have a really handy built in wheel lock and sturdy bike stand.
There's plenty of cycle paths around Osaka so it's a great city to cycle around. If you see a green man at the crossing it's best not to hang around though as once it turns red you can be waiting a very long time. This might seem an odd thing to mention but we did spend a long time during the trip waiting to cross roads so it pays to look ahead and catch the green man whenever possible!
Osaka Castle is stunning and surrounding it is a huge moat and 15 acres of parks and gardens. The queues to go inside the castle were pretty long so we decided to explore the area around it instead.
The first of many stamps Ella collected on the trip. The salty and litchi drink is delicious and also great if you have a hangover.
There was no shortage of vending machines in the castle gardens. I'd be further exploring these over the next few weeks, looking out for drinks I hadn't yet tried as well as old favourites.
Inside the castle gift shop we found these Matcha tea squidgy cubes.
Ella loves Matcha tea but wasn't too keen on the consistency of these. I really liked them though and finished them all.
Shaved ice with strawberry and Hawaiian blue syrup. We'd seen shaved ice many times on our previous trips to Japan but this was the first time I'd tried it and I wish I'd tried it sooner.
On the way to the castle I'd noticed these street food vendors setting up. As it was now lunchtime we went along to buy some lunch, it was just a case of deciding what to choose.
As soon as I saw Takoyaki my decision was made.
If you've eaten takoyaki before then you'll know how delicious these balls are. If you haven't then try them asap, you can buy them outside the Japan Centre in London if you want to try them closer to home. Diced octopus in batter with tempura scraps, ginger and green onion. They're often topped with a takoyaki sauce and fish flakes, be careful though as they can be very hot so give them time to cool down before popping one in your mouth.
As I devoured my takoyaki my wife munched on some sweet potato fries.
Whilst at Osaka Castle park we noticed a free festival taking place inside the outdoor concert hall. We gathered some supplies from a nearby Lawsons convenience store and went inside to take a look at Angie Festival.
Not many people were here yet and we caught a couple of the earlier acts including this guy and later a Queen cover band. I'm guessing it got busier later in the day but we only stayed for about an hour.
So we had sunshine, music, a beer in hand and a box of sushi to share.
I absolutely love Inari sushi, so simple but so tasty. Deep fried tofu wrapped around rice, really juicy and sweet tasting.
Sometimes not planning a route and just seeing what you find around each corner can be a great way to explore and on this occasion it paid off. Having cycled around the Castle Gardens we ended up in an area close to Osakajokoen station. In the background we could hear music so we went to see where it was coming from.
We'd found another music event called Castle Heaven and we were just in time to catch a set by Osaka punk band Second Lady. They played a fast paced punk set with a few covers thrown in too including a great version of Nirvana's Smells like teen spirit. You can watch them in action on my Instagram Japan Highlights.
Between bands we explored another row of street food vendors. I loved how bright the signage is on their stalls.
Okonimyaki on a stick with a choice of toppings, delicious!
Before the next band started we picked up some more drinks from Lawson. These Strong Zero drinks are a favourite of mine, high in alcohol and available in a selection of fruit flavours. My wife wasn't tempted though and stuck to the beer, probably a wise choice!
Next to perform were Emo Rock band Laph Roi Glenn. An elderly guy was also watching them and having a great time, he'd occasionally give me the thumbs up to ensure I was enjoying them too. The band was great but to be honest I'll always be having a good time after a can of Strong Zero! After watching these guys we relaxed beside the river with another beer before cycling back towards the guesthouse.
The expressways that run through Osaka are an incredible sight, especially when they cross above each other like this. I'd even heard there was one that goes through a sixteen storey building in Osaka.
Ella had found a Vegan restaurant online that she wanted to eat at this evening. It was about a thirty minute walk away from the guesthouse so we went in search of it enjoying the views of the city by night.
We almost changed our mind when we saw this restaurant, the entire menu featured mushrooms!
The vegan restaurant was really busy but they had one spare table for us so we timed it just right. The dinner set menu seemed like the best deal so we both ordered the soy meat karaage and some beers.
The soy meat karaage was excellent with a similar texture to chicken, it came with miso soup, brown rice, potato salad and green salad.
On the way back we passed this Totoro cafe but sadly it was closed. We decided to return again in the morning though as it looked so amazing inside.
If you want to catch up on previous Japanese Adventures here's the links.
Chapter 1 (2014) Featuring Tokyo, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka.
Chapter 2 (2016) Featuring Tokyo, Nagoya, Nagasaki, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Yokohama.
Chapter 3 (2017) Featuring Tokyo, Hakodate, Sapporo, Sendai, Takamatsu, Naoshima, Kagoshima and Nagoya.
Having saved up money every week for 18 months since our last trip to Japan the day had finally arrived to return again. We decided to fly from Norwich with KLM via Amsterdam to Osaka, flights cost £637 per person. I always find transferring flights a bit stressful in case there's a delay but on the day everything was on time and went perfectly according to plan. The flight from Amsterdam to Osaka took about eleven and a half hours. My wife spent the best part of this time watching films whilst I finished Angry Birds and watched the progress of the flight on the screen. We were determined to get some sleep on the flight and even bought some of those inflatable neck pillows from Tiger to help with this. Apart from dozing off for a few brief moments though we arrived in Osaka at 9.30am feeling pretty damn tired!
On our previous trips we'd always flown into Tokyo but Osaka was close to The Seto Inland Sea where much of our trip would take place so it seemed like the perfect choice. We jumped on the Kansai Airport rapid train costing 960 yen and in just over an hour we were at Osaka station. It was on the train when a wave of tiredness hit us, we would have to wait another 6 hours until we could check into our hotel though.
As we left Osaka station the fresh air made us feel slightly more awake again and I had an uncontrollable urge to eat an egg sandwich from 7-Eleven. If you've eaten a Japanese egg sandwich before you'll definitely understand why! The softest white bread with the crusts cut off filled with the most creamiest egg, such a pleasure to eat. The other sandwich contained a shrimp cutlet, thoroughly enjoyable too!
Finding our guesthouse was made easy using Maps.me, a very handy map app that lets you view maps offline anywhere in the world. Simply download the cities you'll be visiting before the trip and view them in detail when you arrive. We were staying at Beehive Hostel for 2 nights, a double room her cost £40 per night. In Japan it's highly unlikely you'll be able to check in early unless previously arranged. You can however leave your luggage securely until check in time which is what we did next.
The sun was beating down as the temperatures steadily kept rising. Free of our luggage we made our way towards the Dontonbori food district pausing to admire some temples on the way. I loved the contrast of traditional and modern architecture so close together in this vast city.
I'd been really excited about visiting Dontonbori but strolling along it having not slept for 30 hours made it really difficult to appreciate. With this in mind we decided to head somewhere far more peaceful and relaxing.
Drinking beer on no sleep probably wasn't the wisest plan in hindsight but an ice cold Sapporo and some inari sushi on the banks of the Dontonbori was just the tonic we needed!
Occasionally a boat full of tourists would pass by on the canal, this one entertained the passengers with a brass band.
With a few hours to kill before checking into the hotel we stopped for an ice cream. The ice cream was really creamy and you could choose your toppings. We were curious about what lurked beneath the ice cream, as we dug down deep we discovered it was simply corn flakes. Actually quite a tasty combination and the mochi cubes on top were delicious.
On our way back to the hotel I decided to try a cheese dog, this wasn't your standard cheese dog though.
A rainbow cheese dog with a hot dog sausage further down. The coloured cheese was quite sweet tasting and had more visual impact than memorable flavour, quite enjoyable though!
We finally managed to check into our hotel at 4pm and get some much needed sleep. We were very aware of being able to sleep properly later tonight though so set an alarm for 2 hours later. Compared to back home the sun sets much earlier in Japan so by the time we were back on the streets at 7pm it was dark already.
The streets surrounding the Dontonbori district are certainly a feast on the eyeballs after dark. Just walking around them in random directions will ensure you're treated to many bright illuminated sights on every turn.
The Dontonburi Ferris wheel had been closed for nine years due to a mechanical fault but in January 2018 it was repaired again. We didn't go on it but did find somewhere to eat nearby on the banks of the Dontonburi Canal.
First we ordered some plum wine on the rocks, love this stuff!
I'd been looking forward to eating Okonomiyaki again and this one tasted great. My wife also managed to order one with no meat or fish. For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of trying Okonomiyaki it's basically a Japanese savoury pancake said to originate from Osaka containing cabbage, noodles, seafood, meat and vegetables.
You can usually choose from a variety of fillings and it comes topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayonnaise and fish flakes.
I also ordered some Wagyu beef on a skewer, seriously delicious!
In Japan you're never far from a 7-Eleven, Family Mart or Lawson convenience store. As we'd found on previous trips to Japan, it's always difficult to resist buying a snack from one of these places to eat back at the hotel. I found a tempura shrimp onigiri and Ella picked up some chocolate biscuits. Finally it was time to get a proper nights sleep!
With a week off work I decided to use my time off wisely by spending a couple of days in London with my wife. I'd been invited to try some Street Food and was keen to visit some of my favourite Brutalist buildings again, so this was the perfect opportunity. With the Norwich to London train line being an engineering work nightmare at weekends it also made much more sense to travel direct on weekdays.
First stop Pop Brixton, a few minutes walk away from Brixton tube station. This was my first visit here and even from the outside I was impressed by this colourful space built using shipping containers. I'd visited Boxpark in Shoreditch before but Pop Brixton seemed to have heaps more character.
Inside it's home to street food stalls, bars and even a restaurant. There's open space in the centre to eat and drink and if you make your way to the top floor there's also a large greenhouse dining area lined.
Souvlaki Street was the main reason we'd come here, to try a proper Greek Souvlaki.
When we arrived the staff were having a few issues with their new fryer meaning they were unable to fry chips, an important part of a traditional Soulvaki we were told. This didn't deter us though as we were still keen to try this popular Greek street food, with or without the chips.
Whilst waiting for the food we chatted with the staff over a Greek beer. Soulvaki Street had originally been selling at street food markets from 2014 across London, Pop Brixton was their first permanent home though. When the food was ready we headed upstairs to the greenhouse terrace to eat.
Why give flowers when you can give a Soulvaki! These tasted so good, even without the chips that are usually found inside too. The warm homemade pitta was wrapped around a delicious combination of pork, halloumi, tomatoes, onions, parsley, oregano, paprika and tzatziki. Everything was so fresh and full of flavour, my first Soulvaki experience definitely left me wanting to try this again in the future. If you get the chance be sure to look up Soulvaki Street next time you're in Brixton.
With Parliament Square protests taking place we were only able to catch a bus as far as Lambeth. Mindful of building up an appetite for more food later in the day we strolled through St James's Park, admiring the pelicans as we passed through.
Japan Centre on Panton Street is somewhere I always visit if I'm passing by. If you're looking for delicious bento boxes, Japanese snacks, saki or cookware then this is definitely somewhere you'll want to visit.
I was still trying to build up an appetite for tonight but the tempura on display was calling my name! This tempura aubergine and prawn box cost less than £5, irresistible.
Just behind Debenhams on Oxford street you can find Welbeck Street car park. A stunning Brutalist masterpiece in my opinion, the geometric facade takes my breath away every time I see it. It was built in the 1970's and designed by Michael Blampied and Partners.
I'd come along to visit for one last time as it was soon to be destroyed having failed to be saved by Historic England. Despite it's striking design it didn't meet the listings required, in part due to Centrepoint having a similar geometric facade. A sad moment for this incredible structure which will eventually be replaced by something with far less impact on the eye.
Our final stop for the day was Covent Garden where Shake Shack were putting on a party and we'd been invited! Six years had passed since the Covent Garden branch had first opened and it had just undergone a revamp and now also featured an outside terrace. So an evening of burgers, fries, frozen custard, shakes, wine and beer. Also an excellent opportunity to meet other food bloggers and instagrammers I'd only up to now chatted to online.
Following a restful day back in Norwich we were back on the train London bound again. Our first port of call was Southbank, easily walkable from Liverpool Street. As we crossed London Bridge I spotted a copy of Waitrose Weekend left on a wall. I'd been looking forward to getting a copy of this, as on page two I was featured in an article regarding my blog.
The Weather today was much better, it was quite mild and the sun was shining.
The Southbank is home to my favourite building on the planet, the brutalist eye candy that is National Theatre. Not everyone shares my passion though, Prince Charles once described it as "a clever way of building a nuclear power station in the middle of London without anyone objecting".
A few minutes walk along the South Bank and I found myself admiring another Brutalist masterpiece, Queen Elizabeth Hall. All this concrete was making me hungry so time to visit Southbank Centre Food Market.
I'd been keen to visit Street Pig since passing them on Broadway Market late last year. You can find them serving Ribs, steak, brisket, pulled pork and halloumi at various street food markets across London.
Choosing what to try here was no easy decision as everything looked incredible!
Eventually I opted for a stack of slow cooked pork ribs covered in BBQ sauce. The applewood smoked meat falls off the bone and their homemade sauces are excellent, they're served with a delicious potato salad and pickled red cabbage slaw.
Every time I've passed through South Bank Centre Food Market I've paused at the Chocofruit stall to admire their work. Usually I'm far too full up to eat anything else and today was no exception. I just had to try something though so ordered a chocolate covered banana with a selection of toppings. Watching them zig zag the dark, milk and white melted Belgian chocolate over the fruit is quite mesmerising. I was very pleasantly surprised by the price too, just £4!
Whilst I was stuffing my face with ribs and chocolate covered fruit my wife had been searching for her lunch. She returned with a beautifully presented vegan mixed platter from Ethiopiques.
Upstairs is a bar but if you pay £6 you can make your way down the spiral staircase into the museum. There's lots of curious things to look at down here so it's well worth a visit.
You can even enjoy a beer down in the museum whilst sitting next to one of it's many inhabitants!
Our final stop of the day was Canopy Market in Kings Cross. I'd been waiting to try a burger by One Tonne Burger Co for months and we just happened to be in London on the right day. One Tonne are based in Portsmouth so they can be difficult to track down in London. I was torn between ordering "The One" and the USP, I eventually opted for "The One".
This really was 'The One' when it comes to burgers! Two 28 day dry aged beef patties with smoked bacon, American cheese and onion jam. Hands down the best burger I've ever eaten, just incredible! I chatted with James whilst he prepared it in front of me, watching him hand press the patties, timing everything perfectly and putting it all together was fascinating to watch. I just hope that this style of burger eventually makes it to the streets of Norwich one day. An incredible end to our time in London, I can't wait to get back there again in May.