Of all the cities in Japan, Osaka is undoubtedly the one I will miss most when I return home. Just an hour and a half train journey from Tsuruga, it’s a city I’ve frequented often. The bustling streets of luxurious Umeda, the chaos of the shopping arcades in Namba and the calm atmosphere along the Donton Bori canal with tako-yaki in hand. (If you’re not familiar with them, tako-yaki are Osaka’s traditional dish, in English they’re translated as “burnt octopus balls” – let that conjure whatever image you see fit.)
The thing I like best about Osaka is that it’s so vibrant and vast that even though I’ve been there more times than I can count, it never fails to surprise and intrigue me. There’s always something new to explore, something new to discover and fall in love with. When I first arrived I was hooked on Shinsaibashi and Namba. I couldn’t get enough of the buzz around the infamous “running man”, I started dreaming about takoyaki and I almost developed a chronic addiction to the UFO catchers in the numerous game arcades – winning 70 cuddly toys during one weekend.
Although I still like the “downtown” area, on recent visits I’ve found myself looking for a more relaxed weekend break which has lead me to Kita-Umeda. Right beside Osaka Station, Kita-Umeda is Namba’s more glamorous older sister lined with more places to “do lunch” than you could ever imagine.
Since last Autumn, Kita-Umeda has been our regular haunt and whether it’s lunching at our favorite sushi restaurant, taking advantage of Happy Hour at Bears cocktail bar or eating on-the-barbie roast chicken at 280yen tapas restaurant NagaGutsu it’s always a blast. Sometimes when I’m whiling an afternoon while enjoying a spot of people watching, I wish that time would stop.
As I mentioned before, every trip to Osaka is a voyage of discovery and just last weekend I found a whole new area just a stone’s throw from my usual Umeda haunts. Strolling along the streets I’ve come to know so well we stumbled upon a couple of cute little cafes. One was Christmas themed and while tempted by the red and green décor and jolly Santa decorations, we decided to continue walking past. We’d only walked two blocks from the main hub of Umeda, yet it already felt as though we were in a quiet suburb of a much smaller city. In contrast to the modern skyscrapers that are so iconic in that part of Osaka I started to notice small wooden houses in traditional Japanese architecture. The mood had completely changed from a bustling cosmopolitan city centre to a sleepy,
bohemian district filled with meandering streets and little old ladies leisurely cycling past on rickety old bicycles. Turning a corner we saw a tiny wooden townhouse with ivy leaves and hundreds of wild purple flowers growing up its aging wooden exterior. Realising it was a café we didn’t hesitate to head in, carefully stepping over the sleeping cat on the doorstep.
Known as Nakazaki-cho, this part of Osaka is full of independent cafes, restaurants and vintage shops. From further exploration we discovered a plethora of cafes and of course, I wanted to try each and every one. Five cups of tea and five cafes later I had pushed my café curiosity to the limit so we continued to meander – window shopping only. Each café we visited had a unique twist. One was rabbit themed and had rabbit themed books set on each table – my favourite included 500 pictures of the same rabbit with various household items photoshopped to his head.
Another had a curious antique doll theme and doubled up as a second-hand bookstore. My cream tea was delicious but I was left a little unnerved by the human sized doll sat at the table to my right and the various other curiosities staring at me with their life-like glass eyes. There were plenty of other cafes to try each with their own unique charm and selling point.
Last week when looking at an old school photo album, I learned a new Japanese word. “That photo album makes me feel natsukashi” said one of my co-workers. She then went on to explain the meaning and the closest English I can think of is nostalgia or “the good old days”. I’m sure when I’m back in Scotland reminiscing of my days spent in a sleepy seaside town in Japan I’ll also feel natsukashi. And there’s an air of natsukashi around this area. A longing for a simpler age, finding beauty in things that are neither shiny nor new and where everyone can be whoever they want without having to conform to the latest fads. Nakazaki-cho is relaxed, sleepy and everything is so slow paced that it almost feels as though time has stopped. Somehow it feels disconnected from the city around it and it’s hard to believe that you’re in the heart of an urban sprawl with 17 million inhabitants. I’m already looking forward to my next visit to Osaka to make my way round more of Nakazakicho’s cafes, it’s a welcome and refreshing addition to my Osaka itinerary.