Has anyone ever sung you the praises of a destination by insisting on all the great conversations you would have there? The fast-paced life of Osaka doesn’t mean that locals don’t have time to stop and chat. Osakans are renowned among the Japanese for being very friendly and outgoing, as well as for possessing a good sense of humor.
Walking through a subway station here may feel like you’ve entered a human asteroid belt, with beings flying at you from all angles, but slow down for a moment and invariably you will make some kind of connection.
Stand looking lost at the entrance to the subway, and in half a second or less, someone will offer to help you. Ask your waiter if he can point you in the direction you’re trying to go, and he’ll come out of the back with a Google map printed out for you. Have a heart-to-heart with your masseuse about everything from what your plans are while you’re in Japan to your greatest aspirations in life. Then ask for her recommendation about what’s worth checking out in the area.
There is a myriad of things to do and see in Osaka, and walking is a great way to take it all in. Head to Shinsaibashi Station to begin a jaunt that will not fail to provide plenty of amusement. If you enjoy people-watching, you’ll be thrilled to witness the crowd’s characteristics changing every few blocks. Walking south on the main stretch, you’ll observe impeccably dressed men and women on their way to high-end stores such as Chanel and Prada. Then, turn right at the Mac store and walk straight into Amerika Mura, a shopping area catering to diverse fashion senses. It’s full of used clothing stores, hippy world-import boutiques, punk/goth shops with plenty of skull-themed wearables, and the area’s namesake: retailers of American hip-hop fashion from the early ’90s.
Next, carry on to Dōtonbori. As you approach the bridge, its flashiness is sure to catch your eye. Many are tourists here, snapping photos at whim, trying to capture the veritable circus of visual stimuli: everything from arcades enticing you with their bright lights to larger-than-life animal replicas advertising the kinds of edible critters you can feast upon at different restaurants (namely crab, octopus, and blowfish). You can spend lots of time here gawking.
When you want to relax (or you’ve exhausted your ability for clear eyesight), head south to Ebisuchō. This is the Shinsekai area, presided over by the aging, neon Tsūtenkaku Tower. It’s a bit rough around the edges, but this district has loads of cheap and fun bars and restaurants, not the least of which is a very unique setup called Nocosarejima. The owner, Noco, and her partner, Gandhi, are well worth meeting. It’s a pleasure to sit down with them and hear about this uncommon establishment.
The bar/restaurant is named after the first episode of a 1970s TV anime series called “Future Boy Conan,” one of the least well-known works of very well-known director Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away). “Nocosarejima” means “Remnant Island,” a key feature of the show’s plot about the adventures of a boy and his grandfather surviving on an isolated island after World War III. The restaurant itself seems like an oasis, providing a relaxed, fun atmosphere in the midst of the city’s hustle and bustle. The décor is a mash-up of cultural trinkets from all of the countries that Noco has been to throughout her travels in Asia. The selection is purposeful; Noco intended it to foster a chill vibe similar to the tropical Japanese island of Okinawa, a place very close to her heart.
As for the menu, dishes from all over Asia are featured, as Noco also learned how to cook local specialties during her travels. The Thai green curry is fantastic! Seasonal items are on offer as well. This summer, two specials are umibudo, a kind of soft seaweed from Okinawa (dubbed “sea grapes”), along with awamori, a rice liquor also from Okinawa. Noco’s attachment to Okinawa has also led her to use the bar as a means of educating customers on the importance of preserving the natural and cultural heritage of the island.
At Noco’s, a spontaneous musical performance is quite likely to develop, as Gandhi keeps several guitars in house and is keen to play for, or with, customers. His friend may even stop by to join in with a traditional Okinawan sanshin, and then it’s a party! Overall, Nocosarejima is a great way to finish a long day of walking and talking in vibrant, never disappointing, Osaka.
Right now, All Nippon Airways (ANA) is offering tourists the opportunity to fly domestic to any destination in the country, including Osaka, for only ¥10,500. For more details, visit their website.