Saturday, 3 May 2014

Taiyō no Tō - Tower of the Sun

Back in early March, when it was still freezing, and the plum blossoms were just starting to open up, attempting to convince me Spring was "just around the corner" (it was not) I went to see Taro Okamoto's Sun Tower - Taiyō no Tō (太陽の塔) 

Tower of the Sun is really cool, it was originally made as the symbol '70 expo and It's currently at the expo park memorial in Suita. Aside from being enormous and amazing and among the flowers, it also features in a Shonen Knife song AND inspired sex scenes in the novel "Season of the Sun" by Sakyo Komatsu. Yep. See it to believe its.. sensuality.

We drove to the expo park (while listening to Japanese hip hop and eating edamame chips) but the best way to get there via public transport, I think, would be the midosuji subway line to senri chuo station. From there it's just a short walk, and you will probably be able to see the sun tower looming in the distance. Park entrance is only 250yen, less than $3! I highly recommend this as a picnic spot (in Spring or Summer) because there's heaps of space, trees, bamboo, playgrounds and a river with swan boats.


Saturday, 1 March 2014

mino forest and waterfall

If you feel like taking a little time to do exactly the opposite of eating yourself broke in dontonbori or somewhere similar, I recommend Mino forest and waterfall. To access - take the Hankyu line from Umeda to Ishibashi, then change at Ishinasbi for the Hankyu Minoo line, which will take you directly to the station, and forest walk entrance.

Mino area is famous for maple leaves - making it a really popular destination to view the autumn colours. I wouldn't be surprised if it was a little cuter in hanami season too. However, I found right now, the end of Winter, perfect.

The air was scarily fresh. Being outside of peak season the walking trail was incredibly peaceful. It was just me, a few jogging couples and the occasional flock of obchaan.. (granny in japanese) it truly is no wonder these people live forever. There is a huge difference in visiting places like this during off season. With only half the usual gift shops and cafes open, it feels like a remote area, whereas during autumn, especially around midday - afternoon, I can imagine the crowds are huge.

 There are places to eat along the way but I recommend bringing a bento or some onigiri and purchasing a bottle of vending machine hot tea to enjoy at one of the many benches set bedside the pathway. You could also munch on some of the areas specialty - tempura maple leaves, which did sound tempting, but were certainly not for me...

You can walk the whole way to the waterfall on an easy path like this, and it will take you around 40 minutes. I took the more "serious hikers" path on the way up, which was a pretty good work out, and just took my time wandering back along here.

With this atmosphere - a cold crisp air with brown maple leaves scattered around, the sound of running water, old tea houses set into the mountain and exclusive (and far too expensive) bathhouses to get lost in, you can begin to see how films like spirited away are born from this country.

The waterfall at the top of the trail was more impressive than I expected! I also saw a monkey and a handful of strange cats. And some cute babies. Who all started crying when they saw the monkey, and then smiling when they saw the cats.. and then crying again when they remembered the monkey. 

I really recommend taking a few hours go on this walk in Mino forest. Although I'm not the biggest fan of tempura maple leaves, if the lady standing behind a small bbq and yelling about mochi is waiting at the station gates, please buy the soybean flour covered mochi from her. One of the best I've had yet... and even though the onsen inside the forest is, from what I hear, a total rip off, the foot onsen around the corner from the station is much cuter, and better value for money. I hope you can enjoy Mino one day!

Friday, 28 February 2014

nabe party at my apartment!

I hosted my first Japanese food party! 

Shopping for supplies at the local LIFE grocery store. Hilarious experience for me, as everyone squabbled over what was the best type and price of cabbage and mushrooms.

Inside my apartment! (Actually Kasumi's apartment. I'm renting it from her for the duration of my stay. It's too sweet.)

I learnt that posing with food items, especially like this bag of chips is extremely cute. I think in this case it is because the bag of chips is large, larger than the usual size in Japan and so therefore, your face appears small and cute. However this theory was challenged the other night when someone held a tiny tempura radish next to their face for a photo. Seems I will never understand how to be truly kawaii....

Yuki serving the nabe! I was nervous about hosting this party except then I did absolutely nothing except eat and drink aaaand learn how to make! We used a nabe pot that Yuki kindly lugged all the way from Kobe, on top of my little single gas cooker. These are really handy! I would love to have one at home. Mainly because I can't decide if I like cooking or socialising more.. and if the stove was in the middle of the action.. wellllll. 

We chose soy milk and sesame flavour stock and brought it to the boil. Then added chopped chinese cabbage, a variety of mushrooms, fried tofu skin, bean sprouts and silken tofu. You each add a little stock to the bowl and then continue to pick out vegetables as you like. The girls were kind enough to let me have enough before added finely cut pork and tiny hot dogs, or as they are called here, wieners. At the very end you add noodles or rice. We added fresh udon. You can use use condiments in your individual servings. We had cracked black pepper and a sticky yuzu pepper. Something like shichimi togarishi would be good too.

beautiful girls :) 

Big bag strikes again!!

I recommend trying to make nabe too, it basically means "one pot" and really is the perfect winter meal.

Monday, 24 February 2014

Apsara Cafe, Osaka

Introducing Cafe Apsara! My first recommendation for cafes in Osaka! This little vertical sign is all you will see at the entrance.. and then another one further in...

.. and finally this one at the front door. Cafe Apsara are dedicated to using local and organic produce when possible. They only use whole foods with no preservatives, etc. Although they do serve meat and dairy, the dish I ordered was their vegan special of the day. 

Inside is very cosy and dimly lit, with a little Thai inspiration to their decor. They serve a few thai inspired curry dishes too, which is their specialty, I think. When you enter you can choose to sit at a little couch or wooden table. In summer the outside area would be really beautiful too. Each table has a tiny leaf in a tiny vase. Soo Japanese. For main meals the prices are around ten dollars, which is more than you would spend grabbing onigiri or soba for lunch, however here you are paying not only for the attention to health and freshness in the food, but also the atmosphere. I happily spent an hour and a half writing, reading and eating here and the other patrons were in no hurry to leave either.

In Japan you might come to a place like this and buy a drip coffee for around $4 and think thats expensive, when you can buy a similar style from 7/11 for $1.. but you are paying for the chance to relax and get comfortable away from the crowds. Although I'm Australian drip coffee would actually have to be my favourite! As a side note I'm happy to see it becoming more popular at home. Places like Cafe Apsara can be really refreshing and energising, although maybe the caffeine helps... 

Although I can read Japanese menus, the owner insisted on going through every dish with me in English, and answering my questions about animal products, etc. I chose the tomato and mushroom Japanese style curry with brown rice. The side dishes were a simple salad with vinegar / sesame oil dressing, soy marinated spinach and carrot (i think!) and a potato salad with mayonnaise. I know there is a vegan mayonnaise available in japan and although I hope that is what they used I really can't say for sure. If you are vegan visiting this cafe, just beware! 

The dessert selection here looks amazing too. They have a variety of drinks served in handmade pottery cups and saucers. Two very cute older women next to me were chatting furiously over some matcha red bean parfait I couldn't stop looking at, they were small, dense and less cartoon looking than what you might find at nannas green tea or displayed around the streets of Kyoto.

I will be back to try more at Apsara Cafe! 

note: If you read my previous post, I did find this cafe a little difficult to locate. Try to follow the map on the website, but please don't hesitate to contact me with any questions!

Lunch: 11:00 - 16:00
Dinner: 16:00 - 21:00
Closed Wednesdays :)

Sunday, 23 February 2014

afternoon walk in toyonaka

I was feeling a little run down yesterday, not surprising considering the huge drop in temperature and long plane trip (which is basically just a germ capsule am i right) so I took the Hankyu line to Toyonaka in search of the organic, healthy cafe I read about online. I took the local train from my place, just a few stops away but you could take the express takarazuka line train from platform 5 at Umeda Hankyu station if you wanted to visit. 

Tiny street right by the train station.. I don't know anything about typography but I love signs like this you can find all over Japan, especially in more suburban areas. 

Along the mini highway when the sun came out! As everything this photo is bite sized you probably can't tell, but the space between the shopfront and that white line to separate people from cars is TINY. Sometimes you bascially have to dive into the closest pot plant garden to make room for approaching vehicles. 

And then google maps did what is does best, it lead me to the middle of nowhere. However, the sun was so warm at the moment I realised I was lost I wasn't put out at all. On the website the cafe said it was close to the local shrine, so I headed back in the direction of the orange tori gates.

I LOVE this garden! So cute in the middle of all these white apartment blocks. 

I found the shrine! I was too distracted by the thought of imminent food I didn't take may pictures, except of this kawaii mascot outside a preschool where you can see the shrine in the background. I will be back here for sure. Such a nice park and relaxed atmosphere.

Mikan stall! If i didn't have plans to meet my friends at the izakaya later I would have picked up some of these local mikan.. however I think turning up at the pub with a bag full of fruit is probably a little strange.

Across the road from here I finally found the cafe! Such a moment of triumph when you show google maps who is boss. I'll need to do a separate post on the cafe, it was too cute to share space. I hope you can visit Toyonaka sometime, it is also home to an open air museum of old Japanese farm houses which I plan to check out too!