But, there were plenty of things to get the mouth watering – huge oysters being cracked open, enormous clams being cooked by blow torches, and tray-fulls of octopus balls being fried up by incredibly fast moving human ball turners (as I had to point out to a passenger, these “octopus balls” are not the delicate anatomical extremity that the name might suggest).
We settled on okonomiyaki for lunch – this is a delicious Osaka favourite, which is a cross between an omelette and a savoury pancake cooked on a griddle. Probably not very healthy, but great comfort food.
Fortified by this, we headed over to Dotonbori, a riverside street which takes crowded to a new level. This was the perfect example of how Japanese shopping streets develop into complete sensory overload – neon signs blinking and flashing at you; big screens playing bits of movies or shots of pedestrians taking photos of themselves in the big screens; so many sound systems playing tinny music or blaring out adverts; stalls frying up tempting food in front of your nose; girls in short skirts holding up big advertising signs, dancing manically. Somehow, it was crazy, but never chaotic, super busy without being manic.
That evening, we headed into Osaka again for another meal. Of course, you have to overcome the rather large language barrier with the smartly uniformed taxi drivers who are desperate to help, but have no idea what you are saying. But somehow we got to our destination, which was a side-alley shabu shabu restaurant. Here, you have a bubbling pot of hot water in front of you, in which you throw in various vegetables and exotic mushrooms, plus some slices of wagyu beef till they’re cooked to your taste. We had no idea what we were doing, so it was good fun, and probably more healthy than delicious.
This is the fun of Japan, you’re taken out of your comfort zone and experience sights, sounds and tastes that you wouldn’t normally encounter – but, it’s always in a friendly, safe and non-threatening environment that’s exciting and occasionally bewildering. A lovely first day in Japan.