Our time in Osaka was short - only two days before we moved on to Kyoto and then our Nakasendo hike through Kiso Valley (local guides to come!). In just a few days however, we had a series of stressful situations that taught us a thing or two! Yet somehow, between all that, we managed to see a lot of this amazing city!
Two days before our flight to Japan, we had a quick banking check in to pay off some credit and check to make sure our accounts were in order. With a few unfocused clicks we paid off our credit with the only debit card account we had (forgot the other one in Utah!) What made matters worse- we made a suuuuper dumb mistake on Qapital and rather than transferring out the money we had saved up for Japan, we transferred IN the money from our debit account! *** We thought a few days would be enough time to get everything righted, but by the time we landed in Osaka (on a weekend, with a crazy time difference), we still had a big fat 0 in the only account we could pull from! It’s fine, we have a couple credit cards - no big! Well, turns out as advanced as Japan’s toilets might be, with the exception of a few places, they still operate on a cash only basis!
We learned just how unhelpful our credit card would be our first night in Osaka. As we hustled to the other side of the city to check into our Airbnb, we went to the train station to buy tickets. Cash only. With no plan B, we slipped through the ticket gates behind some other customers. We even thought we’d been caught and awkwardly stopped by the ticket master gate waiting for him to reprimand us… only to have him smile and wave us through! Thank you kind sir!
The next day we met up for an “Airbnb Experiences” bike tour. (If you haven’t looked into these yet you should. People around the world can now list tours and unique experiences, from cooking classes to surf lessons, on Airbnb!) We skipped breakfast (y’know since we had no money) and biked through the first part of the day with our guide Ryoi *** He took us to little snack stands that we couldn’t buy anything at, and then to a sushi restaurant which we somehow couldn’t afford***, and finally, around two in the afternoon, took us to a fish market, where we awkwardly tried to explain we couldn’t buy any food because we’re flat broke. Once he understood the situation, he led us to a grocery store, exclaiming that “this place will take your card!” Tyler and I rushed into the store, gathering sushi platters and drinks, greedily snatching fistful of soy sauce and grabbing some sweets on our way to check out. We unloaded our armfuls onto the counter, literally drooling with excitement, only to see the cashier shake her head, put her hands up and say “no card, no card!”
AHHHHHHH (basically the sound my stomach made!) To be so close to food and not get to eat! I don’t want to exaggerate this in any way…. we obviously were not in danger of starving. We were just hungry. Pretty damn hungry.
Our tour guide dipped out to the restroom as Tyler and I sat on a bench outside the supermarket, watching people pass by, arms laden with bags full of food, seeing locals grab fruit and fish from the vendors all around us. I started to get hangery. Tyler stood up and said “I’ll be back.” I waited there, grumbling, trying to do some time zone math on when our deposits would clear. Tyler returned, sat down, and placed the backpack he’d been wearing at our feet. Then he looked at me, smiled, and reached in the bag… and pulled out a tray of sushi.
It was the best meal we had in Japan.
“Very Jean Valjean of him”, said Tyler’s mom, Holly, when we told her the story…. right before she “emergency wired” us 200 bucks so we wouldn’t starve.
Moral of the story? Travel with a few hundred bucks of cash to exchange at the airport. Who knows, it might save you from breaking the law later.
Also, call ahead to your bank to clear your travels with them. We’ve learned this lesson before, but always forget until we have no data and we’re standing at a check out counter with a rejected card. That was our next experience. We found a dinner spot that took credit card, only to have our bank block our transaction. Secure? Yes. Superbly inconvenient? Also yes.
Trying to communicate in hand signals the sentiment “I’m sorry, we’re sodding idiots and we can’t seem to get our life in order. Could you please just give us the next ten minutes to an hour to run around trying to find wifi and sort all this out?” is SUPER fun. I highly recommend trying it sometime.
We dug through our packs and pockets. Mining for ANY cash we had to change. We managed to find… ahem… 5 Euros, 1 US dollar, and 20 Mexican pesos…. which math’d out to 800 something Yen (aka a grocery store sandwich). Luckily Holly’s wire came through and after an hour at the nearby Western Union, and an unbelievable amount of paper work, we FINALLY got cash. We danced with our Yen bills in the elevator. I felt like the richest girl in the world holding all that paper! The relief of being able to not only buy our next meal, but pay for the next bed in Kyoto (and the train ride there)… ahhh so sweet.
The next day, in Kyoto, our transfers came through and we were in the clear. I wouldn’t want to go through the headache of all that again. But we certainly walked away with some more street smarts. There are some times and places that being really “spontaneous and unplanned” is far less romantic and whimsical than it sounds! Whew. All my readers are likely much wiser travelers than Tyler and I, and so this advice is probably common sense to you.
Take it as a reminder, then: bring cash + call your bank.
Now onto our Osaka Wander Guide.
You can already put together that with only a few days, and much of it spent wringing our hands over money matters, we certainly didn’t scratch the surface of the city. However, we managed (with a lot of help from our great bike guide) to find some pretty great digs that you should check out when you visit (because my financial horror stories should totes be enough to convince you to go to Japan right!? haha just wait until you check out my Nakasendo Trail post… then you’ll book those tickets!)
Cheese Craft Works: This was one of those places that takes credit card. They also had great wifi and A/C... it's funny how those all came before the food. Pretty good food too - interesting fusion of Italian and Japanese.
Kuromon Ichiba Fish Market: Super local market with a lot of action. Make sure to get there as early as possible to see more of the trading happening. Very local spot, ask before you take pictures since this market isn't meant for tourists! Great food and sushi all around here. Maybe the freshest fish you'll get to have!
Chuo Ward: Market arcade with tons of food shops. Best sweets we found in Japan. Good for the wander or bike through.
Pain Duce: Amazing bakery with delicious coffee and an amazing selection of unique pastries. Seriously our favorite breakfast the whole trip. We kept hoping we'd find another spot as amazing. Their tables are full of self serve artisan pastries and delicate treats. Amazing.
Tsutentaku Tower: Huge tower you can see in Osaka skyline. This area has tons of good food. (and a hello kitty parking lot - see if you can find it!)
Dotonbori: Basically the Times Square of Osaka. I'd recommend avoiding it, but it's sort of a sight to behold. We did a quick lap and were satisfied, but glad we saw it. Plenty of shops and restaurants, I'd recommend going off the main thoroughfare and you'll find some good spots to eat.
Namba Yasaka "Dragon" Shrine: Amazing shrine (and there are many). Typical layout of shrines, but the stage area is shaped like a giant Dragon head! Amazing architecture and very photogenic shrine. I took a ton of pictures here. Lanterns, rooftops, dragons, all very picturesque!
Shitennoji Temple Complex: Huge grouping of many shrines and temples. Lovely architecture and great sights!
Airbnb Experiences bike tour: Like I said above, this was totally a highlight of my time in Osaka. This link will take you to Ryosei's booking page, so you will have the same guide I have! He is a Osaka local who speaks fairly good english. He took us to some of the big sites, but also showed us some amazing niches we wouldn't have found on our own (like a gorgeous shrine waterfall in the middle of a cemetery! Not to mention all the amazing markets we biked through and how much time he spent making sure we felt like we had enough time to see the city!
Trios: Not to be missed in Osaka. This was my absolute favorite shop we found. They sell handmade pottery, stonewares, metal tools, fabrics, etc. The store itself has an amazing style and feeling - I couldn't stop photographing! Very inspiring design elements.
Shinsaibashi-Suju Market: Great local market for all sorts of wares. Has a cooking focus with many kitchen tool artisans, including knifes and cutlery. Great local spot to wander.
Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shopping Street: More of a fashion market. Variety of vendors. The whole Namba area was made up of large fashion malls. Interesting experience!
Airbnb's galore! So many super affordable options in Osaka. The average price of a room is 60 bucks. The homes are nice and clean and hosts are very respectful! You can't go wrong.
Use this google map to download for your trip in Osaka. Each of the places I've shared in this post are marked and categorized!