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Thursday, March 04, 2010

Osaka Castle, plum blossoms and kendo

In the hustle and bustle of Japan's big cities, personal space is something you never take for granted.

And yet despite the neverending waves of commuters on the Osaka public transport system, there's always a sense of order. Clear markings on train platforms indicate the precise point where doors will open, and passengers always form a polite and patient queue.

On our first full day in Japan, we headed out to Osaka Castle, or Osaka-jo. As we walked down the wide pathways of the surrounding park, we relished the fresh air, the trees and the gentle chirp of birds alongside joggers, dog-walkers, cyclists and chattering schoolkids.

Grilled sausages 200yen

We were temporarily distracted by a street vendor selling snacks en-route. It seems impossible to walk 100 metres anywhere without encountering some sort of food or snack for sale.

Mochi rice cakes in nori seaweed sheets

Grilled mochi rice cakes in toasted nori seaweed sheets

Grilled mochi rice cake in seaweed 100yen

Grilled mochi rice cake doesn't look like much, but it's heaven for a starch lover like me. The pounded rice has a traditionally chewy consistency, but the barbecue grill creates a crust that is smokey and crackly and guaranteed to get stuck in your teeth in a very good way indeed. The inner part is glutinous and stretchy and the toasted nori seaweed sheet imparts a salty fishiness.

Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle is always an impressive sight, looming high above us and protected by steep and formidable stone walls.

Eaves of Osaka Castle

It's my third visit to Osaka Castle, so we don't enter the building itself this time. Instead we bask in the warm tingle of sunshine with ice cream!

Ice cream time!

Hokkaido milk soft serve 400yen (approx AU$5.10*)
Grape and vanilla mixed soft serve 300yen (approx AU$3.80)
*based on our exchange rate of AU$1 = 78.9yen

"Number 1" says the sticker on top of the grape and vanilla mixed soft serve picture. We will soon realise that popularity in and of itself is a huge selling tactic in Japan, one that presumably self-perpetuates because everyone wants the number one selling item. In the interim, it works on us, as Veruca Salt follows suit.

The grape soft serve has the intense and artificial sweetness of grape bubblegum, and she's glad she didn't order the straight grape version. I opt for the Hokkaido milk (Number 2!) which tastes perversely of milk powder but enjoyably so.

Osaka Castle Park Bairin plum garden

The Bairin plum garden in Osaka Castle Park comes into bloom at the beginning of February and we join the camera-wielding throngs to capture the spectacular blooms.

Plum blossoms

Every man and his camera is out, from little point-and-shoots

to a heavy artillery of tripods and macro lenses.

Being completely surrounded by Nikon cameras was quite a novelty too - like coming home to my people!

Pink plum blossoms

White blossoms

Pink blossoms

Yellow blossoms

Osaka Castle Park plays host to a number of sporting facilities including a baseball field, athletics field, Kyudo Japanese archery and the Shudo-Kan martial arts training centre.

Kendo students

We were intrigued by a group of students practising kendo, or kenjutsu, a modern version of Japanese martial art sword-fighting.

We were pleased to discover that training sessions were accessible to the public, and we removed our shoes and headed inside the dojo to watch them practise.

Kendoka in bogu protective armour

Kendo is a noisy sport, the clash of wooden swords accompanied by wailing shouts that are meant to channel their fighting spirit. The females were noticeably much louder and more aggressive than the boys!

Kendoka mid-strike

And because watching other people be active does nothing but make us hungry by association, we end up indulging in more snacks. For research purposes, of course.

Grilled cuttlefish 300yen
Grilled squid 200yen

Obanyaki 100yen

Obanyaki filled with adzuki sweetened red bean paste

Obanyaki always tastes a little doughy to me, a bit like a cross between a pancake and a crumpet, but the adzuki red bean paste is thick, sweet and satisfying.

Food stall outside Osaka Castle

Osaka Castle
Nearest JR station: Osakajōkōen Station on the JR West Osaka Loop Line
About a 10-15 minute walk

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30 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 3/04/2010 02:08:00 am


  • At 3/04/2010 5:37 am, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Those are such incredible shots of the blossoms! If only we could get grilled squid on the street in Australia too...

  • At 3/04/2010 8:14 am, Blogger Simon Leong said…

    great timing to see the cherry blossoms. i've heard they only blossum for a very short time.

  • At 3/04/2010 9:10 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    Mmmm...Japanese street snacks are the best! I love the food culture in Japan...and those cherry blossoms look so pretty Helen...beautifully captured!

  • At 3/04/2010 10:03 am, Blogger Stephcookie said…

    The plum blossoms are so beautiful! I totally wouldn't have been able to resist the grape soft serve with it's top seller sign either hehe. The grilled mochi cakes look very tasty, wish I could have one right now...

  • At 3/04/2010 11:56 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At 3/04/2010 11:59 am, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Ooops deleted my previous comment. Still new to this stuff but yeah... Oh My I just had a severe de ja vu moment just looking at this! Do I really live a double life? If both lives rotate around food then I'm not complaining =D LOVE Blossoms. I'd like to go to Japan one day. Oh, and I've only started following recently ;) and then decided to start my own blog due to the stalking I've received of all my cooking photos on facebook =D

  • At 3/04/2010 2:26 pm, Anonymous Mrs Pigflyin said…

    I love street snacks and the mochi looks like a winner, have to try it one day. The plum blossoms are so pretty!

  • At 3/04/2010 5:49 pm, Anonymous Katie said…

    Those plum blossoms are so beautiful! When we were in Japan, we saw plum blossoms and I thought they might have been sakura because everyone was taking photos of them, but we later discovered they were plum blossoms. I was a little disappointed, but they are still gorgeous!

  • At 3/04/2010 7:32 pm, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    The blossoms are pretty cute. I wish we had street vendors selling decent food in Australia.

  • At 3/04/2010 8:30 pm, Blogger Sarah said…

    Obanyaki ga oishisou desu ne!

    If you're missing them now that you're back, I suggest making your own! (Same as taiyaki). Just waffle batter stuffed with canned red bean. You can get the moulds on Amazon.com


    xox Sarah

  • At 3/04/2010 9:38 pm, Anonymous Veruca Salt said…

    The blossoms were so pretty. Very lucky to have seen some before spring.

    Still recovering from the hubba bubba ice cream. Wrong on so many levels.

  • At 3/04/2010 10:52 pm, Anonymous ericl33t said…

    I remember some street food that I had in Osaka.. it was rice cakey, on a stick, with a dark sweet sauce, and it came in a box.. but I don't know what it's called.. anyway it was deelicious.

  • At 3/05/2010 2:17 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    The plum blossoms are really really really beautiful!

  • At 3/05/2010 8:55 am, Blogger Howard said…

    Great shots, love the pic of how intense they all look taking photos of the cherry blossoms.

  • At 3/05/2010 10:52 am, Anonymous Terry said…

    i love the cherry blossoms! I never get tired of seeing them!

  • At 3/05/2010 7:00 pm, Anonymous chocolatesuze said…

    home to your people BWAHAHAHAHA

  • At 3/05/2010 9:04 pm, Blogger Reemski said…

    Love the yellow blossoms...never seen yellow ones before

  • At 3/05/2010 10:45 pm, Blogger Von said…

    I've always wanted to go to Japan- it sounds so fun- and the food is so unique! The mochi cakes and obanyaki look so good!! I love the picutres of the flowers- they're so pretty!

  • At 3/06/2010 10:00 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Great shots of the plum blossoming ^^! and I still think you should had joined in the Kendo :P

  • At 3/06/2010 11:33 am, Anonymous Simon @ the heart of food said…

    Obanyaki! Man, I miss eating those things.

    Love the shots of the various plum blossoms. Really wish I was in Japan during that period.

    Lol at Nikon/home comment!

  • At 3/06/2010 8:59 pm, Anonymous kay said…

    i love grape flavoured japanese candies.. so i think the grape/vanilla icecream would be yummy for me.. hehehe.. although we dont really have grape flavoured stuff here in sydney!..

  • At 3/07/2010 1:04 am, Anonymous Trisha said…

    I remember when we went to Japan a couple of years ago... the obanyaki was one of our main sources of sustenance on those long bullet train trips to pretty much everywhere. It was autumn when we went so we missed the blossoms however Osaka Castle was still beautiful thanks to all the autumn leaves turning orange and yellow!

  • At 3/07/2010 1:29 am, Anonymous Kitchen Butterfly said…

    I loveeeeeeeee the blossoms....they're my quintessential reminder of spring and the hotdogs look yum...even though I hate hotdogs!!!!!!!

  • At 3/07/2010 6:45 pm, Anonymous Rebecca @InsideCuisine.com said…

    Really loved the mix on food and martial arts. ohhh and the beautiful blossoms! thanks Helen

  • At 3/07/2010 8:18 pm, Anonymous YW@brunchlunchmunch said…

    always wonder how does salty mochi taste like.. in Sydney I could only find those sweet dessert type mochi... very very curious about salty 1s.. :)

  • At 3/07/2010 9:53 pm, Anonymous SK said…

    Looks like you're having an amazing time in Japan and the food looks great. (I love natto btw!)

  • At 3/08/2010 2:05 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - Ahh yes, grilled squid on the streets of Sydney - how good would that be!

    Hi Simon Food Favourites - I think these were plum blossoms rather than cherry blossoms but we were happy to see them all the same. Cherry blossoms don't bloom until late March/early April and yes, their window period is very small.

    Hi Peter G - Thanks so much. The level of respect for food in Japan seems unparalleled doesn't it? Always inspiring.

    Hi Stephcookie - The grape soft serve was very alluring but I was glad I'd ordered the Hokkaido milk! The mochi cakes were great - hurrah for starch, I say!

    Hi angielivestoeat - lol. Congrats on starting your own blog. The more the merrier I say! Hope you make it to Japan one day - the place is one big eating adventure!

    Hi Mrs Pigflyin - I'm surprised you haven't tried the grilled mochi already. It was like rice chewing gum - so sticky and good!

    Hi Katie - Ha, I was a bit the same. There was such a fuss over the blossoms, I really wonder how crazy they go over the cherry blossoms! It is quite touching that they truly appreciate natural beauty - something we seem to often take for granted.

    Hi Mark - Kebabs aren't quite the same, are they? lol. But we have plenty of great outdoor festivals which is great.

    Hi Sarah - Ooh that's a great idea to make your own obanyaki...

    Hi Veruca Salt - Oh but nothing ventured nothing gained, right? It was memorable and who can beat ice cream eating in the shadow of a castle on a warm winter's day :)

    Hi ericl33t - Sounds delicious. I love that you still remember it with such clarity!

    Hi Lannae - They were gorgeous. You can understand why so many locals tote around tripods and huge cameras in an effort to capture their beauty forever.

    Hi Howard - It was such a serious business and I've never seen so many hardcore cameras and lenses in a public spot before!

    Hi Terry - These were plum blossoms but I agree, their beauty is quite breathtaking.

    Hi chocolatesuze - lol. I almost cried with happiness :)

    Hi Reemski - The yellow blossoms were particularly pretty, especially against the blue skies.

    Hi Von - Japan is a fantastic destination, and yes, the food is always a highlight!

    Hi FFichiban - Ha, the girls practising kendo were super aggressive. I don't think I would've surived two seconds :)

    Hi Simon - I took so many photos of the plum blossoms. I can understand why people spend a whole day there with tripods.

    And ha, the novelty of being surrounded by Nikons was definitely not lost on me!

    Hi Kay - I think the only grape flavour we have here is Hubba Bubba bubblegum, hence Veruca's adverse reaction. lol.

    Hi Trisha - Oh obanyaki as sustenance! lol. We ate a lot of onigiri triangles :) The changing of seasons in Japan is always picturesque. I can imagine that Osaka Castle would've looked spectacular.

    Hi Kitchen Butterfly - We found hotdogs everywhere in Japan and Korea. I think the cuts make them look so much prettier?

    Hi Rebecca - It's always fun to share photos. Happening on the kendo was a happy coincedence!

    Hi YW - The mochi wasn't really salty but the sauce on top added a sweet saltiness. I think you can buy unsweetened mochi from Tokyo Mart? Maybe ask the staff there?

    Hi SK - I'm back now but yes, Japan was brilliant as always. I'm slowly getting used to natto - hopefully after a few more trips I'll be its biggest fan :)

  • At 3/09/2010 4:24 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    those photo's really make me miss Japan and Osaka Castle is great.

    The picture of teh grilled sausage just reminded me of Thailand which i just got back from,a grilled sausage there would cost 33 cents!!


  • At 3/17/2010 1:27 pm, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    Lovely blossom Helen! I love the paparazzi of flower photographers too.

  • At 3/18/2010 6:15 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Sydneyguyrojoe - It's great when currency conversions are on your side isn't it? Japan is such a great destination - I always miss it upon my return!

    Hi Arwen - The flower paparazzi was quite a sight to see, but given the fleeting beauty of the flowers, it's perfectly understandable!


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