With Osaka as our base all throughout our trip to Japan last March, we spent an ample amount of time in trains and train stations, going to Kyoto, and around Kyoto and Nara. Aside from the Japanese railways’ efficiency, these are some of the things that made my train-loving heart geek out: some cool-looking trains, delicious station eats, and abundant opportunities to people watch.
Osaka Loop Line. In Tokyo, there’s the Yamanote Line. Osaka also has its own loop line, which has stops in major stations Umeda/Osaka and Tennoji. The line also stops in Osakajokoen, which is the closest JR station to Osaka Castle; and Bentencho, which is two stops away from Osakako (Osaka Aquarium) on the Chuo line.
Hankyu Kyoto Line to Arashiyama. We decided to take the Hankyu Kyoto Line from Umeda (Hankyu) station in Osaka to Arashiyama just because it was the most direct route from where we were staying (in Kita-ku). And the minute I saw the train, I was happy with our decision. It was an old maroon four-car beauty. A Hankyu 6300 series, I found out later on, that has been around since the 1970s and was supposedly refurbished five years ago.
Kyoto Station! The first time we got to Kyoto, we didn’t get to see much of the station since we were in a hurry to catch our train. We were still in a hurry that day, but at least we had the time to look up (hello, steel beamed roof and never-ending escalators) at one of Japan’s largest buildings. It houses a mall, a hotel, several offices and a department store. And in the department store there was a ramen floor!
Kyoto Station’s Ramen Floor and other train station eats. There’s an overwhelming number of eateries and restaurants in Japan’s large railway terminals that there were many times we didn’t know which one to go to.
In Kyoto Station, there’s the ramen floor (or more of ramen section) on the 10th floor of Kyoto Isetan Department Store, which narrows down the choices for us. But inside are seven different ramen restos with each one featuring a ramen from different parts of Japan. Which one to try? We lined up at Yamagishi Taishoken.
Taishoken is one of the most renowned ramen shops in Tokyo. Its owner Kazuo Yamagishi apparently is the inventor of tsukemen, a dish wherein the noodles and soup are served separately. (One of the most popular ramen shops in Manila, Yushoken, serves tsukemen and ramen derived from Yamagishi.)
The restos in Osaka and Umeda Stations were our go-to places for breakfast. Though many only open for lunch, there were still a good number ready for the breakfast crowd. Quite a number that P and I always ended up a wee bit overwhelmed with the choices; on our first day, after hunger finally pushed us to pick, we ended up ducking into a resto that didn’t have an English menu and where the servers only spoke Japanese. But it was so quiet and cozy (and yes, we were hungry) that after we took a table and realized we didn’t know what to order, we looked at the old Japanese man beside us and discreetly pointed to the elderly server what he was eating. The server came back with two salmon meals and the Japanese man having his breakfast started showing us how to eat the salmon (he liked it with soy sauce).
While there was no Ramen Koji in Osaka Station, we stumbled upon a ramen-ya that turned out to be pretty popular in the city. Kamukura serves bowls of beloved shoyu ramen and when we got there mid-afternoon, it was still full and and there remained a queue outside. We promptly lined up, placed our orders and paid, and took seats in front of the long bar. The ramen was not as rich or dense as the ones I’ve been accustomed to like tonkotsu. The broth was fairly light, like chicken soup, but still packed flavor–and tons of Chinese cabbage. The slices of chashu and soft-boiled egg rounded out this comforting bowl after a cold and rainy day.
People-watching. Lots of it. Riding the trains in Japan is a pretty quiet affair (you’re discouraged to talk on your cellphone and should you have a conversation with your fellow passengers, better to keep the volume to a minimum), but in the sea of salarymen and women, there are a few interesting characters that pop out. There was the Japanese man in a rockabilly getup waiting for a train on our way back to KIX; a pair of old Japanese ladies in kimono who were laughing about something and trying hard suppress their laughter; and three little Japanese students, who couldn’t have been older than seven or eight years old, lugging three bags each (a backpack and two shoulder bags), taking the train home on their own (no adult supervision!) and getting off at different stations. They were so cute, not to mention surprisingly independent.
Let’s end this post with one of the many short vidstitch clips we took during the trip, because if this trip had a soundtrack, it would be that of train and the Japanese voice over the train’s PA system.