In my last entry I talked about our recent trip to Japan. Coming back with more kwento this week.
Here’s the thing, I know that it’s tons cheaper, but I would rather stay in a hotel than an Air BnB. As you probably know by now, I’m quite lazy. It is exhausting enough to walk 20,000 steps a day, I don’t want to worry about fixing my bed every morning or washing a glass whenever I get thirsty.
Plus, I find it quite comforting that we can ask help from the hotel staff when we find ourselves in a clueless tourist pickle.
Just a brief kwento, Moe accidentally left his tripod in the tour bus when we went to Kyoto and Nara (we just borrowed that tripod from a friend -sorry you had to find out this way, Marts). Japan is super safe, so we were 100% sure nobody would take it, but we were also 100% sure it was going to be a challenge explaining what exactly a tripod was to our tour guide. Sure enough, when Moe called her:
“A tripod. The one you use for the camera.”
“Sorry, but I did not find camera.”
“Not camera, a tripod. Remember, in one of the temples, we can only use camera? But not tripod?”
“You left camera on temple?!?”
“No, I left on floor of the bus.”
“You left on the floor of temple?”
Moe was getting increasingly agitated. So I suggested we go down to the concierge to ask him translate. Easy piecey. The tour guide brought the tripod back of a couple of days later.
Anyway, I digress. Back to hotels:
Last year, we stayed at a boutique hotel around the Dotonbori area. Boutique is an understatement- It was an itty bitty stall. It was so tiny that Moe and I couldn’t even unpack at the same time– there was just not enough space to move.
It was however, very clean and comfortable. I was quite happy with our experience there because I figured all Osaka hotels have tiny rooms anyway.
ON ST. REGIS: BUT THEN the partners in Moe’s firm booked us in St. Regis And I was floored– “What? We don’t have to hop over each other to get to the bathroom???” We even had a small walk-in closet to stash all our clothes and luggage! I was so happy!
Our room was luxurious and the staff was uber efficient- that goes without saying. But I what I like most about it is that it had a warm, serene, almost zen-like atmosphere. The hotel is located near the Honmachi area, which is a subway stop from Shinsaibashi and another from Namba. So it’s far enough from the pandemonium of more touristy places, but near enough for you to get around without being hassled. (There’s a subway exit right beside the hotel building too). Walking in made me feel immediately chill even if I had just spent a harrowing day dodging bus loads of Chinese tourists in Don Quijote
ON SWISSOTEL: After Moe’s firm left, we moved (very reluctantly) to Swissotel. Like I’ve said before, I am a creature of comfort: I get used to nice things quite easily. So I got a little forlorn at the thought of losing my walk-in closet.
But, price-wise, Swissotel is cheaper than St. Regis. Savings always makes me happy, so I pretty much got over the loss of storage space. Besides, our room was not exactly tiny either. It was basically the same size as our St. Regis room, sans the Narnia-like closet.
DISCLAIMER: Swissotel is located in Namba, one of the busiest areas in Osaka. It is also connected to a mall (Takashimaya) and a subway station. So unlike St. Regis, the lobby was constantly buzzing with noise and activity. Not peaceful at all!
The strategic location did make it more convenient though. Most of the good shops and restaurants were in the same area. Plus, the subway station is literally right there! So getting to places was a breeze. That particular station also had all the airport train lines- no more taking cabs, no more dragging luggages around unfamiliar places. The only thing I had to worry about was toppling over while I lifted my very heavy luggage up the escalator (don’t knock it the struggle was very, very real.)
FINAL VERDICT: It’s kinda hard to pick a hotel to recommend because both places have something to offer. So I say- stay in St. Regis if you don’t mind paying extra to have a restful sanctuary after a chaotic day of activities. But book Swissotel if you would rather stay somewhere where everything is easily accessible.
M RESTAURANT & KUNI-SAN
Okay, I’m definitely no foodie. More often than not, Moe and I would just randomly pick a restaurant because we were too cold to walk any further (You can’t go wrong with the food in Osaka though.)
But, we definitely made an exception with M Restaurant. Moe had heard of this place from his fraternity brothers, and was uncharacteristically eager to try it. So much so, that when he heard that they don’t accept walk-ins, he fixed the reservation even before we left for Japan. Again, this is a first for us. We don’t really revolve our itinerary around a meal.
I have to say, IT WAS TOTALLY WORTH IT!
M restaurant serves a type of wagyu beef called Matsusaka – we ordered one of their set platters and were served with cuts of beautifully marbled beef.
I don’t usually rave about food, but seriously it was the best beef I’ve ever tried!! It was so tender that I barely had to chew – it practically melts in your mouth! I was in Yakiniku heaven!
Apart from the exquisite beef- the best part about going to M Restaurant was meeting their Guest Relations Manager, Kuniyoshi Okamoto. Kuni-san was Godsend during our trip.
On our first night, I casually asked him what other places he could recommend for us to try. To my surprise, he not only named a few establishments, but he waited for us to finish eating and actually showed us where these places were!
Plus, even after that night in M Restaurant, every time we messaged him that we were at a particular establishment, Kuni-san would drop by to see if we needed anything – AND would even translate our orders if necessary.
On our last night, we were at a whisky bar that he recommended (more on this later). He stopped by to grab a drink with us and found out that we were meeting a couple of friends who had just arrived from Manila. (Hi Dennis and Ange!) Moe was about to leave to fetch them – and Kuni-san, who just came from work and was probably dead tired, bundled up again and insisted he come with Moe to make things easier. He’s the sweetest, right?
Apparently the whole Philippines finds him awesome too – I added him on Facebook and I swear, he knows more people in Manila than I do. (I recently saw a picture of him with Piolo Pascual. Hehehe!)
Apart from his job in M Restaurant, Kuni-san is also starting a food crawl/pub crawl business. His tours are totally customizable. You tell him what you want to eat, and he’ll work out an itinerary for you. What sets his tours apart is that he avoids touristy places and brings you to the spots that locals frequent. We ran out of time to do this, but it’s definitely worth going back to Osaka for. (To find out more about his tours, you can message him via Instagram or Facebook messenger).
ON ALCOHOL & PUBS
Moe and I like our alcohol more than we like food, but that doesn’t change the fact that we’re lazy, lazy travelers. We would have been perfectly content paying for overpriced drinks in hotel bars or stopping by some random pub we ran across.
The things is, Japanese bars can get pretty pricey. So you can just imagine how exorbitant a drink is in a hotel. As for regular bars, most of the establishments are pretty small and could probably just fit a handful of people at a time. To make up for this, they would usually ask for cover charge per person.
Luckily, Kuni-san was there to save the day. He brought us to places that waived the extra fee.
M300 SAKE BAR: Kuni-san was telling us that their sister establishment, M300, served calamansi sake and I was immediately intrigued.
I’m no alcohol connoisseur (I’m a guzzler, not like linger-in-your mouth-type of drinker), but their sake seemed fresher and crisper than the commercially produced ones that I’ve tried back at home.
Plus, the flavors definitely made it more interesting. I tried the peach, the calamansi and the orange (told you I’m a guzzler) and they were all refreshing. You can almost drink it like juice. But unlike juice, it not only quenches your thirst but it also gives you a happy buzz. How could you go wrong right?
While we were at M300, we got to meet Yuya Yoshizumi, who looked more like an adorable anime character than a real person. Earlier that night, we had given Kuni-san a bottle of lambanog as a way of saying thank you for fixing Moe’s firm’s reservation. By the end of the night, all 4 of us were taking shots of that as well. Good times. Hahahaha.
ON NAMBA MATUSHIOYA CRAFT BEER AND WHISKY: One of the other places that Kuni-San recommended was a whisky bar that had a straightforward, nondescript “Pub and Bar” sign at the entrance.
Now, this place isn’t exactly easy to find. It was located in one of those dark side streets that no one ever goes to. That in itself made it even more attractive for us – we felt like proper locals! 🙂
When went in, the bar was filled with shelves and shelves of different types of whisky. From Japanese brands to foreign brands, from popular ones to lesser known ones, from cheaper varieties to high-end bottles.
I’m usually a Vodka drinker – but I just recently discovered the joys of drinking highball (whisky with soda water) and I was totally up for some whisky-tasting fest. I asked the bar owner, Toyo, to recommend his favourites. He got me one Japanese whisky and one foreign whisky and explained to me that he liked them because they were good but inexpensive. I liked him immediately. Hahaha.
Since we were waiting for our friends, we casually started talking to Toyo-san. Turns out, he’s a pretty cool, laid-back guy with a lot of interesting stories. He told us about how he got married in the Osaka Castle, and how he went on a solo trip to Scotland for 3 weeks just to drink different types of whisky. We then started telling him about our own wedding and how cheap alcohol was in the Philippines.
Before we knew it, we had been there for hours! We got so friendly that by the time Moe left me to fetch our friends, Toyo-san and a couple of other regulars in the bar were teaching me how to curse in Japanese. Dude, we ended up staying from 9 pm to 3 am.
It was so fun! And worth the splitting hangover I had the following day.
(Side note: Toyo-san doesn’t have a page for his pub, but you can message him at Instagram for information).
Anyway, these experiences reminded me how it’s totally worth it to get out of your comfort zone and meet new friends when you’re out traveling. (I used to do this a lot when I was younger before I gradually transformed into a prickly tita of Manila. ) Meeting new people adds an extra flavor to your experience that you won’t get if you had just stuck to touristy experiences.
That being said though, we did end up doing touristy stuff anyway. Will talk about this more in my next post. Hope you guys stay tuned!