Singaporeans are vorocious shoppers and foodies, and Osaka is food/shopping heaven for us! Coupled with a travelling companion who needs two hourly, small feedings (no, she does not have ulcers, just a small stomach and a fast metabolic rate), we were perpetually looking for food everywhere we went.
The JR train stations are the best places for food. Practically every major JR train station we went has at least one supermarket and lots of little counters selling everything from bentos (takeaway lunch boxes and sushi) to mochi (rice-cakes filled usually with red bean paste) and other local delights.
At Namba station (Osaka), it was Takashimaya, a well-established retailer in Japan and S.E. Asia. The basement, located just near exits 5 - 10 is a boon for budget travellers like us. We bought our breakfasts from the bakaries and pick our dinners from the many counters selling freshly deep-fried assorted tempura,grilled yakitori (skewered meat) salads, sushi (Tokyo style and Kansai style), sashimi, bento sets (rice-box sets with assorted dishes), etc. The variety is just mouth-watering and eye-boggling. We managed to sample quite a variety of food without burning a hole in our wallets. If you come after 6 pm, food will be sold at a discounted rate as many prepare to close for the day!
The strangest thing was that my friend was constantly being asked to sample the food (it pays to blend in after all) without purchasing so we were snacking away while trying to decide on our dinner for the day.
The cheapest meal we had was the 220 yen (US$2) udon at a little cubby hole in one of the shopping lanes next to Namba bus station. Patrons are required to pay by selecting the desired dish from the vending machines placed near the entrances/exits. The receipt is then given to the cooks who will then serve the dish. The "restaurant" is basic, water is free but self-service and after observing local patrons, I think patrons are also expected to wipe down the counter after finishing the food with a dish-cloth conveniently placed at the counter every two to three seats.
Namba has endless streets of pachinko parlours (little silver balls that spins and spins...an addictive favorite Japanese pastime), restaurants and retail shops. The Den Den town (located just behind the Namba station) is a must visit for those interested in the latest electronic gadgets. Somehow, these streets are linked, we soon found ourselves passing Dotombori (look out for famed Giant crab sign-board seen commonly in postcards) and in Shinsaibashi, another shopping haven one subway station away.
Another interesting place to shop and people-watch is America-Mura (American village). Shops here sell mainly imported American goods (including used or otherwise). There is one shop that sells only Christmas decor, needless to say, the name of the shop is Santa claus shop (or is it Christmas shop), another sells stuff like playmobile toys, that will remind you of your childhood days (it certainly reminded me).
If you are tired of shopping, people-watching is just as interesting. Teenagers and young adults flock this area dressed in the most interesting gab. Besides the usual multi-colored hair, there are those who dressed in multi-layers. Imagine 2-3 layers of tops in contrasting/clashing colors with frilly see-through skirts and jeans. Imagine Victorian-styled dresses (in layers and usually black) with lacy caps that the ladies of yore wore only to bed. Most interesting ne? Best time to visit? Afternoons and particularly on weekends but beware of your wallets.
To get to Namba, um...(we stayed there actually but..) hop onto the subway and head for Namba station.
To get to America-mura, hop onto the subway and get off at Shinsaibashi station. Look out for signs for further directions. It's about a three minute walk.
For more information on Osaka, go here.