“So what are we doing this time? Please tell me we are not going to another overcrowded temple in Kyoto.”
Spending most of one’s holidays in a small town halfway between Osaka and Kyoto means 2 things: one, you have the opportunity to visit every last one of Kyoto’s ancient temples over the course of several visits and two, you get to do so during the most crowded times of the year. This time I was having none of it. No Kyoto, no temples, no museums. Instead we were going to explore Osaka’s south side, with our first stop being the city’s very own Koreatown.
Changing trains at Osaka Station is an experience both enlightening and scary; the agoraphobia-inducing numbers of tourists trying to get to Kyoto, Osaka Castle or Universal Studios Japan confirms my suspicions about the quality of our holiday had we opted for any of those destinations. Instead, we get on the Loop Line and a few minutes later we are at Tsuruhashi Station, the gateway to a delicious break from the crowds.
The market is basically a labyrinth of corridors full of stalls and small shops under the tracks. Most of them sell food but there are also stores selling clothes, CDs and so on. Many food stalls also serve as restaurants, serving customers Korean delicacies such as kimchi, japchae and bibimbap. After spending all morning craving some Korean pancakes, we stop at the first stall we see for a quick bite. The spices work better than coffee and we are ready to explore every last inch of this place.
Tsuruhashi has a large population of ethnic Koreans, most of them from Jeju Island. Some have been born here while others are recent immigrants. Most are extremely friendly when I approach their stalls to take some photos, even though they can tell I am not planning on buying anything. They ask where I am from, whether I like Korean food. The atmosphere here is so pleasant I feel right at home.
After an hour of walking around we pick a stall with available seats and order some pancakes (chijimi or buchimgae). “Are you sure you want this one? It’s really spicy!” After years of drinking in Tokyo’s Shinokubo area, no amount of spice in Korean food would come as a surprise so I take a small bite first. This is not nearly as spicy as the kinds of things my Korean friends usually order so I go ahead and eat the whole thing. The lady behind the counter seems pleased so I order another one.
A few minutes and several pancakes later it’s time for us to go. As we head for the exit, we realize we haven’t bought anything. There is no way we are leaving without an omiyage but what do you buy in Koreatown? Kimchi, of course. After sampling several stalls and realizing we can’t really tell the difference, we settle on the one where the owner let us take photos earlier. Kindness should not go unnoticed, right?