Hanshin Tigers

After getting a bit tired of doing forms in Kyoto, I met up with a fellow Fulbrighter in Osaka this past Saturday. I have to say that when I first arrived, perhaps due to the dreary weather, I was a bit underwhelmed by the city itself. Although the Hankyu Department Store (named after the Hankyu 阪急 train line that runs between Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe) in Umeda Station was ridiculously fancy (see pictures below). Osaka is kind of like Tokyo in that it’s a big, fairly crowded city with many suburbs, but a big difference is that each neighborhood doesn’t seem to have as distinct a character as neighborhoods in Tokyo do.

Somewhat spontaneously, around dinner time we thought it might be cool to go see a Hanshin Tigers baseball game. Unfortunately this idea occurred to us only one hour before the game started, and there was no way we were ever going to get into the packed stadium on the last game of the season against the rival Yomiuri Giants team. So instead, we decided to go find a sports bar where Tigers fans congregate – specifically the one featured in Season 2 of Anthony Bourdain’s popular No Reservations show when he goes to Osaka. Why it had to be this one, you ask? Pints of beer are a mere 100円 (~$1) if the Tigers win the game and the sushi is incredible.

Ok, so we thought this place was going to be pretty easy to find; however, the address is no where on the Internet, and using Google we could only figure out in which area of Osaka it is located. It’s amazing that in this day and age there are businesses we can’t find on our smartphones. As we narrowed our search, we kept asking locals about where such a bar might be using any combination of the words izakaya, sports bar, and テレビ (TV) we could think of, but no one seemed to know where this place was. We surveyed convenience store cashiers, a golf store manager, young people, old people, taxi drivers but still no one knew. This is even more surprising since the Tigers are the premier Kansai baseball team (the characters for Hanshin are “han” 阪 as in Osaka and “shin”神 as in Kobe).

But after two hours of doing this futile exercise in the rain, we finally found the mythic Hanshin Tigers sports bar conspicuously absent of tourists. And it was 100% worth it. The sushi was the best I’ve had in Japan so far, prepared very simply. When we arrived the Tigers were down 0-3 in the 6th, but in the 8th came back to make it 4-3 before closing out their rivals the Giants in the 9th. Six beers each later we became friends with the head chefs and were discussing things with some of the local patrons such as why Japanese people are seemingly obsessed with Paris, and how the amount of sites to see in Kyoto is so overwhelming that it makes people not want to go there repeatedly. After we explained how we tried so hard to find the place, one of the head chefs gave us a special parting gift – a huge ball of rice in the shape of a heart cooked in garlic on a grill for about an hour. Needless to say after the other chef told me we were now “best friends” and gave me his business card, I knew we would be coming back soon.