2024 Japan Trip Part One: Osaka and Kobe


On March 6, four of the Paper Mouse team, Victor, Jenny, Yulan, and Jean, landed at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, Japan. It was the start of a trip that Victor and Jenny had been dreaming about since the shop's opening in 2015. With so many of the items at the shop being made or designed in Japan, we'd always wanted to travel there to see the sights and to seek out inspiration. Victor was the only one of us who had been before, years ago for a business trip at a previous job. We were all nervous and excited for the journey ahead. What kinds of shops would we visit? Could we see cherry blossoms? Would the weather cooperate at Mt. Fuji? Follow along in this three part blog post series to find out!

Arrival at Kansai International Airport

The first stamp of many. Almost every train station and many tourist attractions in Japan have a unique stamp.
Can't wait to see what's ahead! Let's go!


Victor's childhood friend Jason, who lives in Japan, met us at the apartment we were renting. Together we got on the train, in search of dinner. We followed Jason around Namba, the southern city center of Osaka, and walked along the Dotonbori canal. Formerly a theater district in the 1600s, the Dotonbori district was now known for its extravagant lights and giant 3D signs advertising all kinds of street foods. "Kuidaore" is the culture here: eat 'til you drop. Sounds like a plan!

One of the foods Osaka is known for, takoyaki: octopus grilled in balls of batter, with a variety of different toppings. Pictured here: bonito flakes.
Another of Osaka's specialties, okonomiyaki is a pancake grilled with whatever ingredients you like: often seafood, veggies, and tons of sauce.
The Japanese version of Korea's viral 10 won coin bread. It was soft on the inside, crispy on the outside, and filled with stretchy mozzarella cheese!




The iconic Glico Running Man sign, based on the design of Glico's 1922 caramel candy box
Osaka's take on Sweeney Todd?

The first cherry blossoms we saw in Japan: McDonald's fries with special pink sakura seasoning


Satisfied and full, we returned to the apartment to prepare for a new day.


We took the Kobe train first thing the next morning to visit Pampshade's studio. Yukiko Morita, the creator of the whimsical light-up croissants in our shop, greeted us inside with a smile. She showed us around the studio and explained how Pampshade turns the leftover bread from local bakeries into lamps that last for years. Afterwards, we were even able to check out one of the bakeries that they work with. We'll be featuring Pampshade in a separate post soon; keep an eye on our newsletter and social media!

Posing in front of the pandelier

Let there be bread light!

Boulangerie Récolte has bread in both lamp and edible forms.


We then wandered toward PoLeToKo, home of the adorable hand-carved Pole Pole wooden animals. Along the way, we stopped to buy postcards and take in the atmosphere of the city.

Our first post office visit of the trip. Dear customers: your Kobe postcard was purchased in Kobe, even if it was postmarked in Osaka! 
One of Japan's locally-themed manhole covers, featuring the Kobe Port Tower. The tower itself is currently closed for renovations.
Jenny loved seeing all the plants growing in planters and on the streets. The city was green even though it was still the end of winter.


The PoLeToKo shop was serene and welcoming. Outside the shop, we were greeted by their giant wooden tapir mascot, sunning itself on a chair. Inside, in addition to their signature collection of chubby Pole Pole animals, they also had zodiac animal sets, windchimes, keychains, children's toys, and more. We'll be writing a feature on them soon, as well.


Kobe is also home to Nankinmachi, one of Japan's largest Chinatowns. We were curious, and luckily, it was only a short walk away. The streets just outside the area had been decorated with familiar red lanterns; we followed them to a bustling entrance gate. After a busy morning and early afternoon, the aromas from the food stalls were irresistible. Time to eat!

The Azumaya Pavillion was built in 1983, but Nankinmachi itself was founded 156 years ago.

A panda-shaped red bean bun. As delicious as it was cute!
Crisp fried dumplings, tender shumai, fluffy buns, roast duck, plus an assortment of Japanese treats


We even got to try a bit of Kobe beef nearby! Although we'd only planned to taste one of the skewers at the street-facing stand, we were pulled inside the restaurant for a full sit-down culinary show. After perusing an extensive menu, the beef we chose was presented with a plaque of authenticity, grilled to perfection, and elegantly plated. Wow.


Our day in Kobe was the first full day we spent in Japan, and already, the feeling of missing out was starting to set in. We hadn't seen the port at all, or the Kobe Nunobiki Herb Garden. Although we'd eaten some great food, we hadn't had the city's signature Kobe pudding, or Hyogo prefecture's version of the octopus ball, akashiyaki. We somehow also hadn't made it to any stationery stores. We jotted down these missed opportunities in our journals and phones, and, practically as soon as we arrived, started dreaming about next time.


Last night in Osaka

We'd hoped to return to Osaka in the afternoon, while shops were still open. However, it was well into nighttime by the time we set foot in Umeda Station, at the northern city center. We hurried to a couple more places before catching the train back to our apartment. Those two nights would be the only time we spent in Osaka. "If only we had more time..." quickly became the tagline of the trip. 

Rice balls, or onigiri, from a specialty shop. Onigiri are also available (and great) in convenience stores, but the fluffiness of this rice was unreal.

Jason recommended we try the grilled eel (unagi) in Osaka, which has a different, crispier texture than the eel in the States, or in Tokyo. Really tasty!

Our last stop in Osaka the following morning: a Yamato Center! They can ship your luggage to your next location so you don't have to take it on the train.


Next up: Nara, Kyoto, and Kameoka!

Continue reading Part 2 here, or skip to Part 3, Part 4, or our Panthem studio tour.


  • Nate HeHo

    Thank you for sharing! I love your blog.

  • Tammy

    Looks like an amazing start to the trip. Can’t wait for the next blog post!

  • Amy

    I love your store and what you offer! Wonderful customer service! And such a fun and interesting trip and blog posts, thank you!!

  • FRED

    Thank you for all you do. Your style and your concerns for products that fit customers will being handwriting back to Newton.

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