Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Osaka



If ever there was a place that I was born to be, it is Japan. Now that I'm here, I don't ever want to go home (but that fluctuates depending on my rollercoaster homesickness). America is my country, but the cities of Japan are my hometowns. Call me corny, but that’s how I truly feel.

So as you all know, and I'm sure you've been waiting eagerly, I've been on vacation for what feels like forever!! It's spring break and this is my first BIG vacation ever. By BIG I mean overseas. I also mean in places outside of Oregon (I'm not counting the couple of times I've been to California). So yes. My first real vacation. Man was it a lot more work than I thought I’d be.

So, I need to backtrack about 2 weeks to fill you in on all the details. So let's start with the 11th. (Sorry for the backlog, bad internet and lack of sleep as is has kept me from the keyboard.) I'm going to do this in a time-line manner (even if time really is all wibbly-wobbly) and fill you in without trying to overburden you. To that extent I’m going to post it in segments. So here goes.

Starting with Osaka.

I have this whole system I worked out in my brain that only works for me apparently. But if Osaka and Tokyo were siblings I’d call Osaka the messy little brother. My first impression upon arriving in Osaka was the people dress, not sloppy, but a lot more casually. I felt a lot better about going out in jeans and a T-shirt than I think I would in Tokyo.

Also, the people in Osaka are very nice. I can’t begin to tell you the number of times people stopped and asked if we were okay and helped us get where we were going.  My host family tells me that people in Osaka are a lot more outspoken than up Tokyo way, which is probably why they were more vocal about asking if we were all right all the time. I have no facts to back this up, it’s just what my host family said, but nonetheless it made things a lot easier getting around with people offering to help. Sometimes with impeccable timing at that.

It may have just been the parts of Osaka I was in, but Osaka felt more open. The roads felt wider and I didn’t feel quite so claustrophobically surrounded by tall buildings all the time. Yes, tall buildings exist, but I didn’t feel like every building had this massive need to be at least 5 stories tall. Let me just add a note in here that I’m used to spending a LOT of time near Shibuya. So the buildings don’t tend to understand the word “short” there. Overall, I loved the feeling of being able to breathe in the city.
Osaka night view from near our second hotel. So much sky!!
Last observation before I move onto trip stuff is the trains. It could have just been where we were located in Osaka, just off Nakanoshima Station (also Awaza (sp?) Station was about a 10 minute walk away I think) but the train system didn’t seem quite so convenient as Tokyo. At least to me. They ran on time, heck, I think I had even less late trains in Osaka than I ever do in Tokyo. But the trains just didn’t quite seem to cover quite the same amount of area and left a lot of walking in between places. That being said, if you’re ever in Tokyo and your train is running late, I’m sorry, it’s probably because I’m waiting for it. My waiting for a train seems to be the only reason they’re ever late. No one else seems to ever have this problem.

Our bus, which happened to be a 夜行バス or pretty much overnight bus took off from Shibuya pretty close to midnight and arrived at about 6:30 in the morning. Pausing to make a note for travelers, just because your ticket says you leave from (Station name) something and the map they provide makes it look like it’s within a block or two, don’t believe it. Check your facts, arrive early and find your location because chances are a) yes, the bus is there, but b) it’s going to be quite a bit farther than the map made you anticipate. Also, after departure time on your ticket there is another time. That time, is not, contrary to my prior belief, your arrival time. It is, however, the duration of the bus ride until you get off.

Back to the story. So we arrived at 6:30 in the morning pretty close to Umeda station in Osaka. We had roughly 7 hours to kill before hotel check in and having just gotten off a bus our first priority was breakfast. Sandwich and salad later, mission accomplished we decided to utilize coin lockers. I’m going to preface this by saying I hate using coin lockers back home. Even at places like Skateworld where I’m no farther than a hundred yards away from my stuff. But I love coin lockers in Japan. Depending on the location, the prices vary, but generally the small sized ones will run you about 300. In Umeda the medium size lockers were 400 and the large 600 I do believe. We were able to fit my suitcase and a large (think almost diaper sized bag) laptop bag in a medium locker with room enough for another large purse on top. Also, the lockers are in a highly trafficked area, so anyone trying to break in wouldn’t get too far I would think.

Stuff deposited we headed out to Suiyoshi Taisha Shrine. Sumiyoshi Taisha Shrine is one of the oldest shrines in all of Japan and was built sometime around the 3rd century. It’s famous, among other reasons, because of its lack of Chinese influence having been built long before contact. 

Unlike other places I've been recently you could walk on the bridge here. Boy was it steep.

This place is pretty big too. I’m not sure how many buildings there were, but it took us a little bit to walk around the whole area. Overall, definitely worth a visit if you are in Osaka. 


One of the many areas within the shrine complex.

After the shrine we walked back toward the station and grabbed lunch from a Vie de France and ate in the park which had an amazing water area and a really pretty flower garden. There was also a jungle gym which Briana mastered like a boss.

A split lunch feast.

Lunch finished, we headed toward Osaka Castle. This place was much bigger than I thought and I’d recommend looking at area maps if you spot one along the way to help you find entrances as you first have to cross a river (depending on the direction you come from) and, for lack of better word, moats. We entered the grounds and made first for the Plum blossom orchard. I use the word orchard because, again, I’m at a loss for a better word. The area was pretty. And the flowers were gorgeous. Pictures can’t do justice.

Osaka Castle plum orchard.
From atop the plum orchard.
   It also happened to be very crowded as we’d arrived during the middle of lunch time. But we made our way around, followed the example of an おじいさん (old man) and hopped the fence surrounding the field to sit down and eat our lunch atop the moat wall. How often do you get to say you’ve done that?

Eating my first takoyaki lunch atop a moat.
We then proceeded to pick up some plum flavored ice cream that was at once both sweet and sour (though the sweet won out) to the point where you aren’t really sure which one it is. And we also happened to picked out of the crowd (2 of the 7 foreigners in Osaka we’d spotted all day, wonder how hard it was to pick us out)  to be interviewed on a television show. Sweet. That doesn’t happen every day. So we agreed, waited around until the allotted time and did the interview. Laughing thinking it was probably a pretty small or at least a local program. 

The guy who interviewed us is to the left.
Nope. I had friends and my host family back up in Tokyo who saw it. Oh sheesh. I turned red. But it was still pretty cool. 

Look mom! I'm on TV!
We then proceeded up to the castle itself. Took some silly pictures (because what else do you do at a castle?), did the tour and headed out. I do recommend entering the castle if you have the time (I think the fare ran about 400-600 but there are sites that will tell you for sure) if nothing else for the view from the top. Then again, I love being able to look out over cities. 



So, anyways. Our first night in Osaka we stayed at the Flexstay Inn in Osaka’s Shinsaibaisha area. Here’s a link to that hotel’s info because I totally recommend it, though along with that recommendation, I highly recommend using Jalan.net to make your reservation. Moving on. The first thing we learned in pursuit of this hotel was that my map was terrible. After walking the wrong direction and not being able to make heads or tails of my Google map, we (Briana and I) stopped at a real estate agents office. The guy working was really nice, printed us a map and pointed us the right direction so we made it to the hotel without further incident.

I’m going to say first off that our mutual friend helped us find this hotel online. Not knowing Osaka, I had no idea what kind of area it was in. Our first instinct, trying to locate this hotel, was that we’d stepped into what appeared to be the ghetto. So, we were a little bit… worried. Not to worry though, a block or two later the neighborhood shaped up and we later learned we were in pretty much the Harajuku of Osaka. I imagine I’d have been just as terrified of Harajuku if I’d come walking into it from a random back way not knowing where it was. For the record, we were also really close to the Namba area of Osaka, which is where the Glico man is. I only have a picture with the small one though.

A small Glico Man in Namba. Somewhat near to the real one.
 
I’m going to skip a lot of boring details now and talk about the couple other things we did in Osaka. Give you a big picture rather than boring you to death.

Our next hotel was the Fifty’s Family Inn a couple days later. It was a good hotel, they gave us an insane number of tooth brushes (at least a new one every day if not an extra) and breakfast is provided. My only warning is that, though they advertise wifi, if your room is far from the dining room it is going to be weak and or non-existent. You are warned. Our room was a triple, with a queen sized and a single jammed up at a 90 degree angle to the top of the larger bed. There wasn’t a lot of room for luggage, or walking, or anything. But if you’re not planning on spending a lot of time in your hotel room it works out.

I can’t tell you exactly where it was, because I have a terrible memory about this kind of thing, but in Osaka they have a series of covered shopping streets. I want to say they’re near Namba and Shinsaibashi. Yes, covered shopping streets. I.e. when it’s raining you won’t need an umbrella as long as you’re under it. Score. Definitely a fun place to check out if you like shopping and not getting wet.

Covered shopping street in Osaka.

On my last day in Osaka I headed to the Tempozan Ferris Wheel.

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

It was my first time ever on a Ferris Wheel. I’m terrified of heights. Oh, and I went alone. Bad combo you would think. But it was actually pretty fun. After paying 700円 to ride I hoped on board and the first couple of minutes I was pretty sure I was about to lose my lunch from my fear, but once I pushed that away it was pretty fun. Unfortunately, as it was a rainy day, pictures weren’t really possible from inside, but I could still see out a fair ways.

Inside the Tempozan Ferris Wheel.

Wanting to stay out of the rain I went from the ferris wheel into the adjacent aquarium. It was pretty spendy with about a 2,500 entry fee, but I had time to kill and nowhere better to be, so I bought my ticket and went on in. 

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

Apparently, the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan is one of the largest aquariums in the world. It was also pretty fun. On top of marine animals, there were a few other exhibits featuring animals from a couple of countries. I haven’t been to an aquarium in years, but I was very glad I went. I felt like a kid walking through looking at the animals and collecting stamps along the way. I also got to take these cool pictures.

Posing with the sharks at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

Jellyfish exhibit at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

Chillin' with my penguin peeps at Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan.

Sharky, shark, shark.
    That about wraps up what went down in Osaka. So shortly to come, bam-ba-baaam *dramatic music* - Kyoto!

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