The time has come for me to say goodbye to Japan, to that country which I had fallen so in love with over a one-week vacation five years ago, had worked so hard to return to, and had come to call home over this past year. I have many regrets. There are many things that I wish I had or hadn’t done, or wish I had done differently, and if I had it all to do over again, I would. However, over the course of this year, as I watched each season pass in its turn, I traveled to at least fifteen cities, took over 7,500 photos, wrote more than sixty pages of a journal, tried new foods, drank a ton of beers, and made more new friends than I have in the last fifteen years of my life combined.
the change of seasons
A bit of autumnal ikebana
The old Hokkaido Prefectural Government Building
Did I mention it was cold there?
The very first plum blossoms of spring! 春の最初の梅花です！
Sakura blossoms have five petals, each with a slit at the top. That’s how you tell them from plum blossoms, or so I’ve been told.
Mejiro, AKA the Japanese White-eye
The Kamogawa on a summer morn
I caught my first glimpse of summer yukata across the river
I saw it all. I visited peaceful Buddhist temples and serene Shinto shrines, bustling urban centers, seedy nightclubs, and everything in between. I saw the ice-caked streets of Sapporo, and the ice-blue waters of tropical Okinawa. I strolled the neon-lit streets of Tokyo, and the petal-strewn paths of Nara. I climbed a mountain and looked down upon the Seto Inland Sea. I watched the sun both set and rise over the Kamogawa, and watched from my dorm room window as Mount Hiei shed its skin and changed its colors like a chameleon. On my very last night in Japan, I watched from the top of the country’s tallest building, in Osaka, as a thunderstorm swallowed distant Kyoto in darkness, and thrashed her with lightning.
this was Japan, as I saw it
And the money shot. White crane, falling water
Downtown Kyoto, viewed from the east, across the Kamogawa
The approach into the Teramachi-dori shopping arcade
The banks of the Kamogawa
The walkway connecting the two main halls at Nishi Honganji
Goryo Shrine entrance
A family of little bunnies having New Year’s Osechi Ryouri. Watch out for eagle/hawks!
Phoenix Hall at Byodo-in, Uji.
I feel like I’ve been seeing a lot of rabbits around lately.
Shinkansen, the “bullet train”
The Gods of Tokyo
Ichi-maru-kyuu & co.
Sake barrels offered to the shrine. There was also a stack of wine barrels from Bourgogne in France.
Sea of peeps! 😉
Bye bye, Tokyo
Abeno Harukas, the tallest building in Japan.
I mean, just look at this place. It’s freaking amazing.
Osaka, Dotombori at Dawn
Tsutenkaku at night
Welcome to the Goryo festival!
A Kodak moment, to be sure.
Mt. Hiei in the hazy morning sun
Sunset in Osaka
A year ago, I flew in on a typhoon, and I would fly out on one as well. For me, it was as if Japan was some other-dimensional place that could only be reached by passing through a great tempest at the edge of the world, and could only be escaped through the same swirling, dark window as it made its way back around in the next typhoon season.
After a long and bumpy flight, I would turn my head and look back, and Japan would be gone, blown away with the storm, and nothing but a windy, clouded sky would look back at me, and my head would swim with memories, as if I had awoken from some grand dream.
Goodbye, Japan.I thank you for your warm hospitality. I also want to thank all the people who made this year a great one; the teachers, staff, and students at Doshisha U, the guys at Dorm Kamogawa and our caretaker Mayumi-san, everyone at school who treated me as a friend, the people of Kyoto, and everywhere else, really, but especially Kyoto. And a very special thank you to a select few individuals who went out of their way to help make this a very special year for me. Thank you. I’ll miss you all. And perhaps one day we’ll meet again.
Although I say goodbye to Japan now and am no longer living there, I am most certainly not done with this blog. I got pretty far behind on keeping up with the blog, and like I said, I took over 7,500 photos while I was there, so I have many more stories to tell, and there will be many more posts to come, including Gion Matsuri and trips to Hiroshima, Kobe, and Okinawa, so please stay tuned for more from Dave’s Japan!
Hello, everyone. Thanks for checking out my Japan blog. Last time, I pulled an all-nighter in Osaka. Today I want to tell you about the day after—a day spent down by the Kamogawa, at a place we like to call “The Delta.” The Delta is a triangular park space, formed by the confluence of the Kamo and the Takano rivers, and it is THE place for outdoor chillin’ in Kyoto.
This day was a real treat.
I went out to the river in shorts and my aloha shirt, stopping by the konbini to grab some beers. I took a towel, a book, my iPod, and a cooler-bag with me. I made it a day at the beach.
The river was bustling. Lots of people were out playing in the water, hanging out, listening to music, etc. It was a perfect day, though quite hot, about 33C/92F. I waded across the Takano river to the Delta, my first time dipping my toes in the river, before I finally made myself a spot on one of the little islands on the Takano side where I kicked back, put on some tunes (Thievery Corporation), cracked open an ice-cold beer, and dipped my feet in the cool water. It was heaven.
At the Delta there is a line of stone blocks, some in the shape of turtles (you know, for the kiddos), where people can cross, or play, or chill.
This is my foot in the cool water with my beer
I saw this egret catch two fish at the same time. It was awesome!
I finished two beers and went for more at the Family Mart, grabbing a big hot dog on a stick for a snack. Those things are pretty damn good. I went back and sat by the Kamogawa, facing directly into the sun and drank another beer. Feeling sun-baked I got up to go find a new, shadier spot. I climbed up the hill and a girl’s sandal, blue, plopped down in the sand in front of me. I looked at it, then looked to see where it came from. There was a group of about five or six young women sitting there, the one in front looking embarrassed that she had let her sandal fly away from her like that. I picked up the flip flop and gestured toward her making sure it was hers. She giggled, they all giggled, as she apologized and accepted the shoe back. She tried to thank me, saying “thank you” in about as many languages as she could muster, about three, but I just smiled, handed her sandals to her, and issued a simple “un” (it’s like “yeah, sure”), as I walked away. For some reason I couldn’t speak. I was hungover, sun-drunk, and beer-drunk, so my brain was too fried for speech. That’s just me, maintaining my air of mystery, as usual.
Here’s big group of biys getting ready to have a barbecue party
I caught my first glimpse of summer yukata across the river
Later, I went and found another island spot, this time in the Kamogawa. I sat and read, and drank my last beer as the sun began to set. Surprisingly, a large rodent, a river-rat of some kind, made an appearance in the river, heading upstream. It was really close to me, so I had a good look at it. I had never seen one of these in this river before. It looked like the “nutria” we have back in the Americas. A girl’s voice called out from the bridge nearby. “What is it?” she said. I think it was the same girls from before. I just put my hands up and shrugged my shoulders in an exaggerated “I don’t know” gesture. Then I yelled back, “kawaii!” meaning, “it’s cute!” They all giggled again and continued crossing the bridge.
The Delta can be seen under the bridge there
the river rat
As the shadow of the riverbank covered the river, dragonflies appeared in droves moving in a downstream direction, an endless swarm. Finally, I spotted this funny kitty on the way out. He seemed to be enjoying life today as well.
That was my perfect day down at the Delta. I’m telling you, the Delta makes this city. All the exchange students, and all the locals, love to come hang out here and chill, or party, or whatever. Kyoto is awesome, but the Delta just adds an extra irreplaceable element that just takes this city over the top.
Hello everyone. Long time, no see; or rather, hisashiburi! as they say here. It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything here on Dave’s Japan, mostly because the last semester of school was a bit overwhelming, and there’s just been too much going on in general (things to do, people to see), but now that the semester has ended and things are winding down, I think I can get back into blogging a bit. I’m quite behind on things, but I’ll try to just jump right in where I left off, and we’ll get it going with another little Osaka adventure (check out the big Osaka post here).
Last month I went down to Osaka to see another drum and bass set at Circus Osaka, this time by The Upbeats. Circus is located in a neighborhood of Osaka known as Shinsaibashi. It’s also pretty much the same neighborhood known as Amemura (America Village), but it’s by Shinsaibashi Station, so it’s called that, too. Anyway, Shinsaibashi is kind of an Osaka hipster hood. It’s full of boutique fashion retailers, night clubs, and fast food shops all catering to the young and trendy. Hip-hop and “urban” seems to be the main vibe down here. There’s tons of graffiti and stickers all over the place, and all the kids are out loitering in the square (triangle, actually) all night sharpening their B-boy skills. It’s a cool place. A pretty appropriate spot for a DnB club.
This is a little square, or rather a triangle, where it seems all the local B-Boys and B-Girls like to congregate at night and spit rhymes, dance, skate, what have you.
I left my club at about a quarter to four in the morning. I had plenty of time to kill before the first trains, so I went back over to Dotombori to one of the 24-hour, open-air ramen shops. I find that a nice hot bowl of meaty ramen gives me strength when I’m feeling drained, and these 24-hour ramen shops are a godsend. After that I headed back up to Shinsaibashi station, getting one last look at that neighborhood in the light of dawn.
One of the 24-hour ramen shops on Dotombori with the famous 3-D dragons on the building. I sat and ate just under the tail there
Alley signage for ramen shops
Dotombori at dawn
THE Dotombori at dawn
I think this was a fashion retailer, but I loved the name
Shinsaibashi at dawn
Well, that’s was my little all-nighter in Osaka. Hope you enjoyed the urban scenes of Shinsaibashi. I’ll be back soon with another catch-up post on Dave’s Japan. Mata ne.
I have had the single most embarrassing experience in my entire year here in Japan. Want to hear about it?
I was out exploring one recent evening, looking for something to eat, and I spotted a sign for a Wara Wara (笑笑) izakaya, located up on the ninth or tenth floor of a building; a chain place where I knew I could get a beer and some chicken. I entered the building, and made my way up to the tenth floor where 笑笑 was. There were other restaurants on the floor, and the hostesses of the first place I passed were aggressive in trying to welcome me into their establishment. I asked the first one what kind of food they had, she said sushi, etc. (I didn’t understand all of it). I said no thanks, and kept walking. The next door I passed had another girl beckoning me. I asked what kind of food they had and she said the same thing, but also said tempura. I actually didn’t realize yet that this was exactly the same restaurant because I’m an idiot. I asked if they had beer and she said yes.
I went in and she seated me at the counter. It was a rowdy place, full of locals and energetic staff, and a few TV’s placed around the room. I took a look at the menu, though, and I started to panic. I couldn’t understand the menu at all; not a bit. Except for the beer. I found that and ordered a big one when the girl came by and asked me. I started nervously gulping my beer, staring at the menu in fear, starting to shake from the nerves. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to take a picture of the menu to send to a friend, asking for help. When I took the picture the freaking flash went off! Here I am, the only foreigner in the place and taking a flash photo of the menu like an asshole. I could literally have died from embarrassment at that moment.
I was visibly shaking. The hostess noticed I was having a panic attack and stepped in to help me order. She knew I wanted tempura, suggested a tempura set, and shouted the order to the chefs behind the counter. The worst of it over, I ate as fast as I could, ordering another, smaller beer. Thankfully, the staff could tell I was freaked out and they were all very friendly and smiley.
I went to pay my bill and I thanked the hostess for helping me out since I couldn’t read the menu and was freaking out. I chatted with her a bit and she finally said that, you know, they have an English menu there, so . . . I simultaneously lowered and shook my head in disbelief at my own stupidity as I took my leave, feeling that I might rather take the window than the elevator back down to street level.
This was the single most embarrassing experience of my entire year here in Japan. I learned a few lessons from this experience. First, never go into a non-fast food place without a Japanese friend. Second, if you do, ask for an English menu, you fool! Finally, and most importantly, I now know what it’s like to be a functionally illiterate person trying to have a normal life. It’s not fun. In fact, it’s awful, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody.
If ever there was a time when I doubted my decision to stay an extra half-year in Japan, and I admit there was, that time is long gone, as the recent weeks here have proven to be an absolutely amazing time. The heavy work load at school and all the fun stuff I’ve been doing have combined to force me to neglect posting in the blog in quite a while, but I hope this post will make up for it as it is a huge post covering the entire month of May and all the incredible stuff I’ve seen and done. Alas, the month of April is lost to the winds of time, I’m afraid.
Golden Week ゴールデンウィーク
The month started off with a period of consecutive national holidays known as Golden Week. With time off of school there was time for adventure, so that’s just what I did. Rather than go the traditional route and visit a bunch of temples and shrines, I took the opportunity to go out to Osaka to see a world-famous DJ in a tiny nightclub on a Monday night. His name is Andy C. He does Drum and Bass. This guy plays in front of crowds of thousands and I got to see him destroy a tiny club with about 150 people in it. Check him out here. A friend and I took the train to Osaka, walked around Dotombori with some drinks in hand, hit the club, and stayed out till dawn. It was a blast.
Outside Circus Osaka
Osaka, Dotombori at Dawn
Unfortunately, Golden Week ended on a Thursday, giving us one school day back before the weekend. I, like many of my classmates, skipped that day in order to extend the vacation considerably. Unlike many of my classmates, I decided to take another trip to Sapporo. I heard Sapporo was nice when the ice and snow were all gone, so I wanted to see it again. The weather forecast called for a bit of sunshine, so I was excited.
Well, the weather was no good; cloudy, cold, and windy; AND I came down with a wicked cold almost the moment I touched down. So, it wasn’t a terribly exciting trip, but I enjoyed it as best I could. I saw Hokkaido University’s cow pastures, Nakajima Park, an unfrozen Susukino, and I ate king crab for the first time in my life, which was freakin’ awesome! (萌あざす;) )
Cows, grass, snow-capped mountains; must be Hokkaido.
Toyohira River, near Nakajima Park
God, hot dogs, and rock. What else do you need?
Crabs. Delicious, delicious crabs.
The next week I was back in Kyoto, going through the usual routine, and getting over my cold. Photo highlights from the week include a lot of sunny afternoon in the city pics and gnarly cat I saw in the neighborhood perched on a wall next to some barbed-wire and looking soaked. The cats in Kyoto are not generally friendly. They are almost always wary of people and will dip out if you come close.
View from my classroom, overlooking Shokokuji, Zen temple complex
Summertime in the city
Kiyamachi at night
Aoi Matsuri 葵祭
At the end of the week the Aoi Matsuri. This festival, along with the Jidai Matsuri and Gion Matsuri, is one of the “big three” festivals in Kyoto. This one is also the oldest of the three, dating back about 1500 years. It’s actually a pretty tame affair. A procession including ox-drawn carriages, the Imperial messenger, and a ritually pure maiden, travel from the Imperial Palace, through the city, to a couple of major shrines where prayers are offered for a good harvest. There’s no music, no party, just a quiet procession and many spectators. It makes for a lovely sight, though.
The belle of the ball, the Saiou-dai.
Goryō Shrine Festival 御陵神社のお祭り
During the next week there was another festival, this time at the local shrine, Goryō Jinja. On that night this beautiful, and always quiet, little neighborhood shrine came to life like I never would have imagined. The shrine grounds were packed with stalls of food and souvenir vendors, and game stalls for the kiddos. It was fun for the whole family, like a county fair. Throughout the day local men carried the omikoshi, the litters or palanquins containing the shrine deities, throughout the area, and after nightfall made their triumphant return to the shrine amidst much fanfare. After carrying the heavy, ornate box on thick wooden beams all day, the men reached the shrine and proceeded to lift it repeatedly to rhythm of their chants. The men were sunburnt and sweaty, and many of them had swollen lumps rising up from their necks and shoulders, having endured the weight of the omikoshi on their backs for something like nine hours. Unlike the somber Aoi Matsuri, this festival was lively, exciting scene lasting late into the evening.
Omikoshi sitting ready for the festival
The arrival of the first omikoshi.
Local men carrying the omikoshi
Onlookers cheering the men on.
The following weekend proved to be one of the best ever with a Friday night out at the clubs which turned into a Saturday morning catching the first trains home, followed by an afternoon spent with friends in an absolutely beautiful location in the mountains near the city.
Here’s a couple of shots from my Saturday morning after partying all night. From about 4:30 am I waited by the Kamogawa downtown for the first trains which would be getting going a little after 5. When I finally caught the train back to my neighborhood, I was the only person on board my car, which is something that has happened exactly zero times since I’ve been in Japan, even at that time of day.
The Kamogawa on a summer morn
Had the place to myslef.
Mt. Hiei in the hazy morning sun
I slept for about four hours that morning and got up, ready for a chill afternoon by a mountain stream. It took about two hours of commuting by bus, but we finally made it to our location up in the mountains just above Arashiyama. We got off at the last stop on the line and headed down a slope to the river which was nestled into a narrow gorge, forested and flanked by a tiny village/residential neighborhood. The cool, boulder-strewn rapids, deep in the forest reminded me of scenes from back home in Oregon, but with (I’m going to use the word) exotic-looking structures tucked away nearby, including a beautiful local shrine complex. About 15 or 20 of us gathered, played in the river, listened to music, grilled some food and drank beers in that no less than idyllic setting. It was one of the best moments of my time here in Japan.
Kitano Tenmangu Flea Market 北野天満宮のフリーマーケット
Every 25th day of the one of the major shrines, Kitano Tenmangu, has a big flea market in and around its grounds, and after having missed seven in a row I finally decided to check it out. This shrine is dedicated to a revered scholar from the Heian period, Sugawara no Michizane, and is thus a popular shrine for students to visit to pray for success on their difficult entrance exams in early spring. The flea market on this day had something of the festive atmosphere of the Goryō Matsuri, with all of its games, food and craft vendors.
A Kodak moment, to be sure.
Finally, to finish out the month I bring you a random selection of photos. First, a shot overlooking the neighborhood on the day of the aforementioned flea market. Next, a scene from my classroom where we received a history lesson aimed at providing context for the stories we would be reading about the creation myths of Japan. Then, a scene from another night of carousing; at a game center (video game arcade) downtown by the purikura (print club) booths where I may have had silly pictures made with friends. Finally, a quick trip to Osaka for no particular reason, but which resulted in some lovely sunset scenes.
Gray skies over Kyoto
A history lesson
This is what purikura booths look like
Sunset in Osaka
Abeno Harukas, stretching into heaven
I hope you have enjoyed viewing these photos from this very merry month of May. I have certainly enjoyed living these moments as I continue to try and make the most of my last months here in paradise. じゃあ。
Welcome to the second half of my Osaka trip. Check out the first half here. This was a solo trip to Japan’s second-largest city and I had tons of fun wandering around and exploring. On the agenda for my third day there was Tsūtenkaku, a very retro-looking communications tower in the center of the city, and Osaka’s nightlife district, Namba/Dotombori.
On my way out to Tsūtenkaku I ran into a bit of a hitch. I rode the subway over to the station in Namba where I was going to transfer. I stood waiting for the next train. I stood for quite a while. Then I noticed that the train stopped on the other side of the tracks wasn’t moving, and people who had been sitting on it started looking around and then exiting the cars. It’s a funny thing, not speaking the local language. I slowly started to realize that there was an announcement being made. Likewise, I noticed the LED ticker message board had an unusual message scrolling across the bottom. That I could understand. It said that there were serious delays due to an accident involving a person(s). The innocuous LED message couldn’t mask the probability that this was some quite terrible news, and I began to notice more and more people exiting the station as hope for a train coming any time soon was disappearing. So, I too left the station and popped out in the Namba district where I wasn’t planning on going until later in the evening. But, there I was, so I decided to have a look around.
The first thing I noticed was the National Bunraku Theater. Bunraku is a form of traditional puppet theater that was started in Osaka in the late 17th century. Just around the corner from the National Bunraku Theater, a striking building that is home to one of Japan’s treasured cultural traditions, I found a seedy love hotel district (hooray!), replete with possibly the most disturbingly-themed love hotel I’ve come across in my travels, a crazy Christmas-themed hotel. It was the tackiest thing I’ve seen in this country by a mile, I can say that for sure!
What in the Devil’s name!? What is this my eyes doth see?
Why, it’s the (creepy) Chapel Christmas Love Hotel, I do believe!
A typical love hotel district, filled with tacky, themed places of respite for you and your new friend . . . but in the light of day.
This area was interesting, but it being broad daylight it was pretty much dead. I checked my map and found that Dotombori, a busy, canal-side tourist drag, was right up the way. At Dotombori, apparently, it need not be nighttime to be bursting at the seams. The avenue is crowded with trinket shops, restaurants, bars, cafes, retail stores, game centers, etc., etc., not to mention people. Dotombori was bursting with life. I walked up and down soaking it in, went down and walked along the canal where you can see the famous Glico Man sign. A river-tour boat full of tourists cruised by and all the folks on board pointed their cameras at the Glico Man as the boat slowed so they could get a good shot.
I mean, just look at this place. It’s freaking amazing.
The famous Glico Man
A boat-full of tourists going nuts over Glico Man
This is actually another love hotel. I thought this was interesting because, if you notice the girl on the side of the building, she’s covering herself with a curtain or something. However, there was another Rose Lips Hotel in the neighborhood near my hostel with the same girl painted on the building, without a covering, indeed, with a titillating bit of her bum showing. My thought is that they had to cover her bum in this area where more foreign tourists would see her. We wouldn’t want to offend any puritanical, sexually-repressed Westerners, now would we?
After walking around a bit I sat in a café by the canal, drank some coffee and relaxed a while, enjoying the scenery and people-watching. Finishing up there, I headed back to the subway station to get on to my original destination, Tsūtenkaku. I went down into the station only to find that the trains were still delayed, some two hours later which is almost unheard of in Japan. It’s been so long now, that I forget what I did. Perhaps the trains were still delayed, but running, and I caught one, or perhaps I went back up to the street and walked or found a different station. Either way, I ended up in the vicinity of Tsūtenkaku.
This tower and the surrounding area were first developed around 1912 when the Japanese were keen to imitate the style of the Belle Epoch in France at the turn of the last century. The area was destroyed by fires in the 1940s and the new tower was built in the 1950s giving it a classic, retro-Showa period look (think old Japanese movie posters). The path to Tsūtenkaku was a typical shōtengai, a shopping arcade, though not too busy. Tsūtenkaku turned out to be one of those things families take their kids to. It was kind of corny and it was overcrowded. The view simply couldn’t top Abeno Harukas, though it was cool. Overall, I didn’t enjoy it all that much, but there was a café at the end where I could relax with an ice-cold, American Budweiser beer and watch the sun go down over the neighborhood.
The neighborhood around Tsutenkaku
Tsutenkaku viewed from Abeno Harukas
Looking down on the neighborhood
Look! I did that thing where all the buildings and cars look like miniatures or toys. What’s this called?
Kitty-chan dressed as a takoyaki, a ball of fried batter containing octopus, a classic Osaka delicacy.
Budweiser never tasted so good . . . except for this one time . . .
Tsutenkaku at night
Dotombori at Night 道頓堀の晩
Even though I had been to Dotombori already, I really wanted to see it at night because I understood it was an illuminated spectacle like no other in Japan. So, after Tsūtenkaku I went right back out there, and I wasn’t disappointed. Perhaps not as electrifying as Shinjuku, but reminiscent of Sapporo’s Susukino, only with a canal running through it. The tourists were still out, but their numbers had thinned. Now the night-owls were out in droves. The people on dates, party-seeking groups of compadres, the players and play-ettes, the club barkers, the gangsters and the working girls they were watching out for, were all out in full force. This was truly where it was all going down in Osaka. If you’re looking for trouble you can find it here. The already gaudy facades of shopfronts that I had seen during the day were brightly lit and bursting with color at night. I popped into a bar or two, had a couple of drinks, then I grabbed a chūhai at the konbini and walked around with it. I thought about going to a club along the canal, but thought better of it. I finished the night off in a bustling ramen shop before heading home.
Another Dotombori gateway
Dotombori is actually the name of the canal.
The ramen shops all had dragons bursting out at you. So cool!
Octopus, signifying takoyaki (“tako” means octopus). It’s cute!
A bar called Sex Machine. I’ll go there next time. I must.
Another image from the “what the actual fuck, Japan” files.
That concludes my third day in Osaka. I really think I started to catch a glimpse of the darker side of Japan’s urban nightlife, it was very interesting, though I’m afraid I managed to stay out of trouble this time. I’ll try harder next time maybe 😉 . The next day I went to the Aquarium. I’ll save it for the another post, but I will say this: Every time I’ve ever been to an aquarium in my life, I was hungover. I cannot recommend it. #lifegoals. じゃあ。
For about seven months I have resided about a one hour, $7 train ride from Japan’s second biggest city, Osaka, and perhaps many of you are wondering, Gee, when are we gonna see some Osaka pics? I heard Osaka’s pretty cool. Perhaps not, but recently, although I had ventured briefly into Osaka a couple of times before, once to visit the Pokemon Store and once for a trip to Korea Town, I finally made a real Osaka trip. I got myself a cheap hostel for a three-day weekend and fully immersed myself in this city, Tokyo’s smaller, but older and rougher brother.
I stayed at a place called Hotel Sakura (though, it was only a hostel), on Sennichimae-dori, a very convenient location. The first thing I did after checking in was to just go wander around the neighborhood for a while. My first impression was that Osaka looked and felt a lot like Kyoto, but with more hills and with taller buildings. Just as the cities of Kyushu have a mildewed, tropical feel; Sapporo a crisp, clean feel; and Tokyo a polished, futuristic vibe; Kansai cities have their own unique style as well. Osaka is like Kyoto—lots of old, wooden houses—but with a grimy, urban edge, and like I said, taller buildings.
My main goal for the night was to hit up the Ramen Battle. There was a ramen festival near Osaka Station featuring ramen recipes from various regions and cities around Japan because, you know, every place has their own unique recipes. I can’t remember where mine was from, but it came with a giant skewer with two hunks of karaage (Japanese chicken tenders), a hunk of pork, and a boiled egg. The ramen took a backseat to the skewer. There was a stage where they were interviewing the “girls of ramen.” It was like a pageant for ramen queen, or something. The contestants were cute girls that worked at ramen shops and, I guess, whoever was the cutest and had the best personality (and the best ramen story) would be the winner, or something.
Hotel Sakura (I liked it. I recommend)
Like Kyoto, but with slopes.
Tell me you could pass this up.
Osaka Castle 大阪城
The next day I began my tour of Osaka’s tourist destinations, starting with Osaka Castle. This castle was built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of Japan’s most important samurai rulers, in the late 16th century, though, like everything in Japan, it was burned down many times, was destroyed in WWII, and rebuilt quite recently. The outer walls were impressive, higher than those around the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. The grounds near the castle make a nice park-like, communal area where there are places to get food and snacks, play games, and just hang out and enjoy the scenery. The interior of the castle, being rebuilt in the 90s, is like a modern museum interior, no courtiers’ quarters in there, but plenty of interesting historical stuff on display. The view from the top is quite nice.
However, a much more impressive view is to seen from the top of Abeno Harukas, Japan’s tallest skyscraper.
Abeno Harukas あべのハルカス
That’s right, folks! Japan’s tallest building (not counting com towers) is in Osaka, not Tokyo! Surprise, surprise! And it’s a beaut, too! Abeno Harukas is an imposing structure in blue-green glass, boxy yet attractive, and visible from almost anywhere in the city. I had noticed it before when passing through to the airport, but hadn’t realized its significance. It was on my agenda, but not on my schedule for the day. I came out of a subway station with the intent to transfer, looked up, and saw it right in front of me, it’s glass surface reflecting the sky and beckoning me upward, so I changed my plans.
First, I went up to the observation deck on the 16th floor. I had a look around. It was nice, but was this as far as it goes, I wondered. Not by a long shot. The real deck was on the 60th, and it cost 1500 yen (about $14) to go up. Without question I bought my ticket and went up. When the elevator opened I was almost blinded by the sight of a sunlit city expanding before me through floor to ceiling windows, and I stumbled from the height-induced vertigo. Here there was a 360-degree view, almost 1,000 feet high, with two levels, a café, and seating, so you could enjoy a hot cocoa with the view, as I did. It was spectacular, mind-blowing. Nearby there was a skyscraper apartment building that, from the 16th floor, had looked like something impressive. From here, though, you could spit on its roof (helipad, actually) like it was nothing. You could actually see from Kyoto Tower to the city of Kobe up there, and all the mountains beyond.
300 because it’s 300 meters (984 feet) high.
16th floor observation deck.
From the 16th. Pretty cool, eh? . . .
Nope. Not from the 60th. .
Abeno Harukas casting a long shadow.
Later, I had an invite from a friend to have dinner at the ramen restaurant they worked at (I love ramen btw), so after a delicious dinner of ramen and karaage, and a couple of beers, including the first IPA I’d had in months, I went back to my neighborhood, and wandered around a little bit, most notably coming across a Suupaa Tamade (スーパー玉出), a supermarket chain that I had heard about that was known for being illuminated with outrageous neon lighting inside and out, and therefore being something that tourists to the area should check out. It was quite brilliant to my beer-goggled eyes.
My delicious ramen dinner with karaage and IPA.
Super Tamade, at night!
Osaka sewer manhole, featuring Osaka Castle. Every city in Japan has unique manhole cover designs. This one’s pretty nice, eh?
Well, that about covers the first half of my Osaka trip. Stay tuned for the second part where I’ll visit the retro com tower known as Tsūtenkaku; Dotombori, Osaka’s nightlife district; and the Osaka Aquarium. じゃあまた。