Nothing like a little wandering around to make things interesting.
I’ve been to Osaka once before — a few hours last year, when Jen and I came here. Mostly to see the Aquarium, mind you, but we did see a few other things.
Our hotel has got a great view … of the harbour. If that sort of thing interests you, then you’re in luck. The Hyatt is, otherwise, quite isolated. Thankfully, they have a free shuttlebus to the JR Osaka station. A little more convenient (although the route is anything but direct!) than trying to take all the trains.
Destination: Domtomburi (and surrounding area). This is the major outdoor market zone. It’s big, it’s busy, it’s loud (lots of pachinko parlours), and it’s very Japanese. (Which is good, because if it was, say, Angolan, that might be a little weird.) We even found the area where every sushi restaurant in the area seems to buy its equipment (including the plastic food featured in the windows).
And after a great deal of effort (and patience on Amy’s part, because I was no doubt becoming quite annoying about this), we found some Osaka “zushi”. This is sushi, but formed and cut into squares. It’s a different presentation, and I honestly expected it to be a bit more different than it ended up being. I won’t say I was disappointed, but I guess I had a higher expectation for it.
The last time I was in Japan (a little over a year ago), I’d wanted to go to Nara. I’d quite a bit about it, but just hadn’t gotten the chance to go. So when we planned this out, and happened to be spinning through Japan on our way home, it was a very fortunate happenstance that both of us wanted to be there.
Nara, as it turns out, is a very neat little city. Make no mistake, this is most definitely no town. But it doesn’t feel large. At least, if you’re within the “walled” portion. (I’m not sure if there’s an actual wall, but that’s what it looks like on the maps we’ve seen.)
Our trip there was an adventure and a half. First, shinkansen to Shin-Osaka, Nozomi-class. (There are three classes: Kodama, Hikari, and Nozomi. Although JR Rail Pass holders aren’t allowed on Nozomi, the cost to buy a ticket isn’t much different (maybe 300 yen) between them. And you save almost an hour.) Originally, we were to go to Kyoto, but Amy convinced me to go all the way to Shin-Osaka. Once there, we switched to a local train to Osaka station, then to a regional train that took us all the way out to Nara. From the moment we got off at Shin-Osaka, all the way to a taxi that we finally climbed into in Nara, we stood. My feet were KILLING me.
We’re staying at a ryokan, a small traditional Japanese guest house. Apparently, it used to be a geisha house. I don’t know if that’s Japanese geishas, or American geishas. (What’s the difference? A proper Japanese geisha is an entertainer. Their job was to placate and entertain powerful men who paid very highly for the services of a geisha. Despite beliefs, Japanese geishas were not prostitutes, unlike the American geishas. These were introduced by the U.S. Government after World War II as an effort to keep American soldiers from “disturbing” the Japanese people. These were prostitutes dressed up as geishas, and called as such for the exotic overtones.) I’d like to believe the house was a Japanese one. It’s nothing fancy — a pair of mattresses, a couple of chairs, and a noisy air conditioner. Toilets and showers are communal, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone around.
Nara is full of temples. Aside from being a former capital (many Japanese cities seem to hold this title), this is still a religious centre. Thankfully, most of the neat stuff was in walking distance of the ryokan. (For the record, though, our “walking distance” is probably a lot further than some people’s definition. We’ve walked a lot in this trip.)
Starting off at a pond near the Five Storied Pagoda, we found a healthy collection of turtles. Then we wandered through the Pagoda area and were introduced to the deer. Nara deer are … odd. They’re small, not as small as the ones on Miyajima Island near Hiroshima, but certainly smaller than the ones in Canada. They’re defined as “semi-wild”, meaning that while they are wild animals, they tolerate interaction with humans quite well. (Although there are a lot of signs telling you to be careful and not to enrage the deer.) It’s stuff like this that reminds me why many tourists in Banff (Bamf!) are told not to get too close to the elk.
We were distracted by a rather nice park on the way to Tennoji Temple. Aside from the wonderful Japanese stone lanterns, the biggest attraction we saw was the botanical garden. Apparently designed off various literal works, the garden contains a wonderful collection of plants, arranged into very beautiful pockets of splendour. Of particular interest was a small red deck built over a lilypad-covered pond. The pond was home to a school of carp, which a trio of elderly photographers were taking turns snapping pictures.
Tennoji Temple is quite impressive. Like other buildings I’ve been to that claim it’s “the largest wooden building in the world”, it’s big. Really big. And impressive. There’s a large Buddha that sits inside, sheltered by the building. Interestingly enough, the building is smaller than it once was (fire reconstruction), and the temple itself is smaller, having been reduced by similar damage.
We walked around through various alleys and laneways (Nara has many that are very picturesque. You’ll see something interesting down nearly every road, it seems.)
Amy finally found some Japanese yarn. I thought she was going to have kittens when she found it. She couldn’t decide, either.
I’d glad to have finally been to Nara. It’s a nice little place. If you’re thinking of coming to Japan, give it a thought. It’s an easy trip from Osaka … so long as you’re not carrying all your bags with you.
Tokyo is a wonderful city. Even in the rain. Despite a delayed start (we were up late — it doesn’t help that Chris and I yak a lot), we soon found ourselves in Ginza, walking through the mist-like rain in search of not much except yarn (Amy’s got a project she’s trying to finish).
We went through the sweet electronic sanctity of the Sony Showroom [insert drool marks on the screen here], then over to the Apple store (four floors of pure industrial design nirvana), before crossing Ginza dori in search of, well, food. Amy spied a small sign that led us down an alley barely wide enough for us to walk, then down a set of barely-marked stairs into a basement restaurant that served some darn fine raumen, and some pretty funky dumplings.
Next to that was a paper store. I think Amy’s heart raced pretty much the whole time she was in there from the paper overload. Too much to choose from, and we’re almost out of money.
Matsuya and Mitsukoshi (two massive Japanese department stores) were next. But the illusive yarn Amy needs was not to be found. So we went to the food floors in Mitsukoshi to see what samples we could find. There was quite a lot.
We caught a subway over to Akehabara. This is geek heaven when it comes to all things “batteries not included”. [Insert more drool marks on the screen here.] Then it was over to Shibuya. The only real things to see there, aside from Shibuya itself, was the HMV, where I hoped to snag some of the music my cousin Jen had asked me to find. I found the artists, but sadly, all sold out. (Go figure.) Sorry, Jen, I’ll have to keep looking.
We were late meeting up with Chris and his friends Jessica and Alex for a late dinner in Chiba. They didn’t mind at all. Shinichiro was out again (he’d come out last night, too) as was another of Chris’ japanese friends (whose name I don’t want to screw up by spelling incorrectly).
We’ll be off for Nara before too long. Then Osaka, then home.
Three more sleeps!
We left the hotel early this morning — before 7:00 am — to catch a train to the airport. Strangely fitting that our last train would be to our first plane in quite some time.
Chek Lap Kok airport was designed with an express train in mind, which is great considering how far out the airport is from Hong Kong Island. The train system (the Aiport Express) also lets you check in at the train station, so you don’t have to check in at the airport.
At the airport, we did a last bit of souvenir shopping. Well, Amy did, anyway. We then headed out to Gate 63 for our flight to Japan. It seemed strangely final. This was our first plane since landing in St. Petersburg all that time ago. Amy flew Biz class (as you already know), and I flew in Galley Slave (aka Economy) class. Lest anyone think I resent Amy for this, I don’t. We flew to Russia on Amy’s points. She had some leftover on United Airlines, and upgraded to Business Class. All the power to her.
Doesn’t mean that I’m not gonna bug her about it, though. I gotta have fun with this, don’t I?
For the record, I ended up with about as much footroom as Amy, if not a bit more, because I asked for an exit row. You want to have a good long flight? Get an exit row — you’ll be able to stretch out without concern. Doesn’t matter if the row is full and others are not — you’ll have tonnes of room to spare.
Two flights left. I hope they go quickly.