Japan - Osaka

Posted on Mar 26, 2008
Pictures of Osaka & Himeji

Osaka airport is on a small man-made island in the harbour, connected by road and train to land. As the plane was landing, it seemed that the pilot fully intended to crash the plane into the ocean. The ocean got closer and closer with no land in sight, until, at the very last second, we scream over a highway and touch down on the tarmac.

If I didn't know I was in Japan then, the airport convinced me. First of all, each person entering the country must have their picture taken and both their index fingers scanned. Shortly after that, I found myself failing miserably at trying to buy a JR train ticket from an automated machine without English. Eventually I discovered that the multiday pass I was trying to buy was only available from a sales office around the corner.

Eventually I got on a train and made my way uneventfully to the hostel we were staying, located near Fukushima station. I arrived around 10pm and approached the reception counter behind which a Japanese fellow was talking on the phone. He asked me to wait a moment, but it soon became evident that he was on the phone talking with my sister (still in Okinawa), who had been contracted by my mom to assure my safe arrival. We all had a laugh, and I dropped off my stuff and went in search of food.

The hostel was in a great location, approximately half way between (and a bit to the west) the business district of Kita (Umeda) and the shopping & entertainment district of Minami. The Fukushima area itself surrounds a narrow laneway with stores, izakaya's, fast food restaurants, fortune tellers and street vendors.

The next day I went and checked out the Umeda Sky Tower in the morning. It provided an impressive look out over the city and was a good place to start. The popularity of bicycles in the Umeda business area shocked me, mostly because nearly everyone wears business clothes while riding a beach cruiser style bike. I decided it was time for me to stop walking like a sucker, and so I decided to head back to the hostel and rented a bike for the second half of the day.

From the hostel I made my way down by bike to Dotombori Shopping Arcade and the various shopping areas in Minami. The sheer number of people wandering through the shopping areas was impressive, especially when combined with the rather monogenous composition of Japanese society. Eventually, I found myself in the American village - a truly bizarre experience. It's like wandering through Chinatown in Toronto, but with everything reversed. Actually it reminded me a lot of Queen St in that it was mostly expensive, trendy clothing stores with the occasional medium range restaurant thrown in.

Osaka seems to have a nearly complete lack of poverty. Homeless people do not line these streets. When I asked a local about it, he said it's because Japanese people are not generous, and will not give beggers anything. I think it probably has more to do with the desire to avoid shame and decent mental health programs.

The next morning before Laura arrived, I took a trip to the Osaka Aquarium. The aquarium was quite impressive, the most amazing item being the enormous whale shark and the various smaller sharks and rays inhabiting the same massive tank.

Laura and I found ourselves a nice restaurant later that night, had a few beers and sampled a few "new" dishes. Very tasty indeed!

The following day we planned to visit Himeji castle, before taking the train to Kyoto. Despite it raining all day, the castle was truly amazing... like something out of a movie. Afterward we found a nice little restaurant on the advice of some American girls we met. The owners made us some delicious ramen soup and we talked for quite a while. It turns out that they were big fans of jazz music and were impressed to learn that I had attended Oscar Peterson's last performance at Roy Thompson Hall with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.

Pictures of Osaka & Himeji

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Mike at Chance Cove, NL - photo by Angelina Friskney, http://angelinafriskney.com