Home > Japan, Pictures, Trips > Osaka, Trip 1

Osaka, Trip 1

It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and written a blog post! I stopped bringing my computer to work because it’s heavy and bothersome, but I have found that if I don’t write at work, I won’t write at all. Last week we had a nice break called “Silver Week.” Silver week is a collection of three national holidays that run back to back to back, giving a nice three day vacation. I’m not entirely sure whether it is like this every year, but this year at least the three Silver Week holidays fell on a Monday-Wednesday, meaning that with the weekend it was a good opportunity to go somewhere! Of course all of Japan felt this way as well, meaning most popular tourist spots would be over run with…well…tourists! Originally Natalie and I had planned to take a trip around Kyushu, making a big loop around the island while visiting all the different prefectures. Our plans changed, however, because she had a few school related festivals to go to over the weekend. So instead, I decided to take the shinkansen (bullet train) up to Osaka for a few days! It would be my first time on the shinkansen, so I was quite excited. I would also be seeing Akiko, whom I had not seen in nearly four years. My two other friends up there, Carl and Rianna, were going to Thailand for this break! Sweet.

The shinkansen ride up there was really nice. It takes (amazingly) only two hours and 10 minutes to get from Kokura (the shinkansen stop in Kyushu closest to me) to Shin Osaka station. Considering it would take, by car, approximately 16 hours, that is an absurdly fast time. The reason for this is that they basically plotted out the quickest way for the train to reach its destination, and built a track, no matter what was in the way. Hence, a lot of the trip is in tunnels under mountains which were unfortunate enough to be in the way. I am certainly not complaining, however, because it’s an incredibly convenient way to travel. The round trip tickets cost me 26,000 yen, about 260 dollars. A plain ticket would have cost me around the same, maybe a little cheaper, but that’s where the upside of flying ends. Technically, the flight time is much shorter, as one might expect. It takes about an hour to fly from Kyushu to Kansai Airport. However, considering you have to be at the airport about 30 minutes in advance, and the airport in Oita is about an hour from where I live, it actually takes longer for me to fly than it does to take the train! Add on to that the fact that airports are generally outside the city, meaning another bus ride into wherever I am meeting people, and you’ve got a nice little three-four hour journey ahead of you! On the contrary, Shin Osaka station, where the shinkansen arrives, is smack dab in the middle of Osaka.

I met Akiko at the station and the first thing we did was find me a hotel! I hadn’t really planned ahead very well, and because finding a hotel in Japanese is kinda hard, I was just kind of planning to wing it. Add to that the fact that it was Silver Week and all of Japan was on the move, and you’ve got a nice little situation where hotels are not quite so easy to find. We found a place in one of the seedier places in Osaka where I could rest my head. It might have been the cheapest hotel in Japan! It cost me 1800 yen for one night, roughly translating into 18 dollars. I didn’t know places like that existed! Even capsule hotels cost more than that, and in capsule hotels you barely get a place to sleep! Indeed the accommodations weren’t much, but there was a futon, and a T.V.. I was not complaining! After dropping off my stuff in the room we headed over to the Nanba area of Osaka.

I just realized that this is not actually Namba. I did not take any pictures of Namba for some reason. But let us just pretend that you all can clearly imagine what it looks like.

Nanba is a massive shopping arcade. It’s literally streets and streets with shops, restaurants, and whatever else you can imagine. It being Silver Week, it was obscenely crowded, but it’s one of those things you just have to see to believe. It houses some of Osaka’s most famous restaurants. The funny thing about this is that of course I don’t know why they are famous, or that they are famous at all. It’s not like they’re world famous, they’re just famous to most Japanese people. So every once in a while a large crowd will gather and take pictures of this random tiny little pushcart that just happens to be the most famous Takoyaki stand in all of Japan. By this time it was already quite late so after grabbing some dinner we parted for the night and I retired to my little 18 dollar hotel room. The plan was to meet up the next day, Monday, and head to Nara.

Nara has a number of reasons why it’s a famous place to go. First of all, it is the very first capital of Japan. Before Tokyo, before Edo (The old name for Tokyo), before Kyoto even, Nara was the place where the emperor lived and ruled. It has, therefore, many quite ancient and quite impressive sights. For example, it houses the world’s largest Buddha, an impressive 17 or so meters tall. And in order to house this massive buddha, there must naturally be the largest wooden structure ever created. One could not have the second largest wooden structure housing the largest buddha! Unacceptable.

Another of Nara’s claims to fame is its deer. Yes, there are deer in Nara, and not just in a petting zoo in one specific area of the city, but everywhere. These are free range deer, my friends, and they go anywhere and everywhere they please.

There are stands everywhere which sell “Senbei”, wafers the deer enjoy eating, so everyone comes to Nara and feeds the deer some senbei and has a great time. The only slight hiccup is that the deer have become so tame that they are teetering on the edge of being pushy. If they even sense that you may have something edible, they form a massive group and follow you around, nudging their heads into whatever part of your body they can reach until you dish out your food. The only way for you to get this group away is to then find some other unlucky soul who has just unwittingly purchased a pack of senbei. You search him out and lead the deer in his direction until they realize that he is far more likely to give up the goods. You can then walk away safely, giggling on the inside at the horde of deer you have just delivered to this poor poor sap. The screams you hear as you walk away are not quite so funny, but you are simply glad it was him, and not you!

On Tuesday I had the day to myself, so I decided to head over to Kobe and take another look around. On the train, I met another American who was traveling to Himeji castle, in the same direction, so we had a nice conversation. I never even asked his name, but he was a nice guy. Once I got to Kobe we parted ways. In Kobe, I had originally planned to retrace the steps I had made in 2006 when I went there.

However, after having lunch on the 24th floor of a skyscraper overlooking the city, I was given some information by some very nice Japanese volunteers who were there “promoting” Kobe.

Leafing through the pamphlets, I noticed first a town nearby called Nada which has a number of sake breweries and a sake museum. This seemed intriguing, but I decided instead to leave that for another time and take a gondola ride up the mountain, and then hike down. This was perhaps not the smartest decision since I was carrying my 10 lb bag of clothes and books and such, but hindsight is 20/20. First, I took the subway (located in the second basement)

to the station where I could take the gondola.

I got to the top of the mountain and began walking.

After a while, I was hopelessly lost. Well, I wasn’t lost! I was on a trail, walking somewhere, it wasn’t like I was in the wilderness with no idea where I was going. I just didn’t know where I was in relation to the mountain I started from!

And so I walked along until I found some other Japanese hikers who seemed to know where they were going. Instead of asking them where I was (where would be the fun in that? I was enjoying my little adventure) I shadowed them (OK, stalked them) for a while until I found some other Japanese hikers, whom I followed at a distance. In this way, three hours later I made my way down the mountain and to the train station. I am certainly planning on going back to Kobe and hiking some more, because there were tons of trails there in the mountains! It was a great time.

I did not get to eat any Kobe beef this time around, although it had been part of the original plan. As I walked back into Kobe, there was this random festival called “Kobe Live” happening, so I stopped to see what was going on for a bit.

I’m not really sure what was going on, but it was some traditional Japanese dance, and it was all synchronized. Collectivist culture much? 😀 After that I headed back to Osaka and went out for some sushi.

On Wednesday in the morning Akiko and I hung out some more, had lunch, and then it was time to head back to Oita. I caught the 3:18 shinkansen back and arrived in Nakatsu in time for dinner with Natalie and the local Indian restaurant. The three nights I spent in Osaka were exhausting. I didn’t sleep all too much, and it barely felt like a vacation when I got back to Nakatsu. However, I had a great time and would love to do it again. Maybe next time I will spend more than 18 dollars on my hotel room, though!

As usual, more photos can be seen online here

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Categories: Japan, Pictures, Trips Tags: , , , ,
  1. Rachel
    October 4, 2009 at 8:05 am

    Hello Dash, nice blog, you found some really beautiful sights in Osaka.

    Alas, Silver Week is not an annual event – it’s just pure luck that the public holiday that fell on the Monday (respect for the aged day) and the autumn equinox on the Wednesday. So the government threw in an extra public holiday just for fun! I can’t remember there ever being one before.

  2. Stu
    October 5, 2009 at 1:41 pm

    As usual, lots of sweet pics, but that one of the gnarly-looking bridge leading into the darkness is fracking awesome.

  3. Dash
    October 5, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    Yeah I liked that one too. Just for the record, I did not cross the bridge into the darkness…

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