Tag Archives: Osaka

A brief stop in Osaka

只今! After two years, we’re back in Osaka! Just a two day trip from Shanghai and we’re in the Aqua Metropolis again – the Anti-Capital, the town where dodgy areas are other cities shopping areas, all in all a wild place.

This sounds familiar, the boys are back in town. And coming back to Osaka or to Japan in general feels a bit like coming home by now. Hearing all those sounds (beeping, jingles and announcements EVERYWHERE!), seeing the familiar sights and drinking Calpis. It’s like we’ve never been away.

Of course we stayed in our tatami mat hotel room (unfortunately still without the great breakfast from our first visit), just to add a bit more to the familiarity. But we just crashed in Osaka this time for we wanted to travel the north of Japan. Of course we explored the neighborhood anyway (as in geocaching), visited the “shrines” of Billiken – the god of things as the should be – and went for some food. We met up with Maija and Kim to go to a local Teppanyaki restaurant (鉄板焼き, where they cook and serve food on a big hot iron plate) we could recommend. Also we showed them the Glico man, which is a must-see in Osaka (or so they say) and got Kakigōri (かき氷, shaved ice with syrup toppings) for dessert. That completed our adventures with Maija and Kim, but we might meet again in Tokyo for the fireworks.

Actually those were our activities in Osaka. On the next day we were out for some bunnies!

The Special Ferry SU ZHOU HAO

Our most favorite to get to Japan is by ferry, the SU ZHOU HAO, from Shanghai to Osaka. Flying is okay I guess (well, maybe not these days), but taking the ferry is really something different. You can relax, while the ship does all the work. It’s a bit like the train rides we did on this trip so far, but on the ship you have so much more space to walk around and explore. You can go outside whenever you want, they have a nice Japanese bath on board and the food… well, food is available.

The last time we were on the ferry, we soon had a group of 8-10 people who hung around most of the time. That was really a great time. But that was when the Expo was, so a lot of people were on the ship to start with. This time there weren’t as many. There was this Otaku couple from England, who weren’t going to Japan for the first time either (just the first time on the ferry), a South Korean guy from Seoul, who had been traveling the world for several months now (a lot by bicycle) and was writing a book about it, as well as 3-5 other people we didn’t see often enough to enable some kind of exchange. All others were Chinese and making conversation is quite hard. I only managed once with a Chinese business man in the Japanese bath, but that was quite difficult, even when we used all four languages we knew together.

And then there were our cabin companions, Maija and Kim. A Swedish-Finnish couple who took a few months off to travel around. They were great fun to be with. During the day we’d just hang out, reading, talking, taking photos. And in the evening we’d play games. Shanghai, Shitty Pants and Goat Testicles. Also we… hmm, what do you mean? Oh, the games. Okay, maybe a little explanation is needed. Let’s start with the most simple one, Shanghai. It’s basically Uno with two regular 52 card decks (including Jokers), just some slight differences, for example that you could Shanghai (politely ask the person who’s turn it was) the open card when it wasn’t your turn. Shitty pants (as I’ve researched by now, the Finnish name is Paskahousu, which makes it basically a correctly translated title) is a card game where the players always need to raise the cards lying on the table. And then there were the Goat Testicles. Okay, we made that title up, because we didn’t know the name of the game. But the game was a genuine Mongolian game, which you play with ankle bones. The player throws the bones on the table, where they can land in one of four positions, named sheep, goat, horse and camel. Then you have to flip one bone onto another one of the same kind without hitting another bone. You do this until you miss or hit a different bone and after that the next player continues. The winner is the one who collects most of them. You can also tell the fortune with those bones (since Mongolia has no access to the ocean, we weren’t sure if it is good or bad luck to roll them on the sea, so we settled for special luck). As I learned by now over the Internet, those bones come in sets of four in a leather pouch and are called Shagai. If we’d only learned that while still in Mongolia. Those would’ve been a great souvenir and gift.

Out companions traveled a lot more through Mongolia, so we could learn a bit more about the country and culture from them (like drinking games). In return, we were able to give them some starters and tips for Japan.

One more thing about the food. On the ship are some vending machines (going to Japan after all) with drinks and food, as well as two restaurants, a regular and a special restaurant. We weren’t allowed to eat at the special restaurant (just to join the Karaoke later) and the regular one served set meals which were just okay (like a cafeteria). But in front of the restaurant was a display with other meals, which we didn’t seem to get in the restaurant. On the last evening I had the crazy idea to just ask for one of those. That was so crazy that it actually worked. (They should really post a note about this. Or if they have, add one in English.) Looks like you don’t have to be special to get some different meal.

And yes, “special” became our running gag on this trip.

So after our special voyage on the special ship with all the special stuff and our special companions, we arrive in special Osaka for the special immigration and special customs.

Day Off in Osaka

To make this a short one: It’s raining today, we couldn’t find a dry place that’s interesting enough to visit, so we stayed in the hotel, slacking gathering our strength for tomorrow’s trip to Tokyo. We only left to get something to eat (of course), dispatch post cards, try to find souvenirs, but that’s it. The rest of the time was invested in catching up with news and other stuff, while also coding a bit.

Refreshing Kyoto

In our series of revisiting places, we went to Kyoto today. Another former capitol, that is now known for it’s temples. Well, not only the temples – but also the parks, the palace and for being a quite lively metropolis. Last time, we spent a lot of time out of town or at the outskirts of Kyoto, so we got the feeling that there is quite a lot of Kyoto we haven’t seen yet. Well, after today there is still a lot we didn’t see, but we started to get there.

Let’s make one thing clear. In Kyoto you’ll find temples and shrines… a lot of temples and shrines. It’s like you can’t walk a few hundred meters without running into at least a small shrine between the buildings. Seriously, they built shopping districts along shrine roads, so you’ll find fashion, food, fashion, accessories, shrine, fashion, sweets and so on. You turn a corner, find a few vending machines and a shrine. Truly amazing and as you might imagine, we’ve seen quite a few.

But aside that, there’s a lot more to discover. For examples, walked past the International Manga Museum and thought: “Ah, what the heck.” Though, we have to say, the “international” part is quite small – only a small shelf displaying comics from other countries, including German ones I’ve never heard of. Of course, Manga and Anime are mainly a Japanese thing, but since it’s being read and viewed all over the world, they showed how other countries go with the cult (like a German Cosplay magazine which we didn’t know and didn’t need to know). And, of course, you’ll find a lot of Manga books there (just about 50,000 with additional 250,000 in storage for research), which you can just pick out of a shelf and read (if you’re fluent enough in Japanese) on the premises. The most interesting thing was someone was doing Kamishibai in one room – traditional Japanese style of story-telling with pictures, which used to be popular as street entertainment. That was very fun due to the performance, even if we only understood the basic idea of the stories. The whole museum is a former elementary school, so its history is told there as well.

We were also in the Imperial Palace Park, a very nice area. We didn’t go to the palace, though, since it was already late then and you need to make reservations for that anyway.

And yes, of course we also went geocaching, which was quite successful.

Guided Nagoya

Today we went to Nagoya. Actually we didn’t go there with much of a plan and would follow the spur of the moment. First stop was the Sky Promenade near the train station, where you could enjoy a great view over the city. When we were leaving again this Japanese guy, who was also up at the Sky Promenade approached us – long story short, since he didn’t have any plans for the day, Kenji-san was so nice to offer his service as a guide.

Through the course of the day we saw some interesting places in the city. Standing out were an antique market (which my father surely would’ve loved to pillage for eBay) on temple grounds, an Otaku Shop (place for all kind of comic/manga/anime related stuff) and a Maid Cafe (a kitschy cafe were girls dress up as European maids and serve very polite – looking at the clients it seemed they either need that self esteem boost of girls talking to them and/or they just want to see some (pretty) girls). According to Kenji-san, he’s never been at those places, so it seemed we were a welcome excuse to visit them himself. We ended at a scenic place called OASIS 21.

He showed us great places to eat and in return we showed him geocaching. Well, we had to retrieve at least on cache there – cacher’s pride – and since he was with us, we had no other choice but to introduce him. But as it seems he liked it.

To Nara, my Deer

Today was cloudy and quite rayless… well, from the sun anyway. So, before we got to our main destination today, we made a brief stop in Fukushima.

We used our short stay to look for a post office, where we could a) withdraw some cash (most bank ATMs do only accept Japanese cards) and b) send off a few postcards. We knew there should be a post office near Umeda, but the map we had and the maps that were hanging around there were completely different. In fact, the maps in that area were also contradicting themselves. Something clearly messed this up. But thankfully there was another international bank, so we could at least get the money.

Radiant with satisfaction we hopped onto the train again and headed for Nara. Nara has been the capitol of Japan a long time ago – today it’s mainly know for its shinto shrines and buddist temples, as well as the deer that roam freely around Nara Park to bug the tourists. On the photo (shot in 2010) you can see a pack of deer cornering some innocent tourists at a vending machine to feed on them… or to be fed by them? I always mix that up, but in the end there will be blood, trust me on that. Nothing we want to show children.

Since we saw all the important shrines and temples last time, we just briefly checked upon the area and explored more of the urban Nara (yes, also some caching attempts). Not being a main metropolis, it certainly has a quite nostalgic feeling to it, roaming the streets away from the main tourist ant trail. Unfortunately the bad weather didn’t stay in Osaka so it was quite cloudy, even earlier dark than usual and just could not entirely satisfy us, so we called it a day.

Oh yeah, almost forgot to mention that Fukushima-ku is just a ward of Osaka – so it’s far away from Fukushima-ken (the prefecture), Fukushima-shi (the city) and especially from Fukushima Dai-Ichi NPP (the problem). We’re not THAT bonkers.

Renovating Himeji

Unlike most Japanese Castles, which have been reconstructed with concrete, Himeji Castle is still made out of wood – one of the reasons it is an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Right now the main keep is undergoing renovations and can’t be visited. It’s already been like this two years ago, so we didn’t bother to visit then. It’ll be at least two more years till they are finished, but we went to visit the castle and the city of Himeji anyway, so we don’t miss the chance to see at least the bit we can.

With the main keep under a giant cover block, the mood was a bit killed. But the gardens are beautiful and we could walk through the West Bailey – which was also home to Senhime – that gave us an idea of how amazing the castle must look. Combining a “new” white castle and the wonderful gardens with all those cherry trees one can imagine what kind of a battle field this will be at the Sakura blossoming time. Well, there would be more to tell, if it wasn’t… you get the idea.

One thing about the city itself was a bit irritating first. After we’ve been walking about 500m away from the station, we couldn’t remember seeing one vending machine. And yes indeed, there weren’t any to be seen around. For some reason there aren’t many on the main road. But of course, once you leave the main road you can find enough of them. Just for a moment we were suspecting we left the country without noticing.

Through Our Osaka Neighbourhood

Let me cite something from the “Lonely Planet: Japan”.

For something completely different, take a walk through this retro entertainment district just west of Tennō-ji-kōen. At the heart of it all you’ll find crusty old Tsūtenkaku tower, a 103m-heigh structure […]. When the tower first went up it symbolised everything new and exciting about this once-happening neighbourhood (shin-sekai is Japanese for ‘new world’).

Now, Shin-Sekai is a world that time forgot. You’ll find ancient pachinko parlours, run-down theatres, dirt-cheap restaurants and all manner of raffish and suspicious characters.

Have this text just for flavor. Of course it’s not as bad as it sounds and I think the most suspicious characters were two non-Japanese who were examining strange places as if they were looking for something.

Anyway, after doing laundry and getting some curry for brunch, we decided to just go north, explore the area and grab whatever cache is along the way. We went along till Namba (a modern entertainment and shopping district) grabbed Omurice for dinner and took a short train-ride back.

But the interesting things happened on the way to Namba, of course. Our area is really a place time forgot, but we already mentioned that in another post. Where Hiroshima with it’s streetcars has a nostalgic feeling, it’s really more run-down here. The further we went north, the better it got, though.

During our walk we discovered two time capsules, meant to be opened 2025 and 2098. (Steffen thinks, we will be able to live to see the first opening – of course I aim for the second opening.) Then there was this temple that had a giant lion’s head (giant as in 12m high, 11m wide and 10m deep) with a wide open mouth that seems to be some kind of stage. And to the Sky View of Namba Parks we had to go twice. At the first time we couldn’t search for the cache because of the many people. But after I noticed that I forgot my compass there, we had to return and were lucky enough to find the spot empty. Aside from those highlights we saw a lot of the colorful urban Osaka.

Hiroshima Drew Us Back

Yesterday we came back to Osaka, today we went back to Hiroshima! On our last trip we’ve been there for a few days, but we wanted to go back this time as well – to visit the peace park, eat some great food and let geocaching lead us to some places we didn’t know yet.

But the day began quite sad, since the Daiyoshi wasn’t open and we couldn’t get our breakfast there. We had to resort to some Ekiben (train station lunchboxes), but that was just not the same.

Fortunately – after we arrived in Hiroshima – things got brighter. And not just the weather (Osaka’s forecast was one reason for our “escape”). We like Hiroshima, it’s a nice city with friendly people and great food. Anyway, as mentioned, we wanted to let geocaching lead our way and boy were we successful. It led us to new, interesting places like temples, the former Bank of Japan Hiroshima branch (now empty and kind of a museum), an old train, several monuments and (who would’ve guessed) food.

Of course, we visited the Peace Park, walked those paths of grieve and rang the Peace Bell. One thing was different, though. Unlike the last time, the place was filled with Japanese students, mostly on day trips. It seems to be a common assignment for them to talk to foreign tourists and ask them about where they come from and what they think is necessary for all to live in peace. We were a popular “target” for those small groups, being addressed four times while only being in a small part of the park. I think that’s a great assignment allowing them to practice English, talk to strangers and get a (very) little insight on other cultures and opinions.

After exploring more of the city, it was finally time for the main reason we came back to Hiroshima. The Daimarudou in the Okonomimaru – an okonomiyaki restaurant in a building full of restaurants, mostly okonomiyaki restaurants. We’ve been to this place two years ago and added it to our list of favorite shops immediately. We even printed a photo I took last time, to give it to the shop owner with a dedication. The food was still great, the people very nice and actually we are even considering going there again before we leave Osaka.

The Boys are Back in Town

只今! After two years, we’re back in Osaka! Just a three hour trip from Fukuoka and we’re in the Aqua Metropolis again – the Anti-Capital, the town where dodgy areas are other cities shopping areas, all in all a wild place. Well, so they say

Usually on the day of our arrival we explore the area to see where we’ve landed. This time on the other hand, we already knew the place. Not much has changed – never was a modern ward or anything and everything looks the same as before, just two years older. There’s our wonderful hotel with our nice tatami mat room (and a luxury bottom showering toilet), around the corner is our convenience store and main water supply, close to that the optician that helped me fix my broken glasses last time (despite not understanding each other) and on the other side of the street is a restaurant that serves long lasting breakfast and other great dishes (thus, was our first stop after checking in).

Good to be back!