Sunday, January 18, 2015

Osaka Trip

I'm sad to announce that my study abroad experience is almost over...11 more days until I return to Hawaii and I'm NOT counting! I'm currently finishing up finals, but I'm still managing to have time to have fun and explore new places.

Two weeks ago, I went to Osaka on a mini vacation. I really wanted to visit the Kansai area because of its reputation for good food and friendly people. So... I booked a flight from Narita to Kansai International and I decided to find out if this reputation held true.

Did you know that Japan is 70% mountain? This was pretty obvious while's amazing to think so many people live in a country that has such a small percentage of flat land.

Upon arriving I noticed the differences almost immediately. I have a difficult time distinguishing the Osaka accent from the Tokyo one, but I did hear differences in tone and words. Some of the subways and trains were not as modern as the ones in Tokyo. The city, while the second largest in Japan, was also noticeably smaller, which I expected of course but something about its lack of immensity made me feel a bit lonely.

Although I was slightly disappointed that the city wasn't as clean and modern as Tokyo... I felt a special kind of atmosphere that I had never felt in Tokyo. In order to get to the hostel, I had to take a train from KIX to the city, which was honestly a pretty surreal moment. I was riding the train around sunset, so the sun was creating this warm glow from behind the clouds that lit up the whole sky.. it was even more beautiful when the train moved across the bay bridge from the airport to the city.

The hostel I stayed in was really cozy, the staff spoke great English, and everything was clean and convenient. I was ready to explore Osaka!!! The next day I set off for the historical, touristy sights - Osaka Castle and Shitenno-ji, one of Japan's oldest temples.

大坂城 (Osaka Castle)

四天王寺 (Shitenno-ji)

One of the highlights of the day was meeting this Japanese man and his pet eagle

It was cold ..  and I'm definitely not a cold weather type of person so I was losing energy fast. It was time to go back to the hostel and get some rest for the next day. 

The rest of the trip was definitely a more fun experience.. while it's always interesting to see historical sites... once you've been to a lot of temples it just isn't that exciting anymore. I'd rather do the stuff that people do in the just the stuff that looks fun at least ;) Here are some highlights:

TAKOYAKI... a must eat in Osaka, so fresh and warm...mmm
Tempozan Ferris Wheel, the second highest ferris wheel in Japan at 369 ft.

Somewhere in Dotonbori in Namba, the main entertainment hub of Osaka
Shisa at Cafe Absinthe, located in Ame-mura, aka Americatown

The famous Glico logo

So.. I ended up doing lots of touristy stuff, but I did do things that weren't on any guidebooks, like going to two cat cafes to kill time and walking in the cold rain from Koreatown to the train station. There was also this rock bar in Ame-mura (Americatown) that I needed to check out - they were having a classic Japanese rock/pop night, and the end featured a guy dressed in drag strutting out all the dance routines to ピンク・レディー (Pink Lady), a classic pop duo from the 70s.

My overall impression of Osaka had definitely changed over the course of the four days I visited. It seemed as if the city did not have much to offer on the surface, but actually, it has SO much to offer. For some reason it felt more culturally diverse compared to Tokyo - there were many Italian restaurants, the best bakery I've ever been to in my life, Koreatown, Americatown, and of course great Japanese cuisine. I had a lot of fun and the people felt friendly. One striking moment that I'll never forget is going back to the hostel one night and hearing most of the people, not just one or two people, talk in normal voices and even laughing on the train. You just don't get that on Tokyo trains - it's usually just dead silent most of the time.

While I found Osaka more friendlier than Tokyo, I would still choose Tokyo over Osaka... simply because it's the place where I formed many of my first memories in Japan. But if I get the opportunity to return to Osaka, I wouldn't hesitate to say yes. :) 

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