Saturday, December 29, 2012
As I explained briefly in my last post, I was about to embark on my first real trip to one of the largest cities in Japan, Osaka. I was excited! But I didn’t really know what to expect when I got there. However, my first bit of enjoyment from this trip came from the bus ride there, and the memories they held. It had been three months since the last time I had driven those roads and it reminded me of my first day in Japan. Now that day seems so long ago since so much has happened between now and then. I had nearly forgotten how beautiful that trip was. We were just in time to watch the sunrise as we drove across the island of Shikoku, the smallest of Japan’s four main islands.
After about three hours we had gotten onto Japan’s main island of Honshu. At that point we thought we were arriving early because we could already see skyscrapers and a vast cityscape. But as we later found out, that was just Kobe and that in reality, the long stretch from Kobe and Osaka north to Tokyo is just one massive urban area. The Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area, ranking 9th in the world, has a population of ~17,375,000. I’m going to skip ahead to some pictures that were taken on Monday the 31st to give you an idea of how vast this area is.
Upon arrival to the main island, this is what we saw that led us to believe we were in Osaka already.
It was another 30 minutes or so before we made it to Namba Station in Osaka. Upon arrival we immediately set out upon the city’s incredible subway system in order to locate our hotel. From the bus terminal of Namba it took about 15 minutes to walk to Sennichimae line that would take us to the Awaza stop, only 3 stops away. From there finding the Sunlife Hotel was easy. Just a short 5 minute walk around the corner.
We got there too early to check in, but we had to get rid of our bags before doing anything else, so we left them there with the front desk workers. After some strategy planning we made our way back to Namba. Before making this trip we decided it would be worth our while to purchase the subway’s all-day pass for ¥600. The single 3 stop trip from Namba to Awaza had cost ¥200! So this all-day rail pass was a serious bargain for only ~$6.50.
We were going back to Namba in order to meet up with a friend of Felix’s, whom he had met at a bonsai festival earlier last month. His name is Dan as well and he has been living in Osaka for about 3 years now and has a Japanese fiancé. It turns out that he is also not only from the same country as I am, but from the same state as well! He plans to return to Pittsburg later this year in April. He is living in Osaka working as an English teacher but in his free time he is studying bonsai at a nursery about 40 minutes away from the city. This is where we were heading. Since Felix is also studying bonsai, this was his main reason for coming to Osaka. I myself was also curious to see the nursery as well, so I tagged along.
The excursion turned out to be quite fun. I got to see the large nursery and hundreds of bonsai! In addition to that, the bonsai master who owns the nursery also let me work on a tree there! Apparently that never happens. Even apprentices working under the master have to put their time in before getting to wire a tree, but I got to on my first visit to the nursery, and I’ve never even had any prior experience! He was being truly generous. I have a feeling we were receiving some respect and special treatment because of Felix’s bonsai sensei, who is very famous in the bonsai world. I was very lucky!
You can see the tree that I was working on down in the bottom left next to me. For the most part, I was just wiring the tree. I didn’t actually have a very solid understanding of what I was doing, but it was definitely a valuable learning experience in the ways of bonsai.
After spending many hours at the nursery, we finally decided to finish up around 4:30 and make our way back to the hotel to check into our room. We relaxed there for a while before departing for the next event of the day. We met up with Dan and his fiancé at Namba and went out for dinner. We had a great time but we were determined to make it an early evening considering our early start that morning.
Unfortunately you cannot always count on the photography skills of a server…
Sunday, December 30th
This day we started off early once again but we were disappointed for step outside to a very rainy and depressing day. But that didn’t stop us. We pushed ahead and made our way to the Japanese Rail (JR) terminal of Namba took the Nankai line to Sumiyoshitaisha. It was there where we were planning to meet with Dan and Mari. Sumiyoshitaisha is the name of one of the oldest shinto shrines. The oldest parts of the shrine date back 1800 years, as do some of the trees!
After exploring the shrine, we all parted ways; me for the hotel to dry off and prep for my exploration of Osaka, Dan and Felix off to the nursery, and Mari heading back home.
I had no idea of what to do so I just hopped onto a random subway line and took it to where it would take me. I ended up in Kita Area, at Umeda station, after asking a couple girls on the subway where would be the best place to get off and explore. Once there I found myself in a maze of underground malls and subway stations. My first goal was to find my way street side, which is easier said than done in Osaka. After being there for a few days, I realized that one could spend an entire week underground in Osaka and continue to find new places and new things to do. At first it feels slightly depressing, but after a while you get used to it, and eventually like it. I would usually laugh out loud to myself whenever I came across an opening to the sky, usually because it would come at such unexpected times and places.
After wandering around the Umeda area for a bit I realized that I didn’t have much a purpose, and therefore not much of an exciting exploration either. So I decided that my goal was to find a worthwhile place to either eat or have a beer… or both. Rejuvenated by my new goal I continued onward until I found myself in a large cavernous shopping center hub, where many malls combined into one.
Being curious about the location that I was in, knowing that because of the vast amounts of stores and people, there had to be some place nearby worth my while. Some place that had what I was looking for… I went over to a directory. What I saw there surprised me. Since I had been underground for some time, I’d had no idea what building I was in. As it turns out, I was in a skyscraper, completely full of restaurants! Not only that, but when I saw the name next to the 31st floor directory, I knew I had completed my quest. The name? Molto Craft Beer! Boo ya!
I hadn’t even dared to dream of such results. That I would stumble across quite possibly the only IPA in Japan? It was beyond my wildest dreams. At that moment, in the second picture up from here, I was the happiest person in Osaka. Dear hops… how I had missed thee…
The end to our reunion came all too soon. But alas, my quest was complete. It was now time to begin my journey home, to rest, to fight again another day. With a final swallow and a bitter-sweet farewell, I made my departure.
Monday, December 31st
This day held in store quite the adventure! The Two Towers of Osaka were our destinations and with any luck, a hot spring to rest our tired feet before our long journey home. First one up, Tsūtenkaku!
This is the tower where the North-South-East-West shots were taken. It is located in the southeastern part of the city. It was quite a fun time. After, we made our way back to Namba and met with Dan for one final time before returning to Kagawa. We went to go grab some famous Osaka cuisine for lunch, okonomiaki!
From there we, after a delicious lunch, we made our way to the second tower, the Skygarden Observatory!
After experiencing this incredible tower and purchasing some gifts, we were on our way. This time our goal was for relaxation at the onsen, the Japanese hot springs.
I’m not going to get into the depressing details but to make a long story short, after walking and searching for the onsen for about an hour we finally found it on the 8th floor of a pachinko building and it was packed! After we had taken off our shoes, we realized that it was futile to try and enjoy ourselves here, so we left and ate a couple bananas to try and make ourselves feel better. Although laughing about it made it hurt a little bit less as well.
No longer rushed, we spent the next hour-and-a-half getting back to and relaxing in Namba, waiting for our bus. When the time came, we boarded, armed for the trip with beer and sushi, ready to head back to Takamatsu to ring in the New Year! My New Year’s celebration was to be held along with my host family and their relatives, but that is a post for a later date.
Thanks everyone for checking in and reading about DanInJapan’s trip to…