Work in Progress

“In the best travel, disconnection is a necessity. Concentrate on where you are; do no back-home business; take no assignments; remain incommunicado; be scarce. It is a good thing that people don’t know where you are or how to find you. Keep in mind the country you are in. That’s the theory.”
–Paul Theroux

A human who loves the world, finds beauty in the unknown, and can't keep her feet on the ground. I like finding unique (and cheap) ways of making my way around the globe. Interacting with people while living, learning, and loving the culture I'm surrounded by.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Osaka - The Venice of Japan

Oh, Saka. Despite being what some may consider a typical big city, I enjoyed it more than I thought. To be honest though, I didn't spend much time there. My couchsurfing host actually recommended not to spend the day in Osaka and instead head to Nara. I took his advice.  He is a local. He knows things. I definitely made the right choice, but I appreciated the time that I was able to explore the streets of Osaka.

I didn't leave Taka's place until 10ish, and with the last train leaving around 11:45 I didn't have much time to get my exploring in. I got off at the metro stop he suggested and started wandering in the general direction of the Dotonbori, a notorious street in Osaka known primarily for it's deliciously cheap food and extravagant shop front displays. I quickly found the ramen joint I was dying to try, mainly because they have kimchi to garnish your noodles with. Kinryu ramen is likely the most popular place to get ramen - so popular they have three lcations in the Dotonbori. All of their store fronts are adorned with giant Dragons. It wasn't hard to find.

I put my 900yen into a vending machine and pressed the picture of the ramen I wanted. It spit out a ticket for me to hand to the lovely man who was about to feed me my first proper Japanese ramen. I inhaled that giant bowl of noodles while sitting crossed legged on the tatami mat with a perfect view for people watching. Almost immediately after eating ramen I figured it was about as good a time as any to eat takoyaki - octopus balls. Not like, testicles. Just fried balls of octopus. They were wonderful, definitely better than the live baby octopus I ate in Korea. But, anything fried is automatically better.

I caught the last train to Taka's house and instead of heading straight home I decided to wander in the direction of a river and see what I could find on my way. I was happy to stumble upon a 7-11, one of my favorite snack stops in Korea. It was fun to compare the convenience stores in Japan to the ones back home. They definitely have a better selection of alcohol, food, and reading material. A stood in front of the drinks section for at least a minute contemplating whether or not to get a regular sized Strong or a tall can. A Strong is an alcoholic beverage in Japan, rightly named. 8% alcohol that comes in an assortment of fruity flavors? Sign me up. I picked up a small can, walked a few feet to the register and turned around to grab a tall can. The store clerk giggled. So did I.

I didn't make it as far as the river, but I did find a lovely park that I walked around and played on. How could I resist a set of swings? I definitely got a few stares from the few people making their way home. It probably isn't too often they see a white person swinging at a park in their neighborhood late at night with a Strong in hand.

The next day I woke up, shared tea and breakfast with Taka - and headed to Nara. After shopping all evening throughout the multiple shopping districts in Osaka, I came home that evening to a beautiful meal prepared by Taka. You can read all about it in my couchsurfing blog. I wanted to get to Kyoto the next day fairly early, so I had an early night. Pretty much spent the whole evening, and the next morning chatting with Taka. I really enjoyed his company and was happy to share my experience with him.
I came back to Osaka the last night of my trip since I was flying out the next day. I didn't want to have to worry about waking up and traveling too far to the airport. I found a super cheap hostel with a PRIVATE room, and AC. I was stoked to have my own space, not going to lie. I love hostels, but for some reason I wasn't interested in meeting a whole load of other people traveling. I was in the hostel long enough to set my stuff down and check out a map. I decided I wanted to go to a park nearby and set off. I don't know if I every actually made it to the park. I did, however, wander around some really cool areas of town.

One of the streets I walked down was filled with hole in the wall sushi joints, rooms full of old men playing some game I had never seen, men gambling on the ground, turtles that I assume were soon to be someones meal, and a lot of bike traffic. I got a lot of stares while walking down this street, most people seemed surprised to see me. Most stares were followed by smiles though, which is one thing I loved about Japan. Everyone seemed (relatively) happy.

At night I decided I wanted to visit Namba Parks, a giant shopping center with landscaping around the structure and a garden/park along the roof. I planned on getting dinner here and exploring some of the shops, looking for hopefully cheap and small things to bring back home with me to decorate my apartment. I ended up grabbing dinner here at a restaurant that specialized in cheese and then heading back towards the direction of the Dotonbori to wander more.

While walking around I decided I might as well pick up a cheap drink from a convenient store. While I was walking down the Dotonbori with a Strong Zero in my hand a Japanese man thought it was funny and tried to spark up a conversation with me using (pretty much) only the word "strong". "Ahh! Strong, very strong!" Acting out drunk stumbling and chugging drinks took place. He asked if I knew any Japanese. Thankfully I had my drink in hand and was able to point to the word "zero" written across my can. He was disappointed in our lack of communication, and so was I. My biggest pet peeve is not being able to communicate with a person. If I were a superhero, I would want the power of ALL languages. BAM.

After a few more hours of exploring I worked up another hunger somehow so I decided to have a second dinner. SECOND DINNER was the best choice I have ever made. I went to Kinryu again, just a different location on the same street. While waiting for my noodles I retrieved a beer out of a vending machine and a little old man started up conversation with me. This one had indoor tatami seating so after I topped my ramen with massive amounts of kimchi I sat down to eat. The man, Eiichiro, asked if he could have dinner with me. I was thrilled.

He was so excited to practice his English, and I was happy to have someone to share my meal with. I confessed my love for food and that I missed Kimchi. We talked about communicating and how he learned English, places we have traveled and things we have done. He kindly walked with me to the subway and helped me find the right train. I would have figured it out, but it probably would have taken more time considering I was definitely feeling the mere two drinks I had consumed. He shared candy with me on the train and reminded me when it was my stop. Even though our paths only crossed for a very short time, I was so lucky to have met him.

And then, once again, I made a convenient store stop before heading back into my hotel. I grabbed a drink and some dessert and went back to my private hostel room at Toyo and vegged out while organizing and packing.

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