Osaka

10:10 Paul Robinson 0 Comments

Japan knows how to make a first impression. I flew into Kansai airport – you saw the airport on that documentary where the Japanese blew up a whole mountain to create an island and build an airport – the airplane was just metres above the sea and just as the runway appeared out of the deep blue our wheels touched down. I was excited.

We disembarked and were ushered onto customs via the airport metro. The customs officials were polite and welcoming. Before I knew it, I had collected my bag and I was stood bewildered in front of a train ticket machine. I can’t understand any of the three (yes three!) Japanese scripts but thankfully there were staff on hand who could all speak fluent English.

From the window of my train into the city, I watched the sun set over Osaka.  No one shouted, no one stared or spat. Damn it, no one even dropped sunflower seeds all over the floor – China felt a million miles away.

I checked into my hostel and then decided to have a little gander around my area. The restaurant menus confused the hell out of me but I managed to get myself a great dish of rice and beef, called Gyudon. The local area is full of little yakitori bars, restaurants and boutiques. I braved one upstairs bar, expecting some sort of salaryman dive but instead found a tiny place full of imported beer, sport of the TV and a bit of jazz noodling in the background. The barman was so overly helpful he literally fell over himself to pass me the wifi password.

I couldn’t help but be impressed by the sophistication of the design and engineering I Japan. Frequent natural disasters and a severe shortage of space necessitate inventive design. Traditionally, buildings were built of paper and wood to reduce the dangers of collapsing buildings during an earthquake. Building fires were a major risk, so rules stipulated that each individual building must be separated in order to prevent fires spreading. The results are small compact buildings with their own individual charisma. I love the urbanity of the place – overhead train lines, rooftop tennis courts and standing-only wine bars. Navigation is easy too. The cities are designed with pedestrians in mind, so there are no useless detours around car parks and highways. There are also plenty of signs and maps. It is nice to spend time in the city and other cities, near and far, could learn a lot.
My first full day in Osaka began with a walking tour of Japanese food. Our group was made of a Korean, Japanese, Belgian and  Hong Kongese (or is it Hong Konger?Hong Kongonian?)And our barmy tour guide. He knew about four words in English but that didn’t stop him dragging us down tiny alleyways in search of some random dish. We tried teriyaki, Japanese fried chicken, okonomiyaki, eel and some local dessert. The guide also took us on a tour of his friend’s sweet shop and his local convenience store. We were basically out walking with a pensioner while he did his weekly errands.
Our guide introducing the kitchen God.
 We visited the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. The museum housed a replica street from 300 years ago. We all got dressed up in kimonos and had a wander round. I loved the traditional architecture; tatami mats, sliding doors, outside courtyards. Brilliant. Our guide was really keen to show us all the different styles of kimonos, apothecary tools, new year Gods etc etc. We couldn’t keep him still for two seconds. I was also amazed to learn that the ovens were connected to a system beneath the floors. This meant that Japanese homes had under floor heating 300 years ago!
Osaka Museum of Housing and Living
Looking good.
 After the museum we had lunch in a kaiten sushi restaurant, with the conveyor belt bringing endless dishes of fresh fish. The food was great and only 130yen (90p) a plate. It was one of the coolest places I’d eaten even if to the locals it was just a side street sushi spot. I’d noticed that many of the restaurants, down to even the smallest standing room only places, are built with the kitchen in the middle with the diners surrounding the kitchen. The produce, the slicing, the cooking and the banter is there for everyone to see. In the west our restaurants aren’t like that, we’d call that theatre.
I said goodbye to the tour and headed off to Osaka Castle. A modern recreation of the original castle, but still impressive. From the viewing platform I could see how the castle commanded views across the whole Osaka plain. My favourite part of the exhibition was the samurai armour. There is no denying it; Samurai were the mutt’s nuts. Their armour was much more elaborate and otherworldly in comparison to European chainmail equivalents.
My Chinese phone charger was useless in the land of the rising sun and my phone died along with all my maps and notes on it. I had to resort to some old school navigation tools; a setting sun and blind hope. I intended to find Amerikamura, the alternative district of Osaka. Luckily I stumbled into the right area but I didn’t have too much time there because I was on the hunt for a decent phone charger. My last meal in Osaka was spicy noodles and beer – you can’t go wrong with that.

A little over 24 hours in Osaka and it was time for me to hit the road. I didn’t know much about Osaka beforehand but I enjoyed every moment there. I hope to visit Osaka again.



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