Little America at night is quite fun, and is full of Japanese hipsters. I ran into a Frenchman on the street and we discussed our travel visa’s. Interestingly, his from France was 6 months without even proof of employment, while most people from the US can only have a 90 day.
Not knowing Japanese has its downsides. Like stumbling into the red light district. Luckily, Japan’s red-light districts are not like most places, even the seediest areas are unusually safe. While some might claim this is because of Japan’s naturally low crime rate, others point out Japan’s notorious under-reporting of crimes. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I found myself in little America. It’s a section of Osaka that is meant to mirror the United States. It was quite early still so it was mostly empty. That being said a fountain had been vandalized with soap bubbles and the scattered remains of a party were evident in the main square. Being oh so cultured, I bought a Japanese Coke and found it tasted only slightly different, with an emphasis on spice over sweet.
My friend translated this to be literally fat entertainment. It was a brothel dedicated to those who enjoy the company of overweight women though the women on the poster aren’t all that fat in comparison to people from the states.
This is a Christmas-themed love hotel. Love hotels are not brothels believe it or not, most of their customers are actually couples who can’t get privacy otherwise. Japanese culture is both lax and strict about sex
Japan’s or Osaka’s version of a most-wanted poster. I like that the people they caught had little X’s put over them, like some version of criminal bingo.
I got a Japanese handkerchief. These are mostly used to wrap things in order to carry them more easily!
These adorable little fish…these are the deadly delicacy known as Fugu. I refrained from eating any during the trip as A. I didn’t want to die, and B. It was 60-80 dollars for the small edible piece of an otherwise adorable fish.
After a quick foray back to my hotel, I decided to catch a subway train and soak up some of Osaka’s history. More, tomorrow dear reader.
I awoke after my first night in Osaka with a fresh set of eyes and a roar of excitement. My hotel was in the heart of Osaka, and I wanted to race out into the day, but first I had to face the continual challenge of my trip, breakfast.
The breakfast in the states varies by location, but for me it was always a bowl of cereal or a piece of fruit. I’d grown tired to scarfing down rice balls for breakfast, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find the hotel offered breakfast.
Japanese breakfast is really interesting. Rice is a big part of it, but then there was fruit, eggs, salmon, and salad. It was quite delicious and without further ado I headed into the streets of Osaka.
The hustle and bustle were everywhere, but it seemed more personal, more real as if the people I was watching were more than just their job. It was a stark difference between the mornings in Tokyo and the ones in Osaka. This wall of vending machines was one of the many I spotted. I really wish stuff like this would catch on in the US. So many cool little bits and bobs!
I approached Osaka with a bit of a heavy heart, I knew this would be the final city in my great journey. Kyoto had left me feeling a little solemn and lonely, and so I arrived.
I’d taken one thing from Kyoto that’d kept me in high spirits! This Game of Thrones deck box for Magic the Gathering!
Despite having my awesome deck box I was totally lost, and for the first time I received help from a random Japanese couple. Osaka is known as the South of Japan. Osakans love good food and are known for being much more social than the rest of Japan. The couple who helped me spoke perfect English and even went so far as to call my hotel. It was a breath of fresh air, and I wish I’d gotten their emails, but the punk rock couple, he had a mohawk if I recall, was gone before I could even so much as say thank you.
I should say I dug the feel of the city immediately. It reminded me of Tokyo, but it felt somewhat less distant. The whole city seemed less formal, less imposing, and more open. I should say I felt more at home in Osaka than ever before, and being the final leg of my trip I decided to take fewer photos.
The hotel actually had a laundry which was welcome as I was running down to my last pair of socks. That being said when I visit Japan again I am going to bring a classier wardrobe, I swear I was the most underdressed guy in the country.
I enjoy nerdy culture, and I’d heard Osaka’s nerdy district was on par with or better than Tokyo’s so I headed out, and found a department store section completely dedicated to build-it-yourself Gundam Models. 13-year-old me owned a few of these.
On a hunch, and a hasty google search, I roughly ventured to the area of a hidden card shop. Well not so much hidden as tucked into a highrise along with other such shops.
I arrived to find the place in disarray. I would later figure out that the place was closing, and this was the last day of their operation, but at the time I was wholly confused.
Walking back I passed a lively cafe, and in the warm weather here, people congregated, but they congregated with each other, smiled and spoke earnestly. The whole feel was completely different to the hustle of Tokyo or the imposing nature of Kyoto.
I returned to the hotel with the spoils of my geek Journey, I got nearly 150$ in magic cards for 1 dollar. It was amazing. I am only sad I didn’t realize that they were closing the next day forever. Nonetheless, it was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and amazing first day in Osaka.
Looking back I wonder if I should have spent more time in Kyoto. While my gut says no, my mind wonders what it would be like to live in such a foreboding place, a place steeped in culture and tradition. The city seemed to echo a certain type of inner loneliness. When the Shogunate controlled japan, the Shogun rarely visited. The emperor lived in the palace but was little more than a puppet on a string. Then when the Edo period ended, and the Meiji restoration began, the emperor moved the capital to Tokyo.
The key word here is ceremony. The whole city was and is a ceremony, a clever deception of power. Everything about Kyoto seems to emanate foreboding, yet the city played only a ceremonial role in the power politics of Japan for most of its existence. Even during World War 2 the city was largely unimportant and as such was spared from he same level of bombardment the rest of Japan withstood.
Kyoto’s train station is an amazing and has a fun little Cafe in it. I took the plunge and ate some Oyakudon despite knowing I would have a reaction, and I had a little bit of one, but it was freaking worth it!
Speaking of ceremony, I decided to attend a tea ceremony.
Now, it actually wasn’t a full tea ceremony, but instead a class on how to properly give one. A proper tea ceremony can be difficult to find, and can take anywhere from 3 to 12 hours. None the less, I had the place to myself and my hostess was pleasant.
The last photo I snapped in Kyoto. There was a small mall behind the train station, and I decided to burn off some time before I was due to make it to Osaka.
As I emerged from the depths of the shrine, I walked in a daze grateful for having survived my journey. I happened upon some young school girls as they attempted to lift a metal pole from its socket though I don’t know why.
The temple I was visiting is the famous Kiyomizu. Legend has it that jumping from the stage and survive the 80-foot drop will grant you a wish, that being said, I kept my feet firmly planted.
The temple’s name translates to Clear Water, referring to the waterfall that can be seen in the picture below.
Across the pavillion, a Pagoda stood stark red against a sea of green.
Curious as ever I wandered the area behind the temples, and quite on accident I found myself heading into the hills behind Kyoto. Luckily the common sense part of my brain went off and I headed back when I met this staircase.
Quite on accident I found the Pagoda from the other picture. It ws beautiful, and with that I began winding my way down the hills.
As I left the shrine I felt eyes on me and looking up I found a whole class of Japanese students smiling down at me. I waved, and they waved back, and I smiled, and they smiled back. It was a breath of humanity in an otherwise sterile and inhuman place.
Even MORE MORE GION
I hope your memorial day went well dear US readers, and your normal, not long weekend non-US readers.
After a brief stop for lunch, courtesy of another 24/7 style establishment I decided to visit a pagoda in the hills surrounding Kyoto, but to get to that pagoda I had to venture through one of Japan’s oldest, and biggest graveyards.
I don’t have much against graveyards. Many people see them as scary or morbid. Some have a deep fascination with them. I grew up with ghost stories, yet I find nothing but serenity in the rituals pertaining the dead. Graveyards evoke rest, not restlessness to me. Nonetheless, the sheer scope of this particular burial ground was breathtaking, even more so, when you postulate that many of these graves were family graves, with several generations of families being buried all in the same plot.
What was perhaps the most curious was the direct contact people had with the burial ground. Houses like the one in the picture above lined the sides of the road and protruded into the grounds. I wonder what life would be like growing up so close to the dead. Would the person be immune to the fear of death? Reminded to live each day fully? Simply scared all the time? I had no idea, and my mind wandered.
By chance, I visited this very touristy place on a school field trip and snapped a few shots of the students, who did something many of their adult counterparts did not, they acknowledged my existence.
Behind me, as I came in off a back path, was a street lined with souvenirs, and replicas, but I set my eyes forward, I had a duty to perform.
I took a picture of this place because it was here I had a nearly religious experience in self-reliance. Within the temple above is a small passage that led into complete darkness, the passage can only be navigated by walking through the dark with your hand on a rail. It is stifling, claustrophobic, and not something I would do again. With that said I knew that if I panicked I would cause a problem, the people behind me couldn’t see me, and so I drove ahead despite every bone in my body telling me to head back. I emerged into the light, relieved and yet proud that I’d kept going.
Gion is a mystical place. It is an area of Kyoto that is frozen in time artifactually as well as culturally. While Xenophobia is a problem that Japanese culture faces, it is apparently extremely rampant in the tiny private restaurants of Japan. If you don’t know someone the people in the restaurants will simply ignore you, and if you are a foreigner, well even if you do know someone getting served might be an issue. That being said I saw no trace of Xenophobia when I ventured the alleyways of the Historic District, but that might have just been me.
The place’s main pathways are very touristy. This is a place that the Japanese come to visit to engage their culture, and gift shops abounded. The main reason for this is that Japanese culture dictates you give gifts to your colleagues or schoolmates after you return from a trip. The gifts don’t have to be expensive or personalized but to not give them is a Major Social Faux pas.
Kyoto’s vibe as a city is imposing, isolating, a little lonely, and yet cloaked in curiosity. The City was the home of the emperor until the Meiji Restoration, but during the time before the Meiji it was like the emperor, ceremonial but functionally unimportant. Unlike Kyoto, Tokyo, and Yokohama, the city was not all that important during world war two, no major manufacturing plants were built, no bases stood imposing, the city was simply a quiet place in a sea of turmoil.
One of the distinct advantages to this arrangement of relative un-importance, was that the city was left largely intact after world war 2. Buildings some of them hundreds of years old still stand in Kyoto. There are shrines, and parks beyond counting.
The city as such maintains its attitude of Imperiality. The royal power seems to seep through the pores of the city. The nature of the buildings here is shorter, flatter, and more reclusive. The privacy unavailable in other cities of Japan seems to flourish here.
The long driveways at first seem out of place in the city, but then as you walk along the nicer neighborhoods, you realize that these driveways, which could easily fit a house or two in them, are a subtle showing of wealth, and power.
My stomach rumbling, I stopped off at what I can only describe as a supermarket without produce. While I seem to have lost them at the moment, I found bottles of Jack Daniels that were at least two gallons. As I crept through the streets of Kyoto a certain timeless quailty gripped me, and I imagined it hundreds of years ago when nobles and samurai met in private restuarnts and discussed the day’s polotics. Sleepiness had me now and so I settled back to my hotel room, excited to venture to Gion, a very well preserved section of Kyoto.
The view of the hotel overlooked a school, even now at 9 o’clock the students practiced Martial arts, and I watched them as I drifted in and out of consciousness, wondering what it’d be like to grow up and such an imposing place.