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THE JAPAN DIARIES PART III: Osaka


Hey everyone,

So from Kyoto I made my way to Osaka.

In truth, I hadn't researched a lot about Osaka - anyone I asked who had previously been gave me either a black or white response: it was their least favourite major city in Japan (similar to Tokyo but more garish and less interesting) or it's been the highlight of their trip with lots of culture and the best food in the land.

With this in mind, I only gave myself 24 hours in the city with the intention to break up the journey between Kyoto and Koyasan, where I'd arranged to stay in a temple in the mountains with a bunch of monks. (As one does - post soon!)

I checked into my hostel and was greeted with these notices from the manager: enigma and local legend: Mr Yano.

   
When I Whatsapp-ed these pictures to my sister she replied "I think it's a cry for help."


J-Hoppers Osaka is easily one of my favourites I've ever stayed in - the atmosphere is very open and friendly, and downstairs in reception there is an open space kitchen offering free tea and rice.

After chatting with the receptionist for a bit, I sat at the table and enjoyed a free cuppa with a middle aged lady from Australia who was in the middle of a visa process with her Japanese husband.
I was sharing my slightly aged, but cosy dorm with a sweet German girl called Anja and we spent a wonderful chill hour hanging out and sharing stories about our travels.

As I only had a day, the receptionist handed me a city guide with a map and suggested I see Osaka Castle, wander down Dotonburi then come back for a night on the tiles with Yano-san.
Sounds like a plan, Stan!
(Stan-san? Stan-chan?)

The walk to Osaka Castle is through a beautiful Ghibli-esque park which is a little hilly in parts but never a really a struggle. There's plenty of concession stands along the way, and of course vending machines.



I got excited and thought the purple ice cream was taro but it was grape. Booo!
I did however have a watermelon flavoured slushie at it was sensational.


While I didn't want to waste an already short day wandering around the castle, there was still plenty going on when you reached the entrance.
Stalls selling souvenirs: small figures of the castle, t-shirts, sake. Food stands: everything from BBQ to Osaka's famous okonomiaki.

There was also a show of some sorts going on.
It was a bit shambolic, but that just made it all the more endearing.




After a quick picnic lunch under some trees, I wandered down to Dotonburi to see Glico Man.
It's basically Osaka's version of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus. Touristy and crowded but also very fun and flashy.

Unfortunately Glico Man was on the blink, and was temporarily replaced by Glico Girl:


I felt a bit of a scruffbag walking through the main street of Dotonburi which is home to major fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior and Chanel.
It was hot and humid and I had sweated most of my makeup off walking up to the castle and back again.

I much preferred getting lost in the almost-sleazy-but-not-really side streets which were full of cute cafes, tiny restaurants and host and hostess clubs.


I also found where I believe is my true calling - a club called 'La Potcha Potcha' ("Chubby Chubby") where all the hostesses are over 80kg/176lb.
(Scottee wrote about his visit here)

GOALS.


After tiring myself out, I was ready to just throw myself on my bed and relax for the night - but I was ambushed by the elusive Mr Yano in the lobby, accompanied by some local Japanese English students eager to learn the language from natives.

A couple from New Zealand and an American guy called Adam also staying in the hostel were already ready and looking a little apprehensive so I decided to join them.

Honestly, it was the best decision I made as we went to an Izakaya, a Japanese pub of sorts.

Now I consider myself a very independent person when I travel, but I had been a bit uncomfortable going to the Izakaya by myself as it's either a place people go with lots of friends, or salarymen and their colleagues getting mortal after their long shifts end and didn't fancy an evening being peered at by myself.

Yano-san. Party boy and local legend.


My Japanese is appalling, so when Mr Yano offered to order for the table I accepted his kind offer. He also ordered everyone rounds of beer which for some reason I envisioned being schooner sizes, but out came massive jugs that wouldn't look out of place at an Oktoberfest.

Then came the sake.
Of course being from Newcastle, I out-drank everyone.

Before long, we were all suitably pissed and me and Adam in particular showed ourselves up singing RuPaul songs to the confusion of the Japanese students.
(His husband subtitles the show into South Korean. He told me the Korean for "hunty" which unfortunately I can' for the life of me remember.)

The plates were all interesting and very tasty. Pickled eggs, tempura fish, chicken karaage and the most tender, sticky pork I've ever tasted in my life.
I gestured to the pork, gave Mr Yano a thumbs up and bumbled in slurred, broken Japanese: "butanikuuuu, oishiiiii!"

Mr Yano looked confused.
"Not pork. Is heart. Pig's heart."

I stuck to the safer options like these little burgers after that.



After we stumbled home and I waddled up to bed I decided that a cleansed body and mind was definitely needed. And a trip the mountains would do my already throbbing head the world of good.

Ommmmmmm-wards and upwards.


Muchos love,
Carla

THE JAPAN DIARIES PART II: Kyoto


Hey everyone

Welcome to part two of my Japan diaries - part one covered the crazy metropolis of Tokyo.
If you're like me and have a two-week stay, Kyoto is usually pretty high up on the wish list.

Only a few hours outside Tokyo on the Shinkansen, it's a great option for a change of scenery - and getting there really is half the fun!


I mentioned the Japan Rail Pass in my previous post - if you have a pass then this is already paid for and you can even reserve a seat for free.

TOP TIP: Request a window seat on the right hand size for awesome views of Mount Fuji:
Just ask for: "Fuji-san mitai. Migi-seki" ("I want to see Mt. Fuji. Right seat.")


I only had two days in Kyoto, so by the time I'd arrived from Tokyo, checked into my hostel, unpacked and freshened up it was already around 5pm.
So I took it pretty easy the first night, wandered around my neighbourhood to get my bearings, found the nearest metro station and went downtown for an early dinner.

I hadn't been to a sushi belt in Japan so I took a punt and checked out a place I found in my Lonely Planet. (While we're on the subject, Lonely Planet guides can be pretty hit and miss - but I've got so much use out of my Japan one I do recommend it!) 

For somewhere in a guidebook, it was surprisingly full of locals - me and another couple were the only gaijin there.


I started selecting a few things from the belt - but quickly discovered everything automatically comes with wasabi. I know, I've tried and tried but I LOATHE wasabi - I think even a little bit makes everything taste of wasabi, and you can't taste anything else.

However there was a sign saying you can order without, and the waitress although spoke only basic English was able to take my order which was awesome.

Once wasabi-free, everything was delicious and fresh.
I accumulated quite a few plates and it amounted to around the £7.50 mark including green tea.

After a night's sleep (disturbed by my roommates deciding to repack their suitcases at 1am - I'm too old for this so I pointedly got up and turned the light off...) I only really had one full day, so decided to hit up the famous Tenryu-Ji Temple and the nearby Bamboo Grove.

The Arashiyama area is a great call if you're like me and want to experience Kyoto in a nutshell if you're on a bit of a time restraint.

There are lots of things to do on your walk to the temple - small, interesting shops selling souvenirs and many many restaurants, cafes and food stands.

An adorable chopsticks shop - I bought a set for my sister and they carved her name in Hiragana for a very small supplement.


 
An old man was selling green tea ice cream and allowed you to serve yourself.
Perfect snack for a hot, humid Kyoto day!

 
If you like shrines - you'll love Kyoto!

There is a big beautiful garden surrounding the temple full of small shrines. Despite it being packed with tourists, it was actually very peaceful. 

 

 

 


I love visiting Japan in the Autumn as it's still warm enough for yukata.

 Tenryu-Ji Temple.

I can never resist tourist tat like charms, but they make for inexpensive souvenirs.
(I'm from a Roman Catholic family, and you can always find a medal, rosary, holy card or charm in Italian Catholic Mother's handbag - so she always appreciates these!)

Bamboo Grove is a short, pleasant walk from the temple - you're pretty much there if you leave via the north garden exit.

Sadly, none of my pictures made the grove look as stunning as it is - but just imagine towering bamboo trees as far as the eye can see. 

The trees act as shade, which was needed as it was a very hot day when I visited. Huddled in the grove are several small shops and cafes to explore. 

It's all very Alice In Wonderland, with very few signs in English. 
 



It was difficult to find a western-style toilet so sadly I was caught short and had to use a squat toilet.

Not my finest moment.



It was also here I met my first tanuki...

Well that sounds marvellous, I'll just stroll on down and...

OOHHHHMYGOD

"Hi kids, would you like to see some puppies?"

HERP DERP.
Ahem.

Seriously though, these little Japanese racoon-like animals are often found outside restaurants, cafes and bars beckoning customers in for revelry and good times. 
(As you can see by their cheery faces, fat bellies and usually clutching a bottle of sake. I can relate.) 
They're also traditionally believed to bring good fortune to the proprietors. 

Also hilariously (although sadly you can't see in my photos) they're traditionally portrayed with enormous, protruding testicles. 

There's even a folk song which pretty much translates to:

"Tan-tan-tanuki's balls ring ring ring
The wind's stopped blowing
but they swing-swing-swing!"

Never change, Japan.

Aaaaaanyways...

While it was a beautiful day, I do come out in hives if I'm outside the city for too long so I took the advise of my Lonely Planet and went for dinner at a restaurant in the basement of one of the department stores. 
("Depachika" - literally "Department basement.") 

To save money in Japan, I tend to eat out for lunch (nearly all restaurants have a lunch special) then grab something quick from the konbini for my dinner such as a bento set, instant ramen or (if you're also visiting in the Autumn) oden
Oh, oden I love you. Yum.

I've sadly forgotten which one I went to (there are three huge ones near Kyoto train station) it was sadly a bit of a disappointment.

Sadly this dinner set was the blandest meal I've ever had in Japan. 
The cold soba noodles and greens were nice enough, but nothing really had a lot of flavour.


So yeah, if you're in Kyoto I'd give this a miss.

I had a bit of an early night as I was off to Osaka the next day, which I will save for my next post.

I hope you're enjoying these posts - they're making me miss Japan terribly - roll on 2017!


Muchos love,
Carla