This weekend I took a trip with a few friends to Osaka and Kyoto. It was nothing short of eye-openningly amazing.
The cast of Characters is nearly identical to the Kokura trip described in a much earlier post, with the subtraction of Patrick. This time our dreamteam consisted of Chris, Monica, Laura and myself.
These characters have pretty much lived up to their descriptions in that post where i cataloged my first impressions of them: Chris is still severely british and enjoys the comforts of the indoors, Monica is still moderately Australian and loves photography, and most of all, Laura is still refreshingly lewd and loves shouting about poop and other obscene things. In fact she is currently emailing me from a toilet stall, i think.
Not only this, but these kids (plus Patrick) with whom i shared that first Kokura adventure, evolved into my core group of friends. Perhaps because we all shared a love hotel on that fateful night. Perhaps because we all live somewhat isolated in different rural areas of this prefecture and without the luxuries of nonstop entertainment social fare, we make an extra effort to get together and hang out.
Additionally, our party was joined by two new players down in Osaka-town:
Graham - a jovial, excitable chap from Northern Ireland is a former college buddy of Chris's. With long, flowing blonde hair, and a stubbly yellow goatee in development, he is extremely visible and makes a great landmark for when you get separated from the group.
Ahmed - one of my friends from Chicago pre-departure orientation. Like me, he was an alternate for the JET program (temporarily wait-listed). While i was upgraded to rural Fukuoka, he was upgraded to Osaka city, my first choice placement. My jealousy overflows. especially after seeing how cool this city is. Energetic and dry-witted when it comes to jokes about doing inappropriate things with students.
To begin our adventure, we met up in our old stomping grounds, Kokura. This is a convenient Shinkansen stop for the rest of the crowd, but tragically, it takes me a good 2.5 hours to get there. We met up at the train station and began to get excited about our trip on the Shinkansen. We would be covering a pretty large chunk of the country in only 2 hours, and with more amenities and legroom than a flight, it is considered one of the more fashionable means to travel. we were quite pumped. We bought bentou dinner-boxes and beer and boarded our giant white stallion at gate 1.
Osaka was amazing. Simply amazing. Chris makes a really good travel agent and booked us in a very nice, centrally located hotel for a good price. We dropped off our stuff at the room and met up with Graham for and a night of Karaoke. Karaoke is always fun, but by the same token, it is something i can do in Fukuoka just as easily. I was a little dissapointed with this as our first activity choice, but we had a good time and introduced everyone to "In the Summer time" by Mungo Jerry (shout out to James) so really, i can't complain.
We invited Graham to crash in our hotel rather than wasting his money, so i gave up my bed in the boys room and had a sleepover with the girls (who were more sober than Chris and Graham at that point, so it was a strategic choice)
On day 2, we eventually woke up, had lunch at an okonomiyaka restaurant and got on the train to Kyoto. We met up with Ahmed there and saw many-a-shrine and made fun of many-a-tourist. Being an ALT and having been here for more than a few months, places us comfortably at that awkward social rung, higher than traveling outsider (just passing through), yet far below the level of "local." At any rate. Kyoto was gorgeous, and impossible to take in during one afternoon there. I spent about a hundred bucks on gifts. I had to bring back at least 60 individually wrapped snack things because in Japan, when you go on a substantial trip, the nice thing to do is to bring back "omiyage," small, typically edible, souvineirs for your entire office. ALTs are generally granted a pass on this, but i want to win the hearts of my colleagues as much as possible, so i came back with enough crunchy, cinnamon-flavored cookie-like things to pass around the whole staffroom. So far it's been a huge success and a great conversation starter about my trip.
We came back to Osaka on Saturday night and, after dinner, went to a house-music club called Triangle in the hipster neighborhood of Osaka (also called Triangle). The headliner was a german DJ, who put on a great show when he finally debuted at 2AM. The crowd was all happy and 100% there for the music (opposed to creepily meeting one-night hookups). We all had a happy time and i stayed there with Laura till 4. We came back to the hotel, spent, and crashed. This time i got my own bed because Graham had decided to settle in a capsule hotel
Sunday was the real Osaka experience for me. Our Shinkansen was not leaving until 6, so we had some time to explore the city. Huge signs. Takoyaki stalls left and right--this fried octopus snack originates in Osaka, so naturally there were giant octopuses doing funny things on signs everywhere, which made me really happy. Also, there was practically an entire neighborhood devoted to kitchen and restaurant supplies, which was amazing to see. One store specialized in fake food, which is popular in displays outside of restaurants to lure customers inside.
one thing we did not get to do was take in a Maid cafe, which was on the agenda, but we did get to giggle at the oddities in pornography store i have ever seen. I almost bought eel porn as a gag gift, but realized in time what a terrible idea that would be. I guess i'll spare you a wikipedia link for that one.
We wound up shopping in the central electronics/anime/music district, whose name i don't recall, and finally restied our butts at a cafe over coffee and pastries before parting ways with Graham and heading to the central station. 4 and a half hours later, i was coming back to my apartment to get ready for work today (where i am writing this, now).
Osaka was so cool that i literally want to quit JET and find a job there. The easiest way to get to live in Osaka would be to somehow convince JET to transfer me there, but i don't think i can manage to do that unless i get married to an Osakan, and i didn't manage to meet any fiance-worthy locals while i was there. I have been working on my resume and looking over http://daveseslcafe.com all day. Really, it's such a cool city. It has a personality similar to Chicago's - a metropolis, but a little more off-beat and alternative. I far prefer it to Tokyo (or what i saw of it in my first 3 days). The comparison is kind of like between New York (Tokyo) and Chicago (Osaka). Slightly smaller, slightly friendlier, slightly stranger.
Final conclusion: Osaka is approximately 3 times cooler than Fukuoka city. But the pictures really will tell the story. I need to go home and find my cardreader asap.
Fun on the bullet train
Fugu (puffer fish) restaurant
glico man, the famous runner of Osaka
A takoyaki stall sells fried octopus
Fake plastic food is sold in restaurant supply shops
Chris leads the way
Osaka by dusk
Laura's shoes and cigarettes store
Japanese maple trees in Kyoto
prayers tied outside the temple
the temple near kyoumizu