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Day 12 – Arriving in Nagoya

Today’s a rainy day. Perhaps this is one of the better days for it to be raining since I’m changing cities. Better now than when I’m out doing stuff, right? I’m writing this from the window seat of the shinkansen from Osaka to Nagoya. I read that Nagoya Station is the largest train station in the world by floor space. Nifty. I will be staying for the next three nights in Ryokan Meiryu, which was recommended in my travel guide. I sort of ran out of things I wanted to in Kansai do a day or two early, so I hope I don’t regret spending so little time in Nagoya. Worst case, it’s close enough to Tokyo that I can always day trip back, I suppose.

The two things I want to see in Nagoya most (that aren’t closed, like the robot museum) are the Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology and Nagoya Castle. So, I figure I will get set up in Nagoya today and do my laundry (it’s either today or tomorrow), then in the next two days hit those two spots and anything nearby that looks interesting. I’ll keep my eyes open for Mos Burger, but it’s not a must-have and I’m sure there are plenty in Tokyo. Probably in Nagoya, too, since it’s something like the third-largest metropolitan area in Japan. Google Maps has been annoying as hell to find things, though, since searching for things in a city using “search nearby” doesn’t actually search the whole city. For example, after pulling up Osaka City, subsequently searching for Shin-Imamiya Station, on the Osaka Loop Line, returns nothing. It’s less than 10km away! Oh well.

At Shin-Osaka station this morning, I got into one of those situations where you and another person are approaching each other and both move the same way to let the other person pass, then both move the other way, then back off. The woman on the other side of this said “excuse me” in English, which caught me off guard. I wasn’t expecting it.

This morning after putting all of my things together, I had a little more trouble closing my bag than a couple nights ago, probably because I had left a couple things out when I was checking then. Everything will be fine I’m sure. The main compartment is expandable, so worst case I do that. I just need to make sure I don’t pick up more large, rigid souvenirs like my rice bowl, which is still under 30cm in diameter but it’s about 10cm tall and made of wood so it’s not exactly flexible.

I hope the subway stations in Nagoya have escalators, Shin-Imamiya station did not and it was annoying to carry my bag around. It’s not the weight, it’s the size.

It will be interesting to see the size of my room in Nagoya, since they use the same size rooms for single, double, and triple accommodations. I’m going to stop here for now, and figure out where to get a city map.

So the subway in Nagoya does not have escalators. Ugh. Oh well. At least I’m doing my major traveling during the day on weekdays, so the crowds aren’t that big. My room at the ryokan is nice and large (6ft by over 12ft), though washrooms are shared. I got out for a while and did some wandering/shopping and found myself a pretty sweet T-shirt that I will probably wear often once I’m back home.

For dinner, I went to a place where you order via a ticket machine and had curry rice with beef. Spicy and yummy. Fun fact: Japanese curry is an adaptation of British curry, which is an adaptation of Indian curry.


Day 11 – Midpoint

Well. Today was my last day in Osaka. Tomorrow morning I’m shipping out for Nagoya. Today is also the midpoint of my trip. Not really sure what to do, I wandered back to Den Den Town for more wandering. I ended up buying manga for Angelina, unsuccessfully looking for Megaman figures, and that’s about it. In my wanderings I saw an arcade game wherein you shoot targets with a lightgun to play music. The demo was playing the Evangelion opening. That took me back, as it’s one of the anime I watched in high school.

After recognizing the song, I suddenly started to notice all the Evangelion merchandise around me, figures of the female leads and model kits of the mecha. The only franchise with more model kits I recognized was Gundam, by a significant margin. I should start watching Gundam again, I always liked it. Not much else to report, really. I should start putting my stuff together to leave for Nagoya tomorrow, check out is at 10 AM.

Day 10 – Den Den Town

Something I didn’t mention in yesterday’s post is that with every third souvenir shop selling wooden swords, I succumbed and bought one for a little over Y1000. I didn’t consider the length when I bought it and so ended up with a wooden sword about a meter long, decidedly about 20 cm longer than my luggage. So this morning I set out looking for something to put it in for transport, since obviously I can’t just carry a wooden sword onto a plane. I checked the Y100 shops for poster tubes, and found nothing. I took the train to Osaka Station and walked to FedEx, they wouldn’t let me have a box unless I was going to ship with them. Sigh.

I met up with Angelica and Kenzo again at Den Den Town around 1 PM today. After deciding we would find food, then hit a maid cafe later, we set out looking for somewhere to eat that wasn’t McDonalds. We settled on a small okonomoyaki place run by an older woman who clearly knows her stuff, it was totally delicious. It’s a Japanese style pancake served with a small metal spatula, which you use to slice it and put pieces on your plate. When I get back home, I think I’ll be eating Japanese far more often than I used too, there’s just too much good stuff I’m enjoying.

Next we wandered around some arcades, and saw a game based off Half-Life 2! No other crazy games to report, just the taiko game you see sometimes in Canadian arcades. We hit up what Angelica called “Utensil Alley” next, since I wanted to pick up some Japanese cooking gear. In the first store, Angelica remarked that going here with them was like going to Disneyland with them, it would appear they are as fond of cooking as I am. I ended up buying the following:

  • A hangiri, used in the preparation of sushi rice
  • A makiyakinabe, used in the preparation of tamagoyaki. At Angelica’s recommendation I bought a marble one that her and Kenzo simply adore
  • Four sets of chopsticks
  • Two sets of cooking chopsticks, one long pair and one standard length pair
  • Four bowls for serving soup/rice in
  • Two makisu, used for rolling sushi

I should be set to make Japanese cuisine for a while, eh? I will be cooking when I get back, I figure, so why not get authentic supplies? We passed by a shop that was absolutely full of knives, including some pretty large meat cleaves and knives as long as swords, which Kenzo pointed out are probably used for cutting tuna in a single stroke.

Next up, the maid cafe! We looked around and saw a few, all of which had sitting fees for the maid to entertain. Angelica’s Japanese is the best out of the three of us (and mine’s probably the worst), she talked to a girl and directed us to e-maid. No photos were allowed, as expected. It was a very nice, upscale-looking cafe, and the waitresses were of course pretty and dressed up as French maids. Each of us ordered tea and a dessert. In my case, cinnamon royal milk tea and a slice of chocolate cake. Kenzo also had chocolate cake, and Angelica had a pear tart. The forks we were given to eat with were very small, about the width of my pinky finger, which gave us all some laughs when I pointed this out.

What was really cool is that I was given a piece of cinnamon bark to stir my tea with. Kenzo had a mint tea where the maid came and poured it for him, and Angelica had a masala chai. I can’t get enough of royal milk tea, I’m really enjoying it here in Japan. I’m probably going to violate my “guideline” to try and avoid duplicating brand/drink combinations on that first, if not bottled water. My slice of chocolate cake came with some fruit slices, whipped cream, and a cherry. Man, was it good. The small fork definitely forced me to eat slowly and enjoy it properly.

After leaving the cafe we started heading back to where we first met up, since I saw a bag store there that may have had something to fit my sword. Unfortunately, it did not. So, I headed back to the hotel with Angelica and Kenzo in tow. I took them through Janjan Yochoko and showed them where I had kushikatsu my first night. Wandering through the area with them, I noticed so many more interesting things since I was feeling confident and not totally wound up and anxious. We passed by a Y100 store where some gloves were on display, I picked up a pair of red gloves with black flames on them for Y105, really good deal. I’ll find a way to work them into my red/black ensemble for sure.

Back at the hotel, I took my purchases up to my room, brought the sword down, and gave it to them. Angelica said she’d probably put it in her lab, but if she found something to ship it in, she’d send it back to me in Canada. Sweet. Then I walked them to the subway and returned as well. Then I’ve spent some time organizing my stuff again and testing my luggage’s capacity – it still zips up easily so I have no problems with my souvenir capacity right now. Excellent! I also checked my numbers and I’m right around on budget for souvenirs.


Day 9 – Nara

Yesterday I went to Nara! I was in a “man, what do I do today?” mode so I didn’t get going until after 11 AM. Didn’t even get presentable until after breakfast stopped, so I was feeling hungry. Getting there was really easy, I just took the Yamatoji Rapid line from Shin-Imamiya, where I’m staying, to Nara station. I was approached about a tour of the city, which appeared to be a bus tour; I politely declined.

My Lonely Planet guide is showing its age (two years). The places I had marked off as possible eateries were nowhere to be found, presumably closed down. However, I did find another place, recommended by the book, and packed by locals: Bikkuri Udon Miyoshino. I was in the mood for donburi, and they had it. I tried the katsu donburi, which was topped with egg and came with miso soup (almost many dishes do in Japan). It was really good. Katsu is one of my favorites so far, maybe because it’s deep-fried, maybe because it’s just that good.

Moving right along into Nara Park. I knew there would be deer, but holy crap there were a ton of them. They’re completely used to people, and vice-versa, and there were many stands set up selling treats for the deer for Y150. There’s lots of temples, so I won’t go through the details of all of them, you can check out the photos for that. I’ll just mention the interesting bits. At Kofuku-ji Temple, there were vending machines made out of recycled tea, how cool is that?

There were rickshaws set up all around the park, which was cool, there was the odd person taking rides, and it was fun to watch them go by as the runner conversed with the passengers, presumably describing local landmarks. I saw a restaurant flying the French flag, maybe that’s somewhere Angelica and Kenzo might want to go. Just follow Nobori-Oji east past the Nara National Museum.

There was some sort of food festival going on, so I took a look around. It was pretty small and seemed to be centered on an outdoor restaurant with a huge line, so I didn’t bother sticking around. You may notice in the photos I took many pictures of the waterways. I don’t know why, but I just like waterways.

That’s about all, really. It was pretty but became more of the same after a while. Maybe I should have gone into the temple but everything was really busy and I just didn’t feel like crowds.

Day 8 – Kobe

Yesterday I went to Kobe for some long-awaited Kobe Beef! I planned my routes the previous night so I was ready to go, and ended up there before 11, and most of the shops were still closed. Christmas season is going strong in Japan; if you look through the photos you will see a number of christmas tree-like things and banners. At least it’s not nearly as in your face as North America. One shop that was open was a kimono store with some of the prettier kimonos I’ve seen so far.

Moving along through the mostly-closed shops, I came to the scramble outside Kobe Motomachi. I find scrambles to be pretty cool, possibly because they just make so much sense, and it’s something you don’t see in Vancouver. The World Ends with You is another factor. Moving on!

Turning left after a while in Motomachi, I arrived at Nankinmachi, Kobe’s Chinatown. There were lots of students around, presumably on lunch or something, because many were lined up for food. I read that Kobe has really good gyoza, so I stopped by a place and had some. The man there recommended I try dipping in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, and ra-yu. They were good, both with and without dipping. Y600 got me the gyoza, fried rice, soup, and salad. Good deal! Back on the streets, I headed south towards the Port of Kobe, and picked up a banana-based milk drink from a vending machine. As expected, it tasted like bananas.

Random trivia: Kobe and Seattle are sister cities.

Some parts of the harbor were left damaged after the big earthquake of 1995, and there is a memorial set up. Outside the maritime museum, I saw replicas of the Santa Maria, TSL Hayate, and Yamato 1, a prototype superconductor-propelle boat. Inside the Kobe Maritime Museum, I was unable to take photos but learned how the propulsion systems of the Yamato 1 work; large scale application of the left-hand rule and superconductors. There was also a Kawasaki corporate museum that had a couple interesting things, and lots of motorcycles. Phil would have enjoyed that part, I think.

After exiting the museum I went up the Kobe Port Tower and shot a few good views of the city from above. That’s all there was, really; if I hadn’t gotten a discount from buying a double ticket with the maritime museum I would have felt ripped off. I bought some souvenir pins in capsules, then left and started wandering around Harbor Land. While wandering a woman from the City of Kobe approached me and asked me some questions about my trip, filling out a form, being friendly, all that. I didn’t mind. What really surprised me, is that I saw an Old Spaghetti Factory! I thought they were Canada and US only, but apparently there is at least one Japanese location.

I came across JR Kobe station so I hopped on the train back to Motomachi so I could look around the shops now that they were open. I saw a cooking supply store, but it didn’t really look like they had what I wanted when I glanced in, so I’ll just pick stuff up when I see Angelica next, she said she knows a place. Upstairs, I found a few shops selling character figurines. One of them had a pretty substantial Bleach section, and in the third or fourth one I found something I’ve been looking for for a long time: a Final Fantasy III Trading Arts Red Mage.

At Shin-Kobe station, I took the Shin-Kobe Ropeway to overlook the city, got some great shots, then headed back down because it was incredibly windy. The cab was rocking and I felt a little insecure at first.

Finally, the main attraction, Kobe Beef! My meal cost Y11,000 but it was totally worth it. I went to Wakkoqu and ordered the 200g tenderloin set. The first course was an appetizer of seafood and onions, and it was quite yummy. I’m not really a seafood person but the fish was very nice. Meanwhile, my chef was grilling some thin slices of garlic, which would later be used as toppings. Soup soon arrived, it was creamy, a little sweet, and very delicious. Salad came third. It was a salad, nicely presented and tasty, but not the main course.

The first round of beef arrived, and I set to it. It was so good, words really can’t do it justice. Incredibly tender, juicy, melt in your mouth, tasty, the list goes on and on. I really liked topping it with the garlic, and dipping it in the mustard. Next came grilled carrot, which had a fair amount of pepper, which was no problem at all. As you can see looking at the photos, there are salt and pepper on the serving plate for you to add as you wish. Next up, grilled tofu. It went very well with the vinegar sauce (off screen). I must say, tofu prepared right is so much better than the rubbery stuff I had at the szechuan place in Seattle.

Green tea, rice, and some vegetable garnish were brought out next. The tea was really good, very green, and one of the best green teas I’ve had so far. Next up: Japanese purple potato, taro root, green beans, and a fattier portion of the beef. I had a terrible time trying to grip the taro with my chopsticks so my chef stood it on its side for me. It was crunchy in a good way. The last “course” was a salad of the last remaining beef and the long white vegetable strips you often see at restaurants, I wish I knew what they were called.

Everything was really good. Really, really good. I took my time and enjoyed it, and then coffee was brought out. It was a small cup of coffee in a white cup, with stainless steel vessels containing milk and sugar. I’m really not a coffee person (I find it too bitter), but with enough milk and sugar I put something together that worked for me. This may have been the finest dining experience I will ever have, with a chef personally attending to me, the atmosphere, nice music in the background, and so forth. After paying the bill, I gave him one of my Canada pins as a show of gratitude, and it went over very well.

After saying my goodbyes, I hopped on the train back to Osaka, made a brief stop in my hotel room, then headed out to Hockey Night in Osaka. I underestimated the distance between the rink and JR-Namba station so I was a few minutes late, but it was all good. It was fun to watch, and in the third period there was a bench-clearing brawl where even one of the backup goalies came off the bench and entered the fray. One of the guys I was sitting with was pretty vocal about the penalties (minor for the instigator, major for the victim, no penalty for the bench-leaving goalie). Also, there was a zamboni. Yay zambonis!

Now to figure out what I’m doing today.

Day 7 – Vegging, Osaka Station, and Burgers

I took it easy today, since I’ve felt kind of worn out from touristing so hard. I did my laundry, vegged while reading literature on things to do in Kansai, and came across what’s been called Hockey Night in Osaka. It would be cool to do something at night, and it’s close enough that the trains will still be running. So I’m going to check that out tomorrow night. Could be fun.

In terms of actually doing something, I got off my butt around 3:00 and headed for Osaka Station to check out the area, since all I’d done before then was pass through the station. Turns out there’s a lot there! I wandered around the shopping streets east of the station, Ohatsutenjin-dori and Hankyu Higashidori, before finding myself in front of HEP FIVE, an 11-level shopping tower. The top two floors are occupied by Sega Umeda JOYPOLIS, a large arcade. Again, no Sonic presence outside the signage. I think I saw more Mario. Arcades in Japan are interesting; they’re about 1/6 to 1/4 prize machines, 1/4 to 1/2 arcade games, and the rest slots, pachinko, or other forms of gambling.

I also saw some arcades on the shopping streets and wandered around in them. The arcade scene is alive and well in Japan, that’s for sure. I like looking around at the different games, and I find the whole environment quite relaxing, except when there’s smokers around. Getting my video game fix by proxy, perhaps. Today I saw some really interesting ones though:

  • Video horse racing. Players appeared to be betting on a race, which would then play out on a large screen and nearby board with miniature horses
  • A multiplayer soccer game where players would lay out trading cards in position on the pitch
  • Video Mahjong. Lots of video Mahjong

After finishing up with this, I headed to the Osaka Ekimae Buildings. You know how I mentioned Mos Burger before? I’ve looked through their website and there’s three or four burgers I want to try before I leave Japan. So, I found myself a burger for dinner tonight. Burgers always cheer me up when I’m feeling worn out or otherwise negative. I had the saazen yasai baagaa (Thousand Vegetable Burger), which was basically a cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, and onion. The sauce was interesting, maybe it was Thousand Island dressing. It would fit with the name of the burger. Along with it I had the onipote setto, which as the name suggests, is a half order of onion rings, half order of fries, and a drink. I tried the melon cola to drink; it was sweet and delicious. I must find a vending machine that sells it. The fries are thick cut, my preference, and the onion ring batter was about the perfect thickness. I just looked at the rice burger section, better add another one to the list, which now stands at:

…while checking the links for the other burgers, I went and added another one to the list. I’m terrible. I’m too addicted to burgers. Well, in any case, the burgers are small enough that I could just get two a visit. I’m only eating two meals a day, it wouldn’t be that bad. Besides, I need to live it up while I’m here, right? If it comes down to it, they sell the kurokke as a side dish so I could ditch that burger and get the other two on two trips. Enough about burgers though, it’s been like half the post so far!

After eating I made my way to the Umeda Sky Building. At the top is an observatory, and I had some great views of the city at night. I would have stayed in the open part longer, but it was windy and as you can see I only had a short-sleeved shirt on. Coming back to the hotel, I picked up a bottle of hot green tea. A little stronger than I like, but it was drinkable and warm.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do during the day tomorrow, yet. I was thinking maybe Kobe, but we’ll see. I have four days left in Kansai before leaving for Nagoya.

Osaka skyline, from Umeda Sky Building – West North East South

Day 6 – Himeji Castle

Theoretically these posts are supposed to go up after I get back from somewhere, or the morning after, not around noon the next day. Oh well. Yesterday I daytripped to Himeji, to see the castle there. The day started off rainy, and the trains were surprisingly against me. The Osaka Loop Line was running behind the schedule, and the Shinkansen to Himeji broke down at Shin-Kobe and required 30-40 minutes for repairs.

I finally got to Himeji and made my way for the castle. The park is smaller than Osaka Castle park, but the castle itself is much larger. At this point, the Canadian flag on my backpack was almost ready to fall off, so I put my bag in a locker and proceeded on my way. There was no audio guide available, but that’s all right, I still had a pamphlet.

Two buildings in the castle were open for the public to walk through. In both, you are required to take off your shoes and carry them; slippers are optional and provided. The first, the West Bailey, was basically a long hallway with a few sets of very steep stairs going up. On the left side were windows facing out, and in some of the pictures I took you can see the roofing tiles being used in renovations. On the right were rooms used mainly as sleeping quarters.

Honestly though, I just don’t feel like blogging a whole lot right now, so to summarize the castle: Large, authentic, better than Osaka Castle in that regard. Osaka Castle is better for learning about Japanese history because it’s been converted into a museum. As I wrapped up at the castle, the rain pretty much stopped

On the way back, I stopped at Club Sega, which turned out to be an arcade with a few slot/pachinko machines. I played some Street Fighter 4 and Tatsunoko vs. Capcom and was on my way. There were a number of crane game type machines, but there wasn’t much Sega merchandise in them. Lots of Dragon Ball, though. The only Sonic to be seen was on the signage.

I stopped at 7-11 to pick up lunch, at Yoshi’s recommendation. I had tonkatsu with rice, some unfamiliar yellow vegetable, and a few noodles. Yummy! To drink I tried some cold bottled green tea. It was simply too bitter, I couldn’t drink it. At a vending machine I replaced my drink with a bottle of hot milk tea, which was absolutely delicious. Yay for Japanese vending machines!

Back at the hotel I sorted through my souvenirs and receipts and sewed my Canadian flag patch back onto my backpack. Then sorted out laundry, messed around on the net a bit, and went to bed.


Day 5 – WAK Japan, Teramachi

Today was a day of learning. Also of a little bit of frustration but everything worked out in the end. As mentioned I had booked some courses with WAK Japan to do some origami and learn how to make teriyaki chicken and sushi. I had no problems getting where I had to go on the subway, but my details for the last leg weren’t quite specific enough and I got lost. 🙁 10 minutes late after asking many people for help, someone misread the address and dropped me back at Marutamachi station. Hustling back, I made a quick stop in an internet cafe (Y400 for the first 30 minutes, I used 2 minutes, sigh) and it turns out I was less than a block away from my destination.

I finally made it half an hour late, paid, and was able to catch up. It turns out everything was one on one, I had small groups in mind but that was not the case! The instructor was forgiving and happy to see me. She was worried I had cancelled, and said she does not see many male students for cooking. In this session, along with the main course, I learned how to make miso soup and komatsuna to kamaboko no karasimisoae, a salad of Chinese cabbage and boiled fish paste. The dressing is miso-based and delicious. After eating, it was time for origami. Not much to say here, I made a kabuto, candy dish, spinning top, and a jumping frog. The time went by quickly.

Faced with a three hour break until my sushi lesson around dinner time, and light rainfall, I wandered over to the nearby park to orient myself and figure out what to do. Turns out, it’s the park containing the Imperial Palace grounds! Suddenly I was oriented in that I knew I was near where I was two days ago, and the abridged map in the tour book I got for my birthday confirmed it. The rain let off so I spent some time sitting on a park bench reading it, and decided to head for the central shopping district south of my current position. My goal was “Duty Free Kyoto”, an English-friendly electronics shop to get that backup battery for my camera. I didn’t make it there, as I found a camera shop that did the trick for me. nikon no denchi o motte imasu ka?

I wandered around the main drag for a bit and found Sofmap, a five level electronics store. I imagine Akihabara is full of such stores, I’ll see in a week and a bit. Anyway, it was full of DVDs (largely of anime) and games, and had an Apple section and what appeared to be a computer repair area on the same level as the PC software. The top level appeared to be all eroge given the overabundance of pink. Japanese culture seems very open about this sort of thing, unlike Western culture. In shopping streets like Doubutsuenmae and Teramachi, every store is proudly displaying their wares. Let’s just say I saw my fair share of frills walking around.

Back to electronics, though. I saw Ace Attorney 1-4 lined up for Y1850 each, and the International editions of most Square Enix RPGs in recent memory, including FF12 International Zodiac Job System. I considered buying it but I didn’t know if it had an English mode or if I really wanted to try playing 12 again. FF12I ZJS fixes one of my issues, the License Board, but not Gambits. Anyways, turns out it has English VA and Japanese text, moving on. I also saw Ace Attorney Investigations, in Japanese of course, for Y2680. I was incredibly tempted, but ultimately I just don’t know enough kanji to be able to attempt to play. I’ll just have to wait for the English version in February.

Back on the street, I saw a fancy-looking burger place, Mos Burger. I think at some point I really need to have a burger or two in Japan, just to see how they compare to Western burgers. I mean, not all burgers are equal, and some look really appetizing, I just have to figure out what they are. Fortunately it looks like most of the menu is written in kana.

Another place I might have to go is Japanese KFC. Both locations I’ve seen so far have had statues of Colonel Sanders outside, but today’s was dressed up as Santa Claus. I’m not sure what’s up with Christmas in Japan. I’ve seen places that have “Happy Christmas” or “Merry Christmas” permanently written onto their stores. I mean, carved into the wall, clearly by owner’s intent. Interesting…

I bought myself a Fullmetal Alchemist capsule toy, Y300 but it’s bigger than the other capsules I’ve seen around. On the note of FMA, yesterday when I was buying my ticket for the cruise around Osaka Bay, the radio was playing Tsunaide Te, the current closing theme for Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. When I was having kushikatsu on the 6th, Golden Time Lover, the opening theme, came on the radio. I guess anime themes are pulled from the local music scene, or radio versions are made after they’ve been on shows? I dunno.

A vending machine later I’ve still managed to avoid buying duplicate bottled water, which is quite a feat. I guess there are local brands in Kyoto and Osaka contributing. It’s kind of silly, I know, but it’s fun and I’m applying the same thing when I get any other drink, try to avoid duplicates, try new things. Who knows when I’ll be back?

I wandered into an arcade and saw a game that is awesome purely for the nerd factor: Gundam VS Gundam NEXT. It’s like Virtual ON, but with mobile suits from a wide variety of Gundam series, and one joystick instead of two. It’s also 2v2. You’ve got the stick for movement, left and right attacks, jump/boost, and change targets. Left and right attack simultaneously is your mid attack, and somehow you could call another unit for aid. I didn’t figure that out. I played as my favourite from Wing, Heavyarms, and had some fun blowing enemies up from afar.

Back to WAK Japan to make sushi! This time I was early, as I gave myself plenty of time to find the place again. Sides with the sushi were miso soup and a spinach salad with a ground sesame seed dressing. I preferred the previous salad, but this was still good. The instructor had already prepared rice, we made and added a vinegar dressing and mixed, then left it to cool. This rice got incredibly sticky, by the way, but was easy to work with for making sushi. The sushi was filled with carrot, cucumber, tamagoyaki (Japanese omelette, surprisingly delicious), imitation crab, and smoked salmon. Accordingly these ended up being the largest pieces of sushi I’ve seen in a long time. Before I forget, the tamagoyaki was two eggs with sugar and dashi, I think.

Before I leave I think I need to get a makiyakinabe, a small rectangular pan, to make tamagoyaki. I also need to find some makisu, bamboo mats used to make sushi. Apparently I can find the latter in Y100 stores, but I’ll have to ask Angelica about the former. She said she knows a place where I can get good chopsticks before, and I’m sure when I get home everyone’s going to want me to make authentic Japanese food.

Finally, it was pouring rain on my way back to the hotel and I got soaked. Overcast? Yeah right.


Day 4 – Tempozan Harbor

Yesterday morning I was feeling pretty tired from the day before, so I didn’t go too far today, just to Tempozan Harbor. Photos here.

I took the train to Osakako station and headed northwest towards the water. Pretty quickly, the giant ferris wheel came into view. It’s a dominant landmark for sure. After assessing the guide board it was off to nearby Tempozan Park. It’s pretty small and features a great view of Tempozan-ohashi Bridge. There was also a statue of Sutezo Nishimura, the governor who spearheaded development of Osaka Port. The park was originally dredged from Ajigawa River during the 1830s.

Walking along the pier behind Tempozan Marketplace, I saw a replica of the Santa Maria, one of the ships Columbus used crossing the Atlantic. It’s motor powered and serves to give 45 minute tours around Osaka Bay, leaving on the hour. I circled around behind Kaiyukan then entered the square in front. There was an absolutely huge elementary school group in front. Hundreds of kids, easily. I thought I’d give them a wide berth so I went into the marketplace.

Inside the marketplace was a number of souvenir stores that seemed to mostly sell sweets, some ninja-themed attractions, clothing stores, and two that really stood out, right next to each other. First, a Hello Kitty store, instantly meeting my Hello Kitty overload quota for the week. Second, a shop that sold capsule toys and figurines. I bought myself a 2? Kirby (with Chef power), and a couple capsule toys for a wishlist. I saw one of Edward Elric (Fullmetal Alchemist), and it looked cool, but I didn’t want to pay Y1380 for it. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Fullmetal Alchemist capsule machines in Den Den Town and Akihabara.

In the food court, there was a Haagen Daaz and a KFC! Apparently Japanese KFC has statues of Colonel Sanders, or at least this one did. Also, there was a McDonald’s next to Osakako station. I’ve seen ads on the train for a Bacon BBQ Quarter Pounder, and I’ve actually been thinking about getting one. What is with Japan, making me want to go to McDonald’s?!

Next up, Kaiyukan Aquarium. Like Osaka Castle, it was a start at the top and go down kind of experience. I was complimented on my Japanese when I said konnichiwa to an attendant, but forgot to add the modest demo, mada jozu ja arimasen (but, I’m not very skilled yet) when thanking him. The aquarium was interesting. I rented an audio guide, and worked my way down. Among the sea life I saw and tried to shoot were penguins, dolphins, seals, and sea lions. Even with my camera’s sports mode, some were simply too fast to get a clear picture of.

Near the large “Pacific Ocean” tank, full of rays and sharks, including whale sharks, the school group overtook me. I went and sat down to let them pass, and so I could watch the rays being fed. Divers went in and had food in plastic containers, and hand-fed them. I guess it’s the best way to make sure the rays get the food and not the others.

After the aquarium, I took the Santa Maria cruise around the bay. It was awesome, and my camera’s battery ran out during this. I met an Austrian man, an d talked to him for a while, he’s been traveling since August and was in Canada for a while.

Back on land I wandered by a street performer, juggling torches on a unicycle then juggling while dancing to the Japanese version of “living la vida loca”. My battery had recovered enough to take a few seconds of video, but I should have waited because he eventually got up to five torches. It was pretty cool.

Originally I was going to have a late lunch at the donburi place in the market, but when wandering in the food court I saw a place selling bacon potato pizza. I’d heart Japanese pizza can be pretty crazy so I just had to try it. It was delicious!

I headed back to the hotel after this and finished with photos from the 7th and 8th. Now I’m off to WAK Japan for a couple courses. After that I’m going to stop by Den Den Town and see if I can find a second battery for my camera. Later!

Day 3 – All around Kyoto

I meant to get this up last night, but I was dead tired. You’ll understand why as you read through this. Photos are here. Facebook kinda sucks for this, I need to come up with a better place to dump all these. Anyway.

Today I went to Kyoto! I took the shinkansen, because why not? This time I got a window seat and took a few photos between Shin-Osaka and Kyoto stations. Some subwaying later, I found myself at Demachiyanagi station, where I met up with Angelica and her fiancee, Kenzo. The plan was for me to rent a bike, but the way it ended up was Angelica renting a bike, Kenzo riding her bike, and me riding his, roughly matching people size to bike size.

We went to 7-11 first, since they had not eaten yet. Today’s new drink is Pepsi Azuki! Azuki is red bean paste, it’s pretty yummy. Sweet, and reminds me a little of cinnamon. I also had my first onigiri! I was a little hesitant at first, but it turns out Tuna Mayo is actually pretty good. We ate on the shores of Kamo-Ohashi, where the Izumoji-bashi and Aoi-bashi rivers join. It was nice. There were these stone paths crossing the rivers in addition to bridges, it was fun crossing via one.

Then it was off to the imperial palace, where, because it was open to locals this week (only done twice a year), the crowds were absolutely massive. There was lots to see, including a ceremonial soccer-like game, more gardens, gates, living quarters, and so on.

After this we left for Kyoto University to have lunch at the cafeteria there. We arrived about 1:30, half an hour before closing. There I met Yoshi, their friend from the olympic weightlifting club and winner of strongman competitions in Japan. He’s a really cool guy, down to earth with some interest in anime and manga. For lunch I had beef udon, katsu curry rice, and some mixed vegetables. For those not in the know, katsu is short for tonkatsu, a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet. It was yummy!

Next, we went to watch a maiko performance and learn about traditional Japanese artisans. On the way, we passed by the giant torii (shrine gate) at Heian Shrine. The only pictures allowed here were of the maiko, after their performance, so unfortunately there are no pictures of the artisans at work. We saw wood block carvers, potters, bowl painters, and a few others.

We returned to Kyoto University and Yoshi and I left our bags in Angelica’s lab, and then we were off to climb Mt. Daimonji! When Kenzo mentioned it earlier I dismissed it as a joke, but it turns out he was serious. The path was pretty steep, with uneven steps in places, but thankfully there were handrails there for support, and also to prevent you from falling off the side. Some of the larger steps were probably around a 30cm height difference. Near the top, there were stone steps, and that made it so much easier to finish the ascent. The view at the top was absolutely amazing and you could see all of Kyoto sprawling off into the distance, and the mountains on the other side of the city. Words can’t do it justice, look at the photos I took.

The way back down was much easier than coming up, though it was dark at this point so we were extra careful. Going down the larger steps required a lot more control than going up. About 2/3 of the way down, we found ourselves behind two others, who had a flashlight, so we followed them through the last of the difficult part. At the bottom, we stopped for takoyaki, then bought some meat for a barbecue being held at Angelica and Kenzo’s apartment. We brought some sausages, beef for yakiniku, and chicken.

The barbecue was cool. I met their landlord, who spoke some English and had some really interesting musical equipment, like a digital turntable and some other piece of equipment I can’t describe but wish I had a picture of. I knew I should have bought an extra battery before leaving. Maybe today I should go to Den Den Town and see if I can find one. Anyway, back to the food. I had nori (the seaweed used to wrap onigiri), tuna sashimi, and fugu (puffer fish). When the sashimi was placed in front of me, I assumed it was off the barbecue, and was pretty surprised to find it raw. Maybe if I knew it was going to be sashimi (all I heard was that it was tuna), I would have been prepared and would have liked it more. As someone who doesn’t eat a lot of seafood, I thought the fugu was yummy, but not worth the cost, Y1000 for a bite-size piece according to Kenzo.

And that’s about it! Very long day. When I got home, I basically uploaded the photos, started this post, then realized I was too tired and went to bed. I’m not sure what I’ll do today yet, I’ll sort it out after breakfast. I’ll probably take it easy around Osaka, I dunno. If I was going to another city I think I should have been up and going at least an hour ago in order to get the most out of it.

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