Off to Osaka

It’s interesting how this trip has ended where my last trip to Japan began – Osaka, Tokyo’s odd little brother. Slightly grungier, slightly sleazier, love hotels dotted on every street corner and the first sighting of any litter scattered in the streets. I can’t remember what I found quite so magical about this city last time. Perhaps it was just that it was my first taste of the country? The first time is always special. We struggled to fill our three days here with activities that rivaled those of the previous cities. If anyone has any idea of what I missed out on, please fill me in. Or maybe don’t. #FOMO

We arrived in the middle of day, a short trip from Kyoto, and spent the afternoon walking the streets of Dotonburi, the district I remembered most clearly from my last trip as being the very essence of what you expect, and want, from Japan. Bright lights, bustling streets, loud noises. We couldn’t wait to come back at night.

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After extensive research the next morning, we made our way to the Osaka Castle, which looked pretty cool compared to what else was on offer. Tall, white and clear, the Castle shone against the beautiful blue sky we were greeted with. The detail used in the roofs of Japanese buildings continues to astonish me. And he seems to always love capturing beautiful photos of it too – every time I look over and see him leaning all the way back with his camera pointing straight up in the sky I know we’re all in for a treat. We went into the Castle Museum and to the viewpoint at the top, but to be completely honest it wasn’t really worth it. And yes I know how bad that sounds, but we’ve been spoiled.

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With afternoon plans to rent bikes and ride around Tennoji Park, the fact that it was the end of a full on trip hit us and instead all the energy we could muster was put towards an afternoon nap. A well deserved one though. Having tried puffer fish (or fugu) for lunch, a local delicacy that if not prepared perfectly becomes lethal, I was convinced that that nap was going to be my last and just let the ‘toxins’ take over.

Overjoyed to have woken up at the other end of it, we all celebrated by taking ourselves to Mizuno, a Michelin starred okonomiyaki restaurant. Huddled around our hotplate, we watched on as our chefs prepared the top three voted okonomiyaki that we had coincidentally ordered. No cameras allowed, but I assure you it was worth the wait.

Fried chicken and giant soft serves for dessert before an early night in, as we were headed for Hiroshima the next day.

A massive change of pace from the weird and wackiness of Japan, my second trip to Hiroshima still felt chilling. And that’s not just because it was the first time we’d been caught in the rain on this trip. Walking out of the station, it all came flowing back to me. Even the city bus we’d taken to get to the main historical sites came back to me. I don’t know whether studying Hiroshima quite extensively at school helped or not, in that I had some idea of what to expect, but I don’t really think anything can prepare you to see and feel what you do when you walk through the Hiroshima Peace Museum. Not even seeing and feeling it before.

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To lighten the mood, we made a hop skip and a jump over to the island of Miyajima. Last time I’d only stumbled upon this gem last minute, and so was very limited with my time to explore. Not this time. This time we had time to slurp up some lunch, buy more souvenirs, throw coins at the world’s largest rice spoon, pat the cutest Shiba, watch Miyajima’s famous maple biscuits be made and try some, pat some deer, pat some more deer, and of course visit Itsukushima Shrine – Miyajima’s floating torii. When I was here last, the tide was out and so it wasn’t really floating, but this time the water was lapping up at its base and it was clothed in a fine mist. It felt like exploring a new place.

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As our last night in Japan, we knew we had to take it out with a bang. While the party started in our apartment, it went next level with a run through Dotonburi to find an awesome looking ramen shop that was always busy, day and night. I wish I could tell you the name, but I was in no state to remember.

Luckily, considering our condition, we didn’t have to try to order with a person that night, and instead Japan had the answer with their vending machine ordering system. All we had to do was either press the ‘Noodles in Soup’ button, or the ‘Noodles in Soup with extra pork” button. Simple enough, right? I was pretty happy, Michelle was playing catch ups, and Ed couldn’t stop staring at the chef. All was well.

We bought soft serve for dessert, and Romy bought some fried chicken for a stray cat on the street, who promptly ran away before she could feed it. Yes, it was one of those nights. A quick stop off in a photo booth where we produced some truly terrifying images, before a 7Eleven fridge-to-fridge on our way to find a bar. This is where things got interesting. We’d seen a bar close to home that morning that was offering ¥200 drinks, but when we turned up turnt that night, not surprising at all by this point in the trip, we didn’t all fit in the bar. Wait just there, our host told us, as he went back inside to grab his flip phone and a suspicious unmarked bottle of coke. We then proceeded to follow him along the street to another bar that had already rejected us that night, so it was no surprise when they did so again. Never you mind, however, with a quick call on his flip phone, we were off again, this time down the street, over the river, around a corner, across some lights, up an escalator that wasn’t on, down a dark corridor and through a tiny door. With pages and pages of weird and wacky cocktails, all costing ¥200 each, we decided to order for each other. I got Dan ‘Old Pal’ because we were celebrating our one year Facebook friend anniversary that day, Brandon and Michelle both got Romy an ‘Angry Cat’ because…well, she loves cats. He got me ‘The One’ because he is adorable, and anyone who got Ed a drink got him one with milk because DEdward.

All in all, it was an awesome trip, and very different to my last time in Japan. But that’s good, that’s what I wanted. I learned a lot, I saw a lot, I ate a lot, I laughed, I cried, I shivered and I sweat. It was a good holiday, and not even having our flight cancelled a few hours before we were due to leave, having us wait around at the airport for hours hoping to get on the last flight of that night, running through the airport like a scene from Love Actually, and somehow magically scoring two seats next to each other with an extra seat to curl up on. That just doesn’t happen on normal holidays.

Bye for now, and thanks Japan fam.

E x

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Osaka

They say the best way to see a city is to get lost. But when you’re such skilled explorers like Hannah and myself, it’s hard to get lost, so walking is our next best option. While both a means of staying warm, and saving money, walking takes you to secret parts of the city a guidebook never will. The real city.

We stayed in bed a bit longer than expected the second morning. In our defense, we had been taken to a comedy show (rorcomedy.com) and drinks by our airbnb host Mark the night before and were still blaming jetlag at this stage! Nonetheless we packed our day to the brim.

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Night out with Mark.

First stop we navigated the subways and made our way to Tempozan for a fun day of activities. This little seaside village was home to one of the biggest Ferris wheels in the world – at 112 metres high. Being the daredevils we are, we opted for a clear-bottomed pod to maximise our views over Osaka and beyond! And we were not disappointed. Although we managed to break almost every rule – Hannah seemed keen on proving the strength of the structure by shaking the pod while floating at 112m above the ground – we survived unscathed.

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View from the top of the Giant Ferris Wheel.

As we’d made the effort to get to Tempozan, we thought we thought a visit to the Aquarium would be worthwhile, as it is marketed as one of the best in the world. We got to pat stingrays, and get very very close to a whale shark. Hannah was smitten with the sloth, and I was impressed with the Great Barrier Reef exhibit which I’m pretty sure looks better than the real deal these days!

A quick train trip back into the centre of town, we revisited Dotombori, the area we’d been in the night before, and got to see a different side of it in the light. If the streams of people flowing out of each department store entrance wasn’t enough, I couldn’t believe the size of the Starbucks – which appear on every block (literally)! The one we went into was three stories and doubled as a library. It appeared to be where students went to study, as finding a seat was impossible! Move over libraries, Starbucks is taking over the world!

As we watched the sun go down and the lights come on, Dotombori emerged from behind the shadows, assaulting the eyes, ears and nose in true Japanese style. In the throngs of it all, however, we managed to tick off the first item on our food wish list: taco-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings).
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Doing Dotombori
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Taco-yaki (grilled octopus dumplings)

Escaping the hustle and bustle of the centre of town, we wandered to the outskirts to find the best ramen in Osaka (proved by a pretty solid line outside)! Without being able to speak Japanese, or the waiters English, we managed to navigate waiting for, ordering, and eating our desired ramen. Hannah was highly impressed by the assortment of condiments available and instantly thought back to Anna in South-East Asia. Meanwhile, after exposing where we were from, the waiter tried to explain that the store has a branch in Sydney, before giving us each a business card. So readers I’m Sydney, head to Shop 211 Dixon Street, Haymarket for some pretty serious ramen!

The next morning was particularly cold, making it quite a challenge to rip ourselves from bed. Mark had asked whether I wanted to join him for yoga but I was so cold I though my limbs might snap if I tried to bend them! Even more of a challenge though was trying to get ready around Mark who had then decided to start meditating right outside our room!

But today was our first ride on the Shinkansen (bullet trains) and once we worked out where we were allowed/supposed to sit we were under way! The world whizzed past us and before we knew it we were in Hiroshima. Remembering back to the books I’d studied in year 12, the city began to come alive. We managed to stumble upon a sightseeing loop bus that wad covered by our train passes, and from there ventured across the city – the Atomic Bomb Dome, the Peace Memorial Park, the Flame of Peace, Children’s Peace Monument, and Peace Memorial Museum. The museum was particularly evocative and brought to life the stories I’d read at school. The atrocities of war and the evils of mankind.
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The Atomic Bomb Dome

Hannah was keen to find some okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes) for lunch and Mark had told us that Hiroshima had a distinctive style that we should try. We managed to locate a three-storey building that contained 25 stalls all selling the pancakes, and had ours cooked on a hot plate right in front of us! It was one pimped out pancake! And another tick on our food list.

With the sun quickly descending we decided to make a quick dash out to Miyajima – a small island off Hiroshisma, home of the vermillion torii (shrine gate) of Itsukushima-jinja. Racing the sun and clock, we stopped to ask some local deer for directions before reaching the torii for sunset. The deer were everywhere and watching them stick their heads into prams and wheelchairs reminded me of the monkeys in Bali. We found one very resourceful deer, however, who had decided eating his own poop was the most economical approach. Anyway! After gawking at all the girls walking around in heels and mini skirts, we trudged our way out to the torii. The tide was out so it didn’t appear to be floating like often photographed but it meant we were able to go and touch it! Even cooler!
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Oh deer! I’m lost!
2015/01/img_0153.jpg Vermillion Torii of Itsukushima-jinja

Back to the train, we used our JR pass to its maximum advantage, going in and out of the station to ensure we found the shop with the cheapest chocolate. Dragging our tired eyes and feet, we both collapsed in bed and drifted into a solid sleep.

Our last day in Osaka was bittersweet! It had started to rain and to make matters worse, it was Australia Day back home. While keeping our portable wifi close on hand and our phones tuned to the Triple J Top 100, we explored Amerika-Mura – a hip and happening district full of trendily-dressed youths in cafés. With street art covering the walls and street lamps brightly painted, we explored secondhand clothing stores and cheap dumpling restaurants ($2 for 6! That’s Cambodian prices!) in the afternoon we explored Kuromon Ichiba, the local fresh food market, where we gawked at live crabs and lobsters, fresh fruits, and pufferfish! Although we were too scared to try. Next time though! I swear!

For dinner we visited our little Pork man around the corner from us to say good bye and have one last meal. I was a piggy and asked for a big serve and then couldn’t finish, but Mr Pork just laughed at me and put it in a takeaway container. You’re the best, Mr Pork! There’s breakfast sorted.

Off to Kyoto tomorrow morning! More adventure to come!

Check out @emmabreislin on Instagram for more pictures.

E x

P.s. Congrats Chet Faker on beating Tay Tay in the top 100!