Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Japan, There I was: Osaka Part Two

When we woke up, I went up to the roof of JHopper's to be reminded of where I was.

We began the day trying to determine the best way to get to Kyoto, our next destination. We also needed to find a place to sleep there. Luckily, we met a few Aussie guys - Dave and Dave - staying in JHoppers who had already booked a hostel in Kyoto. After some investigation, we figured out it was called A-yado Guest House (one Dave couldn't remember and the other had to whip out his iPhone to show me his reservation). We sent an email to A-yado that morning and we got a reservation by nightfall. Killer.
James grabbing some waters before we head out.

We teamed up with the Daves to check out one of the few major historical attractions of Greater Osaka - the Osaka Castle.
The castle turned out to be more of a museum than a historical building as the interior was completely renovated to a modern-museum style with exhibits that showcased artifacts. Though much too small to be worn by modern men, James and I enjoyed the elaborately decorated armor suits from the royal collection.
"No photographs." James being a way-jerk-een...

The view from atop the castle.

During the day, the Daves told us a curious story from their adventures in Tokyo. Apparently, they were approached by a guy decked out in Abercrombie & Fitch who directed them into a building by telling them to "check it out." Inside, the lights were low and there were scantily-clad men and women dancing on little stages to thumping pop music. The Daves asked around to find out what the hell this was all about. They were told by each person they asked to "check it out." "Check what out?" they asked, to which they were told even more enthusiastically:

"Check it out!"

"Check it out!"

In their retelling, the Daves seemed to be almost as confused by their story as we were listening to it. All follow-up questions were of course answered with a stout: "check it out."
Once back to our area, we grabbed some lunch. At the recommendation of a friendly Japanese man that was getting up to leave as we walked in, I ordered a tasty fish set that came with rice, miso soup, radish, and tofu.

For the remainder of the day, we decided a little relaxation would do us good. That called for a trip to an onsen in Mino, an area situated on the outskirts of the city."For the blog" became a catch phrase for James in his photo taking. Here, I pretend to lead the way to Mino. In reality, when no trains pulled up to the platform after 15 minutes, we went to tourist information and they pointed out the right one. Alas.

The onsen itself was in a hotel built into the mountainside and could only be accessed by this detached elevator:
Likely a highly-rated hotel in its 1970s heyday, time had not been kind. The deterioration of what was once modern could not, however, take anything away from the view:
In the sauna room of the onsen, James and I found ourselves in a familiar situation - sitting side by side with a bunch of nude Asian men (now Japanese, not Korean), casually inhaling and exhaling like there was nothing unusual about the situation. This time though, there was a guy in there that spoke English, so we told him about Korea, Daegu, and teaching, and he passed some details on to the other curious dudes among us.
Dusk fell as we left the onsen and the lanterns strung about the streets began to glow more clearly...
Night views of the Osaka city skyline from the ferris wheel. My camera struggles, but the effect is cool. Yes, in a romantic epilogue to our spa trip we rode a night ferris wheel.
Jame's camera flexes its superiority in night-mode.

For dinner, we went for a dish call okonomiyaki. Okonomiyaki is a savory pancake and the name translates literally to "how you like it, grilled." Ingredients include green onion, a meat, and vegetables. James opted for pork and I got squid.Al begins to grill away - and that's how we like it...

Okonomiyaki is served over a hot grill surface built into your table. Equipped with a spatula, you can dig in however you like.
It was delicious, moreso because we got the idea early and anticipated it all day. The couple that ran the joint were very friendly and gave us paper cranes before we left. Score.

One of the things I anticipated most about Japan was trying sake. Admittedly, before this, my experience had been restricted to a few trips to hibachi grills around Massachusetts, where the juggling-comedians-turned-chefs would often drink more sake than the patrons.

After dinner, James and I set out for 7-11 to find a nice bottle. We opted for this:
Well, when we opened it poured some, we took a few sips and thought it a little harsh. I took it downstairs to reception the next morning, and they kindly read for me: "uhhhh, let's see...so...chu." That's right, we had come all the way from Korea to drink so-chu, Japanese soju. Blast! It was mildly better because it was actually derived from rice and not sweet potatoes and chemicals, but what an epic fail.

The night led where it would inevitably lead in Japan: to KARAOKE. With a few friends we made at the hostel by sharing our so-chu, we had a blast.
Turned out I know the words to more "No Doubt" songs than I let on.

On our way home, we met a huge group of Japanese folks hanging out on a street corner. Schmoozing with locals is always a treat and they were cool. James was snapping blurry pictures all over the place, and there are a couple that captured me talking to some dudes with my serious "so you want to talk about American foreign policy" face on. I probably had plenty to say then. No comment now though.
Peace Osaka, Japan! Iconic isn't it?