Konichiwa from Osaka! I woke up super early this morning, which gives me time to blog before I head out to the Umeda Sky Building. Then I’ll take a train to the small mountain town of Yoshino where I’ll be living it up, Japanese style, at the Sakoya Ryokan.
I’m going to be lazy and write in a bullet/list format of my first impressions:
- There are vending machines everywhere, for everything: drinks, ice cream, train tickets, ramen, and food at restaurants. I have yet to come across the weird ones (womens’ panties, porn) but I’ll be sure to let you know if I do.
- There are also fancy toilets everywhere. The bathroom in the train station was so clean and well designed, I kinda wanted to stay in there forever.
- Everyone here is SO hip. I don’t know if it’s because I’m staying in the most happening part of town (Shinsaibashi), or if the Japanese are just generally much cooler, but I definitely feel like a square. I’m intimidated by the women here — they are all so done up, but not in a gaudy way. Just very put together with awesome hair, clothes, and shoes. *sigh*
- I can’t understand a whole lot, but I’m happy for the small amount of Japanese that I do understand from taking 3 years of Japanese in high school. Thank God I can read hiragana (Japanese phonetic alphabet), katakana (romanized alphabet), and Kanji (Chinese characters). I would’ve never found my hotel if I couldn’t read katakana. My most useful phrase so far has been “wakari masen” (I don’t understand). There’s an added level of confusion because the locals see me as Asian, and potentially Japanese-speaking, but I’m definitely a gaijin (foreigner)! I wonder how differently people would react to/treat me if I were more obviously foreign.
- So far, I haven’t had to pay a lot in “tourist tax” — i.e. make stupid mistakes about prices or pay too much for something. I did, however, buy the wrong metro card. I thought I was getting an ICOCA card, which reader EO helpfully suggested to make train riding more efficient. Instead, I put too much money on a reusable Osaka subway card, which considering the short duration of my stay, I definitely won’t spend all of it. Oh well.
- I’ve also spent a lot of time getting to the wrong subway platform. Luckily, I haven’t done anything to cause myself major embarrassment (at least to my knowledge).
- I’m writing this from the Asashi Capsule Hotel, where I slept in a plastic cubicle/compartment equipped with a radio, a tv, and a mirror. It was actually quite comfy and extremely affordable. Apparently, most capsule hotels are set up for men only, but this particular one has a women’s dorm also. There’s a nice sink area, with good quality face wash, lotion, sterilized brushes, and ion hairdryers. There’s also a public bath with a jacuzzi and sauna. I found out about this hotel on a hostel website, so I’m quite surprised to find that I’m the only non-Japanese here. I’m glad I stayed here, especially considering the value (US$27) and location, but I don’t think I could handle more than one night here. It’s annoying to have to keep all of your belongings in a locker, and you can’t exactly relax in a capsule. At least there are a lot of common rooms, like the one where I’m typing this post where I’m sitting comfortably in a recliner.
- After I found my hotel and checked in, I headed to Osaka Castle. The building that exists now is a reproduction that was built in the 1920′s, and houses a lot of historical artifacts that I was too tired to examine closely. (Did I mention I woke up at 5:15am?). There’s a lovely garden around the castle and the walk was invigorating though hot/humid.
- In the evening, I headed out to the Dotomburi Arcade and Shinsaibashi Shopping District. The neon lights and crowds were amazing, though I was disappointed to see that shops started closing around 8pm. Since I was so tired, and because I was traveling alone (I can’t tell how safe it is to be wandering around in Osaka alone as a woman), I didn’t want to stay out too late so I headed back to my hotel around 9pm.
- I ate a lot for dinner, since I hadn’t had a real meal all day. I of course tried the world famous Osaka snack: takoyaki, or fried octopus balls, with a tall glass of Asahi beer. I also had ramen, standing at a street stall, and a chocolate and almond crepe. Of course, I will write a more detailed post about this later, and post photos.
OK, time to check out of this capsule hotel. I probably won’t have internet service for a couple of days, so until then…sayonara!