Today was to be our last full day in Japan, and this morning I savored sleeping in. There was no way I was sitting through another hour-long fire-ceremony at 5:30 in the morning. Sorry, Mr. Monk, once was enough. Instead, we got up just in time to go to breakfast where Tim made small talk with two Americans and an Englishman traveling together (one lived in Japan teaching English and the other two lived in Russia doing the same). Meanwhile I listened and mostly focused on reanimating myself with hot tea and breakfast. In true daughter of Leah Prewett-fashion, while attempting to feed myself by picking up my piece of breakfast fish, I managed to drop it in my tea. I guess I should have been fully rather than mostly focusing on that breakfast.
Happily, I managed to make it through the rest of breakfast without any other fiascos. We wished the other travelers bonne route and headed out to explore the temple grounds. It was a pretty quick visit, and within about 20 minutes we were headed out to our bus stop with the receipt and another temple stamp in hand.
Our destination today was Osaka, Japan’s “second city.” Tokyo is known as the capital, and Kyoto might be the cultural capital, but Osaka is where all the action happens. According to the handy guidebook, Osaka is really Japan’s center of commerce, but in addition, the Osakans are notorious for how much they love to eat and drink. Our first stop was the Dontonbori district to see the famous Glico man. Who is the Glico man? Well, up until a couple of days ago, we didn’t know either. But thanks to an amusing round of pantomimes from a young Japanese man putting his arms in a Y and standing on one leg while saying “Glico, Glico,” we knew we had to figure out what the heck he was going on about. It turns out the Glico man is a famous advertisement for the Glico candy company. The 108 foot neon sign (actually LED now) first appeared over 70 years ago, and has gained a sort of cult following. What we didn’t anticipate that getting to this particular sign involved traversing the Japanese equivalent to Time’s Square which means that you have all the bright flashing lights and streets overflowing with Asians tourists but also the sights and smells of any kind of Japanese street food you could want.
From there, we headed towards the famous “flea market” area which was really just more street food vendors, all sorts of exotic seafood like Japanese tiger fish, sea urchins, and baby squid, and a few tourist shops and bric-a-brac stores sprinkled throughout. And, oh yea, wall to wall people.
Needless to say we didn’t stay in that area long. Although I would have loved to try some of the local street food and fresh seafood, I was feeling rather tired and I knew Tim hated this sort of chaos, so we got out of there as soon as humanly possible. Our wanderings eventually led us to a decent looking restaurant where they were serving a dish we had not yet sampled, okonomiyaki. I’d seen it served on the street and it basically looked like a hash of egg and shredded vegetables lightly battered and fried together in a giant disc (sort of like a potato cake but bigger and no potatoes). We were nonetheless surprised to be seated at our table and facing a griddle in the middle of us. We both looked at each other wondering what we were expected to do. With some trepidation, we ordered, and then watched the locals around us for cues on how much cooking we might actually have to do.
As it turns out, very little. The dish is served to you already prepared. When the waitress came to our table, she slid our two orders onto our hot griddle, theatrically squirted some mayonnaise-like sauce on mine (she did this by hitting the target from about two feet away), and then we let them sizzle a little before diving in.
Following lunch we tromped around various areas of Osaka including the cooking district where all local chefs (professional or otherwise) go to buy their wares. We were pretty impressed; it gave Paris a run for its money. We also visited the local castle and enjoyed the sunshine while we people watched. Oh, and of course, we found a couple of temples along the way. Today would be my last chance on the trip to collect stamps, so I made good: picking up 3 in Osaka and 4 counting the one from our temple lodging this morning.
After quite a bit of walking, we ended back in the same area we started only this time making a slight detour to walk through the “little America” district. This district was home to several second-hand shops selling American-style clothing and shops pumping American rap and selling sneakers and more “hip hop style” clothing, and that was about it for little America. With that, we felt our afternoon in Osaka was done and decided to head back to the station where we stored our luggage. Getting there involved us traversing an underground mall with about every kind of store you could imagine. We saw places selling beautiful chocolates and pastries to rival anything you can find in France, to trending clothing shops, to traditional Japanese restaurants, to places selling dried soft-shell turtles that were about as big as your face. What you do with them I have no idea, but they were all neatly packaged in clear plastic sealed bags and on prominent display so that dried soft-shell turtle consumer would not have to waste any time looking for that special turtle. As much as I wanted to take a picture, I didn’t. I felt it would be too touristy.
There was also a… kimono and yukata shop! Tim has heard me say about 10 times on this trip that I’d given up looking for one. Everything was too expensive, I didn’t like the pattern, or I didn’t like the material, or all three. But, Tim nonetheless shooed me into every shop that looked like it might sell kimonos and yukatas on the off chance I found “the one,” thus ending his torture of the kimono hunt. This particular shop was run by two elderly Japanese women, and they had a huge variety of men’s and women’s kimonos for very reasonable prices. I find one that I really like, it was dark blue with off white and gold flowers sewn along the bottom and on alternating sides of the sleeves. It was $100, which was much cheaper than many others I looked at, but once again, I was disappointed with how it looked on me. Perhaps it is because I’m white and no matter what kimono I pick, I will still just be a white girl in a kimono. However, Tim and I agreed that part of the reason it didn’t look great was because it was so long, and so when they wrapped it around me, it was very bunched up at the waist. That is kind of the point with the kimono I suppose, although we don’t know why since they use an obi (a very wide sash) to cover that up. The obi doesn’t seem very practical for wearing around the house, and I didn’t like the wad of material showing so I just decided not to get a kimono. What I decided on instead was a yukata. A yukata is the summertime kimono and it styled much the same way except it is made of cotton. So, while it isn’t as beautiful as a silk or brocade kimono, it is cheaper (this one was $39), and the cotton makes it easier to fold around me. Plus, the pattern I picked was the same from top to bottom so I wouldn’t have to worry about changing the appearance of the robe if I had a couple of inches taken off the bottom. To Tim’s relief, after two weeks of searching, I finally found my “kimono” in the form of the yukata on the very last day of our trip. Purchase in hand, we headed for our luggage and to the train station, and I immediately started second-guessing my purchase. But Tim told me for $40 to stop worrying about it, so I did.
That evening we arrived at our airport hotel, and set out to look for dinner. I was determined to have some Kobe beef on my last night in Japan, but as luck would have it, there were no such restaurants in our area serving it. In fact, most everything seemed rather mediocre, which has kind of been my whole Japanese food experience (with the exception of a couple of dishes). So, after a fruitless search, I suggested we just buy some Cup O’Noodles (which is actually just “Cup Noodle” here in Japan). Tim was dubious, “How are we going to make them?” “With our hot water boiler in our room.” I replied. This wasn’t enough, “Can you read the instructions? Do you even know how to make them?” he pressed. “No, I can’t read the instructions, but you pour hot water over your noodles in a cup. How hard can it be?” Still not totally convinced, Tim scoured the convenience store for other options before finally settling on the inevitable. Then as soon as we bought them he was complaining that we should have just done take out somewhere because now we would have to “wait” for dinner to be made. Somehow that whole five minutes of noodles to soak up water would be too much to bear. Anyways to no surprise of anyone reading this who has ever eaten instant ramen, dinner was successful “made” and Tim didn’t die of hunger while waiting. Not a stupendous close to the trip, but then again, that gives me a reason to come back.