Nicole and I visited Japan over Korean Thanksgiving, more commonly known as, Chuseok. We had Wednesday to Sunday to cram as much globe-trotting into our lives as humanly possible. Since I’ve always wanted to visit Japan, we opted to go to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara.
Traveling to Osaka
Wednesday Morning, we woke up at 6 and took a cab to the bus terminal then a bus to Busan, then a subway to a light-rail, then a light-rail to an airport where we caught a plane to Osaka. The flight, fortunately, is only 1.5 hours. We spent nearly that long on the subway crossing Busan from the very most Northeastern stop to the very most Southwestern stop.
Nicole and I were on a budget so we opted for Peach Airlines. A great little airline unless you like leg room, then its awful. I’m guessing the average Japanese passenger is not 6’2″ so it’s not usually an issue, but I couldn’t sit with my knees straight without hitting the seat in front of me.
We landed in Osaka late in the afternoon and bought a rail pass at the train station. If you ever visit Osaka, I definitely recommend the pass. For about $60 you can travel around Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto for four days on the JR train lines. There are different passes for different rail companies.
The ride in from Osaka Airport to downtown Osaka took about 40 minutes. Along the way we saw the gradual change from suburban apartment buildings into urban apartment buildings and office buildings.
Osaka itself is an impressive place. Historically it was the commercial hub of Japan and to some degree it still is. During the day its the second largest city in Japan, but at night it becomes the third largest city in Japan because so many people commute from outside of Osaka for work. Nicole and I saw many of these commuters on our way into the city.
The train eventually dropped us off a few minutes from the place we would be staying. Nicole and I booked a room on AirBnB for about $200 for the whole 5 days, practically a steal in the second largest city in Japan. The building we stayed in was owned by an expat living in Osaka. She rents the rooms to foreign teachers and foreign students and the empty rooms she lists on AirBnB. We booked it because there was a communal kitchen, it was cheap, and most importantly, there was a hot tub on the roof.
The neighborhood wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t too good either. It reminded me of a shadier neighborhood in a big city in the US, except everyone was Japanese. During our time in Japan though we spent almost no time in our neighborhood. Most of our time was spent traveling to other cool neighborhoods or attractions.
Our first stop was a neighborhood called Dotonbori. The neighborhood is primarily a tourist
district, but its so neat. There are several pedestrian-only streets closed off to traffic and completely covered overhead by neon lights. Along either side of the street are little restaurants, shops, and arcades.
Nicole and I stopped into one such sushi place and ate oodles of delicious sushi for only $1-2 per piece. On the inside it looked identical to what you might consider a traditional sushi place back in the states. It was small, dimly lit, only had a few seats and was dominated by a large sushi bar immediately inside the door. Nicole and I sat down at the bar and tried urchin, egg, salmon, tuna, roe, and several other pieces. Each time we would pick something off the menu, point to it, and a sushi chef would prepare it instantly. When he was done making it, he would simply reach over the bar and place it on your plate.
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After our sushi dinner, Nicole and I wandered along the Dōtonbori canal. On either side of the canal were large neon signs and bars or clubs. Nicole and I took our picture in front of the famous Glico sign, showing a man crossing a finish line.
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After Nicole and I had our fill, we took a subway a few stops back to our room and tried to get the hot tub working, to no avail. We met a few of the residents. Many of them were from Europe, including the gentleman that ran the actual building. He offered to get the hot tub up and running for us tomorrow night. We thanked him and decided to turn in for the night.
After my first day in Osaka, I must say the whole area was incredible. There were neon signs everywhere and all manner of crazy shops and stores. We saw arcades and casinos, internet cafes and bars, even a Ferris wheel built on top of a store right along the canal.