Japan - Day 7 - Osaka
Osaka is known as Japan's kitchen for the sheer amount of food offerings, plus Kobe beef is readily available from even the most innocent looking street vendors. It's a car crash of information, and had our Linc overwhelmed with the sheer numbers of people in close quarters. I'm an introvert, but luckily once I've readied myself for what to expect, which in Japan is crowds and crazy, then I'm pretty good with it should I choose to put myself in that situation, but poor Linc wasn't feeling the closeness of the hustle and bustle, so was maybe less versed prior. I think Dex quite liked the action and non-stop vibes - how different brothers can be. The sheer information overload of the image below is a good visual of just how in your face Osaka could be.. and that's just the span of only four buildings!
Anyways, we're getting ahead of ourselves as we start the day off in Kyoto and head to Osaka with our suitcases. Every night is a chance to recharge your feet, and it's sweet bliss for the first couple of hundred steps while they feel normal again, but by the 20-minute -otherwise-nothing-walk to the station, those blisters are now more of an endurance test. It's an hour journey including changes from Kyoto Eki, which includes a change at Osaka Station where we have to hop on the metro line to our 'Namba Ebisu' Hotel. It's also important to point out that the main tourist area (in terms of shopping at least), namely Dotonbori, is also a metro ride away, or about an hour walk from Osaka's main station. We had suitcases, we had blisters, Marc had a leg bite that was blistering and looking like he may need his leg amputated, and our hotel is another 30+ minutes further again than Dotonbori on foot, so obviously we got that metro. Fortunately, as with many hotels, you can drop your suitcases off when you're too early for check in, and then go exploring.
Japan up until this point (and after) has been super clean. Even the non-touristy streets that have less money and love ploughed in to them are clean. Shopkeepers that you walk past in the morning in Kyoto are outside cleaning and dusting plants around their doors, clean! There are no bins on public streets because it's believed that they look messy, clean, and yet no one drops litter unless it overflows from bottle bins next to vending machines, clean. Osaka, a little further out from town, however, and where our hotel was (which if you've done the maths and paid attention above, is 30-mins south of Dotonbori), has a major homeless problem and looks a little like Skid Row in LA in places. There are a bunch of tent and cardboard box villages just on the street, and it's clear many of those walking around are suffering with some sort of addiction. It's a far cry from the image Japan likes to push out given their cleanliness and pride, and I've also seen documentaries how they skew those figures favourably too.. but then don't all governments!
Having lived near Birmingham (a major UK city), it's not at all that surprising to me, yet even there, while you see plenty of homelessness, you don't tend to see tent villages just on the side of the street, in fact the only one I ever saw in all my years around Brum was out of the way and down the side of a canal in the bushes that lined it. It's a reality of life in most cities if you know where to look, but it's just not really associated with Japan. The good, the bad and the ugly is worth a mention though, if not just because you don't want to somewhat ironically get 'Paris syndrome'.. but in Japan. It is what it is, and it didn't really bother me as I've seen it all before and feel for those in that situation, but it's maybe not holiday material if you've got your Japan rose-tinted glasses on. It is however a bit of a small culture shock of the negative kind.
I'm not an overly excitable person, and I'm in to crazy; so the quirkiness and madness of Japan as a whole maybe doesn't hit me in the same way it may hit others. I've read that many consider it a culture shock, but as a whole, we all agreed that it didn't feel too alien, so the homeless problem not confined to underpasses and derelict streets is more so a small culture shock than the actual differing cultures. It's a first world country where people may not speak English much, but English is on many signs, and it's also used in many public announcements, so it's not quite a shock in terms of, say, adjusting to being in the arse end of no where with poor transport and communication links, and where everything is a little run-down, and where you can't communicate with anyone using tech at the very least. I think I'd be more frustrated with the religious rules of somewhere like Dubai, which indecently doesn't appeal to me in the slightest.
Anyways, with the suitcases dropped off and us ready to explore, Linc puts the 'Dragon Shrine' (i think, or hoped..) in to Google. These are routes I'd looked at prior to coming to Japan as to where they were in relation to our hotel in terms of timings, so I was a little taken back when it took us the best part of 40-mins to get to where we thought it was! It was yet again another case of it taking us to another Dragon landmark instead of the intended one. But hey, it put us on one of the main shopping streets that we were heading towards via the shrine, so it wasn't the end of the world. My poor feet though! I keep bringing them up, but at this point it's not an annoyance any more, it's a very real problem that I refuse to let get in the way of exploring. My little toe on my one foot is twice the size given a blister has wholly taken over it, and when you're sticking an extra toe along with several other blisters in your footwear, it doesn't make them any more comfortable! I can't remember if it's now we go on a wild goose chase in search of a shop Dex had earmarked, or if it was after we went back to the hotel to check in and came back out again.. but we did a lot more walking than we ever intended! According to Pokemon Go, which conveniently keeps track of your movement if you have your phone on you, we were at about 93km walked this week alone!
What we did do between the two trips out to Dotonbori, was to check out some of the crazy tat shops in search of my elusive Osaka mascot plush, and of course to buy the usual fun touristy stuff (I got an Osaka cap - maybe I'll do a swag blog at the end) while looking in the ones we never earmarked to come back to, so actually dipped in. I'm not sure why we didn't do that shop for Dex at the time, maybe we were looking for somewhere to eat Kobe beef, but hey, we didn't, but Dex bought loads of clothes by the end of the trip anyways, so I'm sure he'll live. Speaking of Kobe beef; with it being Lincoln's Birthday (thereabouts) too, Marc treated us all to some. Now I'm not really a lover of steak, or am I a beef man in general outside of burgers, but I did get the obsession as it was bang tidy! I don't think I could ever justify the price, though.
Speaking of tat shops also, the Don Quijote in Dotonbori has a funky Ferris wheel strapped to the front of the building. I knew it existed from research, but I didn't think it was running any more.. but it was, so we had a whirl! I gather it shut down for several years, which is probably why I thought that, but it had reopened about five years ago. I thought the actual ride, at first, was going to be fully open to the elements as we span around and the ground opened up, but you just end up in a glass dome. Given we had only some small seating on a tiny ledge with a bar across our laps, it eased the anxiety a little. I'm not sure when I started to not be a big fan of heights, but they ain't my favourite thing these days if I'm not security strapped in. The first time I remember feeling like that was up the Eiffel Tower, and I don't ever remember it prior! Back in the bubble, however, and you still wouldn't want to drop anything down off your chair ledge if you're playing with your phone (or GoPro). The dome kinda stays in place (I think), and then the chair tilts on like a gimble to always stay upright as you go around the circumference of the, well, track I guess - it truly is a quirky one.. and less of a wheel, but more of an oblong!
One of the reasons we stayed in Osaka rather than doing day trips from Kyoto, which would be a perfectly easy thing to do if you'd prefer your accommodation in Kyoto; was because we presumed that it would get dark in much the same way it does in the UK, and it may be a pain, or even impossible to experience the lights and then get back to Kyoto in good time. In the UK it can be light up 'til 10:30 at night, but in Japan, or at least everywhere we went, sunsets rarely make it past 7pm year round! As mentioned, we stayed at the Namba Ebisu Hotel (which I'll go into briefly in a future blog), and that's about a 10-minute walk south from the famous Shinsekai Tower, which is also home to another smaller nightlife and shopping area of Osaka, so it was something I feared missing if staying in Kyoto.
Tomorrow we're at Universal studio's, so I knew the window for the tower was small, and it had to be done, so despite the long day walking around Dotonbori, I dragged the nephews out to it while Marc stayed at the hotel to chill and probably rest his feet. The Shinsekai Tower is a shot I really wanted before coming (just Google the neon lit images of it of a night!), and then, after shredding our feet with 93kms of walking, to then stick on another 20-minute round trip, plus exploration, it would be fair to say that I was gutted to find out they hadn't switched it on! I did since read somewhere that they don't always light up certain towers in Tokyo if there's a full moon, so I'm not sure if this applies here too as some sort of tradition? To be fair, it was quite quiet in general as it was a Sunday, but it was still worth a look around at some of the crazy building decor. With a full day tomorrow and then with us travelling to our next destination the following day, we'd barely scratched the surface of Osaka, but combined with the homeless guy pissing out the front of the Lawson's while we went in for breakfast, I don't think the others were too struck to explore it that much more in fairness, ha ha.