Dreaming of the Osaka Sun
“Tonight maybe we’re gonna run, dreaming of the Osaka Sun…But I have no doubt, one day the sun will come out.”-Coldplay, ‘Lovers in Japan’
On Saturday morning I disembarked from the peaceful Takarazuka and set off on an trek to the largest city in the Kansai region: Osaka. Undeniably rich in Japanese culture and bereft of the so-called “Westernization” of Tokyo, Osaka is said to have the best food and friendliest people in the country. Any correlation between the two remains unclear, though it seems likely after having experienced it firsthand. Having only a few locations in mind and very little idea about how to get to them, I boarded the east-bound train with two fellow exchange students, knowing that whatever happened, we were in for one hell of an adventure.
Our first stop was the thirteenth floor of the Daimaru Department Building, the location of Pokemon Center Osaka. Did you expect anything else from me? After drooling over all the merchandise that read “For sale in Japan only,” we made our purchases (a Pikachu plush!) and entered the steel jungle that made San Francisco look like a MacDonalds Playplace.
After asking a policeman for directions in Japanese (he gave me his map!), we worked our way through an underground tunnel to the 40+ story Umeda Sky Building, one of the more famous pieces of architecture in the Osaka area. More or less an office building, the Umeda Sky Building is made of two towers connected by their top two floors (41 and 42), and visitors have the option of paying ¥700 to ride the elevator to the viewing deck at the top. Of course we did, and we got an incredible view of the entire city as well as coffee at the cafe (my first “real” coffee since being in Japan; still not California!). Riding 40 stories in a glass elevator was incredible, but most definitely not for the fainthearted. Still, a sight worth seeing.
After what seemed like an eternity of navigating the labyrinth of the Osaka subway system (“It’s only forever, not long at all”), we found the Tempozan wharf area, which houses one of the world’s largest ferris wheels as well as the world-famous Osaka Aquarium Keiyukan. After literally flipping a ¥10 coin, our first stop was the aquarium, the home of the biggest tank in the world, which houses two whale sharks and a whole lot more. The crowds weren’t bad for a Saturday, and we saw the entire aquarium within a few hours. Ironically enough, there was even a “Monterey Bay” section….
For lunch we found a hole-in-the-wall restaurant that opened in 1910 and served a famous curry rice dish with raw egg. To debunk all rumors, I am living proof that raw eggs do not make you sick (if you eat them while they’re fresh, which many Americans don’t). The food was amazing, and we were all too full for dinner even after walking 9+ miles! Boarding the subway yet again, we went on a hunt for Dotonbori, the iconic Osakan street with larger-than-life neons and animatronic crabs and clowns. After navigating through a seedier part of town laden with “love hotels” (Japanese houses are small and have thin walls; figure it out), we ran across a sea of people walking in one direction. I had a hunch that we were onto something. So we followed the crowd, and all of a sudden we found ourselves in the heart of Osaka nightlife, bombarded by takoyaki chefs and restaurant owners vying for customers, claiming that they had the best of whatever they were selling. None of us were hungry in the least, but hey, this is Osaka, so we decided to split an order of takoyaki from the stand with the longest line, and was it ever worth it! I found octopus to be surprisingly tasty, as well as a wonderful way to end our day-long excursion into the cultural heart of Kansai.
Overall it was quite an adventure, my cramped shoulder from my purse serving as proof even days later. I have now started my second full week of classes, and in Japanese language class alone we’re covering a chapter a day. I’m starting to wonder if there’s a limit to the capacity of the human brain…. I guess I’ll find out, and when I do, I’ll be sure to let you all know.