Day 5: Rainy day in Osaka

The weather was pretty miserable today. We woke up early this morning with the intention of going to Kyoto, but the weather was just so wet and cold. The dreary gray skies left us feeling pretty uninspired  about venturing out, but we sat down with the Kyoto map to pick some locations while eating breakfast… but we never went. We ended up cuddling until we nodded off again, and then just spent the better part of the day cozy and warm in our futons.

Sometime in the middle of the afternoon we decided to brave the rain and head out… it is going to be raining all week from the looks of it, so we might as well get use to being wet! So, we looked up the location of an anime store for Sean and headed for the bus stop across the street.

We took the bus to Osaka Station and then walked to Umeda, where we stopped for something to eat. We ended up at a kushikatsu restaurant in the Hep Navio building. Kushikatsu is basically deep fried meat and veggies that you cook yourself. Each table is fitted with a small deep fryer and there are several cold cases filled with various items skewered on little wooden sticks. You pick out whatever you want, bread it, and stick it in your personal little fryer. You are given one hour to eat as much as you can… the only catch to this is that the food is covered it hot oil so if you don’t wait for it to cool down you will burn your tongue… so of course we both are still suffering a little with seared tongues. The meal was awesome and we will probably end up doing it again later in the trip.

After stuffing ourselves full of fried meat and veggies we walked further into Umeda, looking for an anime store (Mandarake) that Sean wanted to visit. Shockingly enough found it very easily, although we did end up walking through the red light district to get there… that was interesting.

Sean seemed pleased with the store initially, but then looked sad when he only found a few Macross 7 toys. He did buy a blue VF-19 and a stand though, so at least the trip wasn’t for nothing.

That was pretty much the bulk of our day… after that we did some more shopping (back to Yodobashi!) and then ended up back at the yakiniku restaurant we ate at the other day. We enjoyed it, but declared that we are not allowed to eat it again for a while because we want to try as many new things as we can.

We are putting up some photos, but they will probably be pretty boring since we didn’t do much photo-worthy today. Maybe we will do more tomorrow. We are thinking we may brave the weather and try to go to some indoor things in Kyoto.

Oh, Monday we go to Arima Onsen Resort! We can’t wait to see what kind of massage packages they offer..

 

Day 4: Relaxing in Osaka, sort of

The last three days have been kind of hard… we are used to sitting behind desks all day, so hours of walking have left us tired and sore. Therefore we decided we should take a day to rest a little, since this is a vacation after all.

We slept in this morning, unlike the last few days of waking up early in the morning. Then, we sat around the apartment for a while being lazy until we decided we were hungry and should probably find something to do with our day that wasn’t very strenuous. Sean mentioned kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi) and I recalled a couple restaurants in Shinsaibashi from years ago, so we headed for the subway.

As usual, going over to Shinsaibashi involved stairs and walking… so I can’t say today was completely relaxing, but we tried to keep the pace as leisurely as possible. Once we arrived in Shinsaibashi (a huge shopping district) we wandered around the main drag until we found a kaitenzushi place. Unfortunately it wasn’t quite as good as it was 5 years ago, but it was still pretty decent.

After we finished our sushi we continued wandering around, had some doughnuts, browsed a few stores, and then found ourselves standing in front of a nice looking storefront with a sign out front that simply said “Relax” and a banner that showed different massages and gave their prices. Sean had been going on and on about wanting a foot massage like Zane Lamprey had on an episode of Three Sheets, so we stopped in for 30 minutes of “reflexology.” I must say that was the highlight of the day… by the end of the 30 minutes I was seriously contemplating asking for additional massages. I wish I could have a foot massage every day… I think we just might have to go back there later on! Sean seemed impressed too, when we left he said he felt like he had cheated on his wife.

After that we pretty much just wandered around some more and did a little shopping. Our wandering took us over to Amerika-mura, which means America Village. That place was great for Engrish spotting… we posted a few more t-shirt photos in the Engrish section. Our shopping haul for the night was a cool Jigen t-shirt for myself, a doggie kimono for Jack, an assortment of spicy rice crackers for Sean, and a ton of bread for snacks tonight and tomorrow morning.

Before going to bed each night one of us always asks the inevitable “so what are we doing tomorrow?” question. It usually ends up with me giving Sean a few options and letting him choose. It looks like tomorrow will be another Kyoto day, although I haven’t thought far enough ahead to know what we will be doing there. I expect the day will start with a trip to an anime store, since it seems like that is something Sean is really wanting to do. Other than that… hmm… maybe Kiyomizudera and Sanjusangendo… it is supposed to rain tomorrow though :(

 

Day 3: Osaka Castle & Dontonbori

Robyn was let down the first time she went to Osaka Castle, expecting a castle and finding a museum instead. With this information at hand I enjoyed Osaka Castle, finding it the neatest Japanese castle shaped museum I’ve ever been to. Er.. wait the only castle shaped museum I’ve ever seen.

On the path to the castle we came across armies (or swarms depending on your point of view) of Japanese school kids, all wearing colored caps to identify which school group they were with. One group spotted us taking pictures and ran over shouting hello in a thick Japanese accent, and immediately proceeding to strike poses for us.

The castle in it’s current state was rebuilt in the 1930’s, and parts of it have been excavated from time to time. However on the inside you would never be able to tell it was a castle. The outside of the castle was replicated with great detail. The parks around Osaka Castle are almost just as interesting, with huge stone walls and beautiful gardens surrounding the paths. Many homeless camps were set up in the park, with an organic arrangement consisting of blue tents and tarps behind the largest trees in the park on both sides of the main path leading to the fountain.  It struck me as very interesting that even the homeless people in japan seemed to stay very organized. After our short tour of the castle grounds we headed over to the Aquabus for a river tour of Osaka. This was the best waste of an hour here yet. We sat in the boat for a whole hour, and got to see plenty of buildings and dirty undersides of bridges. Best of all there were no steps or walking.

After a late lunch we made our way to Dontonbori, a famous Osaka entertainment district we have seen on TV shows such as “Anthony Bordain’s No Reservations”, and “Have Fork Will Travel”. We took the obligatory pictures of the running guy, clown, and crab. While we were at the vendor with the giant robotic crab sign I picked up some of the grilled crab meat, and it was not as good as Mr. Bourdain led me to believe. Maybe they cooked his fresh since he had a camera crew.

After an hour of shopping we managed to pick out a new camera bag, pillow, and spotted a few more Macross toy candidates. With my obsession of all things from Macross you might be wondering why I have to pick out candidates – the really good transforming valkyries run about $191. Of course they are high quality and at least a 1.5 foot long, but at those prices I just can’t buy them all. The latest ones I could find are the opposing forces from Macross Zero. With any luck maybe I can find one from Frontier.

 

Day 2: Kyoto

Today we took a train to Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan. It was spared from bombardment in WWII due to it’s cultural significance, so there are many great examples of ancient Japan. Believe it or not the military claims to have tried to preserve ancient sites in Iraq, but ended up building military bases out of them instead. Well there was no such evidence of American tampering after we got off the bus at our first shrine, to find a ready tourist stop. Just inside the grounds were several street vendors, which I found odd considering it was supposed to be a religious place.

While we were at Yasaka (the big orange one from the pics) people spotted smoke coming from the mountain behind Chion-in. We rushed up the hill and watched as fire trucks navigated the narrow back roads, and firemen linked together hoses to extinguish the fire very quickly. Once the commotion died down we moved to the front gate of Chion-in. The front gate is probably the most massive thing made out of wood I’ve ever seen save a roller-coaster. Of course, the roller coaster had nothing on sheer grandeur of the gate.

This website claims this temple was used for filming some scenes from “The Last Samurai”. I did not see anything that jumped out as a location but it seemed familiar the whole time. The temple is the headquarters of the “Pure Land Sect” and if I had not been so tired I would have stayed longer. It was a very interesting place, from now on I would like to get some reading in before we go somewhere so the locations hold some context.

After exploring a bit of Chion-in we headed back down the hills and walked around Kyoto for a bit, eventually running into an art gallery with an exhibition of photographer Elliot Erwitt’s works. We decided to stop in and take a nice break from the busy street. We soon found our way to a train station and headed back to Osaka.

We were both very tired on the train ride back to Osaka. I think the last three days we have been going full blast and it’s starting to get to us. Of course, I’m still very happy to be here, but I think slowing it down for a day is in order.

So back to last night…. After we got back to Osaka we stopped by our new favorite tower of shopping, Yodobashi Camera, and hit a collected 2nd wind. We purchased some lens covers with straps and a wide-angle lens to better photograph the buildings and other large objects. I would like to imagine we got a good deal, as the clerk (who was also a English translator for the store – they have translators for several languages) gave us 8% off and it was duty free.

On one of the top floors of Yodobashi Camera building there are several restaurants, with entrances made to look like street level storefronts and menus displayed with realistic plastic examples.

Hosts & hostesses for mall restaurants in Japan will wait outside, greeting people as they walk by and inviting them inside. While browsing the restaurant floor, one of the hostesses waved and greeted us cheerfully in English. Robyn asked her male counterpart what type of restaurant it was… it was a yakiniku restaurant.

Yakiniku is a cook-it-yourself place, where you can select from a wide assortment of meats and vegetables to grill at your table to your liking.  Previous to this I had considered yakiniku a simple crappy Japanese cuisine inspired beef and rice dish served at a restaurant near work. It was a great meal, and the service there is off the chart. There was a little woodgrain plastic bubble with what looked to be a light on it, curious I pressed it and it turned out to be a magical summoning device for our waitress. The words “what does this do?” had not even finished coming out of my mouth before she arrived, and on her knees beside our table.

In all I would have to say the most impressive sights today were the Kyoto train station and the Chion-in gate.  Check out the pics here.

 

Day 1: My feet hurt

It is great to be back in Japan! I have missed this place a lot. It is great to have Sean here with me, so I can share all of my favorite places with him while also making wonderful new memories. I can’t wait to see what the next few weeks will bring!

Last night we were exhausted after the flight and subsequent train rides and fast-paced hike through the streets of Osaka while dragging our luggage. It was only about 9pm Japan time when we retired to our room… although I suppose that was really 8am back home. After some quick unpacking we went to bed, which is really just two futons. Futons aren’t very comfortable when you are used to a big plushy pillow top mattress, but we didn’t care. I slept soundly for hours, getting out of bed around 6 this morning feeling pretty refreshed. I was surprised because normally I am pretty jet lagged for days after coming to Japan.

We had some errands to run this morning, as we still needed to get some money exchanged and had realized we forgot to pack Sean’s razor. So, first thing this morning we hopped on a bus and went to Yodobashi Camera, which is located in a northern part of the city known as Umeda.

Unfortunately the bank located in the building was closed today, still not sure why. However, there was a delicious pastry shop located next door to it so we took the opportunity to have some breakfast. We even remembered to take pictures of all our food especially for Jason lol. I had a tasty custard filled muffin sort of thing and a chocolate croissant, with an iced cafe mocha to wash it down. Sean had a beef and potato cake, as well as a bacon tomato “panini” with an interesting honey banana drink. We are definitely enjoying the new foods! It is exciting to pick some strange things from the menu and try them out… who has heard of a honey banana drink?? It really just tasted like liquified bananas though. Kind of good actually.

After our breakfast we wandered into Yodobashi Camera. I really cannot convey how awesome that place is. It is an 8-floor building, as well as a couple levels below ground. Every floor is huge and packed with electronics and appliances, as well as other things like games, models, toys, and such. They even had a 103” television for sale. It is heaven for us! Imagine eight large Best Buy stores, only make them awesome, and stack them on top of each other, each floor specializing in a certain type of gadgetry. It was hard not to go overboard in shopping. We did find some great stuff though… I got a new case and stylus for my DS, we found a razor for Sean, a cool monopod for the cameras, a smaller bag for the camcorder, an electronic dictionary, and a LAN cable so we can now access the internet. We were also lucky to find a currency exchange counter in the basement of the building!

We also went to the Umeda Sky Building today. I love that place! This has to be at least the 4th or 5th time I have been, but I still enjoy it. I am going to have to take Sean back at night so he can see the city lit up. The Umeda Sky Building is not the tallest building in Osaka, but it still offers amazing views. We have posted some pictures of our day… unfortunately Yodobashi does not allow you to take photographs in their store, and that is where we spent most of our day.

After our wandering around in Umeda I realized I have no idea how the buses run in Osaka beyond the two that go from the apartment to Umeda. I remember the subway pretty well, but not so much about buses. So, we had to take the subway back… which meant a longer walk when we were already tired and sore from walking around for 5 or 6 hours… mental note: google Osaka bus map.

I think I had Sean worried. He seemed pretty confident in my navigation abilities up until that point, but I think the length of time I spent looking for an information counter with a bus map made him think we were lost haha… he started joking about dying lost in the labyrinth of underground shopping centers.

Well, I suppose I should go. Sean is looking bored and I guess we have to figure something out about dinner before too much longer. There are just so many food options! I think I might take him to Dotonbori tonight, which always looks really cool with all the neon signs lit up. There are tons of restaurants and street vendors there, as well as lots of other entertainment options. Maybe we will have some more “Day 1” pictures for you soon!

Oh, and we also decided to start a separate “Engrish” category. Today, on our way back from the Umeda Sky Building, we came across a story written on the walls of a construction area. We also saw a couple other things that made us either laugh or say “WTF?” … we thought you guys would get a kick out of seeing these things too.

 

Guess what, we’re in Japan!

The flight was pretty uneventful. We watched National Treasure 2, Dan In Real Life, 27 Dresses, and some Bali-wood movie everyone slept through. Kansai International Airport is huge, despite being a manmade island that continues to gradually sink into the ocean.

Going through immigration was interesting, we were fingerprinted, photographed, and briefly interviewed by the immigration officers. Going through customs was pretty uneventful though, just a few questions on where we were from and where we were going… they didn’t even ask the standard questions about fruit and vegetables.

We met our host Hiro outside baggage claim and he got us train tickets for the trip to his apartment. Japan has a great public transportation system. Trains and subways can take you anywhere you need. Moving the luggage was really easy in the airport, because there are many escalators and elevators. However, lugging the large bags got very tiring as we moved from the express train to the local trains (subway) because there are lots and lots of stairs.

My (Sean’s) first impression of Japan, upon stepping out of the train station, was being greeted by a huge flat-screen ad for a movie on the side of a building. I imagine those are in New York too, but I’ve never been there. The train ride  and walk to the apartment was really like walking into any anime with a cityscape. Everything I’ve seen in anime (regarding architecture, city lights, etc, not monsters) came to life and it was a struggle not to stand around and stare.  Too much of a struggle really because Robyn was quite un-impressed (this is her 3rd trip to Osaka) and soon realized she had left me on the curb of the train station, like a deer caught in the headlights from the street level city glow.

Hiro asked what we would like for dinner, and Robyn suggested nikuman because she thought it would be easy and fast. He then led us to “551 Horai” or “go go ichi”, where we picked up nikuman, which are Chinese buns filled with meat and onions. We also got sticky shrimp rice balls wrapped in leaves and caramelized sweet potatoes.  Everything we had was very good, but I’m sure it’s just the tip of the iceberg because our host now works at a okonomiyaki restaurant – and it’s a local specialty I’ve seen food network hosts rave about.

I’m very excited to get our money exchanged today and start exploring Osaka. I will be glad to shed the luggage and just walk around with time to enjoy the new scenery.

We have posted some pics in the Honeymoon gallery, the link is at the top of this page.

-Sean & Robyn (mostly Sean)

We’re married!

It was a great weather for our wedding. Robyn looked more beautiful today than I have ever seen her. Our family and friends were very generous, and everyone had a good time at the reception. Robyn and I would like to thank everyone that attended or sent good wishes. We each feel welcomed in our new family.

We have collected a few pictures from today to share. Feel free to email us with your photos and we can add them to the gallery, and you can download existing photos. This is just a quick post but more photos will follow when we have collected more, and a bit more time to sort them out.

It’s now time for the honeymoon! Next post from Japan!