Osaka for the weekend

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For the first time ever, I got to ride the Shinkansen. Some people come to Japan as big train fanatics. I’m not one of those people, but I definitely think that turning a four hour car ride into an hour and fifteen minute train ride is pretty awesome. We topped out somewhere around 175 mph. Even at those speeds the trip was smooth and I was easily able to walk around the cabin and make my way to the remarkably nice and good sized bathroom. There were of course heated toilet seats. It’s kind of a thing here. The price for tickets was a bit high, but the convenience factor definitely made it worth it.

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One of the places Adam and I both wanted to travel when we were planning to come to Japan was Osaka. I was excited all week to finally get to go.

It may seem a bit strange, but instead of a hotel, we decided to do a homestay. We found it through the airbnb website. For 60 dollars a night, free breakfast, and free pick up from the station it seemed worth a try.

In my experience, this website is mainly for people who are renting out a house they are not currently using. My mother has used this website on many occasions but never quite like this.

Adam and I weren’t quite sure what to expect when we finally ended up at the correct station after a ridiculously short hour and twenty minute train ride. We were told to head towards the Lawson, one of Japan’s many combini brands, and look for a white minivan. Of course we were given a license plate number, but come on, I’m not telling you that.

We’re foreigners in Japan, so we’re pretty easy to spot. Out stepped Mizuki and Hide. Mizuki speaks an amazing amount of English mainly fueled by her interest in American culture. Her husband, Hide, didn’t speak much English, but he’s one of those people who doesn’t really need to use words to communicate.

They whisked us into their car and to their apartment. The apartment was extremely nice. The bed was the most comfortable thing I’ve slept on since I came to Japan. I don’t really need to talk about the bed but I wanted to mention how comfy it was. Each morning we got a home cooked breakfast which was never the same and was always delicious.

Our first night in town we had intended to go downtown and see what was happening. That didn’t happen. Even though we had hopped an early train we were still tired. We had already grabbed some food at the station earlier, so we weren’t really hungry by the time we got there. It was late for them and their two children, Sara and Koyuki, so they understandably needed to run to the super market and get some food.

We decided to run to a local bar and get a quick drink while they were out. By the time we got back there was a plate of bacon and extra beer on the table, and even though there wasn’t really one common language at the table we stayed up until almost one o’clock talking about everything and anything.

The next morning, after an extremely delicious breakfast, we were whisked away to the station to enjoy our day in downtown Osaka. Well, that’s not really accurate. Osaka is an extremely large city. We spent plenty of time walking in circles just to get a good look at as much as possible.

We started out in Nanba. It connected us to the largest single shopping street in Japan. If there is something you want, it’s probably there. If you want to eat something, it’s probably there in about ten different ways and all of it’s delicious. We wandered in search of a Mexican restaurant, which we were told was pretty legit, before deciding to run in for some Takoyaki.

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Takoyaki is something I’m not sure I can accurately explain. It’s part octopus, part batter, part seasoning, and mostly molten awesomeness. Along with beer, there isn’t much that I like better. After a quick snack of Takoyaki and friend octopus, we wandered off just to see what was there. Low and behold, there was the Mexican restaurant we’d been looking for, unsuccessfully, before. Since we’ve been several months without any, we couldn’t resist running up for a quick snack and drink. We had only had some apps at the last place.

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I enjoyed my one margarita and plate of nachos since coming to Japan. It was a little slice of Tex Mex in the middle of metropolitan Japan. It wasn’t quite what I was looking for, but it was nice. Mostly I’ve been enjoying all of the Japanese food I’ve been eating.

After our second snack, we thought we’d better walk the excess food off and find the electronics district, Den Den Town.

Den Den Town was once the largest place in Osaka for all types of electronics. With the building of Yodobashi Camera in the Umeda district, that is no longer the case. At first, the people in that part of the city lamented the major business coming in and taking business away. Now it is a mecca for all things nerdy. Shops full of manga, anime, and video game related merchandise were just about everywhere.

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After very little consideration, Adam and I ended up coming home with a dual famicom super famicom console. Along with that very reasonably priced console we managed to pick up some gems. They are below and no you can’t have them. Compared to the prices in the States the games were extremely reasonably priced especially considering the rarity of them back home. It was a bit of money well spent as we’d wanted them for a long time and will cherish them for a very long time.

The second day we decided to go to a different district, Umeda. Umeda is definitely a bit more upscale than Nanba was. It’s where the Osaka Sky Building is. It’s not by any means the tallest building in the world. What makes it unique is its design. Two skyscrapers stand next to each other with a circular viewing area connecting the two at the top.

To get to this viewing area you have to ascend in an elevator which neither Adam nor I realized would at the middle point have glass and scant beams holding you in. Both of us were more than a little thrown off by this unexpected experience. So much so that we didn’t get a very good picture. Had I not been a little thrown off when we rode up, I would have been able to get a 360 panoramic picture of the Osaka skyline. You’ll have to settle for the one good picture I could get.

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After we went to the sky building, and its awesome surrounding gardens. We went back to Nanba to buy our famicom and to get some lunch. Osaka has many specialty foods, but there was one we had yet to try, Kushiage or Kuhi Katsu. It’s basically deep fried anything, and man was it good. The outer coating was light and crispy. They gave you a bowl of dipping sauce, No Double Dipping!, and cabbage to sop up the remaining goodness. The meat was seasoned to perfection and the vegetables were cooked just right. Everything was delicious. We waddled out happily onto the streets after that meal. You need exercise after a meal like that.

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We didn’t quite have the stamina for all the wandering we’d done the day before. Thankfully we had our host family’s Halloween party to look forward to. It was very traditional, if you’re back in the states which is what made it so exceptional here. The couple’s two daughters had a group of friends over. Mizuki painted everyone’s faces, including mine, and hosted the parents for some good conversation.

My Japanese was stretched to its brutal limits this weekend for the better. I reached a new depth of understanding with the language. Just when you think you aren’t learning anything, you’re thrown into a situation that shows you just how much you’ve absorbed. It’s a nice break from the daily grind feeling like you’ll never learn anything. No one wants to stay in the dark.

Again we stayed up late into the evening talking this time with the family friends as well as the family. I don’t remember every topic that we discussed. We talked about anything and everything, and between my mostly OK Japanese and Mizuki’s English we had some pretty interesting conversations.

We went into this vacation hoping for a positive experience. I’d wager that we ended it by gaining friends as well as a good experience.

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