Hello again from Japan! Day 2 in Nihon found us at Osaka-jo, or Osaka Castle. Perhaps we didn’t get the full experience but it wasn’t quite what I was expecting! Previous visits to castles in England were ruined stone structures of magnificent proportions, but Japanese castles are naturally quite a different architectural kettle of fish. The castle itself appeared to have been turned into a museum which (perhaps a little regrettably) we decided not to go into, and instead enjoyed walking the grounds. The plum blossoms were beautiful and fragrant, though the peach blossom trees which I was so looking forward to were still bare from the cold.
I also happened to notice that they had a Shudokan dojo within the castle grounds. They apparently teach judo, kendo and naginatajutsu for 300¥, so I’m going to brave a judo class on Monday and see if they’ll let me stay for naginatajutsu. I’d love to try kendo but to be honest I’m worried about offending them with my uniform – it’s a canvas blue gi with my brown belt. I rather wish I’d brought my white belt, but Kancho convinced me it would be deceitful and therefore offensive. I’ll report back on how that goes later!
The language barrier is still existent but getting less daunting over time. It was pretty scary walking into a Japanese restaurant where they didn’t speak English and trying to order food. We read bits and pieces on the menu in Hiragana and Katakana and managed to tell the waitress what we wanted. It was a great triumph. Since then we’ve had little conversations like “How do you get to this train station? Oh, it’s over there, turn right, up the stairs at exit three? Okay, thank you very much!” and “How long are we staying in Osaka? Six days. It’s very cold. We’re from Australia where it’s very hot!” and things to that extent (though far more broken). The Japanese people as a whole seem extremely polite and patient with our bumbling gaijin ways.
It also seems that many of them are not afraid to come up to us and start talking to us in broken English.While I was in the bathroom some middle-school students approached Beth and Craig and asked for a photo. It was so flattering that we went out of our way to walk past other high school students in the hopes it would happen again. While eating lunch yesterday, an old man approached our table to talk to Craig. From what we could gather, he really wanted Craig to get some styling wax and curl the edges of his moustache upwards. He was very emphatic about how good this would have been. I took a photo to commemorate the event.
We also experienced our first moderate snow storm! Snow flakes came down in flurries and I couldn’t help running around on the streets with my mouth open, choking on them as they hit the back of my throat. Craig and I headed up to the roof (via the Batloft) and made a snowman, threw snowballs at each other and nearby signposts (and possibly woke up our neighbours with our raucous guffawing – how inconsiderate) and drank beer. I’m not big on drinking, and I definitely don’t have a taste for beer, but Craig drank three in the time it took me to finish one Asahi, which tragically turned out to be 0.00% alcohol.
In terms of food, I’ve been a pretty poor vegan since I got here. As this website suggests, the Japanese add meat to everything, let along animal products. To be perfectly frank, my resilience for trying to engage in conversation to order vegetarian/vegan food has been very low, so I’ve just given in and had chicken and bacon and fish. And my stomach has had the occasional burning stab of pain, but I’ve otherwise enjoyed it thoroughly. However, we do have a list of vegetarian/vegan restaurants that we’ve been intending to investigate. On our second night here we had dinner at Le Coccole, a charming Italian-themed vegan restaurants with the most charming decor I’ve ever seen. Butterflies and trees and little men were painted on the walls with very convincing shadows behind them, and the food was absolutely superb. I would describe their sake as “A kiss from the inside”, and at when I tried their tofu cheesecake I uttered the phrase “I think I’m having an experience”. I hope to have similar healthy, vegan meals to let my body recover a little from the sudden abuse it’s taken.
Craig and I also enjoyed a unique dining experience at Hooters. It had a huge number of American tourists and the cigarette smoke was somewhat overwhelming, but we nevertheless stuck it out until a table became available. And as uncomfortably objectifying of women as it had initially seemed to be, our waitress Maco immediately won me over with her cute smile and broken English. She saw us looking at the “Vote for Miss Hooters Osaka so that the winner can fly to America” card and wrote her name on a napkin for us. Unfortunately it turned out you needed to buy beer to place a vote, and we decided not to bother (as cute as she was). When she was about to leave to place our order, I couldn’t stop the following words from tumbling out of my mouth: “Maco-chan, shyashin onegaishimasu!” (Sweet Maco, please do me the favour of a photo!) I am both ashamed and delighted I enjoyed myself so much.
The other big thing we’ve done so far is go to Kaiyukan, the Osaka Aquarium. It was a wonderful collection of some amazing animals in extraordinary displays (the main one of which was several dozen metres tall, spanning numerous floors). I was instantly charmed by the river otters, and then got even more obsessed with the sea otters (just cruisin’ around being otters, smashing things on their bellies and chewing ice). The somewhat playful dolphins, and the attention-loving seals were also a treat. There was even a seal wizard who was fascinating them with his yoyo mastery. I was the only one brave enough to try the touch pool, where I felt the sandpapery skin of the sharks and the slimy, algaeish skin of a stingray.
Although this blog has rambled on quite long enough, I just want to mention two more things: The toilets here are magical. They are not at all a far stretch from The Simpson’s depiction. They have heated seats, water jets and a button that will make flushing noises if you’re feeling embarrassed (I presume). Secondly, this is pretty much The Land of 3DS’. In the three days I’ve been here, I’ve accumulated more soldiers in StreetPass Battle than I have with months of using Play Coins. One dude just gave me 75000 soldiers for offering him kind greetings!! I just can’t get over how happy I am that everywhere I go I meet more people to interact with and get new missions from etc.
All right, that’s enough for now. Ja!