The problem with having a wonderful vacation day, when you are coping with loss and the aftermath of sudden unexpected news, is that you are constantly wondering when the poop is going to hit the fan. Happiness is this elusive construct that feels more like a moving target that is impossible to hit, no matter how excellent your marksmanship. An eight hour good night sleep with no improptu bad messages or news helped settle the nerves a bit but it didn’t get rid of the anxiety of expecting the worst. Our plans had be solid for Tokyo, and even though we didn’t get to the Skytree, only to Asakusa, we knew we could hit it from our stay in Yokohama.
Osaka was uncharted territory.
Around midday we reached Tokyo Station, right on time to get tickets for the 1:0somethimg Shinkansen to Shin-Osaka. The JR Pass includes all trains except the super-express Nozomi, which has a couple less stops on any journey it undertakes, and goes up to 186 mph; the 2nd fastest route, the Hikari, would take us to our destination in 3:35 hrs. Never had we gone so fast on land. It seemed like a good opportunity as any to break our own personal land speed records. Hehe.
We boarded the Green Car, reserved seats+, with our two carry-ons. Crazy to believe but we managed to overpack them. Thanks to Aunt Flo pools would be ruled out for me for a few days (I am not a friend of tampons so I was stuck waiting it out); our swimsuits one of the many things we never used, like my dress shoes. Walking all over town chasing trains meant we had to be comfortable. Lesson learned.
The train – the new trunk line as defined in English – sped off promptly with stops in Shin- Yokohama, Shinagawa, Nagoya, Kyoto and a couple smaller cities in between. About seven stops total. Countless countryside views, villages, cities, factories (including Daihatsu and Koito), swooshed by our windows. A little bit of rain was also deflected by the high speeds and aerodynamics giving the journey a sad yet beautiful gloom. Typhoon Tapah was on its way, passing through the west of the island, missing us by a few miles.
By the end of its wake about 55 people would perish or be injured in Japan alone due to surges and flooding. While we were saddened that we could see Mount Fuji due to the overcast weather, people were preparing their homes against the hurricane winds. As survivors of Hurricane Hugo, Georges and witnesses to Irma and María, we knew all to well their plight. Our hearts went out to them, even though many Japanese were begging us for forgiveness due to the rain. That’s how polite and respectful these people are!
We arrived in Osaka proper around 4pm after a quick one stop train from our destination. The behemoth structure housed everything we could ever want, from Tiffany’s all the way to a supermarket. The beast, as one of my peeps called it, is easy to get lost in; we couldn’t find our way out and across to the Hilton, testament of the vastness of the space the train station occupies. Eventually we found our way and checked into the 29th floor with a view of the city, and enviable accommodations. For Japan, the room was big and had a western King sized bed, with a shower and tub closet/room from which you could enjoy the sunshine. The shower wall was opaque but you could see the person’s shadow. It was a nice touch, worth the hefty pricetag of Rugby World Cup convenience.
W reminded me that there was a drugstore around the corner that sold feminine products. I Googled what options were available to replenish my dwindling stash of sanitary napkins (only brought enough for three days), and learned to discern which ones were for heavy and light flow. The western brands were replaced by local market versions so I had 0 chance of winging it, especially not knowing how to read kanji. To my surprise they were less than 3.50 yen each, roughly 3-4 dollars depending on the exchange. I was impressed at the affordable price; I pay waaaay more for the same quality and counts.
Armed with enough products to last me the trip, and then some, we dropped off the loot and headed to Dotombori in Namba. The station is a mini mall full of cool eateries like Bearded Papas – a pastry creme shop – and many retail outlets. The B14 exit led us to the promenade, a strait shot to the river and the heart of the neon lighted, food front filled, street with a nightlife reminiscent of Las Vegas or Time Square. Once known as the theater section of the city, it has karaoke, Shiba Inu dog cafés, and exhibitions of favorite local characters like Apeach and Hello Kitty.
It also has lots of drunk people.
The goal of residents and tourist in Dotombori is to eat until you drop, or until you are broke. The main specialty is Takoyaki, a flour ball filled with octopus and veggies (scallions or green onions for example), made in a special divet pan right in front of patrons. Kukuru is the No. 1 spot to enjoy this delicatessen, with a line that can be 50 people long on holidays and weekends. Most of the places accept cash only; come prepared to spend around 5000 yen per person if you are going for the full tasting experience. People often eat sitting on the floor or as they walk, one of the few places in Osaka and Japan where you can do so.
After taking in the lights, the sights, the people and getting into an epic argument neither of us remembers now, we headed to our new home base to refire our entire plan. Turns out Monday, September 23, was the Autumn Equinox and everything that would normally be closed on that day would be open for tourists. Tuesday would be the day off – as in everything would be closed – which had us scrambling to decide where to go and what to see. We settled on Kyoto, a 15 min hop on the Shinkansen away, because W wanted to see the Kyoto Tower and eat ramen at the Kyoto train station.
Fingers crossed it goes well…