Japan Vacation – Returning to Korea

One Last Train Ride

Nicole and I woke early, cleaned our room, and took a train back to the Osaka airport. The ride was early and uneventful. The often crowded subway was sparsely populated with random Japanese people and the odd tourist with a suitcase making the same trip as us.

Along the route back to the airport, I saw numerous people outside exercising, playing tennis, jogging. It was refreshing to see a culture that embraced the morning. In Korea, I rarely saw anyone out and about before 10 am. The coffee shop by my house doesn’t even open until after 11. By then I don’t even need coffee.

Airport Food and Souvenirs

Duty Free Shopping
Duty Free Shopping

At the airport, Nicole and I checked in and bought Udon noodles and Takoyaki in remembrance of the great times we had in Japan. The food was considerably better than American airport food and much more reasonably priced. After our airport lunch Nicole and I perused the duty-free shops before out flight. When it was time to board, Nicole and I realized that we would not be sitting next to one another because we booked separately and checked in electronically.

Two Ships Passing in the Night

I was sitting in the back so I walked out onto the runway with the other passengers stuck in the back and Nicole boarded at the front like a normal human. In that moment I knew what it must have been like to be a third-class passenger on the Titanic. Right as I boarded though, Nicole flagged me down from the front of the plane. She had persuaded the Korean woman next to her to switch places with me and sit in the back.

In-flight Booze
In-flight Booze

I walked up to the front and sat with Nicole. Nicole regaled me with the tale of how she asked the woman and the woman said yes before realizing how far back it was and remarking in broken English “It’s so far”. I didn’t know this detail beforehand and felt a bit bad about it, but nothing that couldn’t be fixed by reading some exciting in-flight literature. Nicole and I had some Japanese money remaining that we hadn’t spent and decided to go out with a bang so we spent our remaining few dollars on Japanese in-flight booze. It was fun, we got a beer, some plum wine, and a highball (which is awful). Thoroughly sauced, we passed the rest of our flight discussing our favorite parts of our trip and planning our next adventure back in Korea.

Korea or Bust

Nicole and I landed in Korea and spent the rest of the day traveling back to Gwangju, first by light rail, then subway, then bus, then taxi. It was exhausting, but we finally made it back home.

Overall I had a great time in Japan. It was a place I’d always wanted to visit and I feel like Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto were a good way to see a wide slice of Japan. I’d love to go back someday soon, perhaps even teach there. It felt a decade ahead of Korea and the US. The food was amazing, the people were incredibly friendly, and there was so much to do all the time everywhere.

Japan Vacation – First Stop Osaka

Nicole and I visited Japan over Korean Thanksgiving, more commonly known as, Chuseok. We had Wednesday to Sunday to cram as much globe-trotting into our lives as humanly possible. Since I’ve always wanted to visit Japan, we opted to go to Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara.DSC_0830

Traveling to Osaka

Wednesday Morning, we woke up at 6 and took a cab to the bus terminal then a bus to Busan, then a subway to a light-rail, then a light-rail to an airport where we caught a plane to Osaka. The flight, fortunately, is only 1.5 hours. We spent nearly that long on the subway crossing Busan from the very most Northeastern stop to the very most Southwestern stop.

Nicole and I were on a budget so we opted for Peach Airlines. A great little airline unless you like leg room, then its awful. I’m guessing the average Japanese passenger is not 6’2″ so it’s not usually an issue, but I couldn’t sit with my knees straight without hitting the seat in front of me.

We landed in Osaka late in the afternoon and bought a rail pass at the train station. If you ever visit Osaka, I definitely recommend the pass. For about $60 you can travel around Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto for four days on the JR train lines. There are different passes for different rail companies.

Osaka

The ride in from Osaka Airport to downtown Osaka took about 40 minutes. Along the way we saw the gradual change from suburban apartment buildings into urban apartment buildings and office buildings.

Osaka itself is an impressive place. Historically it was the commercial hub of Japan and to some degree it still is. During the day its the second largest city in Japan, but at night it becomes the third largest city in Japan because so many people commute from outside of Osaka for work. Nicole and I saw many of these commuters on our way into the city.

AirBnBpanoThe train eventually dropped us off a few minutes from the place we would be staying. Nicole and I booked a room on AirBnB for about $200 for the whole 5 days, practically a steal in the second largest city in Japan. The building we stayed in was owned by an expat living in Osaka. She rents the rooms to foreign teachers and foreign students and the empty rooms she lists on AirBnB. We booked it because there was a communal kitchen, it was cheap, and most importantly, there was a hot tub on the roof.

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The neighborhood wasn’t too bad, but it wasn’t too good either. It reminded me of a shadier neighborhood in a big city in the US, except everyone was Japanese. During our time in Japan though we spent almost no time in our neighborhood. Most of our time was spent traveling to other cool neighborhoods or attractions.

Dōtonbori

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Our first stop was a neighborhood called Dotonbori. The neighborhood is primarily a tourist

district, but its so neat. There are several pedestrian-only streets closed off to traffic and completely covered overhead by neon lights. Along either side of the street are little restaurants, shops, and arcades.

Nicole and I stopped into one such sushi place and ate oodles of delicious sushi for only $1-2 per piece. On the inside it looked identical to what you might consider a traditional sushi place back in the states. It was small, dimly lit, only had a few seats and was dominated by a large sushi bar immediately inside the door. Nicole and I sat down at the bar and tried urchin, egg, salmon, tuna, roe, and several other pieces. Each time we would pick something off the menu, point to it, and a sushi chef would prepare it instantly. When he was done making it, he would simply reach over the bar and place it on your plate.

After our sushi dinner, Nicole and I wandered along the Dōtonbori canal. On either side of the canal were large neon signs and bars or clubs. Nicole and I took our picture in front of the famous Glico sign, showing a man crossing a finish line.

After Nicole and I had our fill, we took a subway a few stops back to our room and tried to get the hot tub working, to no avail. We met a few of the residents. Many of them were from Europe, including the gentleman that ran the actual building. He offered to get the hot tub up and running for us tomorrow night. We thanked him and decided to turn in for the night.

Thoughts

After my first day in Osaka, I must say the whole area was incredible. There were neon signs everywhere and all manner of crazy shops and stores. We saw arcades and casinos, internet cafes and bars, even a Ferris wheel built on top of a store right along the canal.