Saturday, May 22, 2010

Friday, May 14 & Saturday, May 22, 2010-

I don’t feel like there are many cities that I’ve been to where the first word that comes to mind when I hear their name is “Delicious.” But that’s the word for Osaka. There is a famous saying in Japanese that you over buy clothes while in Kyoto but you over buy food while in Osaka!

The day started pleasantly, leaving Kyoto around 10:30 am after grabbing a light breakfast on our way to the train station. It only took an hour or so to get to Osaka from Kyoto, and on the Hankyu line of trains it costs a mere 380 Yen! So we were in Osaka before noon, bought a Friday all day pass that included entrance to the famous Osaka aquarium, and headed to Shinimamiya for lunch. The area has some great side streets that are fun just to walk and eat. Although there are many famous foods from Osaka, by far the most popular would be Takoyaki, which are kind of little bite size Octopus dumplings but they’re breadier and you add sauce, mayonnaise (the Japanese version, not that crappy American stuff!), and seaweed on top. Andrew and I grabbed two boxes to go and made our way to the pier.

Apparently the largest Ferris wheel in the world from 1997-1999 is located on the Osaka pier and we were able to hop on it right before a huge group of elementary students invaded!

Tempozan Ferris Wheel

Haha, it was a fun twenty-minute loop that brought you high above the city where you could look out onto the ocean. While riding up in the car we ate a quick bite of Takoyaki (shh, don’t tell the Ferris wheelers…if that’s the correct term for someone who works at a Ferris wheel…), and walked down to the Osaka Kaiyukan Aquarium. Inside the aquarium’s largest tank there are two mammoth whale sharks, the first time Andrew had ever seen them, and only my second. We came in time to see a very funny penguin feeding in which this baby penguin was practically force fed a fish that had to be at least a quarter of its body weight! After the penguins we headed to the giant tank where the whale sharks were fed. The way that they just suck in gallons and gallons of water and shoot it out their gills is truly incredible. And to know that something that large truly survives off of krill so tiny, that still blows my mind!

Kaiyukan Aquarium, one of the largest in the world

Anyway, after the aquarium we went to the large Osaka-Jo Castle. It truly is an incredible building, despite being a recreation of its previous glory. We didn’t have time to tour the inside, but the grounds are still quite nice. After a good walk through the park, we began our way to Dotonburi, perhaps the most infamous gourmet street in Japan. Truly renown for its selection, quality, and history, the area at the center of Shinbashi and Dotonburi are awesome streets to meander. Plus after dark the entire place becomes one blaze of neon, noise, and smells. It was quite unique to any other food street I’ve been to in Japan, and I think I could have wasted months, if not years, simply choosing a different restaurant each night!

And to top it all off, I finally got to be reunited with my incredible Japanese tutor, Taeko Ueno, who was the first person to begin teaching me Japanese back at St. Olaf college. She came to Northfield last year on the Fulbright exchange and this year she got a job as an English teacher back in her home city of Osaka. This night has been something we’ve wanted to do ever since last summer, so I’m so glad we were able to have a delicious Okonomiyaki dinner, walk the streets, eat a scrumptious crepe dessert, and catch up (sometimes in English and sometimes in Japanese!) about each other’s past year. Andrew really liked Taeko as well and I could tell he had fun seeing the city from a local’s point of view. It’s always fun to have someone who knows the area well show you around. But like all good reunions, we soon had to say good-bye and Andrew and I were back on the late train to Kyoto.

Back to the present, last night I actually went up to visit my ALT English teacher friends in Otawara (the bigger city located about 30 minutes north of here) where we had a fun night of catching up, eating greasy (yet very much missed) Western food, and singin karaoke. Grace Lee and Kris Burridge are the two ALTs who come to the Bato schools so I’ve gotten to know them both quite well, and it was super fun getting to know some of their friends better as well. Fun night! Thanks you guys =)

Look close, this is Andrew's "Puffer Fish Face"
Andrew got REALLY hungry
Takoyaki, we knew it had to be good because there were pictures of celebrities eating it out front! Haha
Round and Round
Near the top
Not a bad place for lunch!
A quick glimpse down
The Pacific on the horizon
Osaka City
Yes, we tamed this whale shark, in fact that was my souvenir for the day!
It's hard to see but that's our favorite penguin, the melancholy fuzzy one on the far left right underneath the trainer. No wonder the poor guy's ticked off, we was just force fed on of those whale sharks for dinner!
The tank just as feeding began
Some strange alien fish and the whale shark enjoying their meals
Jellyfish: the fascinate me and creep me out all at the same time
Osaka Castle! So different than western castles, isn't it?
The endless row of bicycles down Dotonburi just as the lights started to turn on
The plastic food menus out front of restaurants
A smaller version of the famous Glica runner sign
A very famous giant crab, it even moves!
Taeko and I on Dotonburi
Osaka is also well known for their Okonomiyaki
A great Osakan feast!
So thankful to Taeko for getting us reservations, Friday nights were packed!
How good do those look?!
Taeko even knew of a place where we could be on TV, haha, random but really fun
Andrew's victory pose after a long but great day in Osaka
Last night at karaoke with Hayley, Matt, and Grace
Hayley (aka cousin Alisa) and Kris
The great weather we've been having lately has made Gozeniwa (the river and rock behind my host family's restaurant) a popular place!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Wednesday, May 12 – Thursday, May 13 & Friday, May 21, 2010-

And I’m back. Wednesday and Thursday were two of my favorite days on the trip. We finally arrived in Kyoto Wednesday afternoon and that evening was spent on the Kyoto walking streets, checking out the stalls, buying a nice to-go sushi dinner, and heading back to our hotel where an onsen and television showing of Million Dollar Baby filled up our night.

The next morning we headed to my favorite lodgings of the whole trip, the Gion entertainment district’s Ichi En Sou 一円相 Guest House. It was a quaint little 11 person guest house run by a young Japanese man named Yashi and his wife Sunam.

We dropped off our bags, got a bunch of good suggestions on places to visit from the two of them and headed out for a long day of walking through Kyoto. It was a fun day of checking out side streets, seeing random temples, and meeting fun school trips.

The Golden Temple, Kinkakuji, was a definite highlight for us. Not only did we see perhaps the most famous temple in all of Kyoto, so therefore all of Japan, but we were nearly mobbed by a group of middle school students asking us English questions for their school trip assignment.

That night we made it back to Ichi En Sou in time to go out to a fun dinner with some of the other people staying at the house and Yashi. He took the five of us (Andrew, a 20 year old American named Jake, a 30 year old twin sister of Monica Cooper from Colorado named Lauren, Nate from Switzerland, and myself) out to a fun skewer restaurant for some great food and drinks. What a great group! Another cool walk through the city at night and we were back chatting in the guest house den until late at night.

Ichi En Sou

Today, Friday the 21st, is my nine month mark in Japan, and I can’t believe that I have just under a month and a half left on exchange. Tonight I’m headed up the ALT teacher, Kris’ house, tonight to see some of the other English teachers in the area. It should be a fun time.

Andrew and I joking around about what would happen if his energetic german shorthair dog, Brekken, would do if she came to the Kamogawa "Duck River."
This is his, "Brekken, what's that!" face
Our first stop in Kyoto, near the bright shopping streets of our hotel
The market streets
Our hotel room dinner
The next morning outside of Ichi En Sou
Andrew finally finding his Nimbus 2000
A hilarious group of Japanese senior citizens obsessed over a bird that couldn't be bigger than my fist
Outside of the Kyoto Imperial Palace
Our sushi lunch was bought from a super market for less than ten bucks and yet it was still far more fresh than anything we'd ever had back in the states
Andrew being amazed at the selection of cup noodles
The Daitoukuji complex
More of the Daitokuji
that's all I could think of to write for this picture. It was either that or "Roofs"
On perfectly still days you can see the reflection in the pond below. On this day there was a slight breeze so it didn't turn out 100% but it still looks pretty sweet
The golden bird
Our favorite school group
One more shot behind the trees

Andrew enjoying a green tea ceremony at the Golden Temple

Finally making it back to Ichi En Sou
The lights of the Kamogawa River
Lauren and Yashi
Lauren and Sunam in the guest house. It was a great Japanese style place with a cozy feel that made everyone feel right at home