So, I took a plane down to Osaka midday on Monday (the 7th). Why, you might wonder, would I take a plane when the train system in Japan is so wonderfully fast and advanced? Well, not only does Japan offer a Japan Railpass as an easy an economical way to travel around the archipelago, but it also offers a special airpass for reduced rates on domestic airfare for foreigners. So, it ended up being quicker and cheaper for me to travel by plane. How cool is that? (I think Osaka is maybe a 4 or 4.5-hour train ride from Tokyo but only an hour flight.)
But enough of the nitty gritty. I headed down to Osaka with the 5 or so Japanese phrases I know and a small backpack with just enough to get me through the 5-day trip. At the airport, I was met by my Japanese friend, Moe, who I met at Ewha when we were taking Korean classes last winter. She was probably the person I was closes to in that class, which is amazing considering that we basically only spoke in Korean there. But, I think that we were almost at the exact same level
Moe and I in front of Osaka Castle
(she knew some more difficult vocab and I knew some more difficult grammar) so we could talk freely without worrying about the other person understanding. Now and again, we had to use English-- sometimes both of us didn't know the Korean but knew the English-- but mostly it was Korean.
So, of course, when I met Moe at the airport, it was more Korean! Which is what I think makes language learning cool-- here we were, two people from two different countries, using a language that was neither of our native tongues, and we were able to communicate. It's like unlocking a code, breaking down some barrier that comes between two cultures or people. I hope my students can realize this with English one day.
Anyway, less rambling, more traveling. We said our konnichiwa
's (Japanese for good afternoon), and we made our way into downtown Osaka.
Our first course of action was to get some food (it was just past lunchtime, but I hadn't eaten), so Moe took me to a department store food court where we ate fried octopus balls (sounds less delicious than it truly is--they're tasty!), some pancake-y kind of stuff, and some dessert
Up close and personal with Osaka Castle
(in Korean, Moe called it poongabbang
, which is like a Korean dessert/snack food, and (like the Korean version) it's a bready dough with sweet red bean filling). It was pretty delicious. I might like the Korean version better, but perhaps that's just because the Korean version is shaped like fish. I mean, it's just more fun when it's shaped like something.
After that, Moe took me to Osaka Castle, a short subway ride away. It was really a neat castle, because, of course, it was big and forboding, but it was also gold-gilded on parts and had some other, well, extravagances (I mean, compared to the drab stone castles I'd seen in Ireland). It was almost... pretty. But, of course, like I said, it was big and foreboding, too. But not at eyesore by any stretch of the imagination. It was really cool to see, though--and different from most of what I'd seen in Japan up till then.
And it was strange, because as we were wandering through Osaka together--to/from the castle and down the city streets-- somehow it reminded me of Bordeaux. Despite all the Asian-ness and whatnot... Maybe it was the weather (I had perfect weather
in Bordeaux and in Osaka--and exactly the same kind), or the pleasant architecture (maybe not quite so jumbled or futuristic as Tokyo), or all the people riding bicycles everywhere (a very popular mode of transportation there), or meeting with a friend... but Osaka was like a breath of fresh air. And reminded me of my time in France. A kind of strange connection, I guess...
That evening, Moe took me to a "traditional" Japanese restaurant of sorts that served some tasty and well-presented fried kabob things (yeah, my vocab is great here) made up of all kinds of different foods-- beef and shrimp and asparagus and all other sorts. It was great and had great atmosphere.
While in Japan, it was also nice to note differences between Korean and Japanese eating styles. For example, Koreans have metal chopsticks, the Japanese have wooden (or plastic) ones that are far thicker. In Korea, you can eat your rice with your spoon. In Japan, you don't always have a spoon, and you typically eat your rice with chopsticks. In Japan, you can hold your rice bowl in your hand (closer to you) to eat your rice. In Korea, you don't hold
In a Japanese restaurant with awesome food...
your rice bowl, but you can hold your soup bowl (usually). So, those were some fun things to notice. Also, as far as I gathered, Japan doesn't have the two-hand passing thing or the rule that only someone born in your year could be your true friend (친구 or chingoo
, so it was interesting to see (and sometimes be surprised by) the cultural differences.
When dinner finished, Moe took me to a big skyscraper in Osaka for a night view from the top. It was pretty cool, and a lovely view of the city. After that, we went for drinks at a bar that was made to represent different aspects of Japanese culture via the decor, drink selection, etc. For example, we sat in a booth that was shaped like a bamboo shoot. I had some kind of plum drink there (special to Japan maybe?)--definitely better tasting than soju.
So, my first day in Osaka was successful, relaxing, and enlightening. And it was really great to meet up with Moe again!
(Japan trip pictures should be coming in the next few days. School's just been a little busy lately! More to come!)
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