Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Osaka

Sunday was the day to ride the Shinkansen (bullet train) to Osaka for a taste of modern Japan. Most people would go to Tokyo for such things, but because of the earthquake we chose to avoid anything north of Fuji-san.

The Shinkansen was pretty amazing. Currently they operate at about 300 kph (186 mph), but JR is currently developing a new model that will travel up to 600 kph (372 mph)! There are two types of cars, open seating similar to a subway car, or reserved seating much more like an airplane. However, the Shinkansen is much nicer than any airplane with more than first-class room around every seat. In fact, the tray table was a little too far away - I had to lean forward to type blog posts. Cost for our 40 minute trip was about $70/ea. The car trip would have taken at least 6 hours, so we saved an enormous amount of time. One of the more striking things was the lack of sensation of the high speed. The train sped up gradually, rather than pushing you hard into the chair. The only way to try to grasp the speed was to look out the window at the houses, mountains, and rice patties flying by. Similar to an airplane attendants walk though the car selling bento boxes, sake, and green tea.

After arriving in Osaka we took the subway into town and dropped off our luggage at the hotel. The hotel was one of the good-calls that we got from the lonely planet for the trip. Recently redecorated it had a W-like modern chic feel. The French pastry shop in the lobby selling the most beautiful macaroons was at least a daily stop during our stay.

The hotel is in the Minami district which is famous for it's high end shopping, and a strip of restaurants and nightclubs. Interestingly, the main street during the day is paralleled by a street filled with a red light-ish district that is hopping at night. Walking down the main street we had fun exploring candy stores, an upscale grocery, and dining on okonomyiaki. Okonomyiaki is a kind of omelet/pancake covered with a beautiful brown sauce and mayonnaise. They put different kinds of fish, meat, and vegetables inside. The tables are also covered in hot plate so that you could cook your own. We decided to leave it to the professionals. We also ate some tasty yakisoba (fried soba noodles), which were the best part of the meal.

With full bellies we checked into the hotel to relax and prepare for our evening.

In the evening, we decided to head out to check out one of the super mega electronics store called Yodobashi. Think about combining one of those hole-in-the-wall electronic shops in NYC with about 3 Best Buys, and then double it adding jewelry, clothing, toys and about 10 restaurants. Not like food court restaurants either - sit down, full-service places. We were pretty lucky to make it out of there in just an hour, because I could have looked around for about 5 hours. That night we ate in a restaurant that "specialized in vegetables". I put it in quotes because nearly every dish had some kind of bacon or fish. The concept of the place was interesting though - they bring a gas hot-plate to your table and you cook your own soup. We had a tomato-based soup with cabbage, potatoes, and onions. It was ok, probably not our favorite meal of the trip.

After dinner, we decided to walk around the mall adjacent to Yodobashi-Umeda. We saw a giant ferris wheel and decided to go check it out. The mall closed very soon after we arrived so we didn't do much shopping. The ferris wheel was super cool, one of the highlights of Osaka for sure. One thing that Lisa and I are constantly amazed by is the population density here. It is one thing to read about it on Wikipedia, but it's entirely different to see. When we ride the train, or drive in the car it is high-rise city everywhere you look. So many tall buildings scattered across the horizon. This was incredibly apparent on the top of the ferris wheel.

After the Ferris wheel we decided to check out the arcade that was also in the mall. All four of us had a great time giggling, and playing in the photo booth. Jon and I played a few video games, and we stopped by the second floor which had the largest "coin pushing" game that I had ever seen. As we walked up the stairs we noticed a slender man playing the coin pushing game. He must have just won a jackpot because he was placing black cup after black cup into the machine which was constantly spitting out coins for at least 5 minutes. We would have taken pictures but he was already pretty suspicious as there was no way he could manage all of the coin buckets.

I mentioned in the beginning of the post that the lonely planet helped us find a great hotel, and has otherwise been excellent. Unfortunately, the lonely planet sucks for bars. The ladies were tired, and so Jon and I armed with his iPhone for directions set out for "soulfucktry". The lonely planet reported that soulfucktry is a self-described soul disco and had a reputation for featuring some of the best DJs in Japan. After a few navigational challenges, and a little help from google street view we finally arrived, only to find that it had been closed for over a year, suck. We decided to set out for our second lonely planet suggestion, an Irish pub called Murphy's that as you might guess had already closed by the time that we arrived (after 12:30 on a Sunday). After walking back through the red light district, and being offered a "young girl" by a creepy madame we ended up at a pretty swank little hotel bar. We both had a whiskey and headed back to the hotel to end the evening, defeated.

Click here for more photos.

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