3 March 2010
Luckily I'm still jet lagged so getting up in the morning is not a problem! Not looking forward to being 9 hours ahead when I get home. Had an easy breakfast and chatted to a bunch of American students who had just arrived. Packed up my bedding, changed my reservations so that I would have some where to sleep in 3 days if I come back.
It is quicker and cheaper to get the private line (Tsukauba Express) to Toyko rather than the metro and there's one change at Akihabara. There were several strange things I noticed about the private line. Firstly, you couldn't get one ticket straight there, you have to get one for each leg of the journey. Secondly, there were 2 escalators going up and the one on the left goes about 50% quicker!
The next challenge was getting a ticket for Osaka. I have found it easier to go to the booth for 2 reasons: you might be able to pay by credit card and the person in there might speak English. In this case both were true.
The Shinkansen is the super fast "bullet train" set off exactly on time at 10am; it is supposed to arrive at 1236 so we'll see! There's a couple of stops on the outskirts then we're off.
The journey was interesting. Travelled all through the Toyko suburbs and didn't see any graffiti on any of the walls next to the track. Inland, Japan is quite mountainous. There was a couple of minutes of black as we went through a tunnel followed by slightly longer time cutting through towns. In the rural towns there were 2 types of layout. Industrial: factory surrounded by residential surrounded by farms and Non-Industrial: houses surrounded by farms. The larger population centres are actually a mix of the two and we didn't pass through any cities like Tokyo.
Arrived at Shin-Osaka and it took me a while to realise that this huge station was not actually Osaka, but I found the correct platform without any help. Osaka is one stop away and then you are in the metro system. Osaka has an equivalent to the circle line, the difference being there are less stops and not all trains stop at all the stations!
Got to the hostel but the reception was closed until 3, so when for a wander. I had to borrows a tourist map from the hostel but got lost on way to tourist information centre.
My sense of direction is really good. I tend to read the map find direction and just set off, I'll only check the map if I feel things are not matching up with the map in my mind. After about 15 minutes of walking I had to check so stopped a man in the street. He was turning the map up-side-down and re-orientating it, but eventually he walked into nearby stop and asked the keeper where he was. More map turning later and the best he could come up with was the big glass building over there was 'this' on the map! Found a (rare) street sign which narrowed it down a bit more, but by this time the hostel reception had opened and it was time it go!
Pascal (a French man) was manning the reception. They have some silly rule about not wearing shoes inside which I keep forgetting. Personally, I thing it is laziness of the cleaning staff rather than any need to be traditional, but hey, rules are rules. Pascel was very helpful, in spite of being French, and showed me a better way to get to the tourist information centre in town. It was a straight line - along the track and through the station.
Got a couple of maps and chatted to the nice old lady in the information centre. Wandered around and looked for a coffee shop for coffee and cake and plan tomorrow's activities.
Found a coffee shop that reminded me of colonial times. It had a more traditional diner service with a tiny gold fork to eat the cake with. It looked really expensive and to date it has been almost my most expensive meal! In the corner of the room was a stunningly attractive Japanese woman dressed in the full kimono and those little flip-flop shoes. Her hair was all pinned up and she was sitting opposite a wanky banker type - you know the sort - blue shirt with thin white vertical stripes and white cuffs. He spent the whole time shouting down the phone. What a waste! [I was later told by Koichi he was almost certainly Yakuza!]
Got back to the hostel and chatted to Karen who was a 30-something teacher over here teaching English and travelling. She was feeding me these gorgeous koala bear biscuits filled with custard cream goo. Yummy!
About 2030 I was getting peckish so left the hostel and walked up and down the street looking for somewhere nice to eat. The hostel is quite near the station so there were plenty of places. I decided the best one was in fact the one directly opposite the hostel.
The restaurant had a couple of business men types who were being waited on by a matriarcal woman. Got sort of chatting with local business man called Tarshi. He stopped in for a couple of smokes and a glass of water. I think you can only smoke in certain places and outside is not one of them! He was so overwhelmed with our conversation that he gave me a couple of sets of greeting cards. He was doing most of the chatting and pointing, so I'm not really sure how I got the present. I think he was selling them (to shops) and they were left over, but it's the thought that counts. By this point the place had filled up and the matriarchal woman was telling everyone that I was English. I think it was kudos for her that I had come all the way from England to eat at her place, so she was making the most of it! So all I could hear while trying to eat my diner was "arr eng-u-and... Uuu.. Eng-u-ish.. uummm". A couple of smiles and nods from me meant that when I left they didn't mind a couple of group photos with me!
Photos on my FaceBook page.