Osaka, Japan

For better or worse we don’t have the funds to heed the purported Osakan maxim: kuidaore, “eatyourself into ruin” – nevertheless we have sampled an Osaka specialty: Okonomiyaki – a well filled pancake, indulged in cheap plates of sushi, and challenged our chopstick technique with noodles in various varieties, and today I made the mistake of ordering a green-tea cream puff (my reasoning was: refusing to eat food that odd artificial green colour is not only churlish but also inconsistent if I’m happy to eat wasabi).

Today we even participated a little in the food creation process at the ramen museum (dedicated to the guy who invented instant noodles):  we designed our own pot noodles – from decorating the packaging to selecting our own mix of toppings and flavorings – we each now have a completely customised pot of noodles. On a side note – between the Trans Mongolian Express with its bottomless samovar of boiling water, chinese supermarkets with their distinct lack of English labelling and a Japanese museum glorifying the inventor of the instant noodle, I think I have eaten more instant noodles in the last six weeks than previously in my whole life.

But as far as Japanese food goes: we’re only just getting started.

Perhaps more interestingly we have initiated ourselves into the onsen (Japanese bath) culture beginning with Spa World, located across the road from our hotel. A sort of theme park of spas and baths, split across 3 floors – European (women only this month), Asian (men only, next month the genders swap floors), and a mixed level with a panorama deck and water slides in which you wear bathers. In Europe and Asia – no swimwear allowed.

Now Japan is probably the country on this trip I have prepared the most for and I wasn’t going to miss out on dipping into an onsen or two and the online reviews of Spa World all claimed that this was the perfect introduction. Mr K is a European, if he wasn’t I guess we probably would never have got there. There’s a good reason there’s no Australian floor at spa world – we’re not so good at the naked-in-public thing. But travelling’s about pushing outside your comfort zone right?

I liked the Greek herb bath, the Meditteranean hot water falls, the Italian milk and honey bath and my poor blister-weary feet look a lot better after a couple of trips to the salt sauna, and although it’ll still be a challenge next time to strip down and soak beside the beautiful, unselfconscious, Japanese girls – chatting and laughing as if they were at a juice bar, I note as an achievement: I survived it, and I went back twice more. So: bring on the mountain-side hot-springs – I’m ready.

***

Yesterday at 11:30pm, after catching a movie in the city, we were caught in the rush at Osaka station: it seemed everyone for a five km radius had decided to catch the last train home, mostly people in suits – for the Melbournians: it was like Flinders Street Station at 5:15pm, we didn’t know which way the stations was, but it was easy, we just joined the flow. It seems the rumour about the Japanese working long hours is true.

Osaka highlights include Osaka-jo (castle) and the open air museum of Japanese farmhouses brought from all over the country. But Osaka, much like Shanghai, seems to be more than the sum of its parts – her charms creep up on you. Like the area where we’re staying, at the bottom of the down-at-heel Shin-sekai (new world) area: overseen by the retro-futuristic Tsuten-kaku tower, and full of pin ball arcades, “love hotels” that rent rooms for three hour blocks and cheap restaurants vying for the passing pedestrian’s yen for deep fried food on skewers – how can anyone help but like such a place?

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