Osaka: Not that Great

“Lipstick” the tiny Japanese sales woman told me. Oh God. I looked so disheveled and disgusting from my overnight bus ride that this poor girl thinks I must have never seen lipstick before. It was only 10am, and I was killing time wandering around an Osaka department store before I could check into my hostel in a few hours. I was on the hunt for a Starbucks, McDonalds or anywhere I could just sit down and attempt to catch up on some sleep. I had plans to head over to the Osaka Castle today, but I was just way too tired. The overnight bus from Tokyo to Osaka was so shit (to put it frankly). Being around six inches taller and probably a good 6 inches wider than the average Japanese girl, my legs simply didn’t fit in the tiny space between my seat and the one in front. I instead had them stretched out down the aisle to my left, which made for a weird twisted back and a sore crooked neck for the whole ten hours. Every possible sleeping position became uncomfortable after just a few minutes and as a result, I had a completely sleepless night. Scarily, this is only a taste-tester of the horrendous bus rides that I will be up for in South-East Asia.

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After devouring a teriyaki burger and chilling out in a Lotteria for a couple of hours, it was time to jump on the subway and head out to my hostel. Just three days earlier, I had been told by two different people not to go to Osaka. “It’s weird,” they had said. Weird? What could be so weird about it? First impressions of the place were that it was a little bit boring compared to Tokyo, but nothing a good explore couldn’t fix. Well, once on the subway I think I realized what they meant. People kept staring at me. I’m relatively used to this now though, I mean, when a foreigner gets on a crowded train with a backpack bigger than a bar fridge, they’re bound to attract a few glances. But no, this time I’m talking creepy old men staring me down whilst I awkwardly don’t know if smiling would ease the tension or be treated more as a rape invitation. Upon stepping out of the subway station and onto the deserted street, I instantly knew this neighborhood was dodgy as hell. Plastered over graffiti covered walls were posters depicting images of theft, and what I assume to be safety warnings written in big bold Japanese. What the hell was this place? This wasn’t the Japan I knew. Where were all the people? Why was the usual excitement I felt in a new city replaced by a churning stomach of nerves? My first instinct was to get straight back on the subway and get the hell out of there, but I had pre-booked my accommodation and needed to find my hostel. With no map, no guidebook and no Internet, I finally found it tucked away in a tiny alley even dodgier than the main street. I solemnly announce my name to the girl at the front desk. “Checking in for four nights right?” she asks me. Shit. Four nights of what? Being cooped up in my dorm too nervous to venture outside? “Um, can I make it three?” I ask her, knowing that if I make it any less I’ll still have to pay. She says its fine, I pay, and she escorts me up six flights of stairs (no elevator) to my humble abode. I had my own tiny Japanese style room, fitted out with a wafer-thin, flimsy foam mattress, a blanket and a rice pillow. I don’t know why the Japanese are still bothering with traditional beds these days because honestly sleeping on one is about as comfortable as sleeping on a sheet of plywood.

My cosy neighbourhood.
My cosy neighbourhood.

I decided the best way to tackle this place was to get out and hit all the attractions in one day, and use the following day as a much needed break to chill out and do absolutely nothing.

Osaka Castle is the crown jewel of the city. It’s large and beautiful and one of the most famous castles in Japan.

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The castle is surrounded by very tall walls, and a wide moat, with a large park around the outside. With the cherry blossoms in bloom, the park was alive with the excitement of spring. Heaps of groups of friends and families had spread out with picnic blankets underneath the shade of the cherry blossom trees, and were enjoying an afternoon bite and beverage. These are called “hanami” (flower viewing) parties, and are celebrated annually at the beginning of spring. I wish this could be more common in Australia. It’s such a fun and honestly awesome way of spending the day.

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Since I didn’t want to sit down and have a hanami party all on my lonesome, I settled with treating myself to a cherry blossom flavoured ice-cream while I walked around the castle. It tasted like cherry scented soap with a hint of green tea. Delicious?

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The only other thing I was interested in seeing in Osaka was Shinsaibashi, which is the downtown hub of entertainment, shopping and dining. After spending an hour on the wrong train before I realised I was going in the wrong direction, I decided to just give it a miss and head back to my hovel hostel to relax and reflect on what a mess my Osaka adventures had turned out to be. Whilst I probably didn’t give this city the time and attention it deserved, I’ve learnt that sometimes you need to just take a break from constantly exploring and not feel guilty about it. And from what I’ve heard from other travellers, Osaka was a good place to do that. Hopefully one day when I’m older and wiser I’ll go back to Osaka and discover an awesome city that I’ve just been too blind to see.

On the positive side, not liking Osaka gave me an excuse to spend the money to venture down to Hiroshima – which turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve made on my trip so far. Stay tuned to read all up on my Hiroshima antics in my next post!

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