Kyoto, Osaka, Tokyo & Hiroshima. Click to Enlarge ^_^
“It’s the possibility of having a dream come through that makes life interesting”
Ever since I was a child, I had been drawn to the peculiarities and otherworldly aspects of Japanese culture. Needless to say, I spent many years researching the intricacies of this profound land and its people. Research literally came in the form of reading as much as possible, however I also looked at a tonne of anime and read manga. After some 30 years, I was finally able to visit, the stars had aligned and my tickets were bought. I always viewed Japanese culture as one of the leading, prominent cultures of the world as it is noticeably imbued with a profound sense of living and doing things. The striking differences are the things that make Japan unique. I must say, it is perhaps my favorite culture as I have always had a sort of reverence for their way of life.
On arriving in Osaka, one of the first things I noticed as I got off the plane was the fact that Kansai Airport was decorated from top to bottom with Nintendo characters. They were all there. Mario, Luigi, Yoshi, Princess Peach, Kooper… all my childhood friends greeting me as I entered the arrival terminal. I felt as if I had died and gone to heaven. It’s no secret that I love playing video games, in fact the first one I had ever received was Super Mario World, when I was just five years old. At the risk of sounding like a super fan-girl, I had even gotten a tattoo to commemorate this great video game when I was a teenager, as a means of remembering my amazing childhood. Needless to say, it all came full circle for me the moment I stepped off that plane.
On another note, one of the best investments I made was buying the JR-Rail Pass. This 7-day pass allows foreigners to travel liberally across all of Japan on all but two of their Shinkansen Bullet Trains. While it felt a bit costly to put out almost three hundred dollars ahead of time, I was extremely relieved to have had this pass during my stay. I was able to reserve seats on trains, avoid long ques and zip by, simply by showing my pass. The staff members were always cordial, helpful and often bowed as I passed by. I was also allowed access to certain subway lines, buses and even a JR-Boat in the Hiroshima Prefecture. At the end of the day I saved a lot of money with this pass for the long distances I had traveled. The train stations, while complex I admit, were quite easy to navigate. I think people are a lot more intimidated than they ought to be about getting around in Japan. I suppose the language difference and script can make it a bit tricky.
It became obvious that everything I heard about Japanese culture was not just ‘some myth’. The Japanese are indeed, deeply traditional and their society, highly structured yet a sense of light hardheartedness was tangible in the atmosphere. When in a new place, I suppose it’s only natural to notice the way people dress and carry themselves. Japan was fun and flawless. It was only when I was walking through the streets that I recalled the fact that Tokyo was a known fashion capital of the world, and rightfully so. I saw some of the most beautiful and interesting clothing I had ever laid eyes on. Some styles were westernized while others were reminiscent of their ancient heritage, such as baggy Samuari pants. I was also drawn to the care taken to create hairstyles.
Their hairstyles and dress were straight out of a Japanese Anime as it is common for men to sport exotic colors such as pink, green, blue and red hair in a variety of ways. It was like living art. I was in awe of everything I was experiencing for the first time. I felt comfortable as I also noticed that Japanese people were aware that it was rude to stare, there was little to no prolonged eye-contact during my stay. I have traveled quite extensively and for the most part I have noticed that when people are curious, they show it…but not here. Good etiquette and discipline were the basis of every interaction.
Walking through Osaka at night can feel like a movie. Huge neon lights adorned the main streets as hundreds of arcades, toy machines and small dimly lit restaurants were pretty as a picture. It was a bustling city. I was astounded at how quaint certain backstreets appeared as many retained their traditional architectural styles. It was like being transported into the distant past. The juxtaposition of the ancient past and modern times make Japan incredibly unique. Their culture is very much alive and well. Another remarkable thing I noticed was that the streets were also spotless. Not a single piece of trash could be found littering the sidewalk.
My Airbnb in Osaka was equally unique. It was a Sailor Moon themed apartment strategically placed near to the train station. It was quite small but very functional. The use of its limited space and the placement of everything was well executed. My little studio, while very compact, was warm and well equipped with everything needed for a comfortable few-days. I could make myself breakfast and even turn up the heat so as not to freeze to death while I slept. I had all that I could possibly need.
Osaka is known as the kitchen of Japan, needless to say, one can spend a lot of time discovering amazing street foods by simply getting lost or taking a walk to the local market. I highly recommend it as a destination of discovery.