Saturday, January 4, 2014

Japan, Hiroshima- Currently 4.1.14 Writing about Osaka, 24th -26th December, 2013
**Warning! Approaching novel length!**

On the 24th we decided to head to Kyoto. I’d advised our friends on Facebook, so Austin and Maika decided to come with us. Because Austin had been to Fushimi Inari Taisha already, we decided to head to Kinkakuji first (this in hindsight was a mistake- Fushimi Inari Taisha was the only one I hadn’t done and really wanted to and I was sick and didn’t end up going later!) Although we initially planned to leave at 9, Maika wanted to leave at 8:30 and there was some confusion about the departure time. Due to this Ange was still making breakfast as Maika was trying to pull us out of the door. (I was… I think vaguely on time? It’s normally me who is late.)

^^Kinkakuji: Austin, Angela, Maika, Mankee & I ^^

We were supposed to meet Kon at Umeda, but Kon (whose name is actually not Kon at all- just like Kei’s name is not Kei) hadn’t specified where to meet. We were late, but I honestly don’t think we’d have managed to meet up anyway, because we didn’t know which station or which exit we were supposed to meet at. After looking around for Kon for a bit, we headed from Higashi-Umeda to the Hankyu Umeda station. This proved an interesting experience- Hankyu is cheaper than JR, but also less English-friendly. It took us a good deal of effort to work out which train to actually get on (and by “us” I mean Angela and Mankee) but we did manage to get on one, and there was a saving of at least a few dollars! (That’s like, 2 things at Daiso!)

From there we headed to Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. This too is on the list of “Nice things I would nonetheless not do a third time… unless I had endless time and money… in which case… I would.” (It’s an inconsiderately long titled list, I know.) I think Austin and Maika were pretty let down by it- I remembered it fairly clearly so I knew exactly what to expect. It delivered exactly that for me! We took some nice photos, headed through some nice scenery, I got some free gold flecked green tea (I am definitely not a tea person) and then we headed out where Mankee and Ange got some ice cream and I think Austin and Maika got Dango? I almost forgot...

We also managed to secure our fortunes by buying charms- I bought "Dreams come true" and "good match" (set for 2014, I think!),  Mankee bought "Dreams come true",  "Healthy long life" and Ange bought "Dreams come true", "Good Match" and "Study Well". (I guess some people need the help of more charms than others... *cough*). Also, you could throw coins into a little rock-basket thing. I think it was good luck? I don't even really know. The point is, I GOT IT IN (which should be near impossible for someone of my -lack of- sporting talent) so that's got to be good, right?

We then headed by chance to Ryoanji, which I’d heard of before but not connected with the famous rock garden. Maika and Austin didn’t want to pay because they have to save money and are staying long term, but because we were there for such a short time, we wanted to do as much as possible. We went in and the gardens were really lovely. It’s famous for its very serene rock garden, which left me underwhelmed to the point that I thought it was but one of many. Angela looked at me like I was retarded (an unpleasantly common habit) and said “No, this is it. This is the garden.” It was nice… but not really my thing. Ironically, I much preferred the lovely surrounding gardens and lake.

From there, after much pondering, (we sat at a bus stop for a while, eating some cool sugar candy that Austin bought) we realized it was time to walk. Where? Well, we weren’t quite sure, so we set off in what we thought was the right direction (this NEVER fails… *cough* every single time… *cough*) and actually made it to a tram stop. After a bit of confusion about  which way to go, we went to get on the next tram… only Ange, Mankee and Austin were on one side, Maika and I were on the other, the boom gates were down and there was no getting across. So we caught the next tram after that.

The trams were pretty rattly, and a bit more authentic Radelaide (the platforms were the highest quality asphalt, just like home) so we had fun. At this point, we were headed to Nijo castle and Maika and Austin thought they might head home. We got off the subway one stop ahead, only to walk out of the subway to see a “Nijo castle: Closed” sign. I was like “WHAT? THIS IS BULLSHIT!” and so we got back on the train and met back up with Austin and Maika. (Incidentally, Sarah and Laura had the same thing happen to them- except they were halfway to Nijo in a taxi and ended up at Toei Uzumasa instead.) We then took the train home, hoping for some sweet, sweet Christmas KFC. You heard me, Christmas KFC- it’s really big in Japan. Unfortunately, it is so popular in Japan that you can only pre-order buckets of $40 or more. I was like “Filleto burger?” and they denied my plea. I was enraged, bought a crap make your own pizza from Aeon instead and vowed not to return. Angela, inconsolable, bought some knock-off KFC from the local shop. (It was such a big thing that the shops kept bringing out shelves upon shelves of fried chicken… KFC must really have marketed well.)

From there we had the opportunity to Skype the family at Nanna Mussger’s, who looked joyous and seemed to be celebrating with all the usual pomp (none- just a lot of food, alcohol and terrible caroling) and had a fun talk. Jemma had her exchange sister over from Denmark, who seemed surprisingly delighted to meet us over Skype. She and Jemma are obviously pretty close friends and she seemed both cool as a person and delighted to be in Australia, which was nice.

^^ Wrong side Maika, wrong side.^^

The family were delighted (and unsurprised) by both our tales of epic, valour filled Karaoke and our astute rendition of “Good King Wencesless.” I do not know how to spell his name, and I do not care to spend even one minute Googling it. There’s a reason no one knows the words to your song, dude. Anyhow, it was good fun and I organized to go hang with Anna in the Mt (looking forward to the #1 Worst Club in Australia Anna!) and then we got a chance to catch up with the others. Unfortunately, this was the time when we found out Sarah and Laura had organized Christmas day- and it was in direct contrast to how we’d organized it. (We’d shared our plans but none of us have internet until we return to J&F.) So unfortunately we couldn’t coordinate because we’d organized to Skype mum and dad, and we were a bit sad to have our first Christmas without them (and we were worried they’d be lonely. We needn’t have worried *indignant huff* - but more on that later.)

^^ Gold tea. Like a boss.^^

On Christmas day we had a nice mini-sleep in and then Mankee began the traditional gift exchange. We’d originally thought of doing a Daiso gift swap but that never eventuated as we weren’t all in one place and we couldn’t find a Daiso! But Mankee came in with some souvenirs from Hong Kong, then I felt really bad at not having anything, so handed over KitKats (don’t mock- they cost a tonne!) and Ange did a bit of a “IOU”. (To be fair, she got me a New Years gift on the 2nd and I’m still an IOU for that one- update- 1 hour later and a dodgier New Year's gift you never did see. I wrote random Japanese words that I know on the envelope in toxic smelling permanent texta, shoved pocky and $5 in the money envelope and three 1 cent coins.)

^^ Softcream #1: Strawberry, Chocolate, Grape.^^

 So then we headed out to Osaka Castle- on the way out from the train station we paused for a traditional Christmas brunch- the Big Mac. Enjoying this heartily, we made our way to the castle only to discover- Ange left the camera behind in J&F! Woah, major faux-pas! (*blithely ignoring the camera charger I left back home*) So  Ange was a bit glum for a while, but I had my iPhone and Mankee had her camera, and soon… we had soft cream (soft serve). Instant cheer up! We started our ambitious plan to taste all of the softcream- we began with a delightful first serve of strawberry soft cream, chocolate soft cream and what Mankee hoped was Taro, but turned out to be Grape (a delightful turn around on my KitKat experience in Beppu).

^^ The infamous 'Hunt for you' Engrish jumper.^^

There, we were even more delighted by the Osaka Castle gift shop, which had Octopus (I may or may not have bought an Octopus hat) things, Purikura (Japanese photo booths) and a NINJA THROWING STAR GAME. Unfortunately, try as we might (and we did try- I went for “brute force” rather than “aim”) none of us succeeded. We did however, get an awesome plastic cheap-ass blow dart gun, which I have a great fondness for. (Teaching tool?) But by far, our greatest triumph was at the Purikura booth, where we took some amazing photos. The first two, with a strong Osaka-Jo theme, were “Normal/Smile” and “Funny face”. Finding ourselves unsatisfied with these alone, we reentered the bear bit to take “Cute” and “Korean Drama”, which turned out stunning, no doubt due to the octopus on my head. It was a splendid effect.

^^ Normal/Smile + 'Funny Face'.^^

^^ 'Cute' and 'Korean Drama'. Note my intense expression, underneath the Octopus hat.^^

From there, we entered the castle, which is rich in history (we may or may not have power walked through it, due to having seen it already… and not having much time) and has wonderful views. I think I’d do OsCas for a third time. Being at the top was very refreshing, though it was here we realized it had a special light show at night. Too late! From there we wandered down- took some casual photos DRESSED UP AS FORMER JAPANESE CONQUORING LORDS (still don’t know the name of my guy but went strong for the same one!). Again, we attracted quite a bit of attention, as I get the feeling mainly children try these on. Whatever, it’s 300Yen, you get a kickass hat, overcoat and we got swords! BAM! People were very entertained around us.

From there we headed to Shinsaibashi, but now we were on a timeline. We stopped for soft cream on the way out (Mixed Berry and Cookies & Cream were added to the lofty list, which is, at current flavour tally, 10) and then caught the train to Shinsaibashi.

^^ Soft Cream round 2: Mixed Berry & Cookies n Cream.^^

^^ Pretty!^^

The shopping was fierce, but in the end, we only made it to H&M. I still got an AMAZING green fur, which you will see below. Dad and Mum had been extraordinarily unhelpful in trying to manouvre Skype times, and then surprisingly uncaring if it even happened! What do you mean “Oh, we don’t have to Skype on Christmas Day…”?! LIES! FILTHY LIES! So Mankee stayed out shopping in Shinsaibashi, and we headed back to Kire Uriwari with just minutes to spare. We log on… and IMAGINE OUR RAGE when it took Mum and Dad (busy partying… without a care in the world for their daughters… their young, lonely daughters, who were really keen on shopping more in Shinsaibashi…) an hour to make it on! Phoah they were lucky we still had some Christmas spirit, that’s all I can say! We had a good talk and it was good to Skype them on Christmas, especially because it really didn’t feel like Christmas at all in Japan.

^^ The FAMOUS Octopus in Shinsaibashi. One eye lights up and smoke drifts pathetically out of one of its nostrils when it feels like it.  In 2010, we paid good money to go on the shittest boat tour in the world that ended with this junk. I feel a sort of hopeless affection for its retardedness.^^

That night, we went out to Karaoke but I felt a bit tired so I left early. I know Mankee and Angela had a lot of fun. Because of the late night, we all slept in, but went to Shinsaibashi with Maika the next day which was a lot of fun. Mass shopping ensued. It was amazing and the clear standout was the amazing accessory store Claires, though I do like GU (Book of… get it? Get it? Eh eh). Clear winner of the shopping stores so far: Etude, Korea (Makeup), Claires, Japan (Accessories), Clothes… maybe  Uniqlo? Maybe Gu? Maybe Malaysia will triumph! We’ll have to see. We’re planning on using every Kilo of our 30K on the plane home!

^^ Shinsaibashi on 25th with Maika^^

Anyhow, Flashback Saturday (Yeah, so what if it’s supposed to be Friday) ,

xx Carlos, the one pigeon to roost among them all.

^^ How can you not buy donuts when Mister Donut is around?!^^

Friday, January 3, 2014

Japan, Osaka- Currently 2.1.14 Writing about 20th -23rd December, 2013

After a successful return to Osaka, we were pretty tired. I was so happy to be back at J&F- the memories!- but Ange and Mankee weirdly got like, the worst room ever. I’m serious, their beds were really fucked. Mankee’s was like lying on railway tracks. Try and imagine that- you probably won’t come close to how uncomfortable it really was. She slept on the floor the first night.

^^ Osaka, from HEP 5 Ferris Wheel.^^

After angsting about whether to stay or go (my room was fine and I wanted to stay), we met Takumi the next day and Ange and Mankee got single rooms like me. From there, they were content and I was happy. This place is super cheap but I’m fine with it- unlike Stay in Gam it has good kitchen facilities but the showers are… a bit of a nightmare. I mean, the showers weren’t great 3 years ago… but they’ve just sort of been neglected, grown some mould, locks are broken (one of the showers has the entire door broken off and just sort of… hanging there) but I guess you get what you pay for? It was certainly okay and it’s constantly warm in there so even when the water goes hot/cold, it’s not too distressing. Still, instead of buying a new TV and Nintendo, perhaps Takumi should have been investing funds into new showers… just sayin’. [Note: Takumi did update the showers- they were closed for repairs the Friday before Christmas but it’s a bit like polishing a turd… they need replacing!]

The next day… we pretty much didn’t do anything except sleep in, go online and venture out to go food shopping. Glorious food shopping! I was dying for Bacon and Eggs, which by the way, was amazing. Angela, who has been sampling Baskin and Robbins around the world, fell prey to the local at Aeon. That night, I got invited to go out with some J&F people and accepted, sort of forgetting that once you go out in Osaka, you go hard because there’s no going home. (Literally, the trains stop at about 1 so after that you just stay out until 5:30am when the next trains run.) 

^^ Going out the first Saturday- Kei, Austin, Kon, Mika & I. Maika must have taken the photo?^^

Kon and Maika’s friend Mika had friends who were at some bar, so we ended up at this Indian bar. Talk about weird… it was a total rip off to get in, it was tiny, the music sucked, there were a bunch of foreigners who…  I don’t really know how to describe it. It wasn’t a winning atmosphere for me. We got free curry at like 1am, but it is not a place I would ever recommend. Then after angsting about Austin trying to get money, two Italian dudes (including one who looked like a cross between Stefan Salvatore and Justin Bieber, aged about 20 years more) came out with us. We were tossing up clubbing v pubbing and in the end, went to a restaurant where we could get all you can drink for 800Yen. (This to me, was a great deal- or would have been… but that later.)

I tried a lot of Cassis, Fuzzy Naval, a cocktail I ordered purely because it was called “Whitey Bluey”, Sake (bleh), Ume-shu (a plum flavoured Sake which sort of tasted a bit like cherry or faint cough medicine which I quite liked), and a range of others. The alcohol content in them would have been quite small, so I went for quantity as quality was unavailable! (By the end of the night I was only mildly tipsy at best so there really wasn’t a whole lot of alcohol.). Awkwardly, the Italian guys who came with us  ordered all this extra food. They had about 5 dishes, and at the end, we split the bill. Maika and I were like… Why are we paying for their food?, but felt we couldn’t really say anything. I thought it was pretty shit of them not to chip in more since they clearly bumped the costs up a lot for all of us.

^^Maika, Kei, Kon & I ^^

We got back and I slept in more than I thought- Sarah and Laura arrived the next day so I sent them a msg with their room details and my room number if they needed me, then went to sleep and woke up at like 2pm! By the time I went to look for them, they’d left and I didn’t really know what they were doing. We tried to msg them but in the end, gave up and went to Uniqlo and a new local shop ourselves instead. By the time we saw Sarah and Laura, it was that night. They went up to the roof and decided to head to bed early, then we got invited to Karaoke. Well… despite logically knowning it was a foolish idea to go drinking and singing (read: screaming off key) until 5am when we had places to be the next day… well, I think you can guess what happened.

^^ Too many 5am returns... this one was Karaoke: Pol, Carly, Angela, Kei, Austin, Maika.^^

Mankee decided she wouldn’t go, so it was Ange & I, Maika, Austin, Kei, Pol, Masami, Hiroko and Ayaka. It was hilarious because Ange and I were clearly the untalented ones with singing voices. (It always seems that way- every time I’ve been out for Karaoke in Japan, the Japanese are great singers as are the foreigner’s who’d come out with us.) They were clearly unprepared for Angea’s ploy (Not unlike the song “Razzle Dazzle” from Chigaco, for any Chicago fans.)  They realized we couldn’t sing (I got kudos for rapping a bit- and I owned everyone else there, except for perhaps Ange) but were absolutely gobsmacked when Ange just yelled into the mike and screamed passionately.

J&F Karaoke: Austin, Pol, Ange, Masami, Ayaka, Maika, Hiroko, Kei & I. ^^

 (They were nearly in tears when Ange screamed the climax in Aerosmith’s “Don’t want to miss a thing” and Austin kept on laughing and saying “You girls…” and then trailing off in shock. I did an excellent duet with Pol for Aqua’s Barbie Girl- I was Ken and he was Barbie. Suffice to say the night was a lot of fun and we didn’t get back until 5:30am, which did not bode well for meeting Reiko at 11 the next day. (We got there at 11:30, but in our defense, we got genuinely lost coming out of the train station.  

^^ I sure do love me some hiking boots.^^

Mankee met Sarah and Laura and went to Umeda early with them to do some shopping, as I previously mentioned we met at World World Buffet and Ange and I were late after doing a fair bit of wandering trying to find the right building. World World Buffet is in the basement of the Hilton complex (not to be confused with the Hilton hotel which is right next door- which we did.) We met Rieko and Noriko there with the others and quickly launched into the buffet- we were ½ hour behind the others and had to make up for time. Unfortunately there was no soft drink this time (eschewing the “Apple Vinegar juice” which- WHY?) so I drank water and loaded my plate up with cheese pizza, which was quite nice, and some curry, which was quickly eaten in favour of more pizza. From there we did a bit of dessert sampling (jelly, cheese cake, ice cream, fudge, white chocolate fountain) and unfortunately, Ange and I did not have time to get in the crepe line.

^^ Rieko, Noriko & I.^^

After that, we did some shopping but there was a bit of a misunderstanding. Sarah announced she wanted to buy waterproof boots, and I chimed in “me too!” thinking of my Kmart black leather boots which leak water and pretty much went mouldy. Sarah apparently did not find this strange, but I later realized she meant hiking boots. (Can you imagine me buying hiking boots?!) So we looked in a few shops and Sarah got some men’s hiking boots as women’s sizes were too small. They still looked fine though and she was happy with them. From there, we went on the HEP 5 Ferris Wheel, a red ferris wheel on top of the HEP 5 shopping centre complex. We went with Noriko and Rieko and it was fun, especially when we remembered you could play music with an iPhone or iPod and plugged Sarah’s in.

After that, Noriko had to go, so we said goodbye and then went shopping in Don Quixote, a big store near HEP 5. Don Quixote is one of the best stores to shop in, being both cheap and having so much amazing stuff. Angela bought a giant panda head, Mankee a Japanese Ogre Onesie, and I bought… I can’t even remember but I’m sure it was junk, wonderful, wonderful junk. One thing we did observe, as the great low prices of alcohol, in such fantastic different types. It was exciting, and the start of a great and terrible plan.

From there, we headed to Umeda Sky Building, bags and all. It was beautiful at night, but very popular (especially with the markets below. I say “markets” very loosely, because it looked to be a series of about 10 german food/wine stalls and a few knickknacks… nothing too impressive but then I didn’t look particularly closely. Perhaps it is clearer to say nothing interested me there) so the lines for the elevators were long. Umeda Sky was beautiful as always, but it was very cold. We had fun playing with the fluro lights (our teeth looked quite frightening) but I think there are many things I would not do for a third time, and Umeda Sky was one of them. Still, the views were lovely, it was great to see Rieko again, and we went home quite happily to sleep.

xx Carlos the tired