After my last day in Kyoto I caught the Hikari shinkansen to Shin-Osaka (New Osaka) station. There my friend Mori-san picked me up and drove me to his house in Kashiwara-shi, which is a city to the SE of Osaka. It’s about 30 minutes by car, and right on the Yamatoji line that runs between Osaka and Nara. His parents Ryo and Toyoko are very nice people. Ryo knows a decent amount of English, and they both speak clearly enough that I don’t have trouble understanding their Kansai-ben.
Then Mori-san’s friend Kazumi-kun came over, and the three of us went out for Okonomiyaki and then to Karaoke. I’ve discovered why the Japanese like mayonnaise so much. Because it doesn’t taste like American mayonnaise. It’s much, much better. Anyways, the Okonomiyaki was amazing, and the Karaoke was fun.
The next morning Mori-san, Kazumi-kun and I headed to Osaka. First stop was Tsutenkaku, more affectionately referred to as Osaka tower. It’s in a district of Osaka called Shin-Sekai (New world). It’s also protected/watched over by Billiken, the God of things as they ought to be.
First off though, we went to Daruma, a Kushi-katsu restaurant. Kushi-katsu is another specialty of Osaka and consists of various things deep-fried on sticks. It was really tasty but I am quickly realizing that if I spend much time in the Osaka area I’ll be gaining weight again.
After Tsutenkaku, we headed to Osaka castle. It’s a very impressive structure in an impressive complex. The only sad thing is that the castle itself has been turned into a museum. But it was still worth going to just to see the construction of the defensive walls and moats as well as the exterior of the castle. Plus Osaka castle was constructed by Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the man who united Japan in 1590. Tokugawa Ieyasu was one of his subordinates. Ieyasu is most famous for seizing control after Hideyoshi’s death in 1598, and after the battle of Sekigahara in 1600, established the Tokugawa shogunate which lasted until 1868. According to Mori-san, Hideyoshi is one of the most loved historical figures.
Finished with the real sightseeing for the day, we went over to another friend’s house, Hideshi-san. Hideshi-san lives right next to Kinki University in Higashiosaka-shi (East Osaka city). Kinki is apparently one of the largest Universities in Japan (according to Mori-san, Tokyo University, the most famous Japanese university, is tiny). Anyways, we hung out at Hideshi-san’s house for 3-4 hours talking with him and his mom. It was a lot of fun, and I’ve pretty much talked nothing by Japanese, using Mori-san for the occasional word translation.
About 7:30-8pm the four of us headed out, and went to Tennoji-ku. There, in a small neighborhood off the main streets, Hideshi-san and crew walked us around a couple blocks that was apparently the red-light district. It was crazy. Every door was a brothel, and most seemed to only have one prostitute working. They are set up with an open doorway, and the mama-san (madam) sits to the side, and the prostitute sits just inside the door looking straight out, so that prospective customers can see the wares from the street. There were probably 50+ of these establishments in a 4 square block area. All of the mama-san’s calling out to us as we walked by (Oni-chan Oni-chan, ikaga desu ka? Hitori-demo kitekudasai). Roughly translates to “young man, how about it? One of you, come on in”. Over the course of the few blocks I saw an amazing variation in look and body type, from thin to voluptuous, from small to large, long hair, short hair. I even saw a woman dressed as a nurse and one dressed as a schoolgirl. But even more interesting was the pricing system. 11,000 Yen for 15 minutes. Not even enough time for a shower before or after. I guess you can stay longer, you just have to pay for it. Either way, it was an experience walking through there. I think it’s probably similar to the red-light district in Amsterdam.
The funniest thing about all of this was that when I was in LA for Anime Expo a bit ago, I saw my first real-life prostitute. She was working the hotel we were staying in, and actually approached Batou and I outside to ask if we were “alone”. And now, a bit more than a week later I had seen more than I could count, all of which were much more attractive than the woman in LA.
After our spin through prostitute lane we headed to a ramen restaurant to get dinner. It was very good ramen, can’t even compare to Oshima ramen in Denver. Mori-san insists that the food in Osaka is the best in Japan. So far I don’t have any reason to doubt this statement.
The next morning I got up, Mori-san dropped me off a Takaida station a bit up the road, and I hopped a train to Nara. Nara is famous for a few reasons. Historically it was the seat of power during the Nara period which was from 710-794. So there are many shrines and buddhist temples. It is also famous for its holy deer. Similar to the cows of India, the deer of Nara (deer is shika in Japanese for future reference) are left to their own devices and pampered by locals and tourists alike, meaning that they are almost tame. A favorite activity of tourists is purchasing a little stack of Shika senbei (deer crackers) for 150 Yen and feeding them to the deer, who will eat right out of your hand and can get downright greedy.
I resisted buying crackers to feed the first deer I saw, as I was waiting to find a certain place first. See, the third reason Nara is famous (for me) is because of the Japanese drama series Shikaotoko Aoniyoshi. It’s a series that came out last year starring Tamaki Hiroshi (of Nodame Cantabile fame) and Ayase Haruka (of Hotaru no Hikari fame) and features a talking deer that recruits Tamaki to help save Japan from destruction. It was both a hilarious and very good show. Anyways, I was on a bit of a self-imposed mission to find some places I saw in the show. So after Kofukuji I headed on down to the park.
Unfortunately there was no herd of deer there this day, probably because they were all smart and were in the shade. Although it was hazy out, it was so hot I literally thought I was going to die a couple times. I danced with heat exhaustion all day long, stopping to fan myself, ducking into air-conditioned stores for a minute here and there. I think the thing that ultimately saved me was the fact that I had my umbrella with me. I spent the whole time walking with the umbrella shielding me from the sun while fanning myself.
I headed up the road a bit to Kasuga Wakamiya Jinja, a smaller shrine, and then back down and along the foot of the mountain until I reached Wakakusayama. I’m pretty sure that Wakakusayama is where Ayase takes Tamaki to talk all the time in Shikaotoko, so I was planning on climbing up to see the same view. Unfortunately, it was closed for the summer and doesn’t reopen until 9/13. So I’ll have to come back in the fall, hopefully it’ll be cooler then as well.
I took a rest, fed some more deer, and then headed down towards the Kintetsu rail station. I had a hunch on the final area I was trying to find. And sure enough, I found it. Suzakamon, the gate of Suzaku, where Tamaki and crew saved Japan. It’s the only large gate you can see from a train, and since I didn’t see it on the JR line on my way into Nara, it pretty much left the Kintetsu. So I headed out a couple stops, got off and walked to Suzakumon.
After a few pictures, I walked back through the old Nara palace archeological site and found an Ito Yokado department store where I bought some food and relaxed in the air conditioned food court for a while. Finally I caught the train out to Houryuji, a town two stops out from Nara where there is a really famous Buddhist temple. Unfortunately it had just closed by the time I walked the 1.5Km from the station, so I turned around and walked back to the station and headed back to Mori-san’s place. Mori-san already had plans so he was out, but Mori-san’s mom made food and the three of us ate and talked all evening. It was really nice to just talk and be able to understand each other well. We talked until after 11pm, about lots of things, but it was just real nice. I’m not sure what is on the schedule for today, but I’ll probably head back to Tokyo this afternoon/evening so I can change out clothes and record a show. Also I got an email from Rowensage, a listener and forum moderator who is currently in Tokyo, so I’ll try and meet up tomorrow.
Until next time…
Full Osaka album:
Full Nara album: