Day 1- Arrival in Osaka
The last time I arrived in Japan I was carrying a crossbow. I was joining a research survey team and they wanted to have one on hand, but firearms are prohibited in Japan (which is why the gun clubs in Waikiki are so popular I assume). This time I’m strictly a tourist, and my un-alarming camera gear, computer and I floated along with the flotsam of other foreign nationals through the immigration line. It took at least an hour, maybe more, giving me ample time to observe my fellow travelers. Most were from Thailand, Taiwan or China. A few Koreans, one French lady, a family of four from I’m assuming the United States, and one gal who might have been American but who wore a t-shirt for the Women’s Prophetic Conference. Wow, I just googled ‘Women’s Prophetic Conference’ using the hostel’s free wi-fi and yep, that gal was definitely American.
A quick 360-degree survey of footwear showed that Nike truly does have a global reach. Second most popular was Converse, or Converse knock-offs. Then it was a mix of New Balance, Adidas, Uggs, or the truly fabulous shiny gold kicks sported by a color coordinated Chinese traveler. I had the only Merrel clogs.
There was a helpful immigration employee walking through the lines and making us actually sort into two lines within our line. Order is paramount. Everyone was pretty quiet and it was a calm shuffle forward. I would almost say the room was hushed, but not quite. Definitely no outward show of frustration.
When we got to the front and were assigned to shorter lines in front of each actual immigration officer’s desk I could see many folks being turned away and having to go back to a central desk to try filling out their disembarkation card correctly. These folks usually wore sheepish smiles and a Japanese staff member was on hand to help. The disembarkation card was written in Japanese and English, and I thought there might have also been Korean instructions but now I can’t remember. I realized (again) that it’s a huge privilege that English is such a global language that it’s included on most international forms. Many of these folks probably spoke neither English nor Japanese and were flipping through what I assume was a translation book so they could correctly fill out their form.
When it was finally my turn there was no problem and I breezed through both immigration and customs. I took my luggage on my free luggage cart through the doors from the customs area and into the relative bustle of the Kansai airport and station. First stop, tourist information desk. But that required a map. I passed a tv news crew on the way to the map and as I was trying to find anywhere that said ‘information’ I heard “excuse me?”. I turned and was looking straight into a very large video camera held by one man, accompanied by two women, one with a microphone. “May we interview you about why you are coming to Japan?” The speaker was the translator, and the group looked like a university film crew, or maybe minor cable station, out for a basic story. I said “sure!”, because why not, right? I gave what I thought was a ridiculously boring interview (why was I here, where I was going, I was traveling alone, no I wasn’t worried about that as a single woman traveling in Japan, and that I was traveling by train, bus and by foot.) They thanked me and departed. As an afterthought I approached them again and asked them which station they were with. They said “Tokyo Terebi” (ie Tokyo tv). I just learned from one of my roommates at the hostel that that’s one of the largest television stations in Tokyo. Here’s a link, but good luck finding anything on it unless you speak Japanese: http://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/
I’m sitting in my bunk at my hostel in Osaka as I write this. One of the gal’s alarms clocks is going off and it’s the iphone standard alarm. Exactly what I use to wake up. But she’s Japanese. The world is shrinking.
When I got to the tourist information desk I was provided with maps and suggestions for local train passes. I opted out of the pass because I wanted to take a direct train to the nearest station to my hostel. What I didn’t think about in that moment, was that a local pass would alleviate the need to purchase a ticket each time I wanted to ride the train/subway. I thanked my helpful information desk person and proceeded, with my free luggage cart, across the bridge, and into Kansai station. I wanted a JR pass and there was a line of automated ticket machines, and then a JR office. I approached the automated machines and the huge signs above them and of course, there is very little romanji (the letters used to write English and other Western languages). Almost everything was in kanji or hiragana. I knew almost enough to do it, but not quite. So I made my way to the JR office and joined a line that wasn’t moving. A couple came in behind me and somehow ended up in front of me. Then I saw that everyone was purchasing passes. And the line wasn’t moving. Oh hell no. I can do this.
So back out I went and proceeded to throw myself on the kindness of strangers. The first woman I stopped helped clarify that there was no difference between the computers that were still open. I was able to find the kanji for the station I wanted, and figure out how much I would have to pay (1160 yen), but still not sure how to operate the machine. One other woman gestured for me to go before her, so I turned back and asked her to help me, otherwise she would never have gotten to the machine. One minute later I had my train ticket in hand and triumphantly pushed my luggage cart through the sliding doors in the actual train area (where I sadly had to leave the cart behind). The line in the JR office still hadn’t moved.
Forty-five minutes later I was at Fukushima station and walking down a narrow street towards my hostel. Very cute bars and restaurants along the way. I checked in (2500 yen a night, close to $25 so not bad for Japan), exchanged my shoes for the required hostel slippers, and padded my way up to the women’s dorm room. Room #22. My lucky number. I passed one gal coming out (later learned that that was Penny from Australia) and once inside I met Yukiko from Shikoku. She’s a clinical psychologist who is in Osaka for work. Her English was better than my Japanese, but still rusty enough that my minimal and jet-lagged Japanese was helpful. “Bangohan o tabemashitaka?” (Have you eaten dinner). “Mada” (not yet)’ “Issho ni bangohan o tabemasen ka” (Would you like to have dinner with me?”) Because why eat alone, right?
So Yukiko and I ventured out to a restaurant I’d passed on the way to the hostel called “greens”. While I love ramen (as many of you know), I needed some vegetables and this place seemed to be a farm-to-table type of place, or at least organic. Thank god there were pictures on the menu because even with Yukiko’s help I was lost. I ordered what turned out to be steamed vegetables with grated cheese. I also tried for a green smoothie but they were sold out. Sangria seemed to be popular there and I toyed with that idea, but decided to be thrifty. It was a popular little joint with the locals. The bar was full and we were at a small table. When my vegetables finally arrived they were fabulous and just what I was hoping for. A stone pot with steamed pumpkin, okra, potato, mushroom, tomato, and a few other things I couldn’t identify. I think one was bittermelon.
After dinner I was able to meet our other roommates, take a shower, and crawl into bed. A good first day I thought.