An hour in Nara...

Trip Start Jul 09, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2007

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Day 7- An hour in Nara!
  We were told that we could use the shower at Hotel Toyo (around the block), if we wished to take a morning rinse.  We met a British couple also waiting for the shower, and they gave us a bit of advice for our stay in Osaka and Kyoto.  We had to wait until a Japanese man finished his shower before we were allowed in.  The poor old man at reception felt so badly about it taking a very long time, but his culture did not allow him to confront the rude washer. 
  We were given some bad advice about trains, and ended up looping around all of Osaka.  Thank God for the help of the fellow passengers, although we did scare the sushi out of one of them.  Phil and I jumped onto a train and simultaneously shouted "Shin-Osaka???!!" into the face of a shocked Japanese woman.  This, in the same city that has "please don't rush" signs all over the subway.  Needless to say that we did not receive the answer until way after the doors closed (luckily it was the right train).  After two hours and four trains, we arrived in Nara. 
  Nara was a quaint town, small streets with loads of little shops up and down them.  There was a beautiful pond area with some Japanese-style houses and then steps leading up to a Temple/shrine area.  The pagodas and such were similar to those that we have seen at all of the other temple complexes, but what made this different was the deer!  There were loads of tame deer that would come right up to you and let you pet them.  Shortly after, we felt that we had adequately seen Nara and headed back to Osaka.
  The train ride back was a breeze. We ended up on the express train!  We decided to see a bit of Osaka on our way back, and stopped first at the Floating Gardens.  This was a magnificent twin-building glass structure.  An external elevator brought you to an escalator that stretched from the 34th floor of one building to the 36th of the other.  We were still at a loss as to how the name "floating garden" had anything to do with this attraction, but we loved it just the same.  The outdoor roof which offered 360 views of Osaka was spectacular.  It was super windy, but the low railings gave completely unobstructed views.  After the gardens we visited the Umeda Mall which is certainly an experience.  It is a 10 floor superstore- filled with electronics, clothes, and then café's and restaurants.  We guessed that at least half of the residents of Osaka were all simultaneously visiting this mall.  Absolutely the most people in one area that I have seen since the trip began. 
  While we love our hotel, the lack of a standard toilet is causing some issue with secondary bathroom functions.  We have devised a system of drinking a shot of espresso, to accelerate the system, in the nicest café we can find, and using their facilities before returning to the hotel.  After visiting a trendy café under the Osaka station, we made our way back to the hotel to rest. Phil has promised me that tonight we are going out!!!!!!!! 
  We got all dressed up (the first time since arriving in Japan), and took the train to Namba station to the Minami section of Osaka.  The lonely planet has said that the bars and restaurants in this section actually outnumber the residents.  We were told that the Ameri-kambra part of town is really cool, and a must-see.  We had a tough time finding it (nobody seemed to know where it was, or had really ever heard of it).  We coincidently bumped into some Americans who had just come from there, and directed us.  I'm not sure what I expected, but it definitely wasn't what we found- a small square that resembled (except in size) Aster Place (old Aster Place).  Kids in crazy outfits (most trying to look American), filled the square with skateboards and bikes.  I suppose it was an accurate replication of a teenage hang-out, but without the eternal whiff of pot smoke
  We then made our way to Dotombori in search of a cool bar with some music (preferably American).  Dotombori is a huge road that stretches across Minami, and is host to all of the nighttime hotspots.  There were tons of well-dressed Japanese walking and laughing up and down the streets.  They could be seen walking in and out of the neon-lighted arcades, casinos, and restaurants.  But there was not a bar in site!  We actually re-traced our steps at one point thinking that there was no way such a lively area could be devoid of a drinking establishment.  We then found one place (down some stairs) called Shot Bar.  The trendy-looking little spot was completely empty and silent.  There was no music playing, and it must have been sound-proof, because even the outside music and pachinko sounds were blocked out.  We were then informed that the drinks start at 900 yen (over $8!).  We politely asked the woman bartender if there were any less expensive bars (perhaps with music) in the area.  She ran out from behind the bar and took us up the stairs and outside.  As she turned the corner with us, we thought she might have left her job to join us.  But half-way down the street she pointed us in the direction of some pubs.
  Before finding our salvation (the Russian Bar), we were confronted with a homeless man with coca cola cans tied to his head and his underwear around his ankle.  The Russian bar was super tiny (7 seat) bar blaring Britney Spears.  We couldn't have been any happier!  The un-friendly Ukrainian bartender was a wonder to watch.  If you have not had the chance to hear a person speak Japanese through a heavy Russian accent, you are certainly missing out.  She eased from Japanese to Russian to English without skipping a beat.  I tried a chu hi, which resembles a Smirnoff Ice (from a tap), and they add flavored syrups.  A Japanese man and his girlfriend (Taro and Miharu) sat next to us, and immediately started up conversation.  He was probably the best English speaker we have encountered.  We were all looking to make the same JR train so we stumbled to the train station together (by 12:30, when they stop running).  Some miscommunication led us to realize (on the walk home from the station) that they wanted to continue the party at a karaoke place.  Instead we enjoyed a late-night, beer-absorbing ramen meal. 
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