Osaka: Slight Return
Trip Start Sep 09, 2009
15Trip End Oct 21, 2009
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Where I stayed
Lemon House guesthouse, again!:)
"Osaka: Slight Return"
"Thank you EVERYBODY for making my stay in Osaka GREAT!," I penned on a piece of scrap paper and pinned to the corkboard.
That was the last I would see of Lemon House and my new friends... I thought.
MODORIMAS! (I'M BACK!)"
After a jaunt to Nara and Mt. Koya I expected to head south to the island of Shikoku, but discovered that all major trains passed back through Osaka. So, Osaka it was!...
I rounded the corner to Lemon House and there she was.
"Yochi! Yochi!" I called out.
She turned, and after a moment of confusion she came running with a big surprised smile.
SWAMI!" she exclaimed, and gave me a big hug.
Well, that was a nice "welcome back":)
Next, I went to Tanikawa to see about getting a room.
He, too, was surprised to see me, and queried hopefully, "You stay one week? One month?"
It felt nice. But I had to tell him, "No, only a couple nights, I'm afraid:("
We were still glad to see each other, again, though:)
"Did you eat?" he asked.
"No. Actually, I'm a bit hungry," I replied.
"We have Korean kimchi dinner tonight," he invited.
Looks like I arrived at just the right time, I thought to myself!
#403, my old room. I opened the door and there was my "old" friend and roomie, Josh. Again, a nice look of surprise. I was happy to be back:)
"Hey, roomie, I'm back," I announced.
We had a nice chat about my excursion and all things Japanese. Josh is a wealth of information and experience about many things, particularly Japan.
KOREAN KIMCHI DINNER!:
Nine of us packed into Hyana's little dorm room. The borrowed low table occupied most of the floor space. It was a "cozy" little dinner party:)
I made my now old Miyamoto Musashi chopstick joke (catching a fly in mid flight) and got a laugh out of a new, unsuspecting audience, then dug in and snatched some kimchi from my bowl… not bad, I thought.
Kimchi is to Korea what rice is to Japan: you eat it with every meal! Hyana had recently arrived from Korea and had brought a supply of authentic Korean kimchi, because let's face it, anything else is just second best!:)
So, what is kimchi? Well, kimchi is a traditional Korean pickled dish made of vegetables and seasoning, with cabbage as a main ingredient, often. For more, go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kimchi.
HOT SAUCE! I like spicy, but not too hot, so I refrained from the "contest." Canadian Mike put a generous portion of pain on his fingertip, then devoured it in one lick.
"It's not that hot," he said, passively goading the others into an undeclared contest.
Hyana was the first taker. Apparently, they like it really spicy in Korea. She did the finger test and looked very UNimpressed. Her Korean friend gave it the same review.
Next, it was Tanikawa's turn, then Yochi's. Ah, the faces of pain everybody was looking for!
Definitely not for me. I kept my finger to myself.
We shared some laughter and conversation while drinking beer and whatnot. After a few group photos, things wound down and the dinner guests filtered out.
Next: up to the rooftop commons for internet...
OLD FRIENDS AND NEW:
In the commons I reconnected with my "student," Taichi (yes, that's his name, and no, he doesn't do tai chi; no connection).
Met students recently arrived from India: Akram, Sandeep, and Mansoor. Had nice conversation with Akram and learned a bit more about Indian culture. Parents know what's best for their children so they arrange marriage. He emphatically repeated that NOBODY is "untouchable" anymore. And of interest, he stated that any foreign company wanting to do business in India has to form a business partnership with an Indian company. So, for example, Honda is Honda Siel Cars India.
Akram reported that more and more Japanese companies are doing business in India, hence these students' travel to Japan for a one year and three months study in Japanese language and culture.
At the end of our conversation Akram said, "Please stay in touch. You are the only American I know."
That's kinda cool. I'm definitely going to stay in touch.
During the course of my brief stay I also met Jeanne and Toshi...
Jeanne had just arrived from Korea. She was an interesting sort - a French-Canadian art student working on her masters degree. Her current project was in iconology: connecting icons from the 16th century with current day icons of the internet, at least that was the gist of it as a far as I understood. She was an "earthy" type, into Burning Man and such. We talked about Rainbow gatherings and WWOOFing (working on a farm for board and food), and other hippy-type stuff:)
Toshi was way cool. We got along right off. Having lived in Germany, he spoke English with a German accent which kinda distinguished him. He was young and edgy, which I liked. I later learned from his facebook that he was into skateboarding. I knew I liked him:) We've emailed and fb chatted a couple times since.
MAID CAFE, AGAIN!
Of course, a return to Osaka would not be complete without at least one visit to my favorite Maid Cafe!:)...
(I made it three times, actually!)
Yuna and Meruru where there to greet me w/ a big KONNICHIWA! There was just something nice and comfortable about the place. It served as a sorta home base, plus a great place to meet locals.
This time I met Atiko, Ueno, and Jo (all male).
Atiko was a 17 year old student who was happy to get to practice his English.
Ueno was a quirky fashion designer wearing a conspicuous mirror-tiled tie! Definitely a non-conformist in a notoriously conformist society - which reminds me of a joke I heard...
A ship is sinking. The caption announces there are not enough lifeboats.
He asks the Brit, "Will you jump?"
"Yes, for the Queen!" he yells, and overboard he goes.
Next, the German...
"Ya, for zee homeland!" [splash]
"Hell yeah! God bless America!"
Finally, the Japanese...
"Everybody else is doing it," he chimes and throws himself to his death.
Of course, this is an exaggeration and stereo-typing, but I shared it with a number of Japanese and they acknowledged some truth in it.
Jo was the funniest guy I met. He claimed not to be an "otaku" (Japanese nerd), but clearly was. So, of course he was OK in my book. We've emailed back and forth. He even told me not to tell America about otaku. I'm sure he was just joking. Long live otaku!:)
The Japanese love their cats! >^. _ .^< Another reason for me to love Japan:) Cats are considered to be good luck in Japan (see article on Maneki Neko, the “Lucky Cat," http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maneki_Neko). Basically, he saved an emperor's life and was decreed lucky and raised to privileged status.
A "cat cafe" is where you go to hang with a bunch of cats:) Think of it as a petting zoo with cats.
My roomie, Rowan, mentioned this Japanese phenomenon and said there was one nearby in Den Den Town. Turns out he's a bit of a cat-lover, too, so we set out together in search of the feline phenom...
So, that's it, a place where you go to hang with cats - for a flea... I mean, a fee.
The support columns in the small room were near ceiling-length scratching/climbing posts. There was a little luxury apartments and even a rooftop, open-air penthouse. One cat was enjoying Perrier dripping from the faucet (well, maybe it was just tap water, but let's not spoil it for him).
My favorite was an aloof tiger-striped cat with black stripes on an off-white background. He looked quite exotic. Rowan tried to pay him on our way out, but this neko was having none of it - collecting money was for the hired help!
After getting our fill of cat lovin', we moseyed out to explore more of Den Den Town...
Much of the fun of Japan was sampling the local and national cuisine. Okonomiyaki is a popular dish with many regional variations. Basically, it's shredded cabbage with egg and "fixins" grilled ("yaki") in front of you, or even by you.
By the famous Shinsekai (New World) Tower we found a nice okonomiyaki place. I chose the squid, octopus, and shrimp combo.
Our server brought us each a bowl of raw ingredients. She showed Rowan how to mix the raw egg and other ingredients into the cabbage, then formed it into a big circular patty on the large table-top hot plate between us. She flipped a sand-filled timer and left us to our delight.
I followed suit and formed the perfect okonomiyaki disk! The tricky part is the flip. With the skill of a seasoned chef, I performed a perfect flip! The crowning achievement is to baste it with your choice of sauces and finally top it off with streams of mayo. I artistically scrawled a large star on mine:) "swami*"
It was almost too beautiful to eat... but I was quite hungry and dug right in:) YUM! Oyshikata! (It was delicious!)
Hopefully I can find it in The States...
I could have easily stayed longer, even the rest of my time in Osaka, but I wanted to explore more of Japan. I wanted to see the island of Shikoku, relax in an onsen (hot spring), get to the countryside, and definitely make it to Hiroshima and the world-famous Peace Memorial Park.
As fate would have it, I only made it to Hiroshima, but man what an experience that was! See my two blogs: 1) "Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park - Day 1" (http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/swami_worldtrav/4/1255704628/tpod.html); and 2) " A-BOMB DOME REVISITED " (http://www.travelpod.com/travel-blog-entries/swami_worldtrav/4/1255705407/tpod.html).
Anyhow, I enjoyed the last of my time with friends at Lemon House then packed for my trip to Hiroshima via the Shinkansen bullet train.
Loaded down once again with front ant backpack, I descended the four flights of steps one last time and said goodbye to my beloved Lemon house. I looked up its seven stories of balconies and saw my roomie, Josh, waving from the fourth floor, and my dear friend, Tanikawa san, waving from one floor above. I smiled and waved back:)
[CLICK] I captured a fitting, sentimental shot as I made my way to my next adventure...