It was a Japanese whirlwind! Melissa’s older brother Mike and his wife Judy traveled to Japan last month to experience as much as possible in two weeks. And it was a fast two weeks. A trip that was months in the planning flew by in the fastest two weeks known to man!
The adventure began on a hot and humid evening when Melissa and I met the Grahams at Tokyo Narita International Airport. Their flight was a few hours late and they were exhausted when they arrived. We ate a quick meal at the airport and then headed to the Narita Tobu Airport Hotel and were welcomed to mediocre air conditioning. The next morning dawned and the air conditioning was still mediocre, but now we could add a mediocre breakfast with runny scrambled eggs (a Japanese favorite at breakfast buffets) and some awesome breads. It was today that our Japanese adventure truly began. We boarded the Shinkansen and sped our way to Osaka.
We basked in air conditioned comfort as the Japanese landscape blurred outside the window. Mike and Judy were traveling on JR Rail Passes, which allowed them to travel on all JR trains, including the Shinkansen (Bullet Train), but sadly not the super fast Nozomi Bullet Train. Although the fastest train was not allowed on the pass, the second fastest was still super fast! In a couple of hours we arrived at Shin-Osaka station and exited the train and it’s air conditioned bliss into the chaos and sweltering heat and humidity of central Japan. The heat, humidity, rain were our nemesis the entire trip. Japan in the middle of summer is hot and humid with temps ranging from 27-32 degrees Celcius with 75-90% humidity…and then it rains. So, you are pretty moist the entire time, and that is not an understatement. Beware of chafing!
Rain spat on us intermittently as we walked several blocks to the Shin Osaka Station Hotel Honkan, which would be our home for the next three nights. Our luggage safely stored, we headed to the Osaka Metro Subway where we bought rechargeable Kansai Passes with the image of Atomic Boy (a.k.a. Astro Boy).
A quick note about Astro Boy: The first person we asked to name the character at the train station called him Atomic Boy and a lot of the Japanese people we encountered referred to this anime character as Atomic Boy, although just as many referred to him as Astro Boy. According to my knowledge and further research, his name in the original manga series from the 1950s was Mighty Atom and later he became Astro Boy. (MightyAtom pic) We continued to refer to him as Atomic Boy and we relied on him to get us everywhere and he never let us down! We love Atomic Boy!
Our first stop in Osaka, thanks to Atomic Boy and the local subway system, was Osaka-jo, or Osaka Castle. Located in the heart of Osaka, Osaka-jo’s turbulent history began in 1496 as Ishiyama Honganji temple built by a high ranking monk of the Jodo Shinshu sect and boasted great power and influence. This power disappeared in 1580 when Nobunaga Oda burned it down during his campaign for national unification. Three years later in 1583, Oda died and Hideyoshi Hashiba (Toyotomi) seized power and began construction of a castle on the site. Hashiba built a castle fit to house the ruler of all of Japan. But, after he died, control moved to Tokugawas and in 1615 the castle, once again, fell. Reconstruction began again in 1620 under the power of the second shogun Hidetada and took ten years to complete. Then in 1655, the main tower of the castle was destroyed by lightning. In spite of that, the castle remained a major force in helping the Shogunate control Western Japan. Many buildings were destroyed by fire during the violent and chaotic transition to Imperial rule. Closer to modern times, the castle was used by the army in 1931 which brought about the reconstruction of the main tower. In World War II, the area around the castle was heavily bombed and was turned into a historic site park after the war. In 1997, Osaka-jo was included in the list of Registered Cultural Properties of Japan.
We bought our tickets and joined the throngs of visitors slowly making our way inside. The Osaka Castle Museum consists of 8 floors of exhibits. No photos allowed, but the exhibits, lines, stairs, and sweat are etched in all of our memories! Osaka-jo is worth all the effort and more! We worked up an appetite so, we embarked upon a short cab ride in the pouring rain to have lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe Osaka…rock and eat on!
Exiting the Hard Rock Cafe Osaka with satiated appetites, the rain continued to fall and the temperature remained very warm. Next stop Dōtombori. The Dōtombori district derives its name from the 400 year old Dōtombori-gawa canal which is now lined on both sides with pedestrian walkways, shops, restaurants and exciting lighted billboards and signs. And those pedestrian walkways and covered arcade shopping areas were crowded! With our raincoats and umbrellas ready, we boarded an open air boat to explore the canal. And yes, we saw the famous Gilco running man sign!
After the boat tour, the rain continued, but did not dampen our exploration of the area. Dōtombori is full of all kinds of shops and restaurants to satisfy anyone’s inquisitive nature or shopaholic tendencies. We even found several restaurants we deemed “emergency eating places”. Now is a good time to explain that Mike is not a big fan of Japanese food, mainly because he does not like seafood or unique combinations of flavor. So emergency eating places meant that they were Western cuisine in nature. Places like McDonalds, Starbucks, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendy’s, and, of course, Baskin Robbins! No emergency eating that night, however, as we found an awesome little yakiniku restaurant in Dōtombori called Yakiniku Icho and it was delicious! Oishi-desu!
After our delicious feed of Japanese beef, rice, and veggies, Atomic Boy led us through the subway maze back to our hotel. Shin Osaka Station Hotel Honkan is a business hotel, so the rooms are very small and two to a room made it even smaller. The bathroom was not much bigger than the toilet on an international airline flight and the shower, I wish I had taken a picture, was a tub with a hand-held shower head that was connected to the bathroom sink. The bed was as hard as a rock and there were no extra pillows, but the staff were so friendly and welcoming that none of that really seemed to matter. After all, we were exploring Japan and loving every minute of it!
More Osaka exploration in part two of our family adventure is coming soon, so keep checking A Thousand Miles from Kansas…or better yet, subscribe and follow so you don’t miss a thing!
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