I could do another post about the earthquake/tsunami/Fukushima, and the fact that the hysterical fear mongering in the foreign media is sensationalizing Fukushima and allowing it to overshadow the real tragedy, but I don’t want to. I’ve been talking about it, reassuring people that, yes, I’m really okay and, no, I’m not fleeing the country, for over a week now and I’m tired. So instead we’re going to return to your regularly scheduled programing with the second half of my Kansai trip: Osaka!
I love Osaka. It’s one of my favorite cities anywhere and my second choice part of Japan in which to live (Tokyo beats it for having more work for foreigners, and the proximity to people I care about). If, when I next come over here, the Tokyo area isn’t an option, Osaka is next on the list. It’s such a great city. Ugly in that special way the Japanese have mastered, but great nonetheless. I’ve been there three times and I love it a little more every time.
This time around, with just Lauren, we spent Sunday wandering around with no set schedule and no firm plans, which was perfect. First we ate at my favorite Japanese chain, which Shikoku doesn’t have: Italian Tomato. Honestly, it’s just a coffee shop with a small Italian food menu, and nothing special, but they have the greatest mozzarella and tomato cream spaghetti in Japan. Seriously. When I was doing JSP, it was sort of my comfort food, with Annie and Alex. We ate there whenever we were unhappy or worried about something or stressed. So I took Lauren and she loved it, too. As well she should because it’s amazing. Then we were off to Shinsaibashi.
Shinsaibashi is the biggest shopping district in Osaka. It’s basically a massive series of covered shopping arcades (something that happens to be very popular here), filled with a mix of designer shops, foreign brands, Japanese brands, and restaurants. They have pretty much everything, including a Krispy Kreme, and, while it was really crowded, it was still fun to look. We went into the Disney store and I got a pair of earrings and a phone strap because I love Disney. Just in case you didn’t know. We were also traumatized by something truly frightening.
That. Now, unless you live under a rock, you know Sanrio. They’re the Hello Kitty people, producers of a series characters and their assorted goods. Lauren and I are not Sanrio people, but this store was so massive and decked out that we had to take a look. This was poor judgement on our parts because we got maybe five feet in the door, saw the sales girls dressed in cutesy aprons, the huge number of adult women seriously browsing, and the sheer amount of over-the-top cute and fluffy, and fled. Never again.
Aside from our foray into the Disney store, we didn’t buy anything. Most of the stores were either too expensive or too crowded, so we stopped in Subway to eat lunch and then moved on to go back to Namba, from which we would go to Dotonbori, which is a very famous walking street . To get to Namba, though, we had to find the Shinsaibashi subway station again and, in the process of following the signs, we found this instead:
West Town. Apparently. We walked down the stairs that said we were going to the subway station and were greeted at the bottom by an underground shopping mall. The signs, for the record, did not say we were headed for said underground shopping mall. After a moment of confusion because, seriously, we didn’t expect to find a mall at the bottom of the subway stairs, we were able to locate more signs directing us to the subway station, and got back to Namba. From Namba Station, which has an awesome shopping arcade of its own, for the record, we went outside and walked (in the rain) to Dotonbori.
The picture at the top of the post, with the fugu, is also in Dotonbori, but the above picture is farther down the street. Dotonbori is one long street, running between two bridges. In the past, it was a pleasure district, now it’s famous for shops, restaurants, and a lot of neon lights and iconic signs, like the fugu lantern. Basically, it’s the quintessential example of how flamboyant and quirky Osaka is, especially in comparison to the rest of Japan.
Dotonbori also, for lack of a better way to put it, looks like Japan. In other places, particularly parts of Tokyo, there’s been such an attempt to imitate western countries that it ends up somewhere in between. Not quite like any other country, which does make it very Japanese in a way, but also not quite like itself anymore. Dotonbori has not fallen into that trap. When you’re in this part of Osaka, you look around and realize that, yes, you are in Asia. So, to close my little summary of my weekend in Osaka, I’m going to leave you with a picture of a side street off Dotonbori that captures what might actually be my favorite side of Japan.