Leaving and ArrivingIt is Wednesday morning at my capsule hotel, and I am struggling with a Japanese keyboard. Forgive my punctuation errors. It:s taking too long to find the apostrophe.
After getting everything together and officially hiring our new teacher, I headed to Beomgye Station to meet the Airport Limousine bus. We left for Incheon Airport at 2:30. My flight wasn:t until 6, but I wanted to get there really early for any problems that would pop up.
And problems did pop up.
When I got to the Japan Airlines counter, the lady said that there was a problem with my passport, and I needed to go to the Immigration office at the back of the terminal. I took a number at Immigration and waited and waited. The woman asked me a few questions, made phone calls, asked more questions, made more phone calls. She then stamped my embarkation card and sent me on my way.
Back, after waiting in the longer line at Japan Airlines, the new lady said that there was a problem. I told her that it just got fixed at Immigration. She got a supervisor, and they started studying my passport and my papers. The supervisor pointed out the stamp on my embarkation card, saying that neither had seen anything like that before. Nonetheless, they let me through.
Security and Immigrations checks were pretty fast, alarmingly so.
I had an hour to kill, so I looked at the shops. The area map said there was something called the “Korean Wave Cultural Center.” I hunted the airport for it. It turned out to be a bank of hi-definition TVs in a gift shop showing Korean soap operas and music videos.
After eating Subway for lunch, I boarded the JAL flight to Osaka. The flight itself was not comfortable. The air was hot, and the food was bad, even for airplane food (mayonnaise and processed cheese “croissant”).
We arrived in Osaka around 8. Immigration took around an hour. It was taking so long that they opened some of the desks for Japanese citizens for the foreigners. The guard told me to go to desk eight. I arrived at desk eight, but it was closed. The guard noticed his error and put me in another line.
I got my bag and headed out to get the train. I first ended up in the parking lot. Since I don:t drive in Japan, I figured I was in the wrong area. I did take time to notice my surroundings. The air was hot, and it smelled like the ocean.
It smelled like home.
I found the trains and figured out the vending machines to get a ticket. I then went to a little drink stand and reached in the cooler to get a water. The lady stopped me and asked me what I wanted. She then reached back and got me my water.
The train ride was long. I got to Osaka Namba station, the central train station in the city, and got outside in the air, rolling my suitcase behind me. I got lost, wandering around the streets of Osaka, looking for my hotel. I had made two maps to show me where it would be. All the time, I was being passed by Japanese youth in all kinds of make up, hair, and dress. There were many couples where the girls were dressed in kimonos and clogs with their hair done in punk styles.
I went past the Canadian consulate and turned left down a narrow street. I finally found the capsule hotel.
The Capsule Hotel
Immediately, as I walked in, the front desk was gesturing at me with their hands. I didn:t understand. They told me to take off my shoes and put them in a locker and give them the key.
After that, check-in was easy, even though they didn:t speak English. They gave me a key in a pouch that I wore around my neck, which opened a locker that corresponded with my capsule number. I put my stuff in there and changed into the light blue robe that was required for guests to wear. I then went upstairs to check out my, um, room.
The hotel is for men only, and it felt like a dormitory, with young and old men walking around in their underwear.
The capsule itself was not as small as I thought it would be. It actually was cozy, save for the tiny buckwheat pillow I was given.
The lounge down the hall from my room had men drinking, smoking, eating, reading newspapers, and watching TV. There was a canteen there, where you buy a ticket from a vending machine and show it to the window. They then make the food for you. They can also get beer on tap for you. I would have gotten something, but the vending machine was all in Japanese.
Instead, I bought a soft drink from another machine and read my Harry Potter book in the lounge. I then went to bed.
I noticed before I went to bed that they sold earplugs. And they must make a killing from those sales. The place was noisy, noisy, noisy with all the snoring, talking, and occasional bumps. I used the buckwheat pillow as a leg pillow and bunched up my heavy sheets to make a pillow for my head. I didn:t sleep very well.
Journey to Kyoto
I woke up to the sound of many individual alarms going off and went downstairs to figure out the Japanese baths. I had been making many faux pas already, and I was nervous about making them while stark naked. I went down to the basement and got a locker. I then looked to see what the people around me were doing. I noticed that they had soap and toiletries with them. I didn:t have any. So I did the ultimate nasty foreigner thing — I gave up on the shower and just got ready for the day. I:m not proud of it.
I had seen on the internet that Namba station had a train that went to Kyoto on the JR Line. JR was the company who ran the train that had the recent crash.
After communicating to the front desk that I needed to stay another night, I went to Namba station to find it. The station itself is huge. And nothing is in English. I couldn:t find any train that went outside of Osaka, so I gave up on going to Kyoto and started working on finding my way to Osaka Castle.
It was then that I saw a sign that said “JR Line.”
I followed the signs and ended up at a set of vending machines with a railway map. One of the stops was Kyoto.
I found it!
I bought a ticket and entered. The problem was that no sign showed where the train to Kyoto went. I searched above and below and found a small train map taped to a column. It showed that I was to take the Nara line to Nara and then transfer to Kyoto. And that train had just left.
I waited twenty more minutes for the next train. The train was very long. It was like a subway train, and it stopped at every station.
In an hour, we arrived at Nara Station. I got confused by the signs and missed two trains to Kyoto. I got on the train to Kyoto, and that was another hour. In the end, it took me three hours to get there.
Kyoto Station itself was as big as Namba Station. It had department stores, a fancy hotel, and a theater.
I was in Kyoto!
I knew that Kyoto was the place to go to for traditional Japanese history, like Gyeongju was for Korean history. It was also the source of many an opponent for Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, as they tried to prove that traditional Japanese cuisine was superior to that radical upstart, Morimoto.
I went to the Tourist Information room to get some information on Kyoto attractions. Unfortunately, the only thing in English at Tourist Information was the word “Tourist Information.”
I got a map with some pictures on it to figure out where I wanted to go. I was starving and looked for a place to eat. I wanted to try the revolving sushi restaurant, where you pick sushi that goes by you on a conveyor belt. But two things were the problem — I didn:t know the etiquette for doing it, and I had no idea how much something like that would cost. Even though I was in the home land for sushi, I had noticed that the price hadn:t gone down any.
I went to an area downstairs called “Gourmet Town” and ordered some cold soba noodles in a bowl with seafood. That was a nice lunch for a hot day of sightseeing. I noticed that I shared my space with many old ladies eating by themselves. It made me kinda sad.
I went to the subway station to figure out where to go. The big attraction was a building that was covered in gold leaf, but my time was short. I wanted maximum touring material. I found a section on the map that looked covered in tourist attractions and bought a ticket for the station next to it.
When I got to the station, it was pouring down rain. Just my luck.
The rain did let up, and I made it through a tunnel to a cool area. It was a villa that the emperor built around 1200. It had different temples and gardens. I was getting my Kyoto experience. This was what I wanted — Japanese temples and gardens.
I can:t believe it, but I started getting my fill of them, especially after paying the admission fees to all the gardens. So I stopped at my third or fourth garden and decided to head back to Osaka.
After getting off at the wrong station once, I made my way back to Kyoto Station and bought a ticket back to Osaka. The train ride to Nara was again one full hour. When I transferred, I noticed a “Rapid” train sitting there, waiting for people to board. Before they closed their doors, I showed my ticket to one of the conductors and asked if it was also good for the Rapid trains.
So all this time, I could have been taking the fast trains that didn:t stop at every station.
Dombotori Street — Gourmet Paradise
I exited Namba station and ended up in the middle of a group of youths breakdancing in a plaza. I thought I may have accidentally stumbled onto the set of “Fame.”
Further down, I found a big neon sign that said “Dombotori Street.” My research said that it was the place to go for food and fun. The section I:m at in Osaka is the nightlife section, by the way.
The street was covered in flashing lights and moving statues of crabs and clowns playing drums. If I hadn:t been in Korea for a year and a half, I would have been more awestruck. Nonetheless, I did see a few Koreans taking pictures of each other in front of a clown playing a drum.
I was looking for a place that looked like it may have an English menu. I got in luck twice. I found a restaurant with English — and it served fugu.
Fugu has been on my list of things to eat before I die. In fact, it was at the end of the list just in case I did die. It:s a blowfish whose liver is poisonous, and a small number of people die each year from fugu poisoning.
I entered and ordered one of the fugu dinner sets. It had fugu sushi, fugu tempura, fugu bones in soup — I was really playing my chances with all these blowfish dishes. But I think I did more damage to the meal than it did to me. I messed many things up. I was about to eat one side dish and then noticed it looked like wasabi, so I mixed with with my soy sauce and tasted it.
It wasn:t wasabi. It was a side dish.
I then picked up this fugu dish wrapped in a leaf like a triangle. We have similar things in Korea we call samgak-kimbap, or triangle kimbap. So I ate it like samgak-kimbap. I learned a new thing.
Banana leaves aren:t edible.
The inside was good, though. The fugu sushi was the best tasting sushi I:ve ever had. It was like the rice was season with lime juice. The fugu tempura was first wrapped in seaweed before fried perfectly light. I then reached for what looked like fugu sashimi in my dish of tempura. It was the minced onions for my tempura sauce.
After all these mistakes and offending the country of Japan, I finished the meal with the most wonderful savoury custard I:ve ever eaten. It was light and delicate and tasted almost like beef consomme. At the bottom was a few little jewels of fugu.
I was so happy with my meal, that I bought a blowfish keychain from them as a badge to show that I:ve had the fugu experience.
That wasn:t my last experience of the night (and you can see that I did survive the fugu). I wanted to try what I heard was Osaka:s specialty — Tako-yaki. It:s little fried balls with octopus inside. I went to a stand and ordered one from some young guys. One of them was asking me questions about where I was from. After answering, I asked him where he was from. I like playing that game.
People were right. Tako-yaki is something that should be experienced. They:re placed in a boat with a brown sauce at the bottom that reminds me of dunkass sauce or A-1 Steak Sauce(tm). I sat on the ground next to a canal, in front of a giant elliptical ferris wheel with a giant Buddha with a neck massager in the middle.
I was finally starting to enjoy myself.
I hunted for some soap and earplugs. After finding them, I tried to find my way back.
I got seriously lost this time, and I found I was walking in exactly the opposite direction for thirty minutes.
I returned to the hotel at 11:30. I changed and curled up in my capsule with my bag and my book. I took out a bottle of carbonated water I had bought earlier. It exploded all over me and the bed.
It didn:t matter. I had had a pretty good day.
Clean At Last
Yes, I finally figured out the shower bath system this morning. It turns out that they had liquid soap in the showers anyway.
But I:m well rested, thanks to the earplugs. People should try them out some time. It:s strange to not hear anything. It may also be healthy for the ears.
I told the front desk that I:m expecting a package, and it looks like they understood. They told me that there would be a 200 yen charge for handling the package. I think that:s what they told me.
I was just getting my shoes when I noticed these computers tucked behind the shoe lockers. I:m off to Osaka Castle today.