Japan. For a while there – back in the 90s to be exact – it was the most innovative, fascinating, and coolest country in the planet. Game-changing gadgets bore the badge “Made in Japan” while Japanese was the cuisine du jour and the preferred partner for any fusion attempt in the culinary world. And what seem to be the oddest yet most riveting pop music artists were perhaps descendants of Samurais or relations of Geishas.
To be honest, I am not a Japanophile. My younger brother, who studied there as an exchange student, plays that part in our family. But my family ties don’t just end there. Truth be told, I wouldn’t literally be here if it wasn’t for the Japanese. Their occupation of the Philippines during WWII was the catalyst for my grandparents’ whirlwind romances. One pair’s marriage didn’t even last for ten years while the other went over and beyond the fifty year mark.
Grandparents, as well as their brothers and sisters, never failed to relay stories on how much they’ll be shaking in terror when the Japs would be going around town. These together with historical accounts made it hard to reconcile the seemingly gentle, hardworking, and bashful image the Japanese has conjured for themselves these past decades. So finally, for my recent birthday, I’ve decided to try to get to know these people as well as check a few items off my bucket list.
My birthday adventure began even before I passed through Philippine immigration. The water bottle in my bag twisted open and so everything – from my mobile to the lent guidebook – got a good soaking. Worried that I may just be completely handicapped on this trip, I stepped on the plane with a heavy heart.
It got a major lift, though, when we landed at Kansai International Airport. This engineering marvel built on an artificial island in Osaka Bay opened back in 1994, years ahead of Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok. And just by landing on this once biggest manmade island before it sinks back to the sea, I got to tick an item on my bucket list.
Getting to the city is not much of a question of how but how much. Kansai International Airport is connected to the mainland by the Sky Gate Bridge R – a road and railroad bridge - so the options are: a cab, bus, and a train. There’s also a ferry that crosses the bay.
I bought a one-week JR Pass before flying out but since I will be in Japan for eight days, I could only use it the day after. Not wanting to blow some cash on my first day, I decided to take the cheapest way to the city and bought a train ticket for just around 1,000 Yen. The ride took longer than I expected but it afforded me a good early glimpse of Japanese everyday life.
|Welcome to Kansai International Airport!|
|My very first encounter with the well-known high-tech Japanese toilet was at the Kansai Airport.|
|Across the main terminal is this counter where one can buy a train ticket to the city.|
|The Airport Express, even if expensive, is a popular mode of transportation getting to the city.|
|The subway train from the airport has upholstered seats. The very first one I've ever rode on. I took it as a VERY good sign of things to come. (And eventually, these seats got filled in.)|
|We were asked to alight the train for a reason I couldn't understand so we passengers had to wait for the next one.|
|They might a bit old but the floor tiles of the platform have such a nice pattern. |
I booked a bed in a dorm room that can sleep six guests. During my brief stay, I shared it with only one who can’t speak a word of English. She was an older lady who – from what l understood - was studying something in the city. Upon learning that I wasn’t Japanese, she gave me all kinds of stuff she could dig up from her luggage. She handed me a pack of mochi, a bag of tea, a pack of tissues, and a crocheted heart thing. With nothing much to offer, I gave her a pack of Choc-Nut that I planned to give my now Tokyo-based friend Jenie. She appeared to be happy about the exchange.
Any plan I had of seeing the sights was completely discarded for the more immediate task of buying a mobile at Den-Den Town – Osaka’s answer to Tokyo’s Akihabara.
|Good Morning, Osaka! Here's the view from the window. |
|Apartment Buildings from across the street of the hostel. |
|Our street was rather quiet that cloudy morning.|
|Some had to be content with very tight accommodations in the city while others have a whole house to themselves.|
|Old houses are sandwiched or towered by taller buildings.|
An older lady came up to me and asked where I am from – the first person on my trip who correctly guessed I wasn't from there. (Even the Filipina Flight Attendant mistook me for a Japanese!) She then announced it to all the vendors in the area and they all proceeded to give their condolences for the country’s loss and destruction due to Typhoon Haiyan. And to sort of uplift the mood, she expressed her admiration on how well we are as a people in speaking English.
|There was a weekend flea market right outside the Shin-Osaka Station.|
|Everyone was welcomed to shop, even furry cuties!|
|The Walkman, the father of these portable players, put Sony on the international map.|
|From film to digital ones, pre-loved cameras were sold at the market.|
|A pair of shoes for 300 Yen.|
|Can you spot the Filipino label?|
|All sorts of things could be found in this flea market.|
|A guy who just came up to me and chatted me up. Said he loves basketball and would love to teach English though he doesn't know how to speak the language.|
After a good hour at the flea market, I headed towards Den-Den Town.
|Colorful signage hope to attract shoppers to their stores.|
|Daiso! But things don't exactly cost 100 Yen. On top of the list price, they add tax.|
|Filipino product sold at Daiso!|
|Narrow alleyways such as this is quite ubiquitous in Japan.|
|Sales people trying to catch the attention of shoppers.|
|Pedestrians and bikers waiting for their turn. Check out the lady on the bike. She's peddling with heels on!|
|Hello, old friend!|
And boy was I in for a surprise! I stepped inside a shop and was greeted by rows and rows of mobile phones being sold at very affordable prices! But after a minute of staring at iPhones, I remembered that these phones have a catch. They’re locked to a local mobile service provider and wouldn’t work outside of Japan. Luckily, I found a couple of phones that were unlocked and finally decided on one. Needless to say, it was an unexpected purchase which turned out to be completely unnecessary. When I got back to the hostel, my mobile actually turned on!
But fortunately for my butt, I didn’t have much time to kick it because I had to catch the Shinkansen to Kyoto.