Click the above video to see some footage I collected during my trip to Osaka.
It had been 14 months since I left Tokyo Narita Airport on a flight bound to the US. At that time I was unsure of how long it would be until I would return to Japan, not knowing that less than a year from then I would be moving back to Asia, extremely close to the country I called home for much of 2010.
Osaka is a place familiar enough to me to warrant just showing up in town without looking up travel destinations, but foreign enough that I don't have any friends in town nor do I have any favorite places. Even though I had only made two visits to Osaka while living in Japan, one of which I was a 12-hour stop during a road trip, it's one of my favorite places in Japan. It is the city famous for unique oddities in the country famous for unique oddities.
Osaka is Japan's second city. Part of the Kansai region, which also includes historical Kyoto, touristy Nara and the port of Kobe, all forty-five minutes or less away by train. It doesn't get half the international attention as Tokyo, but within Japan it is famous for many reasons.
It is the food capital of Japan, with many trademark dishes either originating from or perfected in Osaka. The region has its own dialect, which people from around the country both attempt to mimic as well as ridicule.
Most famous of all are the people. Often known for being loud, brash, friendly, quirky and simply different, they are Tokyo's the rebel sibling. Nationally known for being the most die-hard of baseball fanatics, primarily for the Hanshin Tigers, famously jumping into Dotonbori River after victories (a practice that led to them acquiring an even more famous curse).
Osaka is the only city in Japan that I've been to where people are chatty on trains, not always consumed by their books, cell phones or video games. It's possible to have a conversation with a complete stranger. This vivacity and dynamism is what I love about the city.
I traveled to Osaka with my friend and co-worker Junior. While he's never lived in Japan, he studied Japanese in college and had been to Osaka almost a dozen times, himself having plenty of friends in town. We arrived with no plans whatsoever. Just showing up on a 3-day weekend off of work in Seoul and looking to enjoy Japan.
During the day, we wandered around, ate fantastic food and just hung out.
At night we met up with Junior's fantastically nice friends. Drinking Asahi or Kirin, playing darts and trying our best to speak a language we are forgetting while trying to keep Korean from accidentally slipping out.
It was odd being in a different country where I could speak the language again. I was able to competantly ask someone on the street for directions and understand their response as well as make small talk with new friends, something that I'm not yet able to do in Korea.
It cannot be understated how close the cities of Kansai feel. We were sitting around in Osaka thinking about what to do next in the city when we figured we jump over to Kyoto real quick to take a look at Nitendo's headquarters.
Japan is very much of land of juxstoposition and contradiction.
In many ways it is cold, calculated, ordered mayhem. The country has some of the largest and most densely populated cities, yet trains run immaculately on time, the streets are clean and people respect each others personal space.
There's a simplistic beauty to traditional Japanese architecture that often carries over to the countries modern architecture in some ways.
This tatami mat and inch thick futon in my hotel room provided me with some of the best sleep I've gotten in a long time. Maybe it was an effect of the heavy nostalgia trip I was on.
This is the best okonomiyaki restaurant I have ever eaten at. It's a small place, in a somewhat dingy residential neighborhood near Dobutsuen-mae subway station. The walls yellow from the teppanyaki grill in constant use since 1958. With counter space plus two tables, you couldn't squeeze more than 12 inside. We walked in to three silver haired men getting drunk at the counter, finishing their meals over a baseball game on a small TV in the corner, occasionally yelling at the Tigers' four run deficit. After we gave the man our order, who was likely born two decades before his mother opened the place, he brought us over some of his personal, delicious plum wine.
This is the okonomiyaki, specifically Hiroshima style modan-yaki. It was bliss. When we parted, he left us with miniature kites with a kimono clad ukiyo-e woman on it. I accidentally left mine in the seat pocket of the plane back to Seoul.
Amongst all of this traditional calm, these is plenty of bizarre abount in Japan. Plenty.