Golden Week 2015: Osaka (day 1).

Golden Week is a group of Japanese holidays that occur around the end of April/beginning of May, including a weekend. Many businesses close for these holidays, so people often use this time to travel. (Consequently, hotel and travel fees supposedly skyrocket during this period.) A few of the schools in my company stay open, but most of them close, including mine. I had to work Thursday and Friday, but my usual weekend plus the next three days off meant I had five days to myself. It had been three years since I’d been to Osaka, and since I was more informed about the Shinkansen after visiting Nagoya, I decided it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Rather than leave on Saturday, though, I chose to enjoy my usual Saturday routine and head out on Sunday.

I got up somewhat early on Sunday, but by the time I got to Shinagawa and got my train ticket, it was late morning. I have to say that I consider myself lucky to live near Shinagawa — the only other Shinkansen stop in Tokyo is Tokyo Station. In addition, despite the warnings that prices would be much higher, an unreserved Nozomi seat was only a few hundred yen higher than it would have been in the off season. I ended up with a middle seat, which was comfortable enough, and settled in for a two-and-a-half-hour ride to Shin-Osaka.

The view from my hotel room. Pretty nice, considering.

The last time I stayed in Osaka, I stayed in a place in Shin-Imamiya. That hotel was full this time, but my friend Takashi (who’s the best at finding cheap hotels) told me to try the Hotel Raizan near 動物園前駅. Technically, the hotel was between that station and Shin-Imamiya, and I spotted at least two or three more on my way there, so I suppose that area is good for affordable lodging. I managed to get a room on the 8th floor, though there were no rooms available with the online discount I was looking for. The price was relatively cheap, anyway, but what made the hotel remarkable were its amenities. In addition to each room having a TV and a fridge, the lobby had a kitchen (with a microwave, large table, and hot-water appliances), storage space for oversized luggage, cheap laundromat, electronic darts machine (with free play), and a spa for each gender. They also had a tray with free うまい棒 for any guests who wanted one, and even a bottle of water after checking in. The hotel seemed to be popular with tourists: there was an Australian guy talking nearly nonstop when I first checked in, and people from Taiwan and other parts of Asia in the lobby fairly often after that.

My first order of business when I got there was to get lunch, and I knew where I wanted to go: ほっかほっか亭, the walk-in 弁当 restaurant where the nice lady lent me an umbrella three years back. I think she was working that day, too, but she didn’t remember that instance at all, and it had been long enough I couldn’t recall, either. I got a huge lunch called とりめしスペシャル, consisting of fried chicken, a pair of meatballs, a sausage, and some rice (plus a few other things). Since it’s just a walk-in, I had to find somewhere to eat. A quick train ride to Namba later and I found a public area attached to the train station with a 7-11 and small restaurant, as well as a wide stairway with a musician playing a show. I sat down on the steps and ate my fill before starting to look for 日本橋 (Nipponbashi, not to be confused with Tokyo’s Nihonbashi). It took a while for me to get my bearings, during which I located some sort of Hawaiian festival with dozens of girls dressed in traditional island dancer’s garb. After a lot of aimless walking and backtracking, I finally made it to Nipponbashi.

Nipponbashi, my first foray into authentic Japanese geekdom.

The real Otaku Mecca in Japan is Tokyo’s Akihabara, but major cities all have some sort of geek center; Osaka’s is Nipponbashi. They have the usual stores: Yellow Submarine, Melonbooks, K-Books, Gee! Store, Comic Toranoana, Gamers, Animate, and even a Maidreamin (the largest maid café chain). It’s a good bit smaller than Akiba, though, and instead of a host of Sega game centers, they have a Namco Land and a Taito Station, as well as a handful of independent game centers. I made the rounds, but found nothing that interested me. I did have an odd exchange in one of the indie places with one of the staff: a cute girl in cosplay noticed me wearing my Noir shirt and asked me which series it was. She didn’t know it, so I looked up when it aired. When I told her it was from 2001, she said to me, “I’m only seventeen.” That would have made her about three when it aired. That means she would have been only eight when the Haruhi anime, a much bigger-name show, was on Japanese TV. It made me feel a little old.

I eventually left Nipponbashi so I could make my way to アメリカ村, where the city’s Mandarake was, but the looming clouds that had been following me finally gave way to rain. I found a 100円 shop and bought a barely-adequate umbrella, then resumed my journey. Again, it took me a lot of wandering, map-checking, and asking directions before I finally located Mandarake. I found nothing I wanted there, either, but it was fun to look.

It was nice to meet old friends.

By that time, I was hot, tired, and wet from sweat and rain, so I decided to head back to the hotel to cool/dry off. I’d been talking to my old teacher Ueda-sensei about meeting up since before I’d left, and we’d been coordinating all day, so by the time I got back and cool and dry, we had made plans to meet in 天王寺. Ueda-sensei was one of our Japanese teachers from Kinki who had made an impression on me, and he eventually married Kanako, who was the woman that accompanied us everywhere we went in Osaka. They hadn’t been dating when I was there before, but they started sometime afterward, and eventually got married. I met them at the train station and we went to find something to eat. Technically, Ueda-sensei had eaten and Kana wasn’t hungry, and neither of them drink alcohol, but we wound up at a pub called 夢屋. I did most of the eating, but the two enjoyed some of the small dishes with me. Ueda-sensei and I did most of the talking — in English — and caught up. We also spoke at length about language. Kanako spoke a bit less, I think because her comprehension was somewhat lower. Still, it was realy good to see them, since it had been four years. They insisted on paying for the meal, which was not surprising, and we parted ways. I’d like to see them again — sooner than four years this time.

It was late, so I caught one of the last few trains back to 動物園前 and took a detour to the massive Maruhan pachinko parlor a few blocks away from the hotel whose upper floor was a huge ドン・キホーテ. I bought my お土産 at JR Nagoya last time, and it was kind of expensive, so this time I’d decided to buy my stuff at Donki. A few purchases later, I headed back to the hotel, made a couple phone calls to my friend Josh and my mom, and then crashed.

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