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September 22 – October 1 – Osaka & Kyoto

My adventures in Japan continue! I spent much of this last week exploring Osaka and Kyoto (~$10 train ride from Osaka).

In Osaka I have enjoyed just hopping on the train and seeing where I end up while also trying to hit the highlights. Osaka Castle is definitely one of them:

Osaka Castle

In the heart of the city, Osaka Castle is a national landmark that played a huge role in Japan’s unification in the 16th century. It was surreal walking around this castle in the middle of a city. I was amazed at how well the structure was preserved (Osaka Castle is older than the United States!).

Lamb Tree
Osaka Castle 2 Osaka Castle 3

The day I visited there was even a wedding (sorry I am a creeper, but at least I was not the only one):

Wedding

It was also funny to see Japanese tourists acting as kooky as American tourists often do (I grew up in Orlando so I have seen some wacky tourist behavior). For example, this booth where you could dress up in traditional Japanese attire and pose with weapons in front of the castle:

Picture

There was also a booth handing out free drinks. Lesson: ALWAYS ask what it is before you take a swig …. unfortunately I learned the hard way that the samples weren’t water or Pocari Sweat (the clear Japanese gatorade) … they were shots of sake (OOF!):

Sake

Oh and hey … if you were worried about where you were going to buy your Japanese shurikens, Osaka Castle has also got you covered on that front:

Shuriken

Other fun things I’ve learned and seen in Osaka:

  • There are brothels in Osaka, but these aren’t very popular. What ARE popular are ‘hosts’ – young men and women who you can pay to hang out with you for a night (you buy their drinks, food, etc. and pay for their time by the hour). At first this concept was confusing to me, but it has been explained to me as being similar to paying for the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend for however long you pay them (minus anything physical). The hosts will treat you how you want and in return you get to live your perfect relationship fantasy. Awesome?
  • Over a third of Japan’s population is above the age of 60. This is a problem that the government is very concerned with as salaried work is often so demanding on the mostly male workforce that dating is difficult and seen as a drain on income and precious free time. You don’t see too many kids on the street or in parks walking around. TOO though, you don’t see that many elderly men and women. Interestingly enough, how convenient much of Japan is (there are at least 2 drink vending machines on every block in Osaka) also makes it easy for the older members of the population to stay indoors. Kind of bursts the “Japanese people are so healthy” stereotype I had certainly imagined before coming here.
  • Speaking of health — fitness is not a huge concern for many Japanese. If you are a salaried employee you probably don’t have a ton of time to work out and fitness in general is just not embraced in the same way it is elsewhere. As Sean, my crossfit coach says, “most of the Japanese in Osaka are skinny-fat; they have no muscle!” — while it is difficult to verify this, I will say my crossfit gym is the only gym I have seen in my wanderings across Osaka so far ….
  • Really, why isn’t Japanese fried chicken served in America? It is truly amazing. Below though are takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls!)

Takoyaki

BUT, the highlight of this past week was definitely my trip to Kyoto.

I took an express train (which again, round trip was about $10) that got me from Osaka to Kyoto in ~30 minutes. I barely cracked open my book (*side note: is that still an expression if you read from a kindle?).

Train

First stop was Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine:

Shrine

This shrine was gorgeous and my favorite sight in Japan so far. I cannot recommend it more! I would suggest getting there early / before 9am (being able to explore the shrine alone and in silence was fantastic) and be prepared for a hike (up steps) of about 1-2 hours. You will walk under literally (LITERALLY) thousands of toriis as you venture through the shrine.

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That last picture is of the final torii near one of the shrine exits. Apparently it is purposely unfinished as it is believed that the path (along with the torii gates) continue through the sky to heaven.

Really this shrine is so special — a must-see!

I also explored Gion, the Shoren-in Temple, and the beautiful park and shrines in between. Gion is a shopping area / street in a more traditional part of Kyoto.

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I have to say, I was surprised by how different Kyoto felt from Osaka. Even the food was different! Crab on stick? Grilled fish? Tofu flavored icecream?

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Well, my next stop is Hiroshima (excited to see the peace memorial). Will report back soon!

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September 15 โ€“ September 21 โ€“ First week in Osaka

I have arrived in Japan!

Flight

Wow! What a culture shock. I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but Osaka has very few non-Japanese residents (I’ve literally seen two white people since arriving). AND there is very VERY little English on signs, in stores, in the subway, etc. Be prepared.

I highly recommend taking a screenshot of a subway map with English translations and having the picture on your phone. The subway is highly useful and pretty cheap, but you don’t want to get trapped in a station with no English on the maps.

Subway Map Subway

I am really doing Japan on the cheap, which means hostel living. Most of the folks staying in our hostel are also Japanese (working short-term in Osaka). I have to say at first I was a little worried about the lack of locks / protection of your things, but people here appear to be highly trustworthy. And my hostel has free and unlimited bananas so …. I’m good ๐Ÿ™‚

Bed

After getting setup at a local co-working space, Common Room Nakatsu ….

CCN

… I also signed up for the only Crossfit box in all of Osaka, Crossfit Minami.

Crossfit M

I have also done a fair bit of exploring in two of the major Osaka shopping districts Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi (literally right next to each other). Shinsaibashi appears to go on for the length of the entire prefecture. Okay okay, I am probably exaggerating, but the point is you could spend a full day walking around this indoor / outdoor shopping area.

Shin
Doton.

Look a Sega store! And with traditional Japanese drum guitar hero and very specifically prized crane games:

Sega Corgi
Drums

Of course if you come to Japan wanting to read manga, the opportunities are endless (except you need to know Japanese). Even most restaurants I’ve walked into had thick books of serialized manga on their shelves!

Manga

And what about an Anime themed casino? No problem!

Casino

BUT … of course the best part about Osaka so far has been the food. Osaka actually is known for the best food in Japan. It has exceeded expectation so far. The only hiccup being in most restaurants I am playing a bit of Russian Roulette with the menus since most have no English on / in them and the restaurant staff only speak Japanese.

Menu Dish

PS that dish above was from a restaurant Joel recommended called ใŸใ“็ซน. It was raw seafood on top of noodles on top of the best rice I have ever had + soup + tea. And before you say, “Sydney: ใŸใ“็ซน is not helpful — how am I supposed to find this place?” my advice would be copy-paste and plug into google maps. ใŸใ“็ซน does not have an English name like most restaurants I have seen in Osaka ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Today is a holiday in Japan, ๆ•ฌ่€ใฎๆ—ฅ Keirล no Hi, which roughly translates to “Respect for the Aged Day.” Basically this weekend is like a Japanese labor day weekend all about celebrating your elders. As my mom says, “that should be an American holiday too!”

Well, back to writing. Tomorrow I visit Kyoto!

September 9 – September 14 – XOXO fest

Before heading off to Japan I stopped in Portland for XOXO fest an experimental festival / conference celebrating independently produced art and technology.

XOXO

XOXO is figuratively the coolest conference on the planet. The schedule was too jam-packed to list everything, but here were the highlights for me:

      + C. Spike Trotman’s talk about working as an independent webcomic creator (check out

Iron Circus Comics

      )

 

      + Nicky Case’s

Explorable Explanations

      (you’ll probably recognize some of the simulations he has created)

 

      + An introduction to

Baman Piderman

      , the cutest and funniest web series I’ve seen by Lindsey and Alex

 

      +

Feminist Frequency

    episode screening (Anita Sarkeesian finally putting a data-driven, experienced voice to the sexism in the gaming industry a lot of women feel)

Honestly there was so much great stuff here. I am excited to go back and to continue to explore Portland (especially the food).

Benedict Bulgogi

It was also wonderful to see my friend Eli and hang with her throughout the weekend (and Riley too of course!)

Friends

Next stop: Japan!

August 15 – September 8 – Family Time

Well, I took a break from my travels to come back to Orlando for my cousins’ b’nai mitzvah. Aside from the requisite (and quite fun!) family time, I had a fairly productive few weeks in the States.

Checked off:
1) Wrote and submitted all my business school applications (6 schools)
2) Applied and was admitted to Dev Bootcamp (wahoo!!!)
3) Got into (really into) crossfit
4) Checked off all my doctors’ appointments (including more vaccines yay!)
5) Unpacked and repacked a much smaller suitcase for travels

A few pics from my time home:

Luf1 Luf 2
Fam 1 Fam 2
HP1 HP 2
BMitz Keno 1
Keno 2 Keno 3

Next up: XOXO in Portland! Then off to Japan ๐Ÿ™‚