Becca Anglesey, September 4, 2018
Destination: Tokyo, Japan
Program: Honors Japan: Construction of Japanese Identity – A Comparative Look at National Narratives in Japan and U.S. (Exploration Seminar)
Our time in Osaka just seemed to fly by! We slept so hard the night we arrived, but jet-lag had us up early. Dan and I had decided to not plan anything for the day since the travel would be so long and we wanted to be well rested for our adventures.
As a condition of our Airbnb stay, Dan had to sign a lease agreement and we had to meet the landlord. This seemed odd, but we went with it, thinking the meeting would be brief. He came at around 1pm. His name was Mika and he was a cute little old Japanese man who spoke no English. He and Dan exchanged a few words, and the next thing I knew was that I was being shuffled into the back of Mika’s car. I wasn’t necessarily concerned, but I had no idea what was going on. After a lot of Google Translate (which has definite limitations) and a call with an English-speaking friend of Mika’s, we finally found out that he wanted to take us out to lunch!
We expected that Mika would be taking us to eat somewhere nearby. He kept driving and driving until we reached a nondescript deserted dock on the river with no business front buildings nearby. Where could this guy possibly be taking us? Also, it was over 100 degrees with 70%+ humidity. It turns out that the dock was for a municipal ferry to take us across the river. It was a free service and it was pretty cool. We walked through the park on the other side, letting Mika lead the way. Mika had to walk slowly because of an apparent degenerative bone disease, so we followed at his pace.
Finally, we got to where he was taking us! He took us the shopping center near the Osaka Aquarium (Kaiyukan). He gave us a tour of the area and even paid for Dan and me to have a lunch of ramen. It was a very sweet and very unexpected welcome to Japan. We were incredibly tired by the time we made it back to the Airbnb though, which was around 5pm. We crashed hard for about 13 hours.
I was so excited for the next part, which was Universal Studios Japan! We got up pretty early, donned our Hufflekilts (long story), and headed to the land of Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Jaws, Minions, and (my personal favorite) Sailor Moon! We got there before the park opened to get our tickets and fast passes, then had breakfast at Eggs ‘N Things, which was amazing. Even at 9am, it was hot. Like, really super hot. But I was not going to let the heat get between me and Sailor Moon!
The ride was amazing, even though it was all in Japanese. I had a great time and spent waaaaaayyy too much money at the gift shop. I’m not even sorry.
We had a lot of time to kill before our timed entry to the Harry Potter area of the park, so Dan and I walked around a lot observing the people in the park. The level of fascination people, particularly Japanese people, have with Minions is truly incredible. We got a snack that were Minions cream puffs and they were, of course, banana flavored. I also had the joy of taking Dan on the classic Jurassic Park ride, which is really a must. It was so much fun!
As we were tooling around, some clouds began to roll in and the wind kicked up a bit. This was welcome to us, because the heat marginally decreased. As we rested on a park bench, an announcement came over the loudspeakers in the park. Apparently, there was a Typhoon coming and they would be closing the park at 6pm! Our entry to Harry Potter was at 6:10! I could not come all the way to USJ and not see Harry Potter land! Plus, we had paid a considerable amount for the fast passes for the rides, which we didn’t expect could be refunded and we had no time to come back. It would be our luck that a typhoon would come on the one day we came to USJ. We decided to head over to the area to see if they would honor the passes before the park closed, and they did! So, we got to spend 45 minutes in Hogsmeade before the park closed. Rushed, but better than nothing. The ride was fun, but it was really odd to see Harry Potter Characters (especially Hagrid and the Sorting Hat) speaking to us in rapid Japanese.
After that we grabbed some McDonalds and got a train back to our lodgings before the typhoon hit. We fell asleep almost immediately, and I slept really hard until the next morning. When I woke up the sun was shining… I had missed the typhoon entirely. I’m not sure it really ever existed.
The day after that we decided to visit the Osaka Castle. I went to the Osaka Castle when I was 13, and it was just as beautiful as I remembered.
The weather was off and on, and it was still so swelteringly hot that it exhausted us quickly. How can a person sweat while it is raining? We also picked up a few bug bites, but we had a really nice time seeing such an important Japanese national landmark. I enjoyed re-learning about the history of the Castle (which was restored in the 1930s. It is the 3rd time it has been built!), and we got a special coin and a magnet for our collection.
After the Castle, we were so thirsty! Luckily, Japan has a lot of vending machines everywhere. We trotted over to one at the base of the castle and got a Tropicana peach-orange blend. It was one of the best things I’ve ever tasted! I’m not sure if it was the moment of needing to quench my thirst or the need for some vitamins or what, but that drink will haunt my memories when I return to the US. I will pine for it, I’m sure.
The next day was Saturday and we ambitiously decided to fit two activities into one day. First, we made our way to Nara to visit the famous Nara deer. For anyone not familiar, there are hundreds of freely roaming deer in the parks of Nara. The deer are considered the messengers of the gods and are treated with respect. The deer are also very friendly and are not afraid of people. We bought some deer biscuits (okay, a lot of deer biscuits) in the park and had the most magical time feeding the tiny little deer! They knew we had treats and they were very insistent on being fed. One even nipped at my shirt as I tried to get the paper off a package of the treats, while another poked me in the backside with his antlers! The deer were everywhere! We could tell they were also affected by the heat—they were lying in the shade of the trees, and a few were rolling in some mud to cool down.
Sadly, we had to leave the deer. I didn’t want to, but we had other things on the agenda for the day. Dan and I loaded up on kawaii souvenirs and headed back to Osaka on the train. Side note: if you are planning a trip to Japan in the future, be sure to get a JR rail pass. They are available to foreign visitors and they allow you unlimited use of JR trains for the time they are active. So worth it.
When back in Osaka, we made our way back to the Kaiyukan Aquarium. One cannot visit Osaka and not go to the Aquarium! I was so excited for Dan to see it, and neither of us were disappointed.
The way this aquarium is set up is just brilliant! It is 8 floors, with tanks that stretch between floors, so visitors can see in the tanks on multiple levels. The center tank was the largest because that was where they kept the whale sharks! There were several other species of sharks, rays, and other fish in there too, but the whale sharks were simply amazing. We had such a great time wandering down all the exhibits, and when we came out the sun had set and the plaza was lit. It was a great end to our stay in Osaka.
The next morning Dan and I got up and left the Airbnb. Dan had shipped our big luggage ahead to Tokyo, for which I will be forever grateful. I couldn’t lug all that back up to Tokyo… never again! We hopped on another train to the Yamazaki Whiskey Distillery, where they make Hibiki (a whiskey we like to get back in the states. Thanks Costco!). They had a museum, and it was really cool to learn the history of Japanese whiskey making which is relatively new. We even got to do a whiskey tasting. Strangely though they didn’t sell much whiskey in the gift shop… at least we know that we can get some back home.
With that site checked off our list and a toast to the completion of the first leg of our journey, we caught a Shinkansen (bullet train) and headed to Tokyo to officially start our study abroad program.