Osaka was a lot of things. First of all, it was a big city, a very big city. Outside of New York City, it’s by far the biggest city I’ve ever been in – it dwarfs the Kyivs, Torontos, and Warsaws of the globe, and yet in Japan it is only a second city.
I really wasn’t ready for how big a city it turned out to be. I had lots of great experiences, but boy oh boy the crowds were tremendous. There were people everywhere. And of course I had my backpack, and of course I liked to stop and take pictures a lot, so there were many times when I felt like I was getting in people’s way. Don’t worry about them, though – most of the time, they didn’t hesitate to nudge!
20. Trip to Osaka
i. Yoshinari Station (on the Kotoku Line – this article is in English)
This will be my paper journal of my trip to Osaka. There probably won’t be that many exciting things to tell, I expect.
Right now I’m sitting in the commuter trail station about a ten-minute walk from S.G.. I was a bit slow getting ready this morning, and I wasn’t sure about the train schedule anyway, so just as I was getting to the station I saw my train pull in, then pull away. Well, no biggie, but I was thinking the next train was just minutes behind. It was. Thirty-two to be exact.
So this’ll put me about an hour behind schedule, but I’ll still be in Osaka in time for lunch. I’ll call my cousin Chris from the station downtown once I get a bus ticket – although he said to call me from Osaka (which is what I ended up doing, after a fashion). I had wanted to call a few minutes ago, but then I figured I’d just wake him, and I still wouldn’t have the exact time. I’ll call him with ticket in hand.
ii. Osaka, near Tennoji Station
Apparently Greater Osaka has 19 million people. But so far I’m not convinced, excepting my ride on the subway. I’m sitting on a bench in the lower level of a covered, but open to the air shopping complex. Maybe my feet and belongings will dry our a bit. It’s cold and I can see my breath as I write, even though by appearances this is a fairly elegant mall.
It’s snowing now; big flaky wet snow, and it’s staying on the ground this time. Aside from the standing slush and subsequent wet feet, it’s really quite pleasant.
I’m really glad I didn’t bike here. (I had toyed with the idea of taking my bike on the ferry to Wakayama and then biking the 60km or so to Osaka – if I go back there again, I may do just that.) Biking here would have been suicide in this weather. It’s something that should really wait until summer time.
So let’s talk about the trip here. I got into the city, got my return bus tickets (about $60) and found my bus. In Matsushige, a fellow sat next to me who worked for a sugar producer. He was going to Osaka to take an electronics examination; he was the kind of person who liked to know how things worked. So the ride passed by pretty pleasantly, sometimes with me looking at my map and my seatmate pointing out our approximate location.
(When I met up with L. a few days later, he told me that a recent fad here in Japan is taking tests. You know, just to see how much you know. So many people are buying books and magazines to help them prepare for these tests, even though the tests may be completely out of the taker’s field of employment or even of their prior expertise. L. also took a look at my bus tickets and pointed out the seat number. Seat number? (The intercity bus outfit where I come from didn’t assign seat numbers.) Yes, seat number. Not to take anything away from this man who was friendly in any case, but I was probably sitting in his seat.)
The last 25km from Kobe to Osaka were impressive, though they took forever. I couldn’t believe the continuous bridges, skyscraping apartments, and other things like getting off the expressway in the south part of Osaka (at what I later learned was the Osaka City Air Terminal) and instantly pulling into a bus station on the third floor of a huge building. And that wasn’t even my stop.
We got to Osaka Station just before noon. And, oh! the people! the crowds! And this was all underground, too. I’d never seen anything like it before.
First I tried to call Chris, and I failed. So I found a washroom – there was a ladies’ room near me, but the men’s was on the other side of a department-store-style food level the size of a European microstate. After returning, I looked around to see if there was an easier kind of payphone. There wasn’t, and I failed again, so I figured, “OK, I’ll go to Tennoji and try calling from there.”
I decided to go to Tennoji by subway as that seemed like the most direct method. So first I had to find my way to Umeda Station, which was supposedly connected to Osaka Station. I followed the signs, only to end up where I started from. Huh? What happened? So I tried again, and kept my eyes peeled. Eventually I found the station. But then I couldn’t find the entrance to my line (Midosuji). I went in circles for a bit before I noticed a guide sign with my line. It’s because the setup was like this:
And this is only one example. The station signage is some of the most inadequate I’ve seen; although to be fair, the maze of passages, stores, and train lines is so inherently confusing that adequate signage might be a nigh-impossible goal.
I did find the direction to my line after just a few more minutes, because I had doubled back to the ticket machines, bought my ticket (because I didn’t want to be stuck later trying to find the machines after I found my line), then saw the sign I needed on my second pass – I’d happened to crane my neck curiously at just the right moment to see it. So I followed this sign, but to my dismay it let me through a stairway and back up to street level, where there was snow and slush everywhere. I found myself standing beside a local bus stop, and the signs had all but vanished. Argh. Not knowing what else to do, I get through the bus stops and trundle down the set of stairs on the opposite side, which required turning around to get into (they were pointed back in the direction I had come from), so I wasn’t very hopeful.
At the bottom of these stairs, and among another crowd the size of Vancouver, I found another sign pointing out the way to my platforms.
Not this again.
But I followed it anyway. I have to admit that most of the reason for my odd humour was the fact that I was getting seriously late in terms of calling Chris, and also that I was still carrying all my stuff.
Anyway, just as it was looking like I was in exactly the same place I had started from, I saw the entrance to the platforms for my line. FINALLY!
I was accompanied by the entire population of Osaka Prefecture on the subway, and there were some awkward moments due to the teeming crowd (my backpack that was such a hit (literally) on the Kyiv Metro hadn’t gotten any smaller, and this time I had a duffel bag, too), but for the most part I was happy to be on my way again.
At Tennoji I found a phone and got through to Chris on just the second try. After we met up, we went to Bikkuri Donkey, a popular chain restaurant in this area.
It was really interesting to meet Chris again; it’s probably been about 15 years, and I would have been a child then – one of his first statements was, “Wow! You’re really tall!” after which I had to explain that I was actually the runt of my family. It was also interesting because he rightly pointed things out about Japan that he really likes, putting it in a newcomer’s perspective for my benefit (he’s been here for years). In the restaurant he remarked how nice it was to know how much things cost and how easy it was not to have to worry about tipping. The funny part is, I had forgotten about many little things like that, and I was already taking them for granted! I remembered how learning that I didn’t have to tip was such a great moment, and I love not having to tip – it makes dining and taxis and hairdressing so much cheaper and easier. Chris says he notices that people here dine out much more often, and he thinks that people would in Canada too if we could somehow simplify things a little. (Of course, it’s easier said than done.)
After the restaurant (in which I almost abandoned my duffel bag – thank you, kind waiter!) we walked to this place, and then Chris went to meet one of his students at a nearby coffee shop. I’m sitting here on a bench shivering, and I can see my breath as I write, but there weren’t any convenient bars around or other coffee shops that weren’t full, and I needed to get writing ASAP. I have a feeling that I won’t have much time later.
Well, it’s almost time for me to meet up with Chris again. An hour well spent!
[Chapter 20, Trip to Osaka, will continue later this week…]