Sunday, 3 May 2009

Day 711 - Osaka (Japan)

Wow! What a difference a couple of days make. I was after a cultural change before I hit the USA, Fiji I been my intended destination, but as Christine was heading for Japan it seemed too good an opportunity to miss…so here I am.
We had separate flights as Christine is on an around the world ticket with Air New Zealand and I would save over 300 pounds by going via Gold Coast in Australia with Jetstar, so I departed the day before her. I had boxed the bike up for the first time ever, what a hassle, I hope it is the last time. It made checking in so easy though and before long I was checking in to the Youth Hostel at Gold Coast where I was told I had a room to myself. About an hour later I was told I would be having company and my new room mate duly arrived. “You sound Australian, where have you come from today then?” I asked him “I am an Aussie and today I left the BCC”, “BCC, what’s that?” I asked, “Oh it’s Brisbane Correctional Centre. I left there this morning, spent the afternoon in court and have just been released after 2 months in Prison. I was shit scared the whole time, I was in there with notorious criminals”. Oh great! He seemed harmless enough though, only a lad at 17. “So what have you been up to?” I asked, “Just a bit of this and that, being in the wrong place at the wrong time.” Later I asked him again and he gave me more information “A mate of mine got into a fight, he only hit the other guy twice but he died, I was put away for being present and not stopping the fight”. He talked non stop, I guess I would if I was on my first night of freedom.

I checked in the following morning looking forward to another swift process, but it just didn’t happen. Once again there had been a big queue behind me but I was the last away by some considerable time. “Where is your visa? You need a visa for Japan unless you have a return ticket?” I was told. “I don’t need one I am British”. They went off and checked and came back and told me I did need one, and sent me to another guy who would sort me out. I told him the same but he just said “Everybody needs a visa”. “No they don’t and entry on a British passport doesn’t” I informed him. “I will just check online for you. Here we are, UK….a visa is required for stays longer than 6 months”, “There you go, that’s great then” I replied “I will only be there 2 or 3 months”, but his only answer was “It must be a mistake. Australians need one so the British must do, they are the same. You are not getting on this flight unless you have an onward ticket. You need to get one using the internet”. Great, I had just over an hour to departure and I had to sort out a ticket. In the end I got a very expensive return flight to Gold Coast on the basis it was fully refundable. I think the problem is that they get fined if people don’t have a visa or an onward ticket, but their passengers are generally Japanese or Aussies and it’s different for the British and many Europeans, we don’t need a visa, we get 90 days on arrival. So now I have more hassle to try and get a full refund and I have only just completed sorting out an Air New Zealand refund a couple of days ago.

And so to Japan and an impressive arrival at Kansai Airport that sits on an island a little bigger than the runway some 50km from Osaka. Everybody seems to be a bit twitchy on Swine Flu, I had to fill in a form. The quarantine queue went down very quickly until I arrived at the front, though I was soon sent elsewhere as I hadn’t put a telephone number down. The rather large but friendly custom official told me to put the name and address of the hotel I was staying at. I wrote YHA Osaka “Oooor, what is the address?”, “I don’t know”, “Ooooor…what is the telephone number?”, “Sorry, don’t know that either”, “Ahhhh, can you check in you guide book then please”, “Sorry, I can’t, I haven’t got a guide book”, HOOOOooooooor, no guide book ha ha ha ha! You can put down your telephone number”, “Nope, I haven‘t got one of those either“. Eventually he gave in and seemed to make up some sort of number himself. I was quickly out, and there standing waiting at the exit was Christine who had arrived an hour earlier and had already worked out how to get off the island as you can’t cycle off, so we were soon heading for a train where the friendly guards helped us to the lift. We were whisked along to Nagoromo station where we got off, found a nice quiet spot and set the bikes up. One problem with bike boxes is getting rid of them, and here there was nowhere to dispose of them, so I just took off the flight tags so that we couldn’t be traced, then we where heading down the road to the Youth Hostel. Oh, and that reminds me. Did I forget to tell you that Christine and I are now married. The Youth Hostel wouldn’t let anybody share a room who weren’t married, so on the train over we quickly made arrangements and we got married in Berlin. Soon we were checked in and off to the supermarket before it closed at 23:00. Once back in the room the phone rang “Hello, this is reception. The train station are on the line and have 2 of your bike boxes, do you want them to keep them for you?” I could hardly believe it, how had they traced us so quickly? “No, no, they are rubbish” I replied “OK, thank you, that is no problem”.

Today we caught a train into the city centre, there were a few things we needed before we set off from Osaka. First of all we needed maps, a road atlas in Japanese and English had been recommended, so after finding out where the book shop was from the info centre we were soon being told they were out of stock, though they sent us to another bookshop and we were relieved to find it. We wandered through the backstreet for the next item, a plug adaptor. Going through the backstreets was just amazing. Whilst Australia and New Zealand were both nice, wandering around the cities wasn’t that great, they were very western. Here it is totally different, to wander through the streets and see everyday life is a fantastic attraction in its own right. The shops that sold items for cooking and serving food were just amazing, there was even a shop that sold nothing but chopsticks, all of them beautiful. We just ambled along, it was brilliant. We arrived at the street that was full of shops selling electrical items, there were dozens of them, and to enter any of them was an assault on the ear drums as music blared out and hawkers shouted out trying to sell their goods. None of them had the adaptor we wanted though. In a city that sold every conceivable electrical item, all made in there own hi-tec country, you can’t get an adaptor! “Try Big Camera, it’s the biggest electrical shop around”, blimey, the one we were in was big enough. He was right though, Big Camera was BIG. Each floor was massive and adaptors were stored on the 5th. They still didn’t have what we wanted but they suggested linking 2 together to do the job. We left happy. We passed gambling halls with more loud music and flashing lights. We went in one, the main machine game was Pachinko, but I just don’t understand it. Ball bearings seemed to pass through a pin-ball like machine and drop out into a tray, then the player scooped out the seeming endless supply and filled large plastic trays which once filled would be stacked up beside them. I have no idea what that was all about. We picked up a gas canister a little more easily, then we were free to do a bit of sightseeing, so we made our way to the castle (photo), apparently the most visited sight on the whole of Japan. On the way we stopped off a a martial art display, then as we arrived we could hear drums beating. Just outside the entrance to the main building there were teams of drummers giving performances (photo). It was completely mesmerising, they did all sort of things, in fact I never realised there were so many way that you could thump a drum with a large stick! The timing was to perfection, a joy to watch, in fact such a joy we just sat there and watched them and never actually made into the castle. We made our way out via a different route and in one of the wide walkways there were rock bands playing, but strangely enough the were all right next to each other so that it all blended into one…what a row! The whole area was full of women, there was hardly a man in sight. Some of the women were really dolled up, to me they looked totally ridiculous, but to them it is fashionable. One of the favourite stiles are shorts or short skirt and long sock way over the knee. Lots of people here wear face masks, I guess that is to save themselves from the pollution, not that it seems that bad, but we saw one guy wearing one pulled down so that he could smoke a cigarette. Doesn’t that rather defeat the object? We made our way home and once again checked out the supermarket. You can never be quite sure what you are buying with everything in Japanese, but the sushi is very cheap and even cheaper when marked at half price in the evening. We have only been here a day, but it has been a great introduction to an intriguing country.

Well I have to say that I am very pleased to be here, I haven’t felt like this when entering a country for a very long time. The people her have all been very friendly despite their lack of English and our lack of Japanese, though Christine has learnt some and is doing very well. They go out of their way to help, always smiling and bowing. There are going to be many sights to see on the way and many strange customs to learn about. Hopefully we are going to be a great journey.

15 comments:

Caff said...

What a surprise kiddo! Japan eh? Married too - bargain! You are becoming a dark horse!! The food in the photo looks quite sumptious but somehow I doubt whether the quantity will satisfy you or the dark horse!! Happy Japanese travelling :-)

aoiffe said...

During you abscence from blighty fashion has moved on and shorts/short skirts and over the knee socks are fashion combinations here also.

Harpo said...

Well I wasn't expecting that!

I once caught the wrong train, but never ended up 5000 miles from my intended destination!

dad said...

Well Harpo seems to have caught the wrong train again and landed up on your blog by mistake. I knew he was still alive because I spoke to him only last ni








































































































Well Harpo seems to have caught the wrong train again and kanded up on your blog. I knew he was still alive because I spoke to him only last evening about 2230. Next thing tou know he'll be receiving my photos. Welcome back.

dad said...

I'll finish that again, *last evening because I spoke to him about 2230. Next thing you'll know he'll be receiving my photos. Welcome Back. And the Japanese are good at electronics but the do funny things to your comments.

dad said...

See what I mean. Now they've added my last bit end deleted the first bit. I said " Well Harpo seems to have caugjht the wrong train again and finished up on your blog. I knew he was still alivebecause I spoke to him last evening etc."

dad said...

Click on the red square to see my disjoined messag. Perhaps as this is Japan I should have written it backwards.

John Harwood said...

Blimey, a message from Harpo, I knew it would be worth coming to Japan! Hope you are feeling better now anyway, though I guess you are still off work.

John

Harpo said...

Yep, feeling good, but still need to build a bit of strength up as I felt knackered after 6 games of table tennis.

John did you read my 'blog' link that I sent you? It's an interesting read and perfectly illustrates how unreal programmes like Casualty and ER really are, eg. Doctor: We put 6 litres of fluid in this bloke, where the bloody hell has it all gone?

Harpo said...

BTW.

The doctor told me that normal convalesence is six weeks - just a few seconds after he had written out a Doctors Certificate for two. :(

aoiffe said...

Blow me I thought, John going to Japan has stirred up some interest - then I find it is all Dad and Harpo...

Lorna said...

Congratulations, Mr and Mrs Harwood!? Trust you to do it the cheapest way possible... :-) Enjoy Japan! I'm wondering how many more surprises you have in store. Looking forward to them anyway!!

The Sloths said...

Hi John

great to see that you're back in Asia!! Wow!! and married too....yes, you're far too sociable a bloke to be on your own!!! We'd love to go to Japan so will be following your blog again when we can. We finally left South Asia and are now in Malaysia after a short visit to see friends in Thailand. Our plan is now Indonesia, Philippines, Hong Kong, China. Maybe you'll detour again to China....? In the meantime do you know a cheap place to stay in Singapore??
Enjoy Japan
Love
The Sloths
xxxx

Caff said...

Great photos - colourful, vibrant and very intriguing. A fascinating culture you were right to get on the wrong plane and end up in Japan!! :-)

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