Wednesday I met mum and Will at Shinagawa station where they were validating their rail passes. If you come to Japan as a tourist it’s fantastically good value to get a JR Pass; you get unlimited travel on JR (Japan Rail) trains for a week for about £200. It sounds expensive, but as I’m not here as a tourist, I couldn’t get one, and my return ticket to Osaka set me back £170 in one go. It sure is bloomin’ expensive travelling around Japan!
I was meant to be staying with Doug and his friend, but due to an unforeseen communication mix up, it turned out they’d booked to go to Kyoto first before Osaka, and mum and Will the other way round. On arrival at the hotel in Osaka therefore, we sweet talked the receptionist into letting us have an extra bed in the room (or what seemed like just swapping from a twin to a triple) and a crisis was averted.
On Thursday, we actually went 40 minutes out of Osaka to the historic town of Nara, which used to be the capital of Japan before Kyoto (which was in turn the capital before Tokyo). The overwhelming feature of Nara was its big park with lots of roaming deer, scattered about which were many more temples and shrines.
The best of these was undoubtedly todai-ji 東大寺, the biggest wooden building in the world, which houses a fantasticly large 20m high Buddha, which has been there since the year 752. Inside the temple we were accosted by some visiting schoolchildren from Chiba who had an English assignment to talk to some foreigners and have their photo taken with us. It was all good fun, indeed by the time we’d left the Buddha hall two more groups came up to talk to us, so there’ll be three photos of us on the wall of their classroom come next week!
We headed back to Osaka for a little rest, and in the evening went 30 minutes in the opposite direction from Nara to Kobe, to have a walk around the harbour before lunch. Probably most famous for the 1995 earthquake and Kobe beef, there’s not really much to do there as a tourist apart from shopping, but it was nice walking around the harbour, we found a little exhibit about the earthquake and a submerged street they’d left to show the extent of the damage. Still, we had a pleasant evening and meal before coming back to the hotel to prepare a plan of action for sightseeing round Osaka the following day.
Our first stop was Tsūtenkaku, (what I thought was Osaka Tower, but a quick Wikipedia tells me otherwise), towards the south, which was apparently designed to look like the Eiffel Tower (don’t think it did really). Whilst enjoying the views of the city from the top, we were once again accosted, this time by a TV crew! They homed in on mum and asked her questions about the tower; she said “oh no I don’t understand, my son speaks Japanese he’ll talk to you”, so I got dragged in as well! He asked me what I thought of the tower, and showed a picture of how it looked 100 years ago, apparently with what was meant to be Arc de Triomphe features at the bottom (again dubious). We were certain that this was gonna be a Japanese “let’s laugh at the stupid foreigners” programme, but after the same quick Wikipedia it seems the tower was built in 1912 so could have been a genuine programme!
Nevertheless we made a hasty getaway, and onto another couple of shrines (after a while they all look pretty similar so unless there’s something remarkable about them I’m not gonna say much more) before the crème de menthe of Osaka sightseeing, Osaka castle.
It was pretty impressive. There were two moats, the grounds were lovely, and by this stage it was about 30 degrees so we were joking about the chances of air con inside the castle; this being Japan though, of course there was! Inside were some photos and pictures of 17th century battles the castle was involved in, but the main draw was again the view (and the breeze!) from the top.
Despite the lie in, and probably because of walking around in the heat for many hours, by now we were knackered again, so had a bite to eat and headed back to the hotel for a nap. We had one final thing on our checklist, the floating garden observatory (and yet another view of the city).
We timed our visit for dusk, so we could see the rooftops in the light and the dark, and it was a very good view. I’m not quite sure why it’s called the garden observatory as I didn’t see any plants, but it’s a circular walkway connecting the tops of two 40 floor skyscrapers, and commands a great view of the city.