I tend to write separate posts for every single day I’m on vacation in order to completely exhaust the memories I made at the time, and document them as detailed as possible. I’ve always said that the main purpose of my blog is so that I have an online diary of sorts – a place where I can go through moments that were important at the time, but ultimately fleeting in the grand scheme of things. I have figuratively put into paper my life into words, moments into paragraphs, and everything in between into prose that I would appreciate the most.
But there will always be some days I would wish to forget. Some days that are too grand to be immortalized. Some days that were just silence, and some days where the noise is overpowering. Some days I would keep off the books. The days I spent in Japan was part of those days. They were endless and ephemeral at the same time. I wished it lasted forever. Hence, not a lot of it has been documented. One day, it will be entirely forgotten, and only the snippet of it here will remain.
For seven nights, we were checked in to a love hotel 15-minutes away from Shin-Osaka Station. It was in what I would assume is a residential area as our walk to and from the train station was filled with sceneries of tall apartment buildings, dog owners taking their 200,000+ yen pets out for a walk, and cycling moms with kids strapped into their bikes. There were more than a handful of convenience stores within the vicinity of the hotel, as well as a grocery that closed at midnight. Of course, the daily first order of business was to make sure I always have an onigiri inside my backpack while we casually explored Japan. We spent our nights either looking for more food to consume as if we didn’t get enough of it already and exploring izakayas drinking draught beer.
On days where we felt like having our food options multiplied by a lot, we head to Dotonbori to get lost in a maze of restaurants forming alleyways. Dotonbori is a place for sensory overload. Hoards of tourists and locals walk in varying directions in some sort of organized chaos, life-size cows and giant versions of crustaceans hanging from buildings, the smell of charcoal-grilled meat wafted in the air, and loud music blasting an endless loop of “Takoyaki! Takoyaki! Takoyaki!” to rein more customers in.
On days where stuffing ourselves silly with Japanese cuisine was not the top priority, I put on my brand new Hogwarts robe and tried to pacify the 11-year old in me that was sorely disappointed I didn’t get a letter from a magical boarding school. I first got a hold of Chamber of Secrets as an 8-year old in 1999 and secretly fantasized that I’d be leaving everything I’ve ever known to learn magic after three years. It seems Universal Studios Japan wanted to somehow alleviate that childhood pain, and I was even chosen by Ollivander to try out wands. With the Elder Wand in hand, I found magic in all the rollercoaster rides I got to try out for the first time.
I have never encountered a deer before and knew heading to Nara Park would provide me with the opportunity to do so. And so we went on the 1+hour scenic train ride to feed deer. I had three pieces of onigiri with me, and initially thought it would be a great idea to be eating them while we walked to the park and within the park. As it turns out, while the streets were devoid of trash, there was a scarcity of trash bins. I had discarded plastic wrappers along with my travel essentials, that by the end of the day, even my passport carried a hint of salmon smell. However, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing when the 150-yen deer biscuits failed to work on our numerous attempts. The deers all seem to be already full with the number of tourists trying to feed them, that one only went near when I started snacking on another onigiri. The time spent walking was less fruitful than resting on a park bench and having a deer approach you of their own accord.
Eating has been my #1 past time, and if you’re new here, you’d still probably know that by the sheer amount of food I have incorporated into all the words prior to these. It was a given that we would be heading to Kobe for beef that’s so regulated, there’s even a Kobe Beef Marketing and Distribution Promotion Association. I’m not even kidding. I went through the top-ranked steakhouses in Kobe and found that a lot of them were booked in advance, as Kobe beef is regulated so there were only a limited number of quality beef that is available in the market. Our initial plan was to get a table in Steak Aoyama (which was suggested to us by a fellow beef lover), but they already had a full house. We ended up getting the last table in Meriken Hatoba by knocking on the door of the steakhouse before they even opened. Since it was still too early for lunch, we ended up roaming around Kobe Chinatown and Motomachi Street which was not the best idea to take when you’re trying to prep yourself for a hearty meal. There were over a hundred (I think) Chinese restaurants, and queues of people buying variations of meat buns (some even shaped as pandas and pigs), dumplings, candied fruits, and Kobe beef anything (buns, burgers, sushis). The sacrifice was worth it though. There was a slight hesitation when eating the last piece of steak on my plate because I didn’t want the meal to end, but also didn’t want to wait too long before I inhaled everything. Ahh, beef.
Unlike our previous trip to Japan, we bought a 7-day JR Pass knowing that we will be visiting cities outside of the Kansai region. Kyoto was a 12-minute shinkansen ride away from Shin-Osaka, so we were weirdly frequent visitors. One afternoon, we ended up in Toei Kyoto Studio Park. C is a huge fan of ninjas, animes and Japanese period films. The studio park is literally a gigantic Edo town set. We went on a ninja house (where you need to escape by going through trap doors and walls) which is something I highly recommend and was even able to watch an actual period drama being filmed. You can even rent actual costumes to wear while walking but we were both too lazy to change into it.
We were both not huge fans of visiting temples, but I had the Fushimi Inari Shrine as a must-see because of the ten thousand torii gates. They say that passing through is transitioning from the mundane to the sacred but there were just too many people, that I realized I needed to just head here on a much earlier time on another trip. We ended up not even attempting to transition within the gates, but our tummies wanted to transition from being empty to being filled with omurice. After my pretty informative Google keywords of “omurice kyoto”, we ended up walking around Gion. It was far from the scenes I envisioned from reading Memoirs of a Geisha. While I expected glamorous artists clad in elaborate kimonos, we were welcomed by quirky modern stores as C pointed out locations that were immortalized in various animes and films. At this point, I’m pretty sure that he enjoyed Kyoto better than I did.
While I imagined the highlight of Tokyo to be Taylor Swift (and she definitely was, which is something we’ll get around to in a couple of sentences), the entire day we spent in Tokyo turned out to be as eventful as the entire time we relaxed back in Osaka. We took the earliest shinkansen from Shin-Osaka to Tokyo, and we got to tick off eating a bento box in a train. The almost three-hour train ride felt shorter as it was much more comfortable than the plane ride we took to get to the country. We booked a futon room in Asakusa knowing that we’d miss the last shinkansen back to Osaka, and on our way there, I forgot my phone inside a subway toilet and a Japanese woman literally sprinted after me to return it. Lost my phone in Japan count = 1. When we finally met up with C’s sister and brother-in-law, we proceeded to line up to eat the best beef katsu I have ever had in my life.
Taking the train to Tokyo Dome was such a surreal moment. The train was filled with Japanese men in business suits, and Japanese #Swifties in all the music video/concert versions of Taylor Swift – and nobody batted an eyelid. I’ve been a Taylor Swift fan since 2007 when I first heard Love Story and started following her career. We had a two year age gap, so a lot of her songs were the background music of a significant portion of the past 11 years of my life. I had cried in the shower to All Too Well, danced to Shake It Off, admittedly burned photos of my ex to Picture to Burn (true story), and, have related C and I’s own story to Mine and Begin Again. The tears that were shed as I breathe the same air she was breathing were inevitable.
Someday, this trip will be entirely forgotten. But at that moment, I truly lived. See you soon, Japan.