Pay It Forward-Osaka, Japan
Disclaimer: We were SUPER tourists in Osaka so this isn't going to be the absolute best writeup of all that there is to see and do from a cultural standpoint. But honestly, can you blame us? Osaka is home to the largest aquarium in the world *I'll get to that in just a minute*, Universal Studios, Harry Potter World AND one of the best night markets that I've ever been to. We still managed to have a very culturally engaging trip, but we just couldn't pass up on a chance to ride a Japanese voiced version of Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, sip on Butterbeer and get our wingardium leviosa on.
The actual trip to Osaka was one of the most memorable highlights of the trip. We took the Shinkansen (the high speed train) from Tokyo to Osaka which provided beautiful views of the changing landscape. The city faded into a rolling countryside dotted with farms which gave way to small towns, an industrial neighborhood, an impressive view of Mt. Fuji and then- *pause for dramatic effect*-the snow. Having lived on a semi-tropical island for the past few years it had been a few years since my last time seeing snow and I was beyond excited. I pressed my face against the cold window of the train and stared into the white expanse, losing track of time as the train glided along towards Osaka.
Quick tip for expats looking to visit Japan: It's wise to invest in the JR pass. A 7-day pass costs about as much as a one way ticket to Osaka but it gives you unlimited access to trains that operate on the JR lines and the high speed trains. You MUST get this before you go to Japan as it cannot be purchased within the country.
I loved my time in Osaka. There was so much to do and see and we started exploring the city as soon as we arrived. Our first stop was Dontonbori, a well known area in the Namba district. Dotonbori is famous for a number of things: the Glico Man sign, being home to, literally, thousands of restaurants and food stalls that specialize in seafood and Kobe beef and the 6 mile long covered shopping street called Shin Sai Bashi-Suji. Just so you're prepared-I'm not going to be talking about the shopping street at all. This segment is about the food. So, if you don't like food....then skip down until you start seeing pictures of the aquarium.
Given the high number of restaurants in such a relatively small area, each restaurant seeks to compete for attention by decorating the outside of their establishment with large, intricately designed signs and flashing neon lights. The food selection was out of this world!
Dessert stands with made-to-order Matcha waffles, fluffy pancakes as thick as a Jamaica Kincaid novel, fresh tarot or matcha ice cream, and candy stores with so much variety that the only word I can use to describe how vast the selection was is 'conglomeration'. There were sushi joints in all shapes and sizes and even the lowliest would put the Drunken Fish, St. Louis' best sushi restaurant, in its place. There are sit down Japanese style BBQ restaurants that just bring meat to your table and let you cook for yourself on a grill installed in the table. And let's not forget the ramen shops. So. Many. Ramen shops! Now, I'd be remissed if I didn't fill you in a little on Japan's ramen culture. It's important to know that when I refer to ramen, I'm not talking about cup noodles, or a 10cent bag of roast beef flavor that you make on your stove with a small dash of paprika, a few pieces of green onion and an egg if you're trying to be fancy. No, I mean real food. Something you could take a person you fancy'd to. I'm talking homemade wheat noodles, piping hot broth, fresh vegetables and thin slices of Kobe beef that cook to perfection in the aforementioned broth. I can, honestly, spend this entire post just talking about the food, but I won't. There's other stuff to talk about so I'll move on with these parting words: Osaka, that food was bomb!
Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
Did you know that the main tank of the Osaka Aquarium holds 1.43 million gallons of water and is 8 stories tall and is one of the largest aquariums in the world? It is also home to about a billion fish *that's a gross over estimation*, a whole bunch of sharks, some dolphins, a few seals, one capybara, a couple deep sea crabs, multi-colored jellysifh and TWO MASSIVE WHALE SHARKS!
I can pretty much leave it at that because that's basically all of the context that you need. Just enjoy the pictures and the videos.
click on the pictures to view their full size
Sitting in front of the massive main tank and watching the languid movements of those sea creatures put me at complete peace and I could have spent my entire time in Osaka there if only they served food. But alas, they didn't and I had other things to do.
Universal studios Japan
One of the things on my bucket list is to visit every major Disney themed amusement park in the world. So far I've been to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Disneyland Park in California, Hong Kong Disneyland in Hong Kong....and that's it. I had every intention of going to Tokyo Disney, but Disneyland or Disneyworld is a wonderful place to visit as a kid, or as an adult with kids or at pretty much any age other that's not a 27 year old man who wants to go really fast, and drink beer. So, when I found out that there was a Universal Studios in Japan I was faced with a major conundrum: move one step closer to completing my bucket list, or go to Harry Potter World.
Given the title of this section you can probably guess what I chose.......It was Universal Studios.
We got there before the park opened and spent the whole day there. Literally, the whole day. We were in the first 150 people to enter the park and there were maybe 300 people still making their way around when we left. Despite the freezing cold temperatures (it was just above 30 degrees fahrenheit) I had a blast! Harry Potter World blew my mind. Butterbeer is amazing. Everything is expensive. There's a very lucrative job market for people of color with any semblance of musical talent in the studio park entertainment industry. Universal Studios is so awesome. It snowed. I saw an owl. I screamed when the shark from Jaws jumped out of the water at me, and Backdraft is a terrible ride if you can even call it that.
Osaka is an amazing place and I can go on and on about it and if this post wasn't already super long, I would.
Go to Osaka. Eat delicious food. Spend a day at the aquarium. Have a great time.