Masaka…Osaka!? -=Voyager 1.5=-

In this journal:

I have a midlife crisis;
7 deer puns;
white strawberries.

<— Voyager 1: Lapland
<— Introduction

Voyager 2: Peruvian Amazon —>

this is my longest journal so far, please refresh if pictures fail to load
please refer to the introduction above if you want to know more background for this trip
background music here (PC only)

關西/Kansai, 本当に嬉しいです ~!

I stepped onto the soil of Japan again, and this time, it was not Tokyo. There is no doubt that Japan is one of my favorite places to visit in the world, along with the Nordics and the Altiplanos. There are always new things to discover, new sights to see, and new food to eat. Last time I passed by Osaka only in the airport during Round’aWorld 2016, so this time I would do justice to the Kansai region. In fact, this would be my 2nd time truly visiting Osaka, but last time was over 10 years ago, and I could barely remember what happened, besides it being a chaotic family trip. As a result, you are seeing this beautiful city, the anti-capital of Japan, through a pair of newcomer’s eyes!

20180405_120130
train board in Kansai airport

I boarded the private Nankai train towards 新今宮/Shin-Imamiya station. One major downside of major airports in east Asia is that, most of them are very, very far from city center. Pudong in Shanghai, Taoyuan in Taipei, Narita in Japan, and Incheon in Seoul, are all 50+km from where most people needed to go, and it took me a solid hour to find the tiny alleyway my hostel was located. I had been rather exhausted from 3 days of consecutive flying from the Finnish arctic, so I had to rejuvenate with some classic Osaka food: お好み焼き/okonomiyaki.

20180405_133437
Okonomiyaki shop

For those who have not been blessed by this round floppy angel bequeathed to us by god, お好み焼き/Okonomiyaki is a kind of pancake that is half flour half cabbage, and then you can add what you want on top of it. Octopus, squid, pork, chicken, beef, egg, a full block of cooked ramen, or the entire nation of Luxemburg, all no problem~! If flammkuchen is a better man’s pizza, then okonomiyaki is a better man’s wet dream.

20180405_142453
why get ladies when you can get foodies?

西成區/Nishinari District

My hostel was located in a rather “newly developed” area around Tennoji, or as some others may refer to as 動物園前/Dōbutsuen-mae. Well, that is how I would call it when I was there, because in truth, it was one of the poorest areas in the Osaka region. The covered walkways had hundreds of little pubs and 麻雀/Mahjong parlors, and used to be a hotbed for gambling institutions run by the Yakuza, the almost legal mafia syndicate that originated from this area. In fact, this is still one of the poorest area in the entire Japan, and please allow me to tell you a sad story, the story about the fearsome area that I would call home for the next week.

20180405_131029
alleyway in Nishinari

Way back in the days, the Japanese believed in something called 穢れ/kegare, meaning something like defilement. By doing certain things, you accumulate this form of dirtiness, like bad karma, such as tanning leather, cutting meat, etc. Later, the professionals responsible for these work, along with some other lines of workers that people simply did not want to see, such as prostitutes, were joined together and referred to as 部落民/burakumin, literally meaning hamlet men. They were, for all actualities and purposes, an inferior race, even though they had no visible difference with normal Japanese at all. They were denied rights, public service, and intermarriage outside the group was considered extremely vile. Though outlawed around 1900s, a lot of people still hold stigmas for the group until today. In 2003, a survey showed that 5% of Japanese would actively avoid living next to a burakumin. In late 90s, there was even a secretly written book passed around businesses that listed all last names associated with the group, so they would avoid hiring a burakumin. And the area my hostel was located, Nishinari, was place for one of the biggest communities of these people back in the days.

20180405_201050
萩之茶屋/Haginochaya Area

Nowadays, this small area is still one of the most run down places in the entire city, arguably in the entire nation. The reason is because a lot of the cheap housing places, called Doya-inn(literally slum hotel), are located here. For long term residents, the rate goes as low as 400 yen/4 USD a night. For this ridiculous price, you get a futon on top of three tatami in a room no bigger than a deep dish pizza, and a TV playing porn nonstop if you are lucky. Bathrooms are shared on the floor, and sometimes you even have to go outside the building for a shower. Since mine is more of a hostel catering to the foreigners staying short term, it is a bit more expensive, but trust me, getting 15 dollars a night in a private room is likely the deal of the century for this weary traveler, especially in Japan, where hotels go beyond sky high. Compared to the unholy 100-bed dorm costing 50 dollars, I would gladly be murdered in my comfy private room costing less than a third of that.

20180405_154326
my room in Hotel Toyo

nishinari-orange-map
the area carved into a map, orange being the center

“Then why does it look perfectly normal on those pictures, Young?” Well, as I will now demonstrate, this is the reason why most locals avoid this area. Nishigari is notorious for Yakuza gang activities. Back in the days, just this tiny area had over 50 Yakuza offices, where illegal activities were conducted and rewarded. Despite the law forbidding them to put up signs any more, and the great migration of the mafias out of Osaka, there are still around 20 nowadays. Kidnapped a nice young girl perfect for prostitution? 300,000Yen/3000 dollars reward for your trouble of bringing her to the office. Foreign and blonde? You can name a price! Want to deal some drugs? We welcome you with open arms here, but we do take a 20% commission. Thus, it is pretty ridiculous that crimes were almost too common to report. Some drug dealing places are right around the corner from where I stayed, and people even marked some popular places on a google map customized for the junkies! (see below) Yes, the police do arrest some dealers, but release them after 12 hours and feeding them two meals. The illegal activities had gotten so rampant that the biggest industry the Yakuza has, gambling, usually dice, is headquartered in the 三角公園, the bottom-most red dot in the above picture, and guess what, the police station is the dot above it, less than 50 meters away! The police station here is the only one left in the country with enormous gates to protect itself from harm, and is nicknamed “the fortress”. Fun, isn’t it!

下载 (2).jpg
the drug trading spots marked on a public google map, and my hostel in red

But for the mafia members, the most profitable way to earn money is through the homeless people gathered around here, and they are mostly the reason why Yakuza still thrives in the city. The cheap housing attracted the poor, and the poor had to work. Thus, a little office in the district helps these folks look for day jobs, but it is first come, first serve, so they run out of jobs quite early. For these poor that have no registration whatsoever, they do not qualify for welfare if they cannot get the jobs, so the special gangsters called 手配師/tehaishi would be waiting around with Mitsubishi station wagons and offer direct rides to job sites that they protect, skimming off a very high percentage off their salary, of course. (just FYI, this action is called ピンハネする/pinhanesuru) They sometimes abduct these homeless people and force them to work as slave labor too, and recent news even popped up that some were sold to clean up Fukushima nuclear sites, having no idea that they would die of radiation poisoning soon. Another job involving the homeless was to help the homeless get their welfare through the complicated government bureaucracy, and then charge a crazy percentage in doing so, much like the accountant who says she would get more tax refund for your family while taking off 50% of your savings for herself. This act called 囲い屋/kikoya is so profitable that one of these guys got arrested for evading tax payment on his 200,000,000 yen/2,000,000 dollar income.

FireShot Capture 122 - Google Maps_ - https___www.google.co.kr_maps_@34.6438707,135.5053522,19.38z.jpgthe insane amount of 料亭 style restaurants in the Tobitashinchi area

The biggest prostitution ring in Japan is also here in the tiny district, called 飛田新地/Tobitashinchi, marked pink on the first map. If you look it up on google maps, the area has suspiciously few descriptions, and only a handful of real restaurants, despite all brothels are registered as traditional Japanese restaurants 料亭/ryoutei, as prostitution is illegal. As a result, you will be served a tiny portion of food when you visit. (My kind of prostitution! Oh wait, that sounds wrong. I will never go for that, no, not because they would not even take me, but because I do not condone girls selling their bodies. What I meant was I like food. I just wanted to joke about me liking to eat… *sobs* Ahhhh never mind!) Here, each tiny stall has a bright front room, where a girl, usually dressed in anime outfits (keeping up with the millenial trend right?), is demonstrated like a product: lots of lights shine on her and she has to stay seated, and only move to wave a customer inside. An elderly woman called 曳っ子/hikikko always sits at the corner, acting as the merchant, negotiating for the price. A normal session lasting half an hour costs about 15000 yen/150 dollars. I paid the area a visit when I had a free night, and man, did it feel creepy. Girls were literally put on display and different hikikkos waved at me to look at their girls, if I just took a peek longer than 2 seconds. Some girls dressed in thick costumes and had harsh lights on them, roasting them like fresh meat on a market, oh wait: they kind of are. [If you are a curious girl who is reading my journals, be warned: never, ever go there by yourself. It is a common belief that a normal girl walking around in front of one of these brothels can significantly decrease its “sales”, so you may be verbally and physically harassed if you ever visit. And no, lesbianism is not much of a thing there, other than in doujin-shi industry, so if you are a girl interested for the “goods”, you might need to move on to a different country.]

20180405_202154
大阪王將 dumpling store

But it is not all bad things here. Because of all these problems, Nishinari has ridiculously low housing prices, and that made my cheap hostel possible. Then, to feed the homeless, cheap food places are abundant. Dumplings above cost just shy of 400 yen, and a full meal rarely exceeds 1000 yen, while in city centers it can easily go beyond 2500. Supermarkets are dirt cheap, and there is a chain unique to the area called Super Tamade, offering bonus products of just 1 yen/1 cent after you buy about 1500 yen of things. Some homes make bento boxes that cost less than 400 yen and sell it to the public. Thus, I chose to stay here. For cheap food and cheap accommodation, I can give up my dignity, my soul, and my life: this is how poor I am. Additionally, even here is still ridiculously safe compared to most places: this is Japan we are talking about! Homicide rate is a shockingly low 1.6 per 100,000 inhabitants, and just for reference, here are some major cities that maybe you can relate: New York 5.6, Detroit 43.4, Mexico City 8.4, Buenos Aires 5.5, London 1.2, Frankfurt 2.7, Beijing 5.3, San Salvador 83, Johannesburg 35, Malmö (where some claim to be the front gate for Sweden welcoming immigrants) 3.4, and Akita prefecture in Japan, the safest in the nation at 0.25. As you can see, Osaka is still magnitudes better to live in than Michigan.

20180407_093500
covered alleys in the Nishinari area

More interestingly, this new wave of cheap accommodation made budget travel possible, and the entire area was filled with foreigners: they have no idea that they would be living in the Japanese slum, as most travelers could never picture the words “Japanese” and “slum” together! This makes a funny scene, homeless guys started begging money in English, large amounts of cheap fucks like me started taking advantage of the cheap food around, and I would not be surprised to see desperate backpackers hop on those station wagons for day jobs offered by Yakuza soon!

吉野/Yoshino

Anyways, enough with the sad stories, let us get to the true parts of my travels. I quickly made a bunch of friends, and took off for the very purpose of this extended stopover in Japan: Hanami.

20180406_110547
Limited Express train to Yoshino

For the 2 long time readers here on my blog, you know that last time I was so desperate to see cherry blossoms that I conducted my own Hanami pilgrimage for a weekend in Tokyo. I flew 11 hours from Los Angeles and then back in one weekend in order to eat some nice food under a field of blossoming cherry trees. It, uh, did not go very well. Most of the flowers had already fallen, due to a miscalculation in everyone’s blossom calendar, and I could not change my flights at all… Thus, I have come back, this time in Osaka, to finish a dream. I grabbed a few friends met in the hostel, and set off for the most prominent cherry blossom destination probably in the entire Japan: Yoshino Mountain.

20180406_144748
cherry blossom

Unfortunately, bad luck struck me again, for the 7048th time in my life: a big storm swept through the area right before my arrival, and my calculated time was wrong, again. By the time my train pulled into the station, the damage was evident: thousands of trees full of petals half-fallen, and ground carpeted by petals of pink.

20180406_141314
every tree was supposed to be covered in pinkish white

WHY? Why is this such a curse that had befallen upon me? I just want to live out my inner nerdy dream to be a protagonist under a blossoming cherry tree, waiting for someone with the other end of the invisible red knot… I guess I am destined to walk the path alone, covered in flowers that had been abruptly blown off their branches, where they rightfully belong…

IMG_8413
beautiful view with half of the blossoms

However, it is time for me to move on past this. Since I am no stranger to missed opportunities, as I am one myself, I tried my best to enjoy the serene mountains still. A bus up from the train station was 中千本/Nakasenben, and we hiked towards the upper portions of the fields. Passing by a nice little area offering oden, I could not refuse a good bowl of yummy food over thousands of cherry blossom trees.

20180406_135454
Oden with flowers

The food offered here is very familiar to me, as I tried oden last time in Tokyo, but here in Kansai region it is just a tad bit different. It also has the chewy konjac jelly, pictured as the little grey jelly in the corner down in the photo below. It is made from a special kind of vegetables sharing the same name. Completely household for me, it proved to be quite a bizarre thing for most of the foreign friends coming from North America and Europe. The jelly-ish but chewy texture is my favorite, but of course can scare off newcomers.

20180406_135650
oden

Yoshino as a mountain for cherry blossom viewing has been popular for more than a millenia. For example, 古今和歌集/Kokin Wakashū documented the mountain and its beauty in its Spring section, dating to about 900AD. Ever since, more, and more waka, Japanese poems, praised this ridge for the magnificent cherry blossoming, until this very day.

20180406_151201
view fit for an emperor, true

We continued upwards, eventually reaching 吉野水分神社/Yoshino Mikumari Shrine, a Shinto shrine dedicated to the water 神/kami (goddess) of fertility and safe birth founded somewhere around 8th century. Inside the shrine, an ancient statue of the Tamayori-hime stood as the most important cultural heritage this area has on offer. The entire Yoshino is also dedicated as a UNESCO world heritage site for its importance on the Shinto pilgrimage routes.

20180406_142122
shrine’s interior court

IMG_8388
wooden owl for worshipping

Then, we started heading even further up, but the view on top of the viewing platform at the peak was rather depressing, so I will not show here. 18th century legends say that on this mountain, each part has over 1000 trees that blossom in the spring, the lower, middle, higher and the very top, and I could easily see why. On the perfectly green slopes, many patches of pink clustered around the area, as if this is the back of an enormous spotted dalmatian puppy. I could easily imagine how magnificent this area would be during the peak of the season. Next time, I WILL make it!

IMG_8392
in front of the shrine

IMG_8410
a worshiper in front of an altar

Before leaving the beautiful area, however, how can I miss trying the most famous food Yoshino is so proud of? What is it, you ask? Well, it is a kind of root called 葛/kudzu, a very popular Chinese medicine as well as food ingredient. In China, it is usually used by grinding the starchy root into a powder and making a soup out of it. Here, even the fresh kudzu leaves are used, so I opted for a green kudzu flavored ice-cream~! Because it has the medicine in it, the calories do not count! Trust me, I am some kind of a scientist myself!

20180406_160749
kudzu ice-cream

奈良/Nara

The next day, I decided to go for Nara, one of the biggest tourist destinations in the country. If you have never heard of this crazy city, then prepare for a treat, and a lot of deer puns, lots and lots of them.

IMG_8427
kudzu mochi on sale in Nara

I got off the train at 新大宮/Shin-Omiya Station, and walked along the Sanjo-Dori walking street, where I passed by a large crowd waiting for a shop that looked vaguely familiar. It turned out to be 麵闘庵/Mentouan, a famous udon shop featured on quite a few travel shows.

20180407_122639
Mentouan wrapped noodle

Their famous udon is wrapped in a tofu skin pack, and cooked in a clear soy sauce broth. In order to get to the noodle, you have to open up the wrappings, either meticulously through the top, or just eat through it like I did. Not to mention it was cheap, like, ridiculously cheap for a bowl of noodle in a super touristy area, costing less than 1000 yen.

20180407_122731
open sesame~!

After filling myself with happiness, I continued into the greater area of Nara Park, where almost all important points of interests were located. The very first thing I saw as I just whipped out my camera, was the majestic 興福寺/Kōfuku-ji, and its 5 story pagoda. Established over 1300 years ago, this temple is one of the Seven Great Temples, a set of historically critical Buddhist buildings in Nara. As Nara developed with the capital of 平成京/Heijōkyō nearby, it served as the brain of the Buddhism in Japan, thus it has one of the most impressive collections of religious buildings.

IMG_8467
Kōfuku-ji and pagoda

Resume the stroll, past the busy road splitting the park into halves, I was on the open grass fields proper. Not one single person would forget Buzzfeed or 9GAG’s stupid travel porn videos, and Nara happens to be one of the biggest hits they managed to generate. Here in the park, thousands of deer roam free on the grounds, maintaining an inexplicably unsustainable population. Ever since the beginning of time, deer had become the de-facto symbol of the city, and now, it has become the biggest economy drive.

IMG_8496
oh deer lord

The reason why deer are so popular here is because according to a legend, the guardian god Kasuga Taisha often came to Nara, riding a deer as white as snow. Thus, these cute little forest puppies are considered holy as they are the envoys and messengers of the kami. They are absolutely protected, and would never ever be harmed by anyone. Well, that was before tourists started accidentally running over them by cars, of course.

IMG_8503
so many of them, but they are so cute, doe~!

However, it is now indisputably clear either one of the two things have happened. Either these deer had ditched their jobs as the representatives of Kasuga Taisha, or the deity had developed an insatiable appetite for special deer cookies sold by virtually any shop in the city. By paying 150 yen, you can have your own army of deer following you, eager to steal that sweet nectar of a cookie from your hands.

IMG_8533
sakura, sakura~♪ noyamamo satomo~♪

Now, people from around the world seem to enjoy this kind of strange but fluffy attraction. From local couples going on a romantic date stroll, to western girls dressed up in traditional kimono bringing a poorer friend just to take instagram photos, the park was ridiculously lively on this Thursday afternoon. I guess, as long as everyone is enjoying himself or herself, it is mission accomplished for these little buddies. Maybe the kami just wants everyone to have a good time~!

IMG_8581
what is a deer that is sleeping~? NO-EYE-DEER~!

Next stop I passed by was 氷室神社/Himuro Shrine, a small Shinto place of worship next to the century-old Nara National Museum. I loved the little pond in front of it, covered with lily pads and fallen petals of a fiery red sakura tree. (editing Young’s note, now looking back on it, I think it might be a plum tree…) In front of the gates, a stone lion gazed silently into the sky, filled with the sweet scent of spring, or more specifically, cherry blossom pollen, only overshadowed by a tree that had its best years behind itself…

20180407_133105
in front of Himuro Shrine

And then, it was the time that I found out about one of the best things I had ever experienced in my life before. No, it is not love, because I still have never experienced it. BUT, it is very close: remember that heavenly rice ball that I had eaten in the business class lounge in Kaisai during Round’aWorld 2016 2 years ago? I FUCKING FOUND IT. I found the entire store! It is called 千鳥屋/Chidoriya, specializing in pastries, and god damn was I happy when I saw those little balls filled with soy sauce. I bought 12 boxes, finished all of them almost without even taking a picture, how rude was I~! In fact, I was so excited that I especially brought it up here even though I am supposed to feature it in the 黑門/Kuromon part of this journal way down there, but I just cannot wait! Please enjoy this picture of the wrapping! Ahhhh I want to eat one soooo badly now!

20180408_121613
みたらし小餅/little pieces of paradise

20180407_140054
another version I found in the park

Oh okay, back to the normal progression of the journal. *clears throat* From the museum area, I cut through a corner full of delicious food, and reached 南大門/Nandaimon, the southern gate, of 東大寺/Tōdai-ji, arguably the main temple Nara is selling for tourism.

IMG_8545
Nandaimon

Within the gate, which is a national treasure itself, contains two gigantic gate guardians measuring 8.5 meter/28 feet tall. They were crafted in 13th century along with the gate, as it was destroyed in a typhoon prior. The two guardians form a classic A-Un pair, as Ungyo is a protector with mouth closed, and Agyo with mouth open. The “a” and “un” come from the sound you would make if you imitate their expressions.

IMG_8549
Agyo in Nandaimon, human for size reference

Continue north from the grand entrance of the biggest attraction Nara has to offer, I encountered 鏡池/Kagamiike, literally meaning lake of mirror. The grand palace was already visible from the lake, and it casted a beautiful mirror image on the surface, creating the utmost serene image I could ever look at before tearing up.

20180407_143213
Kagamiike

Finally, it was time to enter the temple proper. The precursor of Tōdai-ji, called Kinshosen-ji, was established in year 728 as the emperor missed his son who perished at the age of 1. Then, in 743, after a series of natural disasters, foreign invasions, and internal turmoils, the emperor declared to build Buddhist temples throughout Japan, and everyone shall provide assistance. Thus, the biggest temple was built here in Nara. The grand hall called 大仏殿/Daibutsuden, Great Buddha Hall, held the title of “largest wooden structure in the world” until 1998. It was destroyed for two times during multiple fires, but each time it was rebuilt, and the size actually got smaller and smaller, as the initial feat was just borderline insanity. Japan was having a rough time back then, and this project almost bankrupted the entire nation.

IMG_8657
Daibutsuden

The Buddha statue itself was made of cast bronze weighing more than 500 tons, and that was the entire deposit of bronze available to Japan at the time. With a height of almost 15m, the statue is also the second biggest in Japan, as well as among the largest in the world. In 855, the giant head of the Buddha popped off from the neck, as it was the only part not cast together with the body. It took them another round of fundraising throughout the nation to get it right.

20180407_151900
the giant Buddha statue

The complex also had numerous other buildings, including two pagodas, one in the west and one in the east, over 100 meters tall. They were one of the tallest structures in the world of their time. No wonder Japan almost built itself into oblivion by constructing this religious site!

20180407_150128
Komoguten in the hall

As I walked into the hall, I immediately realized how small I was. Everything was of ridiculous proportions: the statues, the roof tiles, the building itself… Heck, even one of the hundreds of giant lotus petals the Buddha sits on was taller than me! Things were not just big, but detailed too. For example, on the lotus pedestal, tiny engravings depict the world view achieved by the Sakyamuni Buddha as he reached the epiphany, described in Avatamsaka-sutra. The top half is the Buddha exuding enormous amount of dharma, surrounded by 11 Bodhisattvas on each side. The bottom half is 26 lines of buddhas and palaces. Even below them are more lotus petals, which themselves have mountain and palace carvings. Work required to produce these petals must be incalculable, and the advanced skills the craftsmen possessed shall live forever.

IMG_8633
lotus pedestal

IMG_8665
Binzuru statue

Right outside the gates was the 12th century wooden statue of 賓頭盧尊者/Binzuru-sonja, or called Piṇḍola Bhāradvāja in Sanscrit, one of the 16 disciples of Buddha. He practiced some strange crafts, as some may even call them mystical occults. It is widely believed in Japan that if you rub a part on this statue, the corresponding part of your body would be free of ailments and pain.

20180407_153117
Daibutsuden from afar

Finally, time to move on to some other less touristy parts of the park, as the entire area was flooded with Chinese tour groups and local Japanese Hanami crowds. I exited the building complex and started heading uphill, thinking that I might get some good views from afar. Before I could not even climb, I already found a good one.

IMG_8607
I am quite fawnd of you~!

20180407_160102
stairs up to Nigatsudo

A short walk up the 手向山/Wakakusa mountain, I was at another designated National Treasure: 二月堂/Nigatsudo. This temple forms its own sub-complex within the slopes of the hills, overlooking the grand buddha halls down below. A small set of stairs took me to the hall proper. It is said that this sacred place contains two important canons, one large and one small, but I was rather disappointed to learn that no only were they classified as 秘仏/Hibutsu, aka, secret buddhas, so that nobody could see them, but also was photography strictly prohibited around the area. I did not know that since not much signage was around, and it was the first time for me to be vehemently scolded by a Shinto priest. Shame on me!

IMG_8719
view from the hall

IMG_8708
a tribute altar made with dragon fountains

However, after apologizing profusely, I was offered to sit with one of the priests and she offered me a nice cup of brown tea. What a nice rest here after all that walking, and now I got to enjoy a tranquil afternoon away from all the commotion, all alone. Sometimes I do appreciate the freedom, and the clarity when one has nothing but himself. After bidding the priests farewell, I continued along the edge of the park, looking for other obscure places probably full of hidden gems. This is the kind of travel I enjoy the most: stepping on a path roamed over by the stampede of thousands is really not that much different than watching a video posted online.

IMG_8682 - 副本
oh, my deer~

IMG_8697
aren’t you so endeering~?

Next stop was the adjacent complex called 八幡宮/Hachimangu, another of the over 1000 buildings scattered around the park. Here I found a quiet area devoid of anyone else, and a beautiful blossoming cherry tree. Granted, it is the Yaezakura type which blossoms much later than the most outstanding types, yet it was gorgeous nonetheless. An old shrine, a few branches of sakura opening as if it had caught on to the passion and enthusiasm of a majestic tiger, and a nice, warm, afternoon, this is what I need to feel this trip is worth its while.

20180407_161549
One day, I wish I can find a flower that never withers…

20180407_161509
enshrined

Wait, I have never introduced the different kinds of cherry blossoms, right? Oh how rude of me! Let me do a short clarification of this beautiful kind of flower. All the beautiful ones you saw that were falling in Yoshino are the Somei Yoshino type, characterized by quick blossoming time, but this kind of tree dies young too, as you can rarely find these trees over 100 years old, but they are the most popular type. Then there is the Yaezakura which is bigger, thicker, and stronger, thus blossoms stay up longer and later. My Tokyo Hanami journal mostly had this type of flower. Another type is Shidarezakura, also known as the weeping cherry. The large white one seen in the interior court of Mikumari Shrine shown way above is this type. They can get over 1000 years old, and the waterfall-like branches can bring out a dreamy feel.

IMG_8764
I bet you a million bucks that you like my puns!

I had to say this is likely one of the best “parks” I have ever been, if you can even count it as a park. It was more like a wilderness filled with cultural heritage and shops. I passed by a giant grassy field facing a line of souvenir shops, offering lunch as cheap as 1000 yen, too bad I already had my lunch in the udon shop, or I would gladly open up another sector in my stomach and swallow everything whole! The sun has already begun sliding towards the forest, so I gotta pick up my pace before getting stranded in the middle of nowhere.

IMG_8845
in front of Kasuga Taisha

After a long walk along a walkway lined with thousands of stone lanterns, I reached 春日大社/Kasuga Taisha, a Shinto shrine painted bright vermilion established in the 8th century. Every year, during the Sentsuben Mantoro festival in February, thousands of lanterns light up at night, providing a transcendental experience for all the pious worshipers. Now that would be something that goes on my bucket list, since I would LOVE to witness it first hand!

IMG_8833.JPG
IMG_8834
Kasuga Taisha

Finally, it was time for some more exploration. The back side of the mountain had nothing but a long lonely road, perfect for me to walk and collect some thoughts. I loved the sun beams casting crooked shadows on the pebbled path, illuminating the small sprouts that came from a seed sowed last year in October. I loved the skittish deer here, completely opposite to the aggressive motherfuckers in the touristy area. I also loved the tiny shrines that had gathered a layer of moss on top because of the lack of visitors. It was quiet, silent, almost muted, except when wind brushed against the treetops and brought down a wave of leaves and flowers. Ahhh I love the time on the road! It makes me closer to the mother that we all share: Earth.

IMG_8861
Kii Shrine, last picture taken by my DSLR

I walked all the way till the end of the path, where the tiny 紀伊神社/Kii Shrine was located. I had a nice photo idea, and tried taking a photo of myself by staging my DSLR camera precariously on top of a tree branch. Well, for me being the bad luck loner I always am, an unexpected deer walked by, knocked my camera off the branch and broke it. I tried hours later in the journey to fix it, but something terrible must had happened the moment it struck the hard stone surface. Rest in peace, my camera, you have served me long enough, from the very beginning in Africa, then to South America, and eventually Antarctica. You are also an old man having been to all 7 continents, crossed enough oceans for a normal human’s lifetime, so it is time for you to retire. Goodbye, old friend, thank you for your service, and being the only one by my side.

20180407_174602
in front of someone’s house

I ended up in the middle of a local neighborhood as I grieved for the passing of my camera, and got lost. Cellphone is all I got know, and what would I do in the next leg in the Amazon jungle!? As I tried going back to the train station, I found a nice little house full of cats, and you know I am likely the biggest fan of kitties. Needless to say, I took too many photos and left only after it was dark. I got on a train heading straight back to Osaka, and fell asleep on my little futon…

20180407_182018
dinner bento~!

大阪/Osaka

Finally, time to explore the anti-capital of Japan properly! The first stop, for me being someone who eats for living, was of course the famous 黑門市場/Kuromon Market. Despite the fact that most travel porn sites like to call it “Osaka’s back kitchen” or “where real Osaka people come to shop”, it has unfortunately changed. The enormous influx of tourists, mostly Chinese, Korean and Taiwanese, turned this cross-shaped market into more of a food street dedicated for tourists. Nevertheless, some parts of the originality remained, as some local stores still stubbornly remain steadfast, headstrongly selling insanely cheap daily consumables and local dishes, despite something like seafood would be a much more profitable trade. Yet, I did not see many classic Osaka old ladies dressed in fake leopard pants shopping here.

20180409_144546
Kuromon Market

Most of the shops sell food, ranging from seafood to souvenir food, perfect for taking back home and being given as gifts. While I showcase the delicious food, I wanted to also introduce some of the marvelous people I met during my stay in Osaka. Strangely, I never expected to make too many friends there, since everyone gets a room and the normal “hostel talk” would be rather hard. You know, the standard :”Where are you from? How long are you traveling? Where next?” while you are sitting on the dorm bed while the other person flippantly look through the bags. I guess because only those who really wanted to socialize would pop into the tiny common room, it gave us a bit of a head start: those who do not wish to make friends would stay back on the bed!

20180408_120734
torched crabs

20180408_125948
torched melons…

I had a few great chats with Anna, a French girl who seemed to have everything I resonate with. For example, she loves the idea of wandering around, having no goal whatsoever: she had no job either~! For people like us, having a happy day is the most important, stuffing ourselves with food that put a silly smile on our faces is a close second. This goofy girl also seems to enjoy me ranting on about the word “moist” being the most phonetically annoying word English can produce for longer than most people could bear. She also seems to have the warmest laugh I have ever seen, and we could just talk for hours, and hours nonstop, well, when we were not eating cheap packaged sushi together, that is. Oh and most importantly, she loves cats, yeah that is probably the biggest thing we share. Cats.

20180408_135631
baby octopus stuffed with quail eggs

20180408_134831
grilled scallop with butter

It was almost sad that I had to say goodbye to Anna later, as I could never imagine that there would be someone else who shares as much passion about cat memes with me in the real world. I genuinely hoped to see her again, as it is rare to find a person that does not drench your mental energy as you talk. I am actually an introvert, so for me to engage in social activities, I needed to mentally change into someone who is very talkative, lively, attention-seeking, and dominant. To be frank, I am becoming increasingly tired that I had to do that. Otherwise, nobody would love to come and talk to an ugly fat Asian dude who laughs at stupid memes about cats licking sushi, except Anna.

20180409_135053
woah teriyaki eel~!

20180409_143015
oden shop

I also got to know Stephanie, who happened to be traveling around Asia. She had a horrible sense of humor, but I would forgive her for that. Then I met Gary, very friendly bloke from Lancashare who was still in Japan as I wrote this journal. Oh and do not forget Jayln, who had been working in Osaka and studying Japanese for a long time. He spoke perfect Japanese, I am still wondering why did he even bother going to school any more. But I would not judge at all if he can accompany us to many local places!

20180408_134210
mocha mochi with strawberry

20180408_124250.jpg
kudzu rice dumplings, torched of course!

Back to the market. There are quite a few things that are very special to me. One cannot say he or she has been to Osaka without trying okonomiyaki, which I had the first day, and takoyaki. What is takoyaki, you ask? Well, I guess I have to assume you live under a rock, as this is probably the worst food porn you can watch as you starve on a Wednesday night procrastinating on your final thesis, not like it came from my past experience or something. Fresh octopus, chopped into pieces, and then dunked with ample cabbage and flour paste, grilled to golden brown in spherical cookers, piping hot inside but crisply fragile outside, that is takoyai. Mmmmmm, perfection! Watching it being made is probably my dream job.

20180408_131316
takoyaki being made

Then there were the beef shops. It is common knowledge that Japanese beef, called wagyu, is very tasty. However, if you think that is the top of the food chain, you are sorrowfully mistaken. The true greatness of beef is Kobe beef, a special kind of Tajima cattle that is raised with free pasture in Hyōgo Prefecture next to Osaka, and has to have high meat quality gradings of 4 or 5. And yes, the myth that they are massaged and fed beer is true, but not a common practice or requirement. Only about 3000 cows are qualified each year to be Kobe beef cow, and that is why your local $15 kobe slider is likely a sham. To get a real Kobe dish, be ready for 3 digits of credit card bills, or try coming here to Japan. Why is it so expensive? Well, the fat in Kobe beef is very unique, as the following picture shows that the fatty tissues are marbled in incredible tiny structures, compared to chunks of fat and meat separated in normal beef. Thus, putting it simply, the meat butters itself.

20180408_121205
bottom right Kobe beef, pricey but oh so much worth it

Most shops offer to grill it for you for free, if you elect to purchase. However, there are other wagyu (just beef raised in Japan) meats that one can choose, which are not bad either. For example, 佐賀/Saga, 黑毛/Kuroge, 松阪/Matsusaka, are all delicious options that one can rarely taste outside Japan.

20180408_124648
ultra high quality fatty tuna, otoro grade

Talking about fat, how can one miss the marvelous tuna Kuromon has on offer? In Japan, it is very important to determine the fattiness of the tuna. What you normally see in the street corner sushi shop is complete garbage in the masters’ eyes here. The fattier part of the tuna is called toro, and the fattiest parts are otoro. The best parts ought to come from the head of a blue fin tuna, nothing else would do. Thus, I had to opt for the best otoro sushi, costing over 3000 yen/30 dollars. Why? Because the fatter, the slimmer of my chance to get a girlfriend the better it tastes. When the piece of otoro tuna touched my tongue, it melted into a fatty explosion of umami and happiness. It was so soft and tasty that I forgot after this bite, I would only have food as my soul mate, ever.

20180408_125847
pufferfish

There are also a few seafood stalls with almost no people. Why? Because they specialize in pufferfish. As a Chinese, I am no stranger to this delicacy, but for my readers, be prepared for a wild ride. Known as 河豚/fugu in Japan, the fish is extremely toxic, containing a special strain of tetrodotoxin, an unnecessarily powerful sodium channel blocker that completely shuts down one’s muscles. It is also 100 times more potent than cyanide. The scary part? Well, it does not render you unconscious, so you will literally watch, and feel, your own heart, lungs, and bladder stop working, as you slowly die from asphyxiation. Oh yeah also, there is no antidote for pufferfish poisoning. You get poisoned, you die.

20180408_121659
a two-people meal costs a whopping 33000 yen/330 dollars

However, they are, as told by anyone who has ever had pufferfish, incredibly delicious. Some compare it to the fattiest tuna, but even better. Laws around Asia prohibit processing it yourself, so in Japan only specially trained chefs can handle the fish in established restaurants. The training involves at least 2 to 3 years of apprenticeship with a sensei, and then a test: first they do a written test, then an identification test, and finally they prepare a few fish for the judge. Here is the kicker: the trainees have to eat the fish they processed themselves. Thus, among the 65% who fail the test, some die on the spot. Fucking metal, eh? That is why you can see the price is insanely high. In China, we like to call eating pufferfish a gamble with the god of foods, and this is indeed very true.

20180409_140658
preparing my lunch

I found a nice shop offering cheap seafood donburi, costing just shy of 1500 yen. Apparently it was a seafood shop that had a side business of meals. Thus, I gladly opted for a full bowl of “fruits from the sea” as they called it. They also let you buy various things yourself and put them onto a bowl for you, processing them for free. However, I was in no hurry to eat umi and salmon roe again, as I had tried it before, and if you read my WeekendInTokyo post, they are NOT cheap.

did I mention I like cat memes?

20180409_141130
my seafood donburi

And then, I saw something that was even more shocking: 淡雪(Pale Snow) Strawberries. These are the rarest strawberries I can ever imagine, as they are of a beautiful white color, and some other kinds (less pure) show a cherry-blossom color. Do not get fooled: they are neither sour nor cheap. I bought a tiny bowl just for the sake of it, costing over 6 dollars in the supermarket, cheapest place you can get it. Normally, the big strawberries in a box, around 30 of them in there, costs a staggering 3000 yen/30 dollars. As I bit into the fruits, they exude a faint scent of strawberries and more of pineapples or passion fruits. SWEET! Marvelous creations can only be delivered by Japanese ingenuity.

20180408_141010
strawberry mix

I finally had my daily fix of 30000 calories, and turned back towards home. As I entered the hostel, I noticed a girl painting the walls in vibrant bushes and jungles. Hey, I’m going to the jungles soon! The work was simply astounding, and I had to compliment it, even though I am usually extremely stingy as it comes to that, because for me, only the truly extraordinary deserves praises. Where I grew up, one gets rewarded only when he or she achieves more than the majority of others, unlike in some western societies, even the tiniest, most mundane issue is expected to receive a “good job!” or “fantastic!”. I guess that is the difference for eastern and western way of perceiving encouragement. Anyways, I had to say, her work was truly one of a kind: I cannot even draw stick figures half the size of her mural!

20180409_192325.jpg
Shinsekai area

For dinner, I headed towards the area across from the road called 新世界/Shinsekai. In the area, the towering feature is Osaka’s symbol right after WWII, 通天閣/Tsutenkaku, designed by the same professor who came up with Tokyo Tower. The area was supposedly an imitation of New York in the south, and Paris in the north, thus the original tower, destroyed during the war, looked much more like the Eiffel Tower. However, the most prominent feature of this neighborhood, barring its notoriety as a dangerous place to be, is the huge cluster of 串カツ/kushikatsu restaurants.

20180409_192225
串カツ restaurant facade

This strange food is basically deep-fried and battered skewers. Originated in this very neighborhood, the kushikatsu started with a small variety, but quickly exploded into a myriad of materials that can (and sometimes cannot) be fried, ranging from meat to vegetables, then to seafood, then to rice cakes and fish cakes, then to bizarre things such as beni shōga(red picked ginger you usually ignore on bento boxes), gyoza dumplings, and with the recent advent of western popularism, cream cheese.

20180409_195103
oh my~!

Of course, that does not include the strange style that one has to eat it with. The skewers are not seasoned, so one needs to dip it in a tonkatsu sauce. However, in every shop, you will see enormous signs saying “2度漬け禁止!!!”, telling you it is strictly prohibited to dip your skewers in the sauce depot once you have taken a bite. Why? Because the sauce is shared, and dipping it back with your saliva attached on the skewers is considered very bad manners. Thus, solution is: use the cabbage leaves provided for free and scoop sauce you want out of the bowl, and eat the cabbage too! This is such a big deal that there was once a children’s song talking about it, titled ~ソースの二度漬けは禁止やで~/sōsu no nidozuke wa kinshi ya de (never dip your kushikatsu twice in the sauce pot).

20180409_163706
cherry blossom by O River

For the next day, I decided to go for a day trip around Osaka, hitting all the important spots. First up was a stroll along the beautiful 大川/O River crossing the city, the two sides of the river were filled with parks full of cherry blossoms, yet sadly most of them had already withered and fallen. I could imagine it being one of the biggest spots for Hanami when the time was right. Next time, Young, next time! Then I paid a visit to the Osaka Science Museum, since it housed the replica of the very first robot ever created in Japan, 學天則/Gakutensoku. The original was built in 1929 and could write Chinese words automatically, but it somehow disappeared in Germany before WWII during a tour. Creepy, eh?

20180410_153054
Gakutensoku

This was the first time that I looked towards Atlas Obscura for inspiration. Truly an amazing website, this strange little piece of interwebs showed me what normal travel guides can never tell. I found out about the strange Gate Tower Building this way, and headed straight towards it. How unorthodox is it, you ask? Well, it has a highway running through the building, almost cutting the skyscraper into halves. Apparently it was because the government and land owners fought tooth and nail about the building rights, so they eventually came to a compromise: the land owners would build their 16-story tall building, but the highway goes through the 5th, 6th, and 7th floors. Funny part? The Hanshin Expressway is still paying rent on the space they “occupy” every year.

20180409_154615
Gate Tower Building

20180410_142431
Umeda Sky Building

Then I headed towards Umeda, the center of the center for Osaka. To be honest, there was not too much to see, other than gigantic shopping malls, 7 rail transport lines converging together, and construction zones. I am never a big fan of the hyper metropolis scenes, and I gladly passed by the famous airy escalators Umeda Sky Building has on its top, before turning back around.

20180409_165925
Osakajo

20180409_174200
Osaka Castle with sakura

How can one say he has been to Osaka without seeing the city symbol: Osaka Castle? Thus, I headed towards the enormous Osaka Castle park. This castle was historically one of the most important fortresses in Japanese history, as in 1615 right here, the Toyotomi clan was defeated by Tokugawa clan, thus uniting most of Japan. After this decisive battle, Tokugawa Shogunate established its dominant power for the next 200 years. The castle was rebuilt after years of neglect in 19th century, but was bombed to a crisp during WWII as the imperial army used it as an armory. Finally, in 1992, it was rebuilt by the city with concrete to imitate the Edo splendor outside, but filled with a museum inside, complete with all modern equipment of convenience.

20180409_170537
view on the castle

20180409_173426
Osaka Castle, 2018

After a nice rest, and a sunset from the castle, I slowly stumbled my way back to the train station. It had been another long, long day, and I experienced so much in the city that it felt more fulfilling than the past 2 times I passed by Tokyo. There was definitely a difference between going to a place because you can, and visiting a place because you want to. However, if you think I was gonna get a bit of rest, you are very mistaken.

20180409_175813
Hokoku Shrine

I passed by the famous Uncle Rikuro’s jiggly cheesecake shop on the way back, and picked up a freshly baked piece of heaven for dinner. While eating my cheesecake, I saw the girl painting the wall again, working on the final touches. I could not but stop and gaze upon the marvelous creation she had imprinted on the wall, and I offered her a slice of my cake. It was one of the very few times in my life that I offered someone else my food, but her drawing was pulling me in, as if it was spiritually magnetic. It turned out to be the best, and the worst, decision I had made in my life.

20180408_144909
Rikuro’s cheesecake shop

One thing is certain, a good cake needs a good conversation partner. And this girl definitely matched the god-like jiggly cheesecake on the table. Gabi is from Cordoba, Argentina, and has a tale that matched those one could read in newspapers. Born into a Welsh and Scottish legacy, she had always had a fascination of the Japanese culture and life. However, instead of coming as a tourist like many others, she had outdone everyone, including me, by braving a new culture and eventually taking up an internship in Osaka. She speaks fluent English and Japanese, not minding Spanish, and lives a local life with her Japanese boyfriend in the suburbs. Eventually, the company she worked with was so impressed with her work that she was hired permanently. With a great smile and infectiously passionate attitude, she, along with her brush, gave birth to hundreds and hundreds of marvelous paintings, be it on walls, paper or web pages. I am no art connoisseur,  but I am convinced, she brought a smile to life itself, and now, luckily, me. Just by looking at her work, every person passing by the hallway realized it was now officially more than a merely whitewashed piece of concrete. It was a jungle teeming with life, like the Iguazu region where she drew her inspiration.  Now, she lives in Osaka, but also lives in the world her hand weaves. I talked to her while she was drawing, and I could not help but notice her hand curving, weaving, gliding, pouncing… Even the process itself was a work of art.

20180408_151745
cheesecake

While my mind was placed back to the Iguazu jungle, I suddenly came to a horrifying realization. She was the same age as me, but she had done so much good in this world, especially compared to me. While browsing her instagram as she showed me, I saw a map she drew filled with endemic wildlife that was so lively and beautiful that I had tears welling up in my eye. I may be a simpleton, but as someone who stood hours in front of Monet, Picasso, and Van Gogh, I know my emotion when I see a masterpiece, and this is definitely it. I would absolutely buy her map and hang it up my wall, or even use it for my interactive travel map. Heck, I would buy the fuck out of this map and keep them all! Gabi told me aloofly, while she was gracefully finishing up the last touches of a toucan that appeared to be flying off the mural, that she funded for her flight from Argentina here by selling the map, and that stuck me like a lightning. It hit too close to home. While she was producing beautiful maps that adorn people’s walls and making their lives a bit more lively for a flight ticket, I was weaseling out of my way to travel-hack a flight so I do not have to pay petty fees and taxes. I do not contribute anything to this world as I live and breathe, but Gabi is making the world more beautiful every second, literally. What have I done in my life? Having never experienced anything from art, I stood there, having an internal emotional meltdown as my premature midlife crisis began. When I picked up volunteering in Nepal, then Peru and Mexico, I was such an optimistic teenager that I wanted to contribute something for this world, but where has that guy gone? I realized: Gabi was the type of person I wanted to be; and yet, she sat there, graciously improving this world with a big smile on her face, while I failed. I failed the 17-year-old me.

As Gabi signed her name on the mural, an admirer of her came to ask her if they could take a picture together. She responded with perfect Japanese, which she claimed to be “intermediate”, as she finished up her final stroke.  A photo was taken, hands were shaken, and she took off. I watched her disappear near the end of the street, turning left into the busy commuting traffic, as I sat on the long smoking bench in front of the hostel. How can someone be so humble, happy and popular at the same time as she improves the world a tiny bit at a time? I have to go around the world announcing my greatness, telling people about the crazy stuffs I have done, so I could attract some petty attention. True greatness does not need to be announced; it is exuded. Gabi got more praises than I have ever got telling people about my adventures by simply sitting in front of a creation of her own, and sweetly smiling as she greeted every passerby. I sat on the bench for hours, looking into the narrow slice of sky sandwiched between towering buildings. I came to an epiphany, a rather depressing one. During our brief conversation, Gabi cheerfully told me I should write a book, but here, behold, I have already written over one thousand words just about her smile! As the street lights flickered on, I sat there, as one after another smoker came out of the hostel into the chilly dusk air, sat beside me, and finished one after another cigarette, before heading back in. Sure, I may have gained a bit more experiences during my travels, but aren’t I just a parasite that gets fatter as I suck the world dry? If my relationship with the world is parasitism, then Gabi is in symbiosis with the world. She makes the world a bit more beautiful, as the world makes her a little more so at the same time. I felt incredibly dejected, as I came to realize my life had been a mess. She had a goal, a dream, a life she wanted to live, and she worked hard for it, and fulfilled them all. If you have seen my bucket list, then you know for me, goals are a list to beat, and life is a time to conquer; but for Gabi, life was a pleasant stroll in the park, because for her, she does not need to win anything to prove her worth to herself; with her smile, she had already won it all.

20180408_172612
Gabi’s work

Someone handed me a cigarette, since I appeared so anxious and I was sitting on the smoker’s bench. I realized my hand was shaking, not because of the cold, but because of all those crazy thoughts swirling in my head.  The night was nigh, and one commuter train sped by after another, leaving nothing but rhythmic, almost characterless, echos in the alley. For me, when I look back on my life, I see items finished, and locations conquered, but I always need more, and can never rest until the day six feet of dirt is piled upon me; for Gabi, when she looks back, it must be a sense of pride, and even more happiness to go around for everyone.  I know I should not compare my life with hers, but I could not help myself. We are both 23, immigrant, speak a few languages, love to see what our lives had on offer on new land, so it is a bit hard for me to stop thinking about what I could do in her stead. While Gabi became both a Japanese and Argentinean as she moved here, I lost all my identities: I cannot righteously associate with any of my countries anymore. She found a new piece of herself in a foreign land, yet I lost myself in hundreds of lands. The first thing she told others while someone else popped in for a conversation was the fact that I spoke some languages, and that was so cool to her. She speaks almost the same amount as me, and dare I say she might be even a bit better in total than me, yet she still compliments me nonstop. I once read a book about how to make others like you, and a very important point was compliments. I tried, to no avail, as my compliments all seemed so fake and forced; with Gabi, it seemed like natural and genuine, and it was no coincidence that she was so beloved by everybody, even forcing out some rare English “it is so beautiful!” out of some Chinese tourists. I have never met someone who gave me an existential crisis, yet at the same time, I am grateful for that. It is rare for someone to find a way of life that challenges his fundamental ideologies once in a while, yet my way of life has given me ample opportunities to do that. Maybe I am ultimately happy that I got to know Gabi, even though I still curse at the inopportune circumstances that we had to meet under the world’s mischievous arrangement. There is, perhaps, a takeaway from this chanced, almost tragic encounter, that there is always someone who one can learn from. Maybe, life is giving me a teacher, a person that I can reflect my past self, as well as the future one, on.

20180408_172632
Gabi’s work

Before I had a chance to ponder further, I suddenly felt a burning sensation on my index finger: the cigarette had finished burning itself, and was now burning my skin. My reflex forced me to let go of the fuming head. I made a decision, an important one. This would be my last epic trip, at least before I figure out what I want in my life. I had been searching for love, looking for my soul, and I had covered enough distance to go to the fucking moon, yet I found preciously little. With every step I took, I lost a little bit of myself, and got even more lost in this beautiful world. I used to blame the world for that. People are not deep enough; nobody understands me; something is wrong with the society. No, Gabi taught me something shocking: the problem I had been running away from, is me myself. I am the problem. What I needed to do, was fixing everything wrong with me before I do anything else. After this trip, I am going to lock myself away from long trips, and improve myself as a person. I wrote down a whole list of things people like about her, and compared it to myself: I possess none of them. I need to play an instrument, enhance my language skills, stop looking down on people, be humble, and many, many others… Before I achieve that, I am just going around looking for a thing that never exist for me, a shadow of a light never reachable from the deep dark abyss that I dwell, and I do not want to die on the road looking for love and life. I held my fist tight, and promised myself to be better: next time I set foot on a long journey, I would be better equipped to search for my soul.

The street light flickered, and I flickered back.

20180410_195655
Shinsaibashi

I spent most of the next day thinking about what to do, as I realized something had to be done: a change was imminent. However, I got to know a very nice Latvian-British friend Benita, who I believe is still wearing her fanny pack this very moment. We decided to go for a little bit of walk for the night, as I desperately needed some fresh air as my whole life crumbled. An obvious choice was the riverside along the craziest shopping street in 心齋橋/Shinsaibashi, called 道頓崛/Dotonbori. Lots of foreigners also congregated in this area, for its beautifully illuminated billboards, as well as the abundance of instagram-hot restaurants. In a super-cheap supermarket, I bought two bentos, and we just sat by the river, ate the little boxes of deliciousness in silence, as we watched the boats rolled by. It was the best meal I had: some peace and quiet, without the stupid thoughts. Since we had the quiet, the next thing for us to go for was the opposite: a nice night of karaoke in an English bar called Drunken Clam (haha I see what you did there), and I could not believe that I had never been to one before! What a stupid grin I could put on when the song I selected came up on the screen, and the entire crowd just collectively yell:”AWWWWWW!”

20180410_234647
Yichiran ramen

I had no idea how long we sang, probably 290 hours, and finally had to head back. However, we, and a bunch of other guys encountered in the bar, were a bit famished, so why not go for a bit of ramen instead~? I know I know! The world-famous 一蘭/Ichiran! Beautiful garlic tonkotsu broth along with the perfectly-cooked pork slices served throughout the clock… yum! It is so popular that it has become the most common sight in Osaka airport so people can buy pre-packaged versions of them back home, and they have even opened up shops across Asia and USA!

20180410_235718
at the bottom, it says something like “till the last drop”

Epilogue

I wish there is a way to freeze time. Every time I had to leave a place, I get a little bit older. A wrinkle pops up somewhere on my forehead, and my heart gets a bit heavier. There was no debate that this is probably a highlight in my recent travels, as I cannot even believe how much I saw in these short 5 days, and how much still I have not even seen. As if it was a place that could change my life: oh wait, it did.

20180411_123147
Kansai T2 food shop stops serving you if your flight departs in 30 min

I took the Nankai train back to the airport, with a very sad complexion. All those people I met during these days, I probably would not see any of them for a long long time. I realized I am just as mindless as those people who I laughed at, thinking only about paying the bills and daydreaming about a day of freedom. For me, it was the same, except I refused to admit it. To make a life meaningful, it is not about seeing everything and doing everything, but accomplish what you want to accomplish, with the people who want to be with you. What I have been doing ever since I was born was desperately asking for attention that people do not want to give, sometimes even forcefully. Nobody likes being with me, because I have nothing to accomplish. As I sat down in the tiny terminal waiting for my Peach Air flight to Seoul, I realized that I could not live like this forever, or I would die alone, broke, hopeless, the exact thing I am trying to avoid. I had to change. Also, I was hungry.

20180406_203141
deliciousness~!

No more pettiness, and no more attention-whoring. True greatness only comes from a heart humble and fulfilled. I need to know what I want to do before I ask others for help, otherwise I would just be dragging people I care about into the bottomless abyss of darkness that I live in. I clenched my fist, stood up, and walked towards the boarding gate: from today on, I would work hard to be who I wanted to be.

Masaka?!…maybe…Osaka is the turning point of my life!?

continue to Voyager 2 —>

<— back to Voyager 1
<— back to Introduction
<— back to Travel MasterPlan

other times I went to Japan>>>

Tokyo Hanami 2016 —>
Passing by Osaka 2016 —>
Transit in Tokyo 2017 —>

IMG_8794
-=ForeverYoung|Voyager 1.5=-

Special thanks to Gabi, for letting me use her instagram link, it is my honor to know you.
Thanks to Benita for being a great friend to share bento boxes with, and being so accommodating to my horrible voice while the entire bar cringed.
Also thanks to Anna for understanding the horrible word of “moist” and patience. I cannot imagine never meeting you if I decided to book another hostel, go to another city, or simply slept in.
I would like to thank you, my dear reader, for putting up with this emotional and physical roller coaster ride. You have just finished reading my longest journal in the recorded history, over 11000 words! I hope you have learned something that no other place on the internet can teach ya, and hope to see you around! If you are interested, here are some portals to some other highlights of my entire vagabond life.

random portal zone: take me to…

<— Antarctica

Easter Island —>

<— Bolivian Sky Mirror

Ecuador —>

<— Kenyan Savannah

Norwegian Arctic —>

2 thoughts on “Masaka…Osaka!? -=Voyager 1.5=-

Hey, excited? jealous? eager to join my trips? comment below!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s