I’ve lived near the Tampa area for my whole life, but despite that, I’ve never really gone downtown much. Never wandered I’m currently 20, so I’m too young to drink in America, but old enough to drink in Japan. Funny coincidence – 20’s the age you can drink in Japan, so people tend to have their wild parties when they turn that old, like in America for 21. I had my 20th birthday party in America, and I will have my 21st in Japan – thereby never having that “Oh, this is the birthday party where you’ll drink!” Which is probably good, since I don’t drink, even though I’m at the legal age in Japan.
Where was I going with that? Oh, right. Never really went downtown, partly because I didn’t drink, partly because… I don’t know. The idea of bars and nightclubs never really was my idea of fun. I think the first “”nightclub”” I went on was on a cruise ship, where you could go in so long as you were 18 or older. I brought a pair of noise-canceling headphones, like those you’d wear to a gun range, sat down in a corner, and read something on my phone until I was sufficiently tired, at which point I returned to my room to retire.
The whole point of this backstory is a really elaborate way of saying that I’m not familiar with the city life, and even though I lived next to a city, Osaka’s really the first time that I went to the city for the city. Just to wander, to explore, to be a tourist. Not because I had official business, or because I was meeting friends, but for the city itself.
The trip started with me asking on LINE if anyone was free to head to Osaka. For those not familiar, LINE is the social messaging service used primarily in some East Asian countries, Japan included. (80% of Japanese have LINE, and Instagram comes in second. Facebook is only really popular with the older generations.) On there, I explained that I didn’t have any plans that weekend, and had kind of out-of-the-blue decided to go to Osaka. The person I was dating had a lot of experience traveling and studying abroad, and she told me to try to explore as much as I could. Never spend a weekend where I was just at home, if I could help it. Thus far, I’ve followed that advice, and if possible, I’ll keep doing it.
Despite the last-minute nature, three others said they’d come with me. We walked from the Seminar House where we stayed to the nearest station. Because I’ve only ever used public trains and subways once when I was in New York, it was pretty confusing to me, and we all weren’t completely sure we were headed the right way, or if we bought the right tickets. Osaka was a ways away, and the fastest thing was to ride from our local station to the nearest big station, then ride an express train from there to Osaka. The tickets aren’t dependent on what kind of train you ride, but rather the distance – the further you go, the larger the price.
After figuring out the train system, we got there. We didn’t really have any idea what to do there, and thankfully we talked to one of the local Japanese students before we left. She helpfully recommended Shinsaibashi as the place to hang out, and we decided that would be our destination. We walked from the major Osaka station to Shinsaibashi, not too long of a distance, but enough to get to see the city a bit. We stopped at a restaurant to get refreshments, and were surprised at the amount of English in use in the decorations.
On the walk to Shinsaibashi, we stopped at a grand temple that was just kind of… there. It was right on the side of the road, and as far as I could tell, it was Buddhist in nature. We went inside, and observed how the others treated the building and how they prayed. I followed their example, whereas the other three mostly hung back.
We also stopped at a Shinto shrine and did the same thing, but there were a lot of others here. I think the more lively atmosphere was what prompted everyone to pray together. (There’s a real exact way that one should pray- strict in the sense that there’s a perfect way to do it, but not in the sense there’s any punishment if you mess up.)
Further along, we arrived in Shinsaibashi. It was more of a shopping street than anything, a place lined with stores of all sorts with a pedestrian walkway through the center. Affirming previous beliefs, these stores were compact, almost to the point of being cramped. Land here is incredibly valuable, and it’s made clear through the interior of the stores with narrow isles and frequently multiple stories.
At the end of the shopping street, we encountered Doutonburi, a river street running perpendicular to Shinsaibaishi’s. Stalls lined the sides of the street, on both sides of the river, but space was a little more open here, perhaps to accommodate a larger volume of people than what populated it when we went. We went into a large shop called Don Quijote, a discount store that had all manner of items and was six stories tall. After that, we walked up and down alongside the river, but everyone was getting tired, so we headed back not long after that.
Maybe I’ll travel to some more big cities soon.
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