Travelling East Asia From Within: Japan (Part 2)

The next morning we awoke at 2 pm, not surprisingly and after showering we went over to Asakusa, one of Tokyo’s oldest districts which is home to a famous temple and myriad stores selling traditional goods. It was there that I was treated to my second geisha sighting of which I took a number of pictures and purchased a souvenir headband with the Chinese character for “sincerity” printed on it (a staple of a certain group of samurai that I’ve studied in detail known as the Shinsengumi). After wandering around Asakusa we next visited the famous fashion and shopping district known as Shibuya where we ate all-you-can-eat sukiyaki which was really delicious. After that we headed back to my friend’s house, picked up a few beers on the way and chatted until we felt like sleeping.

The next morning we woke up and bid farewell to our host and set off for Harajuku, another fashion district in Tokyo mostly noted for being frequented by Tokyo’s much more “eccentric” fashionistas and also the subject of many a Gwen Steffani song. There we saw a number of unique boutiques with rather agreeable prices, but alas being poor students we could not indulge. To my disappointment we were unable to see many of the aforementioned fashionistas, however it was still a neat little place.

After Harajuku it was getting dark and we decided to head back to Shinjuku to see it by night as Shinjuku is home to the infamous Kabuki-cho, the definitive entertainment and red-light district of Tokyo. Not surprisingly upon entering Kabuki-cho we were immediately approached by a number of shady characters offering us. . . let’s say “morally ambiguous” pastimes which we were quick to reject as we were there more as observers than anything else. However we did find a pub that offered a two hour all-you-can-drink service, which we took advantage of and we also found a “robot restaurant” which was brightly coloured and super flamboyant. Upon asking about the robot restaurant we were told it was a spectacular show in which robots and flamboyantly dressed dancers, danced, fought dinosaurs, fought each other, fought panda bears, played instruments, etc., etc. Simply put, we had to see it. The robots were mostly people in robot costumes but the show was none-the-less spectacular – think Medieval Times meets Vegasesque robot cabaret. Sounds enticing, no? The show was about $40 and was both the most fun and insane thing I’ve ever seen in my life – only in Japan.

After the robot show we headed back to the bus terminal to take another overnight bus to Osaka. After the hustle and bustle of Tokyo we were eager to head to another small town like Kyoto, but because we weren’t really sure how to get to one, and didn’t have a travel guide, we ended up just heading back to Kyoto. We liked our original hostel so much the we just stayed there again and were given a different but equally pleasant traditional tatami room for a cheaper price.

We were quick to grab bikes again and this time biked to another temple which was situated on a mountain which had tori-gates running up the side of it with family shrines all over the mountain. It was a beautiful, almost magical place – the stuff of legends (and it actually is). After that we biked to another mountain which ended up being much farther then we had expected. After that we headed back to Gion for some dinner and went to bed because we were dead tired.

The next day we headed to Osaka where we booked our next hostel and opted to check out the famous Osaka castle. Though a very interesting museum, we were a little disappointed to find that the interior of Osaka castle was totally modern as the castle had been almost completely rebuilt after it was all but destroyed in the WWII bombings. Still, it’s definitely worth checking out. Next we headed to Dotemburi, Osaka’s main drag and shopping district situated over the Dotemburi river which is a really cool place to be and there we met up with two Japanese friends that I had made in Toronto, another Canadian friend of mine who was working in Japan and two of his friends

That night we ate at a very agreeably priced Izakaya and had some Takoyaki, a local food which is essentially spherical breaded octopus, drank and talked into the night. It was all good fun. After that we strolled around Dotemburi for a bit and then headed back to our hostel. On the way back to the hostel we picked up some Japanese spirits to celebrate our last night in Japan. When we got back to the hostel after we started drinking in the hostel’s common room where we spied a Korean couple. I felt like practicing some Korean and approached them. They turned out to be super friendly and we ended up sharing our spirits with them. After the lounge closed we continued drinking and watching TV in my American friend’s room, all the while speaking Korean! It was totally cool.

The next morning we woke up, checked out, and went to Shinseki Tower which was very close to our hostel, located in famous old area of Osaka and home to a local spirit named “Biliken” of which his statue is everywhere around there. The Tower acted as an observatory and museum of Osaka’s local history. We wandered around there for a bit and ate some Okanomiyaki, a staple Japanese dish famous especially in Osaka. I bought myself a little Biliken statue as well. After that we wanted to check out the famous Aquarium in Osaka which is the 2nd largest in the world, but to our dismay it was closed! So instead we went back to Dotembori where I did a bit more shopping and after that we headed to the Airport to board our flight for Manila!

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