Shrine, Sky Building, Shinkansen and Shochu

Day 6 – Wednesday, 3 April 2024

Geology in real time
Moss be with you

Woke to the first real rain in Japan. While packing carried on around me, I turned on the television in a moment of idle curiosity to find, between the inevitable morning advertorials for products I couldn’t identify, let alone decide I needed, wall to wall tsunami warnings for the southern islands following the Taiwan earthquake that morning. Banner text blocks yelled “evacuate” or, more simply, “run”. A coastguard vessel patrolled just offshore, while stubboner types stood on rooftops looking out to sea, presumably believing the official forecast of 3m waves and judging themselves safe. In the end no great wave emerged, even as the news of deaths in Taiwan trickled through.

Out with the whole team, first to Hozen-jo to finish last night’s obeisance. The shrine duly reverenced and an offering made, silent wishes for health and happiness of all of us were offered up. Then on to the north side of the city for the first time, to the Umeda Sky Building. Also for the first time, Anna concedes that Osaka (metro area population 19 million) is a real city, not just a big town with pretensions. You can take the girl out of Tokyo, but you can’t take Tokyo out of the girl. 

From the top of the tower to the basement, where a nostalgic Showa era (that’s, broadly, the twentieth century to non-Japanese) set of laneways has been constructed underground. We take our place in the queue for a seat at the okonomiyaki restaurant. Before coming here we read, in our guidebook, that Osaka and Hiroshima are locked in an endless dispute as to which of them does the best, the authentic, the ultimate okonomiyaki. Both cities being on our itinerary, it seems only fair of us, as a thank you to our host nation, to settle the matter once and for all so they can get on with more important matters. So this was our Osaka sample. Check back in a week for the definitive answer.

Osaka greys
The era of my childhood as theme park

Osaka having been properly grasped, it’s time to leave. The shinkansen makes trivial work of the 50 km from Shin-Osaka Station to Kyoto, done in 15 minutes. From there, it is a short subway trip to Misasagi Station. However, it’s a slightly longer one to Yamashina Station, which is where we head to, under a misunderstanding as to where our accommodation is. After a short walk around the area, it’s a very short subway trip back to Misasagi, then ten minutes climbing a hill, the half an hour talking with Tammy, our host, then a half hour walk back to Yamashina to where we will, after all, be staying. Seb, who has been battling a cold all day, does very well to stay on his feet.

Dinner at a yakiniku restaurant was terrific but the long and busy days were taking their toll, so Anna and the boys headed for a relatively early bed. I gathered all of the dirty linen and went in search, through the rain, of a laundry. Found one and spent ten minutes translating the instructions on my phone, then wondered how to spend the hour while the machines did their thing. Google Maps told me that a hundred metres up the road was Deeps, a bar. A place to tuck myself to write up this diary, I thought. That plan failed in an utterly delightful way. The rain had clearly washed away any interest on the part of the locals to head out on a Tuesday night, so I was the only customer in a chic, modern drinkery. After using the international sign language for “I’m a clueless tourist who speaks none of your language” (much shrugging and looking confused before scrambling for phone to type out “I speak no Japanese, I’m sorry”) I could not have been more warmly welcomed by my hosts, Taigo and Osato. Communicating entirely by typing into our devices, Taigo confessed to being bored on a night without custom. I told them about myself, they about themselves – 20 years a married couple, no kids, in their 11th year of running this bar. I missed where Taigo came from. Osato is from Miyagi Prefecture in northern Honshu, somewhere round about Yamamoto. I drank some drinks of their choosing (my first ever shochu, closely followed by my second) talking all the while by typing into our devices. When I left, they insisted on getting a photo with me, and I have deep suspicions that the bill they presented had been materially shaved. They denied it ardently. My first real contact with the locals and a complete delight.


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