I'm writing this a little late because I didn't have time on the evening of the day, but I added the pictures then and now there is text to go with it!
Saturday 4th of April, I woke for the last time at my host family's, had my last breakfast with them, and got ready to take all my luggage away with me to Osaka. Thanks to my host for having me, feeding me, showing me some great experiences, and helping me get on my way on the trains!
The train to Osaka was really busy, although nothing like what I've heard about Tokyo where they literally push you into the train to fit more people in. There are various passes available for tourists to get them on the trains, subways, buses, and into tourist attractions, so my plan was to pay for this train into Osaka and then at the main station there get myself a pass that would make all my travel free for the rest of the holiday.
Once I arrived in Osaka, in an underground train station, I was on a mission to find the location I was promised would be selling the passes. The station was massive, with shops and whole underground shopping malls to get lost in, and I couldn't figure out where the hell I was supposed to go. I killed an hour wandering around, getting lost, finding a little rice snack thing in a convenience store to tithe me over. I discovered a massive bank of 'coin lockers' where you can store luggage for a 300 yen a day, so that allowed me to lighten my load considerably.
Eventually I found the right place and brought my ticket and, a bit flustered, proceeded to the subway. Osaka supposedly has free wifi citywide, which I discovered means in certain mysterious spots in the stations, so long as you don't move once you've found them. And even then it's not guaranteed. So planning my routes was possible with the help of the internet, but time-consuming. Once I'd figured out where to go, I was off, and that's when I discovered the phenomenon of 'women only' carriages.
I was a bit embarrassed when this carriage rolled up in front of me, having failed to notice the sign on the floor beneath my feet which should have warned me. On my second visit to Osaka, a few days later, I accidentally wandered into one of these carriages while looking for an empty seat and, I kid you not, when I grabbed a hand hold and settled in five women stood up and moved out of the carriage without a word. I was like, jeez, that's a bit racist, until I realised where I was standing. Oops!
My first stop was 'Kaiyukan', Osaka's big aquarium, complete with whale shark. It's not exactly Japan-specific, I admit, but it looked really good and there wasn't really that much to actually do in Osaka besides wander around and shop and eat. The aquarium is at the 'bay area' of Osaka, which also has Osaka's replica of Universal Studios which I've been to in Florida a couple of times. Outside of the aquarium was one of the street performers you see in London, but this guy was really weird looking.
Pretty cool! I headed into Kaiyukan and tried my best to get some good pictures of the fishies, which was a challenge with the dim lighting, reflections, crowds, fast moving fishies, but I think I got some good ones. There were some really cool things in there and the tickets aren't that expensive, about £15. I highly recommend it. The whale shark looked a bit ill, circling around just below the surface of his tank listing to one side. The whole place probably a massive ethical nightmare, like Orlando's SeaWorld... Anyway, pics.
After Kaiyukan it was lunchtime and I grabbed some takoyaki from a cute little cafe dedicated to making it for bay area visitors. The chunks of octopus were massive, not quite the same as the baby octopodes I used when I made it at Matthew's birthday party that time!
Chomping my octopus balls (teehee) I stayed in the north end of Osaka to look for Osaka Castle. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon and the castle's park surroundings were packed with Japanese people of all kinds enjoying a day off. It reminded me of London. There were people having picnics under the sakura trees, a little crowd of photographers with massive telescopic lenses all taking pictures of, as far as I could tell, a tiny robin, children, old people, and a few foreign tourists as well.
Osaka Castle is a renovation, but still impressive-looking and faithful to the original design. You could pay to go in but I couldn't find the entrance and, anyway, figured it was good enough just to see the outside. It was very majestic, and I enjoyed the ambience of the crowds all having a nice day outdoors.
I was pretty surprised to see a performer with a trained monkey in a waistcoat doing tricks for one crowd. I don't think that would be legal here, so it was something I'd probably never get to see normally. She was just there amidst the people, with her little area set up for the monkey to do tricks. I figured out how to use the 'action' mode on Matthew's camera and managed to get some shots of the monkey doing big jumps.
Next I wanted to explore the south of the city, with its shopping districts and promise of geek treasures. I headed back to Umeda Station (the main station in the northern half) and had a quick detour to hunt out one shop I knew was somewhere in Umeda Station which I just had to visit given the chance. The Pokemon Store! It took some finding, let me tell you. It was actually just one part of one floor of a department store dedicated to clothes and you'd never guess it was the location of this shop. It was pretty cool, but there wasn't really anything I wanted to buy. I guess I'm a bit old for pokemon toys now!
From Umeda Station I went south to Namba, the main southern station, to explore the various shopping districts Osaka is known for. I didn't do a very good job of finding my way around and wasted a lot of time searching in vain for interesting streets, but I did eventually find a hive of nerd shops. I just did some quick browsing and took in the variety of things on offer - I'd certainly never seen anything like it in England! It seemed like every games console ever made by Sony, Sega or Nintendo was stocked by the dozen, with aisle after aisle of games and accessories. Especially the older ones! Want a SNES? Why not have 10!
I'd also read about a street called 'Dotonbori', which lights up at night and is apparently famous for its giant crab sign at one end or something. There were actually two or three of them along the street, but I stayed in Osaka late so that I could see it in its glory. I was staying a ways away from the city in another homestay just for one night, but didn't have to be at their station until 10pm.
My accommodation that night was in a very different kind of homestay. I chose it because it was far cheaper than any hotels and nearly everywhere was booked in Osaka that night even when I was planning everything the week before. I was lucky to find this! It wasn't a family like my first hosts, but a fairly young couple who have sort of turned their house into a homestay hotel. They have four rooms they use to host, and I'd booked one with a traditional Japanese bed for the giggles. I had a little table with cushions around it, and my bed was a thin mattress, duvey, and pillow all folded up and to the side. To sleep you have to push the table and cushions to the side and set up the bed every night! It was cosy and the host couple were nice, with very limited English, but I was enjoying trying out my worse Japanese anyway so we had fun.