ただいま! I got back yesterday from my one-week adventure in Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. I'd call it a qualified success - I could have planned some components better but there were no major disasters. I'm in a bit of a post-travels melancholy but being back in my lovely little town is like slipping into a warm bath and soft pajamas.
I caught the train to Tokyo the morning after Christmas. It was snowing as I left my apartment, and was heavier as I got to the station. As soon as we reached the city limits, though, there was nothing but blue skies and fluffy white clouds. I love traveling, I love planning and packing, I love trains and planes and road trips, I love seeing places you never have before.
I wanted to spend some time in Tokyo before I caught the overnight bus to Osaka. I wandered around Harajuku and Shibuya. I found the statue of Hachiko, the loyal dog that famously waited for its master at the train station for years after his death. It's a popular meeting spot now:
The only advantage of the bus was that it's half the price of taking the bullet train. Japanese highways are the worst I have ever been on - every few seconds (but irregular so you can't get used to it!) is a dip that makes the entire vehicle lurch so hard your teeth seem like they might fall out. Even with ear plugs it was impossible to sleep. So I arrived the next morning at Osaka station bleary, so I took it easy and walked in Osakajo Kouen:
Perfect breakfast of melon pan and milk tea with this view:
I walked up to the castle but didn't go inside since it was still so early. It's still highly impressive from the base:
And even without going to the top the view was amazing:
There was a map showing various sites in the park with names like "The Pine Tree where the Buddhist Priest Rennyo Hung His Robe" and "Place Hideyori & Lady Yodo Committed Suicide."
There were a lot of cats. Don't worry - I didn't pet any:
There were some fascinatingly Seussian trees:
After that I went to check into my hotel, which was in a neighborhood with bucketloads of character. There was a narrow alleyway behind it lined with noodle shops that only had room for standing at a counter, and a Go parlor. There's more graffiti in Osaka. Most of the homeless in Tokyo are centered in Ueno Park - in the west they're more scattered. Osakans are, true to reputation, more outgoing. The train conductors that keep up a running commentary on what station is next seemed to be auditioning for a comedy program, with strange voices.
Then I visited the Osaka International Peace Center. It was maybe a bad idea to start a vacation to a place by learning about the horrible things done to the people there by your people, but it was still very touching.
The next day I headed to Nara. More on that later.