Tasting all Osaka and Kyoto have to offer
07.10.2007 27 °C
What a weekend. Where should I begin?
A few weeks back a few teachers asked me if I wanted to go on a trip with them to Osaka and Kyoto. As they were places I had hoped to visit anyway, and, as I was quite drunk at the time, I shouted out, “Yes! I would love to go!” A few weeks later I found out the trip was going to cost $440 for one night and two days so I was wishing I hadn’t been quite so eager in the first place. Well, I had made my bed and then I had to get comfortable in it. I know at home I would have said, “No, that’s too much. I’m bowing out,” but here there’s an obvious communication gap and bowing out could mean offending the only Japanese friends I have. So, instead of worrying about the money I decided it was going to be a great time and worth every penny. I didn’t know at the time it would be worth so much more.
The two girls in charge of the trip handled everything. We chartered a bus that picked us up early Saturday morning from the school behind my house and drove us an hour and a half to Kobe, the site of a 7.9 magnitude earthquake which ripped apart the city on January 17, 1995. The earthquake killed over 6,000 people in Kobe and had an impact on nearly every person in the city. We visited the Disaster Reduction Museum which stands on the site of the hardest hit area in Kobe. The exhibit itself was not only creative (a jagged screen showed a 15-minute representation of the earthquake) but deeply moving (a young girl tells the story of how she watched her sister die in a fire before she could be rescued from the rubble and how the volunteers gave her hope to start again). There were dozens of miracle stories and thousands of pictures documenting the event but the best parts of the exhibit had to do with recovery and the quest for renewal. As its name suggests, the museum also had many areas dedicated to disaster reduction which also made for some pretty interesting information which I value deeply now that I’m in earthquake country. I’m sure this is one of those places I may not have visited if I hadn’t had some Japanese people take me.
Next on the agenda was a bit of shopping and a visit to the Osaka aquarium where I enjoyed a number of animals I had never seen up close before. It reminded me a lot of my scuba diving experiences in Thailand and made me want to go back. It seems that when you are under water all the problems in the world, all the worries and all the stress, just gets washed away.
After the aquarium we hurried off to enjoy the latest Imax film in 3D. It was wicked!
After loading the bus again we drove about thirty minutes to our hotel in the heart of Osaka’s busiest district. With three hours to wander around I was able to buy a new camera take some pictures of the very busy Osakan sites.
When dinnertime rolled around we met back at the hotel and walked through the mobs of people to a quiet little shabushabu place. The twelve of us sat in a bare room on the floor and we were served the dish by kimono-clad women who were probably the best servers I have ever seen. It was so enjoyable I could have burst. Our main serving lady entertained us with a few English phrases and we ate the most delicious meal. Shabushabu is a broth that is boiled in a clay pot on a burner on your table. First the serving lady adds some meet and a few vegetables and then serves us in small bowls lined with ground sesame seeds. She then returns every few minutes to add different vegetables and meats to the pot and serves us again. It goes on like this until there is nothing more to add to the pot. At this point she brings in udon noodles (the really fat ones) and adds them to the tasty broth and serves it. Of course there is a pallet cleanser and a bowl of rice after followed by a lovely orange mystery desert. Add a few glasses of wine and sake to the mix and I was full to my eyeballs. It was a wonderful time.
After dinner we took some photos in the silly photo booths and played some Japanese video games. I had no clue what I was doing with most of the games but I know I kicked ass at air hockey.
Later we went to like a late-night Japanese old town where we ate some more food (the Japanese really like to eat) and played old fashion games. It was like Lower Fort Garry meets Tinkertown. Good fun.
After some much needed sleep at the hotel and a breakfast buffet to get us going again, we headed off for Kyoto and what has been hailed as one of Japan’s most famous rock gardens. It was something I had never seen before. Fifteen strategically placed, moss-covered rocks in a sea of carefully raked stones. It really was quite exquisite, and the buildings and gardens surrounding it were also very inspiring in their own ways.
After a few hours of shopping in the tourist area of Kyoto and picture with a Geisha, we headed off for another totally fabulous dinning experience.
This time it was called Bento, I think. You get several different kinds of food ranging from one little perfect white potato to tiny little bunch of mushrooms tied together with some sort of radish string. You only get one of everything but there is a lot of variety. In this place we were given an extraordinary room with sliding glass doors that gave a perfect view of a little garden. Once again a woman in Kimono served us. It may sound like this is the norm here but I’m sure it’s not. Remember, we paid a small fortune for this trip.
After lunch and a bit of lounging around time we headed off for the last stop—calligraphy. I was surprised to find that we were taken to a temple and practiced calligraphy while a priest prayed and banged a gong. The room must have been filled with a hundred other people all there to practice calligraphy and meditate. It took me forever to finish but finally finished some thirty or so lines of Japanese Kanji characters. We complimented our time at the temple with a short walk around the temple garden, which is famous for the thick green moss that grows so perfectly in the forest around the temple.
Back on the bus we enjoyed the views and a live comedy show that reminded me of a television sitcom. I couldn’t understand it but I still thought it was pretty funny. A few hours later I was back home wondering when I would next have the chance to do it all again.