Time to shuffle out of yet another country, leaving Japan for greener (cheaper) pastures.
My final three days in Japan returned me to Osaka. Originally, this is where my flight would have returned me to China, depositing me in a plague zone. But without a home, job or even most of my friends awaiting me back in Hohhot, I failed to see the appeal of returning “home.”
My company agreed with my assessment, mildly recommending a few hours before my supposed flight time that I should exit the airport if I had already arrived. Don’t come back. Stay away. Most considerate.
Regardless, I do need to go somewhere. My Japanese tourist visa wasn’t going to hold up much longer and I had neatly finished off every day on my JR Pass.
So I picked Vietnam, based on the recommendation of a young lady whom I write content for.
I’ll be flying to Hoi An on the 10th, bundled into another rocket tube, listening to music on a bootleg iPod while breathing through an ineffectual white mask that ensures I carefully brush my teeth, lest I keep rebreathing my own morning breath.
Which nobody deserves, least of all my poor mask.
I was really happy to return to Osaka, as I’ve spent more time there than anywhere else in Japan. It was easy and comfortable and I returned to Yolo Hotel Museum drowsily snuggling into my bed, running through a checklist of things I still wanted to do in Japan.
The next morning, I made good on my list, mostly handling small errands. Replacing an adapter, purchasing a new sleeping blindfold, downloading offline maps and languages, and converting some money for a Vietnamese visa.
Afterwards, I ticked off a few items that were lurking on my checklist. First I found an odd dish that I had been wanting to try, which I affectionately call Ramen-Seafood-Pie. It’s a strange concoction of seafood ramen sealed inside a fried outer layer and drizzled with a sweet sauce. It was a fantastic little treat.
Next I made a point of visiting a Starbucks, picking up a “traveler’s mug” for Japan and sending it back to the states, as requested by Jynelle. It’s very likely it’ll take two or three months to arrives with the Chinese shipping line shutdown and resulting backup, but there ya’ go.
Next, I used the last bit of juice on my JR as, which was good for another twelve hours, and stopped by Umeda Tower. They have a nice little garden, a sub-level with a pianist and a very unique and interestingly designed building in a rather quirky section of the city. I enjoyed wandering around, but I didn’t bother taking the elevator up. Japan is kind of spread out with low-level buildings sprawling in every direction. It doesn’t have a consolidated skyline in most cities, like say the Bund in Shanghai or the New York Skyline. As a result, once you’ve seen a Japanese city from an overlook, you’ve seen them all.
Moving on, I ended up back at Dotonbori to check off the last few things I had blatantly missed or skipped over due to crowds. Here, I got to try more of the exquisite octopus doughnut balls (Takoyaki) promptly burning myself three times before they were cool enough to scarf down.
I crossed the canal to find, of all things, a person in a full wolf mask with a strange wind-based keyboard. A tube dipped into his mouth and he was playing timeless classics, like the Mario theme and bits from the Legend of Zelda. The instrument sounded a bit like a cross between a harmonica and an accordion. A box to his/her right identified the individual as Wolfen or Okamisan, Dotonbori Entertainer.
I was entertained.
Satisfied with this, and slightly tipsy from some unidentifiable street drinks, I stumbled onto a Taco Bell and had that unforgiving craving. It was actually good, I’m just a little bummed that intoxicated me angles for Taco Bell on a culinary street in an exotic country.
Following my third dinner, I went looking for Pachimon Wars, a Star Wars themed bar in northern Osaka. This narrow bar is loaded with bootleg Star Wars trinkets and toys. I thought it was interesting, but it didn’t really speak to me. However, wandering around the corner put me at a place called “The Aquarium Bar” a small bar absolutely brimming with fish tanks showing tropical and oceanic swimmers wobbling around. Beta first flashed behind the glass, tiny guppies with florescent blue stripes darted through the water and jellyfish did their mesmerizing expansions and contractions around their tanks. Smooth jazz played through the speakers and service was prompt and in English.
I’d recommend the Aquarium Bar on atmosphere alone, but then I tried the plum line.
Now I have a crippling plum wine addiction and I’m mostly okay with that.
Satisfied with the night, I stopped at a Pachinko parlor, and immediately lost five dollars not knowing what the hell I was doing. Supposedly Pachinko is pretty easy to play once you get in the swing of it, but I really should have researched prior to trying.
It was a flash of random silver balls firing around the inside of a flashing machine haranguing a person in exited mechanical Japanese while yen is eaten at a terrifying rate. I never stood a chance.
The following day, I slept in, knowing it would be my last chance to do so for some time. I sorted out my visa stuff, repacked my clothes, did laundry and chatted with my hostel roommate, who had just had a rough time in SE Asia before returning to Japan to rally.
Afterwards, I decided to continue whittling down my list. I visited a place called Kawaii Café, as I had seen it from the outside the previous night and was curious, but a blinding flash of pink and lofty prices veered me away.
Much more entertaining, I had made a full-fledged reservation at the Pokémon Café, entering the bright, utterly packed little restaurant to be battered with nostalgia.
The food, of course, is entirely Pokémon themed. I got a Snorlax bowl of rice, but there were more elaborate features as well. Purple drinks in the shape of Gengar. Colored rice molded into the shape of the most recent generation’s starter options. Lattes with the original 250 Pokémon drawn on them. The whole nine yards. Waiters and waitresses walk around in red and white Pokémon attire, providing guests with iPads to order their meals.
Décor was nice a well. A huge, glowing white Pokéball design is embedded in the ceiling. The far wall has a comic of Squirtle doing dishes. Plushies of Pokémon line the walls and, of course, Pikachu. Entire walls are filled with images of Pikachu in various attire cooking, prepping desserts and struggling humorously with large frying pans.
If a person waits long enough, Pikachu comes out for a little performance, including photos and a dance as well as handshakes. There’s a hostess who gives a funny series of announcements as well, though it’s entirely in Japanese, so only the locals and their children had the chance to laugh.
To temper expectations, the food isn’t very good. To be clear, it’s alright and fairly well prepared, but the entire point of the café is aesthetics and presentation. Taste just isn’t their biggest concern. Additionally, everything is gouging expensive and tax bumps up the price even further. It’s best to look at the online menu when making reservations, so impulse buys don’t clean a person out.
Overall, great experience. I don’t think I need to go more than once, but the nostalgia is really nice.
Moving on, I went to Silver Ball Planet Pinball Arcade. Located on the fourth floor of a shopping mall, right in front of rising escalators, this impressive little arcade is, frankly, awesome. There are dozens of vintage pinball machines, ranging from Star Wars, a New Hope to Baywatch. Kiss, Tron, Godzilla, Marvel heroes, Mario, Adam West’s Batman and LOTR all have claims to the themed machines. There are also a ton of 70’s and 80’s icons I’ve only vaguely heard of and barely recognized that I’m sure some people would find transcendent.
The machines are kept in beautiful condition and each game costs 100 yen. Even with my paltry pinball skills, 300 yen earned me a solid hour of entertainment, so I would definitely recommend stopping here.
Following my pinball enthusiasm, I ducked into a jazz bar for a drink, lounging quietly for a bit. My night was nearly ended. I stopped at a Don Quixote tax free shopping center, which is a really interesting visit. It’s crammed with all sorts of odd trinkets and the vast majority of the store smells vaguely of dusk. Things are cheap and if one wanted to procure Pokémon plushies and socks, as seen at the Pokémon café, they’re much cheaper here, tucked amongst the bike locks, suitcases and sex toys.
I also got to visit Tokyo Hands, which is kind of a multi-level shopping mall. They have some interesting things as well, but the quality and expense is much higher.
Finally done for the night, I walked back home, losing another 300 yen not knowing how to play Pachinko to save my life. That night, I packed up my last few things, called Tyler and Valeria, two friends visiting Austin and wished Valeria a hasty Happy Birthday (since my phone was hemorrhaging battery power in the outside cold).
And that was the show. I’ve just arrived an hour early at the airport where I’m typing this, counting the number of people with face masks and assuring customs that no, I haven’t been to China in the past fourteen days. There are a half dozen sparrows in the rafters here, their chirps cutting over the sound of jet engines. I spent the last of my Japanese change on a seaweed wrapped rice-triangle and the remaining 0.57 yen was subtly hidden in a vending machine change trey for the next lucky person to purchase something chocolate.
And there we go, my Japan month is closed. I’ll likely be retiring this rendition of the blog as well. Leftfadetrails2 is the inheritor of Leftfadetrails, and I don’t have the energy or desire to continually pay for more blog space. As such, this blog is nearly full and the birth of Leftfadetrails3 is on the horizon. Because I’m just that original.
Anyway, off to Hoi An, Vietnam for exercise and handling my taxes. I have to compile the three US jobs I had last year (firefighting, substitute teaching and working in a cookie factory) alongside my regular online work.
Should be fun.
Until then, best regards and excellent trails,
Sean M. Irwin