Mochi-Mochi (もちもち) – the onomatopoeia for the stretchy, soft feeling of mochi; the feeling of your skin after a bath
Whew! Past three days have been most excellent. We explored Osaka, took a day to relax in the nearby Onsen hotel, and finally visited Kyoto. It’s been a great opportunity to really enjoy some of the most popular aspects of Japanese life and see a high concentration of great spots.
Yes, we had mochi. In Kyoto, we grabbed the traditional “three colored dango”, and tried a few other great snacks in the Gion district. Walking around there are alot of tourists, stores, and impressive looking restaurants. Especially down the various alleys and throw the more unique corners of town. The whole city is glowing with culture and, due to very fortunate circumstances, much of the city’s historical sites and roots remain untouched by war.
It’s obvious Kyoto citizens appreciate this very much. The city is ALOT like a Japanese Berkeley, in that it supports a pretigious international school, and really focuses on its community and cultural image. That said, it’s really tricky getting around. Kyoto doesn’t compromise the character of the city to allow for much public transportation; expensive crowded buses and long walks are the main stay of getting around, as the trains are much less effectively laid out. This was unfortunate, since it definitely restricted how much we could see. There are literally hundreds of unique temples and cultural sites in the city, too, so in many ways the hardest part about vacationing there is deciding what /not/ to see and do, because you really can’t fit it all.
Our favorite stop, at the end of our day, is of course the legendary Fushimi Inari temple. You probably don’t know the name, but you know it’s symbol well: the glowing orangish red arcs lined up along stairs climbing up into a mountain trail. This place has thousands of these, each donated by a rich sponsor or company, intended to honor a crucial god for prosperity. Walking through the arches is definitely a little creepy, but also impressive. The trail goes on for a very long distance, with plenty of splits and side temples to visit.
Osaka is also an amusing city for me. Lots more street food, crazy store designs, and thicker crowds. Yet it’s also more lax and fun. I realized quickly how much more loud the subway are — no one seemed to mind idle conversations in the train, where as Tokyo is often a dead silence. We visited a pretty cool museum in Osaka, too, which featured an indoor recreation of a small Osaka ward from the Edo period (you’re seeing a pattern right? Similar to the Edo museum we saw in Tokyo. Osaka does alot of funny little things not to be “one upped” by Tokyo). We also stopped by Osaka Castle, which really is an impressive and fun place to visit. The museum inside is crowded, but the top floor view is great. I can only imagine how it must be to work at a business surrounding the park and see the castle every day.
Speaking of the Osaka park, the day we visited there were a number of events happening in the area. In particular, there was this pretty cool hard rock band of high school guys playing their heart out. Me and Libby both agreed the main singer definitely acted the rocker part, too. The problem, however, was the group situated a few meters away: a group of 4 16 year old high school girls singing and dancing to some generic J-Pop. It didn’t matter that the rock band was actually playing instruments and original music they had written, or that they had professional audio equipment with great sound, the crowds were fixated mostly on the high school girls and their J-Pop karaoke party. The band seemed cognizant, and a little disappointed of this fact 😦 Of course after their performance, the J-Pop girls had a long line of middle aged men lining up to talk and get autographs, while the rock band had what appeared to be their own parents and a few fans applauding them. Lol, all in all it was telling.
Lastly, the Onsen baths. OH MAN I LOVE SPENDING A DAY AT THE ONSEN. Libby was pretty nervous initially, which I can understand. It takes awhile to get used to the idea of bathing publicly. I still remember being asked by my homestay parents to take a bath with their 7 year old son and being like “uhhhhhhhhhh noooooo”. Lol. I probably still wouldn’t do that, but a public bath is fine for me now. In addition to the warm spring baths themselves, the onsen featured quiet rooms for relaxing, quiet reading spaces with a wall of free reading material, an arcade, massages, and a special dining hall. The day passed by too fast, we weren’t even sure what we had done (ABSOLUTELY NOTHING BUT LAZY) by the time we’d left at 10pm.
Another amusing anecdote: in the arcade, you can buy a bucket of silver coins to use on the child arcade machines. We didn’t fully realize at the time, but with the child arcade machines, each time you win you get more silver coins back. And furthermore, there’s nothing you can use the silver coins on expect more child arcades. We went into a panic when we realized HOW HARD IT WAS NOT TO WIN MORE COINS THAN YOU SPEND. Desperately, we threw every coin into every machine we could, but no matter how awful we played the game and how hard we tried to lose, we’d accidentally win twice as many coins back. We shamefully dropped our bucket off, twice as heavy as it was initially, and ran out of the arcade before anyone could notice.
And that’s really it for me, now. I’ll leave you with Libby to fill in more details!
Ahh! I was so nervous when I went into the public bath! There’s so many naked ladies of all shapes and ages. It felt like middle school PE in the locker room except you are just taking everything off. I was panicking and grabbing a big towel just to grip onto something before going into the bath hallway. Nobody takes anything in, just their birthday suit. The shower part is the nicest though. You grab your scrubbing rag, take a seat at one of the faucets and get to town with scrubbing your skin with the nice face washes and shampoos. Splashing a big hot bucket of water over your head feels good. After scrubbing, I scrambled over to a lonely corner of a pool and sat my bare butt down on the bottom. Once I’m in the bath, I’m not sure where to look at because there is so much people to look at! Do I look at people’s faces? Too direct and eye contact is weird! Butts? Yes, I looked at a lot of butts for sure. All types of butts. I stared at the wall a lot also. I can see why people love to bathe here so much. My travel muscle aches just melted away into the heat of the water and I could feel and hear my blood pumping. And the beauty products that await you after your bath! I got to exfoliate my face with some product and I felt like I just finished molting heheh.
I’ve really liked the Osaka and Kyoto lag of our trip. There’s so many temples to see and people in kimono to look at. We even saw a geisha in kyoto with her attendant while being followed by a foreigner fan. While I don’t understand what people are saying, it’s really interesting to hear Japanese here. It sounds much less formal and playful and loud. People at the station are also less likely to shove you here. In Tokyo, I’ve been easily been shoulder shoved by older businessmen and grandma types. I don’t know if it’s a hierarchy thing or that it’s just that crowded. I just know people in the Osaka area are much more relaxed and less in a rush.
The street food here is good also. We’ve had takoyaki, pancake balls with octopus inside, hot and steaming from the cooking grate and yakisoba with pieces of pork belly, and some crispy sided soft taiyaki, a fish-shaped pancake cooked on a griddle filled with red bean paste. All really good!
I have some short thoughts to share so I’ll just do it in list form:
- I can see why people hate winter. Back in the bay area, I love winter! But that’s because that’s not real winter. I’m either realllly cold outside or I’m reallllyyy hot and sweaty inside from the heater being turned on to full blast. Also there are people in skirts out in the cold. How do they do this?!
- Nobody sits here ever. There’s no benches randomly on the street like back home. Finding an empty seat on the train can also be rare. But when you sit down, it definitely feels well-earned.
- Tonkatsu, fried battered pork, is on every block or almost every block. It’s so easy to eat tonkatsu!
- I’m 90% sure there is insufficient hand washing here, which is surprising after all the no-hotel-slippers-outside-the-hotel and the shoe removing before entering a historic building. There is a reason why you get an oshibori, a moist hand towel, when you sit down before a meal!
Lol that’s it for now!