Saturday, June 15, 2013

Japan Trip Day 6 - Nara and Osaka

Wow, so I never finished documenting on Japan trip. Day 6 was the last day we spent touring around Japan, since Day 7 consisted of a hectic running around, trying to get to the airport on time for our flight. But more on that later.

So we started off teh day by buying some bentos at the convenience store next to our hotel and eating it on the train. This particular bento had a delightful mix of croquettes, onigiri, eggs and sausages. Best of both worlds!

We started our day by visiting Nara, the land where the deer roam free. No, seriously. There are deer everywhere, just lounging about.

You can actually buy disks to feed the deer, but take care not to get too close to the shops, or the shop owners will come out and yell at you. It was probably the first and only time we encountered a pissed off Japanese person working in service. 

Also, feed these guys at your own risk. They might look all cute and demure now, but they're actually quite demonic when tempted with food. Every been to Marineland, in the deer park? Well take that hungry deer population, multiply it by two, and some mean looking horns to a third of the population, and you have Nara.   I'm pretty sure you can get gored by some of those deer. 

Also, I seem to have horrible luck with deer, seeing as how every time I try to feed them (twice at Marineland and now in Nara), I end up getting bitten? Well, more like nipped really hard. But no one else seems to have these unfortunate experiences...

There are, again, a lot of Shinto shrines and temples to visit in Nara.

One of the better-known temples is the Todai-ji, or the Eastern Great Temple, which apparently houses the largest bronze statue in the world of the Buddha Vairocana in its Great Buddha Hall.

Daibutsu, or Buddha Vairocana
Honestly, it might not look very big from this picture, but it's actually quite massive. Maybe about the size of a building story? The internet says around 15 meters sitting, and 17 meters with the pedestal.

There are also statues of other buddhas and buddhistas, but unfortunately, I'm not well-versed enough in Buddhist lore to be able to recognize them.

We did find this little red riding hood Buddhista to be pretty amusing. If I remember correctly, it's said that if you touch this buddhista, it can cure the pains in your legs? Or some other part of your body.

In any case, after spending the morning in Nara, we took the train back to Osaka, where we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around and shopping.

Pokemon Center
Aaand we came here. Cuz we're uber nerds. It's called the Pokemon Center, but I was disappointed by the distinct lack of Nurse Joys and injured pokemon. The Pokemon Center is basically a large store that carries all kinds of official Pokemon merchandise, from stuffed toys to baby bibs. This particular Pokemon Center in Osaka is located on the top floor of a department store, and it is packed. Seriously. The Japanese sure love their pocket monster.

Map to the Pokemon Center
If you're ever in Osaka and need a map to the Pokemon Center, here you go.
Cold udon
We also stopped for a quick snack at a chain udon noodle shop. Oh gosh, I love Japanese udon. The noodles are dense, chewy and slippery, and the sauce is light but fragrant. The scallions compliment the cold fish stock sauce really well. On a hot summer's day, a bowl of cold udon really hits the spot.

Apparently, if there is one thing that Osaka is known for, it's its food. And its food is everywhere

AKB48 Cafe
We were apparently also there for the opening of the AKB48 cafe? I don't know much about this pop group except for the fact that its comprised largely of underage girls (12-year-olds?), and that there are a zillion members. It's quite possible that we caught a glimpse of one of two of them as we passed by, but I wouldn't be able to recognize them, so there really was no point in checking it out. Also, I guess if the real members were there, there would be a lot more creepy old men people lined up outside?

Osaka is also known for their takoyaki, seeing as how there are takoyaki stands all over the place, with huge line ups everywhere. Word to the wise, when you're on vacation, get food from the places where there are line ups, and avoid the empty places. We got our takoyaki from a completely empty stand, and they turned out half-cooked. We had to toss them.

We stopped for dinner at a quaint Tapas-style restaurant. They have a variety of dishes, all served in tiny portions, so that we can try a bit of everything.

Marinated... something.
You know, I really can't remember if this was eggplant or mushroom. What I do remember was being surprised at its flavour, and really liking it. I know it looks like eggplant, but I think it might actually have been mushroom. Really... wrinkly mushroom.

Pickled vegetables
Now this was definitely eggplant. Again, oddly, the only vegetables we were able to find were pickled.

Silken tofu
A really simple dish of cold, silken tofu with grated daikon and scallions. We just poured a little soy sauce on top and dug in. Again, great on hot days.

Breaded and fried shrimp. Not quite tempura. More like... ebi katsu?

My friend insisted on tonkatsu before we left, since she loved it so much the first time we ordered it in Japan.
I thought it was omurice, which was a dish I really wanted to try in Japan. As it turns out, it was just a regular omelette with a ground beef filling. It was still very good, just not omurice...

Finally, we ordered a plate of sashimi. Not quite as fresh as the sashimi we had on the first day, but still better than the stuff we find in Montreal. You can tell from just the vibrant, glossy colors of the fish how fresh it is. And yet again, we noticed the distinct lack of salmon.

After that exhausting day, we headed back to our hotel, did some packing, and hit the sack for one last time in Japan.

Day 7 - Leaving Japan

There isn't really much to say about day 7. We headed out in the morning, catching a shuttle bus from our hotel to the train station. My friend and I stopped at Tokyo Eki while my parents went to pick up some luggage from our Tokyo hotel, where we had stored it.

One of the funniest things to happen on that day was that once we had gotten our tickets for the train to the airport, we headed down to wait for the train. I misread the sign, and thought that the train that was currently on the platform was our train, so quickly jumped aboard. My parents followed me in, but just as my friend reached the door, the door shut right in her face. That was probably one of the scariest (but maaaaybe just a little funny) moment of my life. Her dropped-jaw look of surprise is something I'll probably never forget.

In any case, we had gotten on the wrong train, so we hurriedly got off at the next stop and took another train back to Tokyo Eki. My dad said that if my friend was smart, she would have taken the right train to the airport and waited for us there. We exchanged our tickets and tried to get in contact with my friend, but to no avail, so we took our train to the airport, hoping to God that she'd be there waiting for us.

Luckily, once we got out of the train station, we saw her sitting on her luggage, with a cocky grin plastered on her face. She told us how she saw that we had gotten on the wrong train, so she took the right one to the airport, and then tried to ask the airport workers about the next train, but couldn't get them to understand. Apparently she got yelled at for squatting in the train station while waiting for us or something.

Aaaanyway. So there you have it. My adventures, misadventures and food logs of my trip to Japan! I really enjoyed my visit there, and feel like there's so much that I haven't seen. I'd definitely want to revisit Japan, and maybe do less tourist attractions next time, and really focus on the modern culture and society. And for those of you who are debating on visiting Japan... do it! It's definitely worth it.


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