Remember when I went to Japan? Yeah, me neither, really. That trip to me embodied so much of what was going on in my life at that point: pure chaos. It all started with a feeble idea between two good friends that maybe, just maybe, we could go on a summer vacation together. Domestic? Abroad? Cheap? Did it matter at the point when we had five days to decide? We chose a trip to Japan, because it had been both of our dreams to go to the far off Eastern nation that held mystified and hidden treasures in its serene hills, calming sounds, and subtle foods.
We booked a ticket on a Monday. We left on a Saturday morning that – once we were safely landed after the worst flight of my bumpy-plane-life – brought some of the worst rains to Seoul in some time, creating mudslides and floods and, tragically, injuries.
I don’t have the best relationship with flying, and that day I wanted to fully embrace the whole atmosphere and culture of flying. The days of yore beckoned for people to get dressed and gussied up to go on flights – so that they could present themselves to their new destination with pride. Today, it’s become more of a tradition to get as theme park as possible in airports as to make money and to try to make people forget that they are boarding a small machine that defies the moral laws of humans being land mammals. Take, for example, the Zen garden in the Korean airport. Or the jacked up prices of water in convenience stores. Or even the “take your pictures with a cardboard cut out of your favorite K-pop star” area right before the duty free shop.
Instead of having that wonderful cut-out, I think they should rather put up a giant sign – in whatever language they choose – saying something along the lines of “this is your last chance to get money out of an ATM. Why? Because Laura and I just didn’t realize that until we crossed into the bubble – the bubble of international sales, of duty free shops and terminals. Panicking that we would never be able to take out money and we might “die in Japan. This is how people die in Japan” (Laura as she sat on the ground of the terminal crying), I Korean-English maneuvered my way back across the international line – with the help of a 60+ year old Korean man, running through the airport with me – to get at much money as possible. Let me tell you, if I ever thought my life was an indie movie, I would point to this scene as evidence.
“Hi, do you speak English” (In Korean)
“A little” (Korean)
“Okay” (English) “We don’t have money. We need money” (Korean)
“You get Japan” (English)
“Right” (English) “We can’t get in Japan. Korean money no get in Japan.” (Korean)
“Yes. But you can get Japanese money.” (Korean)
“Money. Need. Now. Where?” (English)
Run. We ran. Shuffled, actually, but we moved quickly through the terminal to the audience of everyone going abroad that devastatingly rainy morning.
On the plane, my chaotic mentality was set as we bumped and bounced and dove through the air from Seoul to Osaka. With only three hostels booked and six days in Japan, Laura and I knew that we would be in Osaka, Nara, and Kyoto. What we would do, we would find out. What we would eat, we knew we would walk for too many hours in search of that perfect meal. What we would remember, well that was left to our journals and pictures to remind us.
Which brings me to day one: Osaka. This sprawling metropolis is the second largest city in Japan, after Tokyo, and has a bunch of sites to see. Some of those that I recommend? It’s hard to say simply because it depends what you really want to do. Do you want to eat? Check out all ramen places, soba places, okonomiyaki places, sushi but of course. Do you want to take pictures? Imperial palace and department stores. Do you want to relax? Plinko. Want to eat western foods? Plenty of places to hit up. But, really, Laura and I used Osaka as a place from which to jump into the Kansai area in general. We were really looking forward to Nara and Kyoto, but that’s not to say that we weren’t pleasantly surprised by what we found before our scatter-brained eyes, including some of the worst fashion I have ever seen, and I’ve been a fan of watching fashion change over my short years.
At the end of the day, we decided to flip a mental coin between conveyer belt sushi and okonomiyaki. Conveyer belt sushi is exactly what it sounds like: sushi prepared on small plates that then are placed on conveyer belt for people to analyze, pick up, and devour with little pickled onions and tons of soy sauce (no reduced salt, folks, cause that’s just disgusting!). Okonomiyaki is this “as you like it” pancake like thing that is super savory with hints of umami and even some sweetness, a dark sauce that makes you want to eat more of whatever it is covering, and bonito flakes dancing like butterflies on top.
We chose the latter because it was something we didn’t think traveled across the pacific too often. Prepared in front of us, it was delicious. I would say that I watched the food be prepared, but I actually watched all of the chefs because they just looked so hardcore and intense. I’d say they would be tatted up and rolling around in flea markets and hipster joints here in Brooklyn, but in Osaka, they were just a cool set of chefs doing their thing. I don’t know what that says about Brooklyn, Osaka, or them – or me for that matter – but I do know that they were awesome and their food was just as amazing.
The next day, we had plans of getting on a train, finding our second hostel, and nothing else. Those plans would be made on the train. That is, in fact, where the best plans are made. Right?