First impressions of Japan

Japan is a country both Mark and I have been dreaming of visiting long before we even met. To finally be here is pretty surreal but at the same time there’s a lot which feels completely familiar to us already. It wasn’t until we started to explore the side streets and go wandering through the city that we started to see the differences.

We arrived in Japan at 5:45am having flown from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia the previous evening. I don’t think I got more than an hour sleep on the flight and when I finally drifted off we were woken up by the attendants offering us savoury pies at 4am. Needless to say we were in a state when we debarked and things got worse when we couldn’t get any cash from any of the ATMs in the airport. 

After a few hours of walking around like zombies we finally decided to take the risk and leave without cash, paying by card instead for our train tickets. On the train into Osaka I lost the battle with my eyelids and alternated between sleeping on my rucksack or Mark’s shoulder for the journey. I think it took over 45 minutes, but my only recollection of it is different people in suits standing in front of me when I’d wake up and look around briefly.

For our first night in Osaka we’d booked a budget room in a hotel which wasn’t much, but I was so happy to see the tiny door to our room when they let us check in at 9am. As soon as we put our bags down we crawled into our beds and slept for the next four hours on pillows filled with weird beads.

We’d set alarms for 2pm but even when we woke up we felt like we could have slept right through until the evening. Not wanting to start our Japan trip as nocturnal creatures, we forced ourselves out of bed and decided to go shop for some warm clothes. Up to this point the clothes I had with me were only suitable for warm or hot climates and we even arrived at Osaka Airport in shorts, having left a humid 30°C behind in Malaysia. Begrudgingly I spent a lot more than my daily budget on a new coat, but it’s actually been perfect since and it’s lightweight enough to squeeze into my bag. I splashed out on some socks and leggings too and Mark bought a warm layer and a hat.

After our little shopping spree we went on a quest for food which led us to a huge supermarket in the basement of the store. It was pretty late in the day at this point and we were delighted to discover the existence of little yellow and red stickers which marked the fresh food down by up to 40%. We even bagged a bigger bargain when I was so indecisive that the dish I wanted was marked down further during my dawdling. With our spoils in hand we headed back to the hostel to eat and watch a couple of episodes of TV shows before bed.

As we’re spending more time in Japan the rest of our trip seems to be fading away into distant memory, which I think has something to do with the weird familiar feeling we’re getting here. Japan is similar to the UK in more ways than anywhere else we’ve been, at least in terms of local transport, technology and the presence of big familiar brands everywhere. It seems crazy that just two months ago we were in India, or that in the past 3 weeks we’ve been in five separate countries. The temperature here is currently around 8-10°C which is apparently warm for this time of year but only a third of the heat were used to. The drop in temperature is also making  it feel a lot more like Christmas for us though, so we’re generally a bit more into the spirit of the season.

Our second day in Osaka started with us checking out of our budget accommodation as we wanted to move into somewhere with a better atmosphere. We didn’t actually leave for the next hostel until later on in the afternoon, but there seems to be a really early checkout time of 10am here and a really late check-in time of 3pm. Instead of moving on we stored our bags and went off to discover what the 100 yen store had to offer. It turns out they’re very much like going into a pound store back home, only we can call all the tacky crap ‘souvenirs’ here and use that as an excuse to buy loads of it. After filling our bags with plastic trinkets, we headed towards an exhibition we’d discovered online featuring the architecture and art of the Studio Ghibli films. Luckily it was on down the road from where we were staying so it was just a short walk away.

The exhibition was brilliant. It was full of background paintings from loads of different films, along with concept art and even life-sized models of some locations. We spent ages just staring at the artwork and loving every detail. I’m now even more excited about going to the Ghibli museum in Tokyo next year and I want to watch loads of the films again.

By the time we were done at the exhibition it was was around 4pm; definitely time we grabbed our bags and headed to accommodation number 2. Thankfully the hostel was just a short train journey away so it wasn’t long before we were dumping our backpacks in the dorm room and getting comfortable. We considered eating in a proper restaurant that evening, but actually just ended up at another supermarket buying reduced food again. I do love a good reduced-to-clear rice dish.

On our third day we had a lazy morning and took some time to plan a bit more of our stay in Japan. We didn’t get far with the planning though as we started chatting to a guy who had just arrived at the hostel instead. Before we knew it half the day had gone and we realised that we needed to make something of the day. We packed up and decided to make our way to Osaka Castle for the afternoon, followed by a walk to one of the geeky areas in Osaka.

Osaka Castle is beautiful and we arrived at a time when the sun was low and left when it was setting. The interior of the castle has been converted to a museum which isn’t that special, but it taught us a bit about the history of the building and its owners. We got some nice photos all around the building and had fun spotting dogs from the top too.

Afterwards we checked the map and started the long walk to a place where we might find some fun gashapon machines. We knew it would take just under an hour to get there, but half the fun of being in new places is getting lost wandering around them. We wound through side streets and loved taking everything in as we went. 

When we were almost there Mark requested to stop by the Apple store to get his dodgy touchscreen seen to, so we booked an appointment for an hour or so later. There was just enough time to have a quick look around the area before we returned and then I had to wait for an hour during the appointment. I was pretty glad to get out of there once it was over.

While I’d been waiting in the Apple store I’d managed to find a store in Osaka which had hundreds of gashapon machines. We’d agreed to get each other gifts for Christmas from the machines and it was really fun picking the most ridiculous ones we could find for each other. I have no idea how we’re going to carry around so much new stuff after Christmas day, but it’ll be worth it for the surprise!

Although the second hostel we were staying at turned out to be pretty good, Mark felt he’d want something slightly nicer for Christmas. This is meant moving on from one to another after two nights and we were worried that we’d be walking into a quiet place with no atmosphere. As soon as we arrived though our worries disappeared and we were welcomed by a lovely lady who proceeded to give us loads of information on the area and how to get places. We couldn’t check in until 3pm so we left our bags in the hostel office and left again for Himeji.

I’ll leave the details of the day trip for the next post as it leads into even more stories and this post is plenty for now.

2 thoughts on “First impressions of Japan
  1. japan is simply the best place in the world…think i need to start planning another extended visit

    1. I’d be happy to come back to celebrate your birthday in style 😉

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