Pre-Christmas celebrations in Osaka

We’ve had a great Christmas here in Japan thanks to a brilliant hostel and its staff, as well as some great people we met who quickly became friends. On Christmas day we went to Nara Park and spent the day surrounded by hungry deer that were ready to headbutt us for crackers.

Our previous post ended with us checking into our third hostel in Osaka and swiftly leaving again to make our way to Himeji Castle. It was still early in the day when we left and we’d read you can see the castle on a half day trip, popping over to Kobe on the way back if you have a pass and extra time to spare. We had neither of these at this point but we were happy to just see the castle on its own and maybe the gardens too. In Osaka Station we got a bit sidetracked by rail passes, trying to decide whether to spend an hour going back for our passports or not in order to save a few quid on train travel. Rather than waste the time and miss the castle we decided to just pay the standard price.

At some point between the barrier and the train my return ticket disappeared into thin air and when we arrived at Himeji Station I began to stress out about how I was going to get back without it. We’d spent so long deliberating over what ticket to get only for me to lose the second half of the expensive one. Rather than pass through the gates and figure it out later we went to the first member of staff we could find, which actually took a while because everything is so automated at Japanese stations. After explaining our situation and with the help of an English speaking Japanese woman, the guy offered to phone up Osaka Station on our way back once we’d been to the castle and let them know to let us through. We were so happy grateful for both of them taking the time to help us and not just demand we pay for a return instead.

Himeji Castle was only a short walk away from the station and we were glad to get there in time to see it. On the the way in we spotted some volunteers with signs that said they were from a volunteer group which offered free tours of the castle in English. We were skeptical from spending time in countries where nothing is really free but we decided to go for it anyway. The lady who joined us was so lovely and she gave us loads of information on the castle as we went around it. At the start of the tour she said it should take half an hour, but she was actually with us two hours later still telling us loads about the history and architecture of the grounds. This turned what could have been a short dash around a castle into a detailed tour of the building and all of the random questions in our heads were answered.

By the end of the tour we were sure there was going to be a surprise charge or even a request for a donation towards their group (which we would have happily paid) but our guide said he goodbyes and just went on her way. There wasn’t even a way for us to review her or say thanks on Facebook; it was totally free.

There wasn’t enough time for the gardens once our tour of the castle was over, though we weren’t fussed on seeing it in the winter anyway. We definitely want to come back to Japan in the spring sometime and I think the castle will be even more beautiful then with the cherry blossoms in bloom.

By the time we got back to our hostel they were already set up for the party with sushi ingredients spread across the table and guests with drinks in hand. We decided to leave our luggage in the office and join in on the fun, eager to make some sushi wraps for ourselves. The ingredients were really tasty and it was a great way to interact with the other guests. When we were full of sushi the staff then got out some pans and different ingredients and started to make okonomiyaki, which I’d been eager to try. We were reaching our limits, but it’s hard to refuse tasty fresh food which has just been cooked especially for you. After the feast we hung around for a few hours with a couple of drinks, getting to know everyone.

It’s been a little while since we’ve been in a really sociable hostel and it was really fun to have a laugh with people again. We’ve stayed in plenty of hostels where the atmosphere wasn’t very lively and it was hard to find people who wanted to hang out. What I’ve realised is the staff make a huge difference in how much social activity there is by how much they interact with guests. It definitely helped here that the hostel hosted two different parties consecutively, which brought loads of people out of their rooms for free food. It’s not just the events and activities which make a good atmosphere, it’s the hosts who break the ice and make everyone feel welcome that make the experience special.

Christmas eve was a lazy day where we just shopped for some last minute novelty gifts and ate lunch at a tasty ramen place in the middle of a busy shopping area. It was the evening we were looking forward to as there was a second party at the hostel, this time with Korean BBQ food.

The mix of people on the second evening was slightly different with some people disappearing early for drinks with friends, or others just not showing their faces. The food was excellent again and it was good finding out what everyone else had decided to do for the day as it gave us ideas for our own time here. Our hosts cooked an amazing barbecue chicken which was covered in melted cheese and made me remember how high melted cheese is on my favourite foods list. It’s pretty high.

We spent the remainder of the evening playing Pop-up Pirate, Uno and Jenga with some of the girls staying at the hostel. All of us also agreed to do a secret Santa which involved each buying the most random gashapon we could find and trading them on Christmas day. This will definitely be a Christmas we’ll remember for a long time and it was great to spend it with such fun people.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.