Monday, June 28, 2010

Tokyo to Osaka!

Tokyo and Osaka apparently have some sort of blood feud that's been going on for centuries, like an east coast/west coast thing.  People from Tokyo think people from Osaka are loud and rude and have a low class accent.  People from Osaka think people from Tokyo are stuck up and cold, and if somebody from Osaka lives in Tokyo long enough to lose their Osaka accent, they also lose all their street cred back home.  Osaka's a real working class city; Tokyo is cosmopolitan.

I had never been to Osaka before this trip, unless you want to count the 45 minutes I spent at Itami airport on the way to Kyoto two years ago.  (Kyoto's got its own distinct personality.)  But a couple of the brands our store carries are HQ'd there, so we thought we'd pay them a visit and get a feel for the city at the same time.

We took the shinkansen (aka the "bullet train"), like we did from Kyoto to Tokyo two trips ago.  I wouldn't fly this route by choice; there's no point.  By the time you deal with security and baggage claim and transportation to the airports, it's not even faster and it is much less enjoyable.

This is our train pulling into the station.

This was my first time to ride the brand-spanking new N700 shinkansen, though in all honesty, it feels like pretty much any other shinkansen train inside (I've previously ridden the 700 and 200 series).  It probably seems amazing to Americans with our piddly little Amtrak that's constantly fighting for survival, but once a shinkansen train is 15 years old, it's retired and replaced.  That means they're constantly updating and launching new trains.  The N700 is the latest, and it's got stuff like train-wide wi-fi and power outlets at every seat.  On the downside, with every new shinkansen the windows get smaller.  Not sure why, maybe wind resistance?  They look for any little non-aerodynamic thing on these trains...

If you've never ridden a shinkansen, they're pretty neat - very comfortable, even for a big goofy American like me, and even in standard class.  There's plenty of legroom.

Our train was packed, but very quiet (it's Japan!)

Like everywhere else, there's been some cost-cutting in the service; shinkansen trains used to have "restaurant cars", then a snack car, and now just a food cart that gets pushed through the passenger cars like on an airplane.  Still, it's something, and I was actually pretty happy about this!

I don't know, something about having a sandwich that's actually labeled in fancy script "Tokaido Shinkansen Sandwich" (click on the photo) strikes me as both a little funny and kind of a product of a bygone era.  I almost wanted to keep it as a souvenir!

The amazing thing about this sandwich?  I was really hungry, and by the time the food cart came through, they were out of sandwiches (or anything else of substance).  So you know what they did?  They called ahead to the next station (Nagoya) to get a sandwich ready for me.  As the train was pulling into the station, they were running to the train with my sandwich!  This is why I love Japan.

We also did get the famous view of Mt. Fuji, which we missed last time (there was a typhoon on our last shinkansen trip):

So it was a nice ride to Osaka, and I was almost disappointed when it ended.  It is really amazing how fast these trains are: 2 hours and 25 minutes to go the 342 miles from Tokyo to Osaka!  We were on the Nozomi super-express - other trains are slower and make more stops.

We stayed at the Hotel Hanshin, a perfectly good hotel that my wife was a little disappointed with, but probably only because she was comparing it with the amazingly huge rooms and panoramic views from the Grand Prince Akasaka that we've stayed at twice in Tokyo.  The Hotel Hanshin's big claim to fame is that it pipes in natural spring water for the shower and tub (you can switch to regular tap water, which I did - the spring water's naturally grey, and kinda scary).  It's also got some pretty good views, though - this is actually a stitched-together panorama from our room (hence some of the weird overlaps):

Blogger shrinks even the "original" size, but the real original of that photo is enormous.

We only had one day in Osaka, and half of that was spent meeting with our two clothing brands.  That left just a few hours to take in some sights.  We ended up eating some takoyaki (basically fried balls of chopped up octopus), which Osaka is famous for, from a place recommended by the president of one of our clothing brands.

The Takoyaki, and the place that served it to us.

Not really my thing, but my wife loved it, though neither of us were convinced the ones we got were actually cooked through.  We walked around American Village for a bit - nobody seems to know why this place is called that anymore (probably some post-war thing), but it's the closest thing Osaka has to a Harajuku or East Village.  And it does have a Statue of Liberty in the middle of it!

Osaka's got a long series of these covered pedestrian malls - they go on forever, you literally can't see the end when you're in it.  And they're goddamn packed, with seemingly no way out.  If you think Tokyo is crowded (I don't, particularly), this was way worse.

This bridge is apparently a big tourist spot, like Times Square.  Also there's a really famous crab place around the corner (you see the sign in a couple of those shots).  Lots of westerners around this place, very surprised to see that.  Though honestly, Kyoto had a far higher concentration of westerners than anywhere I've seen in Tokyo, and probably a lot of those same people pass through Osaka on the way there or back.

We made our way back to our hotel and really, that was pretty much it for Osaka from us.  I actually was a little disappointed - I didn't see a whole lot of food that looked all that different from Tokyo, it was mostly just as crowded as Tokyo (or more!) and to me, at least, the people seemed pretty much the same.  Maybe the one sort of uniquely Osaka experience we had was seeing a guy sitting in a heavily pimped-out Hummer getting either hassled by or bantering with a group of local police.

Of course, we did only spend a day there, and I'm intentionally not talking about any of our business stuff, which was really the highlight of the day.  So it was totally worth going - it's just our leisure time that was a bit lacking.

On the way back, we had a "Green Car" (on a somewhat older 700 series train), which is not called First Class for a reason, but it's the closest you can get on a shinkansen.  If they did call it FC I think a lot of people would be very angry at the level of service provided, but you do get wider seats (2+2 seating vs. 3+2 in a standard car), even a little more legroom (the seats are much bigger in the green cars, so it's deceptive by the photos trying to judge the legroom... just trust me on this), a footrest, and they definitely come through with that food cart a few more times than in the regular cars - and you get first dibs, so they're never out of anything.  It's also even quieter, since not as many people are willing to pony up the extra cash.  My wife was not sure it was worth it, but it's literally only about $25 more per person, so I wasn't disappointed.

Here's another video as our train left Osaka - you can see some of the city here (this, like the video above, is available in HD!):

It was a fun day trip, but I think next time we'll probably spend any extra time we have in Kyoto.

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About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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