Kathy and I spent our last day in Hakone checking out the Hakone Open-Air Museum which, as you probably guessed by the name, is an outdoor museum. Never been to an outdoor museum before, but it was really interesting. There were some really cool sculptures and exhibits and the grounds themselves were really beautiful.
After that it was time to check out from the hostel (Hakone Tent). On our way out we started chatting with this couple (Dave and Alissa from the Netherlands) and we ended up sitting with them all the way back to Odawara. From there we got to take the bullet train to Osaka. The Japan bullet trains are some of the fastest trains in the world, so it was pretty cool. They’re more expensive, but definitely worth doing at least once. They’re super nice, very spacious and the ride is very smooth.
We arrived in Osaka and were met by my friend Megumi, her husband Takaki and their two children. It was so great to see Meg again, as we hadn’t seen each other in ten years. We first met in 2004 when we were roomed together while studying German in Dresden. I went off to Ireland after that to work and she went to Nuremberg to study. But she came to visit me in Dublin and then I went to visit her in Nuremberg in 2005 before heading home, so actually I guess it’s been 11 years since we last saw each other. We’ve kept in touch over the years and I was so excited to see her again and to meet her family. Plus, her mother had a 2nd apartment that she wasn’t using and she generously offered to let us stay there while we were in Osaka. When we got to the apartment, her mom had a whole meal ready for us, full of local treats like Okonomiyaki. The meal was delicious and we were able to catch up with/get to know everyone while we ate.
Then it was time to show us how to set up/put away everything. It was a traditional Japanese apartment, so it’s very tiny, but very functional. The living room area also functions as the bedroom area, so at night you pull out the futons (Japanese style, not western style, so it’s basically just a small mattress) and bedding, make your bed and in the morning put it all away and it’s back to a living room. And the bathroom was also a traditional Japanese bathroom, which means that it is actually a wet room. There was a small tub, but apparently you’re not supposed to used that for bathing, just for relaxing (after you’ve showered). You’re supposed to shower next to the tub, standing on the floor, getting everything wet. It’s really weird if you’re not used to it (and especially for me, cause I hate stepping on wet floors with bare feet). Apparently it can be an issue for Western hotels when they have Japanese guests, as they try to shower outside the tub like they would at home and they end up kind of flooding the bathroom, so they have to remind them that they have to shower IN the tub. Check out this guide to see some of the features you can find in a Japanese bathroom. The best part of the apartment was the washer! We could do laundry whenever we wanted to and for free, and boy did we take advantage of that! There was also a great view from the balcony of the Osaka Castle.
The next day Meg and her family met up with us and we headed to Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai, known as the longest straight shopping street of Japan. We spent a few hours walking the street, checking out the shops and trying some of the street foods like Taiyaki (really yummy) and Takoyaki (also really yummy). Also we learned that the big thing to do on Christmas is to go eat at KFC! Since the majority of people in Japan don’t really celebrate Christmas (although it’s definitely becoming more popular), what they usually do is eat dinner at KFC either on Christmas eve or Christmas day. We had several different people in several different cities tell us that that is what they do! You can make reservations and everything. KFC basically OWNS Christmas in Japan! It’s a real thing, check it out!
Then it was time to say goodbye and head off to meet up with an Irish friend, Eanna. Kathy and I met Eanna when we all worked as temps at the National Lottery in Dublin in 2008. We had a great crew when we worked there (Hi Aileen, Andy, Ceda, Danielle and Leigh!) and we’ve kept in touch as we all went our separate ways: I returned home; Kathy moved back to London for a year before heading home to Australia; and Eanna moved to London for a few years, then to Taiwan for 2 years and finally to Osaka about a year ago. What a random, but amazing coincidence that he ended up moving to Japan just as Kathy and I went to visit, and that he ended up in Osaka where I had another friend living there! It had been 6 years since I’d last seen him, when we met up in London. Life is so crazy sometimes, never thought the next time I’d see him would be in Japan!
We met up for dinner with him and his fiancée (now wife) Joyce in Namba, this really cool area of Osaka with lots of restaurants and shops. Definitely worth checking out. Luckily for us Joyce is learning Japanese, so she did all the ordering! We had such a great time catching up and getting to know Joyce. We’ve all had so many adventures in the last few years, we barely scratched the surface on catching up, so of course we had to make plans to get together the following night too!
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