A gust of wind hit my face like a sharp slap as I stepped out of the warmth of New Osaka Hotel. The morning was blustery, almost 0 degrees C, a true winter morning. We marched to the Shin-Osaka Station across the street, gloved hands in pockets and heads bowed against the cold. It wasn’t the best conditions for sight-seeing, but this was the whole reason my family decided to spend Christmas in Japan. We gritted our teeth and walked on.
Everyone was in high spirits as we boarded the train to Osaka Castle. When you’re from a country that’s scorching hot 365 days a year, a little shuddering in your bones is a welcome change. The street leading to the castle was still bare in the early morning, save for a few birds and scattered leaves. I tightened my scarf around my neck as another ice-cold breeze blew past. I couldn’t help but smile. I’m about to see an ancient Japanese castle, like the ones I loved on Akira Kurosawa’s films, in winter. It couldn’t get more idyllic.
Seeing the pagoda’s tip from across the moat brought me images of ancient war scenes. I remembered one of my favorite books of all time, Shogun by James Clavell, and thought about archers lining the walls of Lord Toranaga’s castle as Lord Ishido’s samurai prepared to attack. All my fantasies and imaginings of Japan collected over the years unfolded before my eyes, and I was so enthralled.
One of the many things that impressed me in Japan was how easily they merged history with modernity, old and new. All around the castle is a view of the city. The sleek, glass lines of the skyscrapers were such a sharp contrast to the heavy and ornate wood and steel. Yet, instead of one trying to be the other or trying to compete for attention, they all shine as their differences – and uniqueness – are highlighted.
Case in point was this view from the Osaka Museum of History:
The museum itself was pretty cool too. I always enjoy interactive museums where guest participation becomes part of the displays and the learning. My favorite parts were the dioramas and the puzzle area where you have to recreate ancient pots by putting their pieces back together.
It was almost nightfall by the time we finished the Osaka Museum of History. We decided that it was the perfect time to go to Doutonbori, the center of the city’s night scene and food scene. It was teeming with people when we arrived, locals and tourists alike. It was almost a jolt after (yet another) a quiet day outdoors. For a change, there were hawkers calling out on the streets, enticing people to eat in their restaurants. People were talking loudly. There was even a short parade in the river. It was so festive and alive, a far cry from the mum resoluteness I’ve seen of the Japanese in daytime. It was almost like stepping into a portal where the cold, business-clad folk were allowed to loosen up and do some merrymaking.
It was also in Doutonbori that I had the best sushi of my life so far. Best. Sushi. Of my life. It was also pretty pricey. For 2 pieces of temaki, 2 pieces of maki, and a drink, I spent over JPY2700, or about $25 US. Yup, that much for 4 pieces of sushi and a glass of vodka something-something (it was Japanese and I had no idea what it was, really haha). But it was SO worth it.
It was also an experience communicating with the chef, who spoke no English. But it was cool watching them prepare it right in front of you, and setting it down on your plate. After all, that’s when sushi is best eaten: the moment it’s set on your plate.
Sadly, I never found out the name of the place, but this is what it looks like. If you’re ever in Doutonbori, check it out. It’s awesome.
After dinner, my cousin and I strolled around the side-streets of Doutonbori. It was very scenic, in a gritty sort of way. Of course, “gritty” is something I never thought I’d use on Japan, but the small stalls, the stained buildings, the concrete still wet from the rain, looked like a side that was rarely exposed in this ultra-proper and orderly country. I found it so charming, like getting to know a different side of the shiny surface.
During our stroll we also came across a tiny Filipino canteen in one of the alleyways. It had a bright “Mabuhay” sign out front. What I found really interesting was the makeshift plastic covering hanging from the awning. It looked very rough and tumble, while also looking warm and inviting in the inside. Despite being in the middle of Osaka, it still looked and felt very Filipino. I kind of regret not taking a peek to at least check out the menu and chat with the owners – something I’ll have to do next time.
After strolling around some more, we finally called it a night. Bellies full, senses fired-up, hearts warm, and feet aching, we made our way back to the hotel to recharge for another day.