In the end of July, I went to Japan to visit some of my relatives there. We were only there for two weeks, but one day, I’d like to go back and travel around more since we were limited to the Kansai region during our stay.
Most of the time was spent in the port town of Kobe, which is well connected to Osaka. Whenever I tell friends and colleagues about my holidays, I find out that they haven’t actually heard of it. Before I went there, the only thing I knew about it was that a large earthquake took place there. Nowadays tremors there and around that region are rare.
Kobe’s most prolific build is the Kobe Port Tower, which is located in the harbour along with the Marine Museum. We went around the area several times for walks, a boat cruise, and a festival celebrating the 15th anniversary of the tower.
We stayed in with my uncle in Motomachi, a small shopping district which was a few minutes walk from Sanninomiya, the down-town area of Kobe. He runs a restaurant called Ha Lang Son, which serves Vietnamese food. My cousin-in-law runs a sister Chinese-style restaurant, Meikensou which is close by. In Meikensou, there’s also a lower ground floor in which you can sometimes listen to live music.
Right after we dropped our luggage off and had eaten lunch at Ha Lang Son, we went out to a sealife park which was a few stops away by train. I couldn’t help but take photos of almost everything in view since it was like I walked into an anime, finding simple things such visible telephone lines and students commuting to summer classes really fascinating. I enjoyed looking at all the exhibits in the sealife park even though the descriptions were entirely in Japanese. My highlights there were being able to feed the penguins and watching a dolphin show, although I was probably the oldest kid there aha. However it was like this for the rest of the sealife park, so it felt strange but I didn’t let that get in my way.
We decided to stay in Kobe for a few more days after our arrival (we actually ended up staying there until our departure) since my uncle told us that there was a festival in the shopping district- the Motomachi Night Festival. I got an opportunity to try on one of my cousin’s yukata; complete with geta (wooden shoes). The local businesses ran small stalls outside their stores and there were a lot of people. Most of these were food stalls which sold things like takoyaki and matcha and there were also a few game stores like goldfish scooping. But the main highlight was seeing my cousin’s singing teacher on stage with her band. She had an incredible amount of energy and her voice was really strong.
My family went to the public baths/ onsen during our stay, but I found that it made me dizzy after a while. It was nicer during the quieter hours of the afternoon. I discovered that going together with friends was really popular, for the young and old. Although I did find it embarrassing at first, I wouldn’t mind going there again but I’ll need to be wary of the amount of time I can spend in there.
We went to Osaka thrice as well- the public transportation system was much more complicated than in Kobe and the pace of life seemed quicker. The first time I visited was for the annual Tenjin Festival. There were many people and the atmosphere was much more livelier than the Motomachi Night Festival, which was to be expected. It became harder to move around as more people joined in because of the large scale, and we didn’t get a good view of the fireworks since it was near some buildings rather than the riverside; which was where we were expecting to see them. Before that, we dropped by Nipponbashi for a while. I looked around at a ‘tapestry specialty store’ which sold artbooks as well as tapestries, which ranged from 3000 to 10,000 Yen. On the day I visited, a Coffee Kizoku artbook was just released. Other featured artists were Tinkle, Karory, Kantoku and Inohara Riko. The store also had an exhibit upstairs.
I only had 30 minutes in Animate and Gamers but I was thrilled at being able to see physical merchandise of larger series. At that time, the prominent series were Madoka, Monogatari and Free! As well as selling goods, they also sell DVDs/ BDs, CDs, magazines and manga. Animate caters well to its fans by having different sections such as R18 doujins and BL. But for a wider selection, it would be best to go to smaller specialised stores. I quickly browsed through Gamers while my parents waited at the entrance, where there was a small exhibit of cosplay from eroge titles such as Flyable Heart, Boku ga Tenshi ni Natta Wake and Zutto Sukishite Takusan Sukishite.
We spent most of the time looking around in Osaka the second time we went- mainly cutlery and I spent some time at Kotobukiya. As for the third time, we only went to Osaka to spend time with a family friend, who took my brother and I to an arcade while my parents had time to themselves to buy more things. We had a lot of fun playing Taiko no Tatsujin since we had it on our DS, and also played Gita-dora several times. The most enjoyable game was one where four people could play- it was a ball throwing game with an interactive screen. There were several stages and the themes varied; from sealife to mining.
My family and I spent a day in the old capital of Kyoto to see the more traditional side of Japan. We also wanted to go to Nara Castle but heard that it was closed for refurbishment. The distance to Kyoto was quite far from Kobe, so we had to wake up early to catch a tour which allowed us to see all of the famous sites. For the tour that we went on, it was in Japanese only but the staff were friendly and helpful by providing us with English leaflets whenever possible. The tour guide also tried her best to communicate to us despite not knowing English.
My uncle also took us to see the Akame 48 Waterfalls. It was quite humid that day so we didn’t manage to make it to the end. After our hike, we went to purchase some ice cream from a local store and got treated by the store owner to some free water, fresh and cool from one of the waterfalls.
Throughout the trip, I was able to listen and speak short Japanese sentences since I learnt a bit at school. The time I was really able to use it was at a traditional-style restaurant in Namba station. I found that it was often the case that people didn’t speak English. They asked us whether we wanted to sit in the smoking or non-smoking area, what we wanted and whether we’d like to have the noodles served hot or cold. Even though the words we needed were basic, it did the job and I thought of how difficult it might be to travel around without really knowing the language.
The only things other than the language barrier which affected the journey was also cultural practices. An example is when paying for something, rather than handing the money directly, there is normally a small tray to put your money into. And taking off your shoes before entering a changing room. I’m sure you’ve heard of the others, such as taking off your shoes before entering the house. There was also a certain sense of security, i.e. you can leave your belongings for a while and come back later to find them still there.
As well as enjoying the modern side, I also enjoyed seeing the traditional side of Japan. Overall I was happy on how the time was spent, but certainly I’d like to explore more of Japan next time I go.