Wednesday, September 3rd, 2008

We woke up early on Wednesday morning, intending on getting an early start out to Osaka and being able to see some extra stuff there. We made it up on time to have breakfast at the hotel, which was included in the price of the room. The same group of exceptionally polite and helpful ladies was attending to breakfast, which was Japanese style.

I ended up eating a couple of pieces of cold fish, some rice, some cherry tomatoes, some scrambled egg and a bowl of miso soup. They also had whole eggs in bowls, so I picked one of those up as well, assuming it was hard boiled. At one point, I jokingly said something to Kevin like "Watch this egg be raw, I'm gonna be so mad" and sure enough, when I went to crack it, the egg was completely raw! Eww! I'm not even sure what you're supposed to put it in, unless you just eat it raw.

After refilling my rice and gobbling it down, we decided to take a walk down to the waterfront and take some photos. I led the way out the door that I had gone out two nights before, and we wandered around for a bit.

It was raining, so I hung back by the hotel while Kevin walked out to the end of the dock for some photos. After we were done, we went back to the room to pack up and head out. When we went downstairs to check out, we had indeed been charged for the whiskey I had moved in the minibar...$25!!! I knew I couldn't speak enough Japanese to explain that I didn't really drink it, so it made me want to go back up to the room and take the bottle with me! I didn't though since I just wanted to leave already, and I don't drink whiskey anyway.

The next hotel shuttle was leaving for the train station at 10:00am, so to kill the time, we both checked our email on a computer in the lobby. When it was time to go, we started to head out the door when I hear Kevin say "Julie look!" So I looked over, and saw this large piece of paper in a brass pedestal in the entryway of the hotel. The whole thing was written in kanji...

...with MY NAME at the bottom! Oh god! I had no clue what the paper said, and didn't even have time to find someone and ask what it was! We were both laughing so hysterically about it that I was just barely able to get a photo of it before needing to get on the shuttle. We joked that maybe it was a sign welcoming us since we were the only western visitors the hotel had ever seen! hahaha

Finally we were on our way, escaping the Toba Grand Hotel for the last time. We made our way effortlessly back to Nagoya, and found the Shinkansen station easily. Our original plan was to take some smaller rail lines in to Osaka, but we really just wanted to be out of there (at least *I* wanted to be out of there), so we figured that backtracking to Nagoya was the fastest way. After wandering around in the station for a bit, I got a Coke and some chocolate dipped breadstick thingies, and Kevin got a Japan Times in English.

Kevin reads the Japan Times on the way to Osaka

The train ride from Nagoya to Osaka was uneventful, and very soon we were arriving in Osaka. I really enjoyed riding the Shinkansens from place to place since they are so comfortable and get you there so quickly. I would be thrilled if the US would link major cities together with this kind of railway, but I'm not holding my breath! It was also during this ride that I heard that Sarah Palin had been chosen as John McCain's running mate. The Japan Times article about her...lets just say that it wasn't very flattering.

I had heard ahead of time that Osaka had a lot more shops and restaurants than most other Japanese cities because their residents love to spend their money on good meals and such. Our hotel was at the Shinsaibashi station, and this lifestyle was evident from the very second we stepped off the train because their train station almost looked like a mall! It had big stores in it, and entire arcade areas full of boutiques and restaurants. We weren't exactly sure which exit we needed since I hadn't seen it listed anywhere on the hotel's website. We chose the main exit, then proceeded to wander around a little bit in a vain attempt to find the hotel. After a couple of blocks of wandering, we decided to take a cab so we wouldn't get even more lost.

We flagged down a cab (with the help of someone we didn't know who could tell we needed help!) and showed him the reservation confirmation with the address on it. After a phone call to someone, he figured out where the hotel was and was off. We were actually almost correct, but were in the exact opposite location from where we needed to be.

Our hotel was the Flexstay Inn Shinsaibashi, and was on a busy side street right in the middle of all kinds of little shops and other businesses. It had a very cool stone entrance, and inside the entrance there was a tiny little three or four seat restaurant. It always smelled great any time we walked past it, but we never could figure out what kind of food they served there!

When we made our way to the lobby, we got checked in very efficiently, and made our way to our room. It was on the next to the top floor, but since there were so many buildings all around, the view was only so-so. It was also HOT, so we quickly turned the air down as low as it would go.

The inside of our Flexstay Inn Shinsaibashi room...featuring real beds!

We lounged around for a bit, and then I gathered up some dirty clothes so we could do some laundry. We only did one load, which was mainly pants and undies since we were both completely out of them! Our original plan had been to wash clothes in Toba, but the resort didn't have laundry facilities, so I'd had to wash out a little wrap in the bathtub the night before just so I'd have something clean to wear.

Kevin and I took turns sitting in the lobby with the clothes, meanwhile either checking email or watching crazy messed up Japanese children's shows! When the laundry was done, I folded up everything and brought it back up to the room, where we hung around some more watching TV. After quite a few days of going going going, it was nice to just chill and do nothing for a few hours.

After we were sufficiently rested, we decided to visit the Umeda Sky Building, which has the Floating Garden Observatory on the top floor. Finding our way back to Shinsaibashi station was easy this was just a right hand turn out of the hotel, and maybe two of three blocks down on the right. It was so easy to find, so we made sure to note where we were and how to get back. It was exit #7, and there was a store named Opa and a bakery named Vie de France at that station exit, so we made sure to look for those next time!

After boarding the Midosuji line, we took it three stops north to the Umeda station. We halfway assumed that we would be able to see the Umeda Sky building from somewhere near the train station, but when we looked, we weren't able to spot it immediately. We were near the HEP5 building, which had a large Ferris wheel, so Kevin suggested taking a ride on the wheel to get a bird's eye view of the city, and to spot the Umeda Sky Building. Sounded like a good plan to me, so we headed inside.

On the way up to the loading station for the Ferris wheel, we got pushed inside a really strange museum by some very enthusiastic employees. I don't really know what kind of exhibit it was, but it was all kinds of strange, disturbing and all around bizarre artwork! They had stuff like a sculpture of "Crab Liberty" which was just the Statue of Liberty as a crab.

There was a collection of "uncommon animal crackers"...

...and a display of a Game of Life with cat and dog pegs in the little cars, called "A Dog is Born" and "A Cat is Born" respectively. It was strange, but really, really cool! We hung around looking at the artwork a lot longer than I thought we would!

After perusing the museum, we went back down one level and got our tickets for the HEP5 Ferris Wheel. I think it cost $5, which wasn't too bad. Plus it was air conditioned, which is always a plus!

The view was great, but we still couldn't figure out where the Umeda Sky Building was! It was at just the wrong angle to where we couldn't see the cool escalators that run up to the top, and it looked just like any other building! We had a nice ride regardless.

After the ride, we decided to pop our heads into the Sega Joypolis located inside the HEP5 building. We hadn't planned on stopping there, but it looked interesting enough.

Inside, they had tons and tons of games of all kinds, including claw machines, pachinko machines, simulators and booths that take your picture and print it on stickers. We didn't end up doing very much while we were there, but I did play 200yen in a pachinko machine. My grandparents have a very old pachinko machine that came from Japan during World War 2, so I made it a point to play pachinko at some point. The machine I chose had pictures of what looked like a boy band inside as the little game you play when you get a ball in a slot. I didn't understand it at all, but at least I could say I got to play one!

We also played a round of the Taiko drum game. It was a lot of fun, and I won handily over Kevin.

When we were done looking around, we decided to grab some dinner. Nothing looked all that great, but we ultimately stopped at an Italian place called Pelcola. We didn't have to wait very long to be seated, and were happy to see that they had an English menu. I decided to get a chicken pizza, and Kevin got some kind of seafood pasta dish.

When the pizza arrived, it was pretty was almost like a chicken paste covered in cheese. It also came with Tabasco sauce, which the waitress said made it better. When I tried it, it really wasn't as bad as I thought it might be, but the Tabasco sauce really did make it taste better.

When we finished dinner, we decided to head out and find the Umeda Sky Building. We had to take about a million sets of escalators to get out of the HEP5 building, then we walked in the general direction that our map showed. Kevin made a stop along the way in a post office to see about getting cash from an ATM, but it wouldn't take his card for some reason. After walking around for a while, we found a tourist information desk and decided to just stop in and ask for directions. We got a nice map, and also found out that there were no Bunraku or Kabuki shows going on at all while we were in Osaka.

When we started out on the walk, we went back through a train station, through a construction zone, and when we came out the other side, we were in completely the wrong area! But we could see the building, so we just sort of walked in that general direction. My feet were pretty tired by the time we got there, but it was well worth it!

The building itself is spectacular...really beautiful, and easy to make look good in photographs! We went into one of the towers, but discovered that the ticket booth to get to the top was in the opposite tower. After purchasing our tickets, we took an elevator up most of the way.

Arriving on the upper level, we followed the arrows around to the large glass enclosed escalators that run diagonally across the two towers. It was really awesome, though not as unnervingly scary as I'd been led to believe. You couldn't see out below you, but you could see on both sides, and the view was awesome. When we got to the top, we made our way from window to window, admiring the absolutely amazing view. The area at the top was very posh, and reminded me of a swanky bar or nightclub without the music. They had plush elevated chairs in front of the windows that you could climb up into and enjoy the view, so Kevin and I took advantage of one of them for a few minutes.

After making an entire trip around the room, we decided to get some dessert at their snack bar.

We both ended up getting cheesecake, and I got Coke to drink. Kevin thought it was gross that I got Coke to drink with the cheesecake, which spurred a lengthy conversation about Coke, and how I drink it with everything. He thought it was particularly gross that I will drink Coke for breakfast. But y'know, it's Coke...I love Coke, and Coke goes with everything :-) The cheesecake was kind of strange. It tasted good, but had a texture very much regular cake, which is not what I'm used to. It was good though, and was a nice treat in such a unique place.

Once dessert was finished, we found this dark room with inflatable benches all around it, with lights projected on the floor. After a moment, we discovered that if you bounce and move on the inflatable benches, it causes ripple and gyrations in the lights on the floor and the sounds in the room. It was so much fun! We kept bouncing around from seat to seat, having fun with the lights and watching others. We stayed in there for quite a while since it was so much fun, and so unexpected. When we were done, we decided to go to the open air observation area on the very top of the building.

As soon as we walked outside, we were both in awe of how much better the view was! The night was beautiful...probably in the low 70s and perfectly clear skies...absolutely perfect for some cityscape viewing. We slowly made our way all around the building, marvelling at how huge Osaka was. I would never have assumed that this city was as large as it is, but it is only slightly smaller than New York City! It seemed to stretch endlessly in every direction, and every direction was beautiful.

Me and Kevin on top of the Umeda Sky Building in Osaka

After taking some photos, and taking some photos for others, we paused on the side of the building that faced downtown to appreciate the view. We chatted and chatted, and whiled away almost an hour just enjoying the night. This was the one moment of the trip where I paused and just felt so lucky to be where I was. I was on top of a skyscraper in Osaka, Japan! The night was beautiful, the company was great, and the whole experience was just incredible. I remember making a remark to Kevin that moments like that are why I wake up and go to work every morning. I drag myself out of bed, go to work and make my money just so I can have life experiences like the one I was experiencing right then. Life just does not get better than moments like these, and they make all the day-to-day hard work and sacrifice more than worth it.

At 10:00pm, the observation deck closed, and reluctantly we made out way back inside and down to the elevators. On the way, I spotted a capsule machine that had little crystal key chains in it, and one of them had the Umeda Sky Building etched into it. They cost $1, and eventhough I wasn't sure if I was going to get the Umeda Sky Building one or not, I decided to risk it. I was very happy when the machine gave me the one I wanted, but in hindsight, I bet the Umeda Sky Building was the only keychain they had in that machine. They know that everyone buying one there wants the one of the building they are in, so it would be dumb to put other buildings in it. I love my little crystal keychain, and eventhough it's so small, it ended up being one of my favorite souvenirs of the trip!

We took the elevator back down to ground level, and decided that all of the Japanese people that were near us probably knew the way back to the train station better than we did, so we decided to follow the crowd. Sure enough, they all went through this long tunnel (which had been on our map, but we never found it) then emerged out just in front of the Umeda train station.

On the way, we stopped in a convenience store for a couple of items, where I bought "Crunky" chocolate. We hopped on the train and headed back three stops south to Shinsaibashi station. Finding our way out was easy this time since we knew that we needed to follow signs for exit 7, and looked for Opa and Vie de France. We were back at the hotel in a jiffy, and I felt redeemed from the Toba hotel fiasco since I had actually chosen a convenient hotel this time.

Go to Day 8 - Hiroshima and the Peace Memorial Museum, Miyajima Island
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