Osaka & Nara: First Trip to the Mainland

One of my good friends from the U.S. is half Japanese. Much of her family still resides in Japan, so she had long planned to spend a couple of weeks this May and June visiting the country. Luckily, I was able to meet her and her husband for a weekend in Osaka. It was off to a great start when I realized that my airplane was pink:

Peach Airlines, you're adorable

Peach Airlines, you’re adorable

We spent Friday night and Saturday mostly in the Shinsaibashi district. It is very much as you would imagine a large Asian city – lots of bright colors, large signs, trendy indoor shops, and gaudy figures. We ate a lot of yakitori (fried meat on skewers) and I even tried chicken heart (off someone else’s plate, of course… I am not brave enough to order that on my own!) Honestly, it wasn’t half bad. The one food that I did not try and should have was the Osakan specialty takoyaki, which is basically a round, fried octopus fritter. Yum? Anyway, I do apologize for the lack of food porn photos!

Saturday evening we visited Osaka Castle, which was one of my favorite attractions. It played a major role in the unification of Japan in the 16th century. During World War II, the arsenal became one of the largest military armories, employing 60,000 workers. Bombing raids targeting the arsenal damaged the main castle tower and killed 382 people. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to go in, but I found it to be strikingly beautiful. I also loved that the grounds were populated with fat lazy cats 🙂

Following our excursion to the Castle, Alisa and I enjoyed a night out with some of her friends. We enjoyed peach shisha, mojitos, and mostly American music (which I found interesting) at a Shinsaibashi lounge known to be a social hub for the international community. Many nationalities were represented there, though I was certainly the only white American girl in the building!

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The next day was logistically interesting, but quite memorable. We rode the train for an hour before arriving in picturesque, ancient Nara, the land of temples, shrines, and Bambi’s. There were deer everywhere – in parks, on temple grounds, in busy shopping areas – just waiting to be fed with a pack of biscuits you could purchase for less than 200 yen. As an avid animal lover, I was completely delighted by this.

Then of course, there were the temples. We only had time for two, but I feel like they were the main two. First we visited Kofuku-ji Temple, established in 669 by a wife wishing for her husband’s recovery from illness. It was an important center for Buddhism and retained influence over the imperial government, even by “aggressive means” in some cases.  The second was Todaiji Temple, which is dated back to 729 and serves as the Japanese headquarters of the Kegon school of Buddhism. It currently houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha.

It was sweltering outside, and since we had checked out of the hotel already, we had to tote all of our belongings with us, but the sites (and the deer!) were completely worth it. All in all, a wonderful weekend in Osaka!

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