I am back from recent trips to Japan, Malaysia and Singapore. Usually, I feel very tired after an overseas trip, suffering from jet lag and inadequate sleep, particularly felt in my previous trip of October last year. This time though, I feel more relaxed. Perhaps, the business class seat helped alot. Maybe…, but I will hesistate to take a Jetstar flight again. I have been delayed a few hours, such that I missed the shuttle bus that was supposed to pick me up from the airport. The replacement bus came 3 hours later, and the bus weaved through the Sydney peak hour traffic congested road for more than two hours before I reached home.
My impression of Osaka and Kyoto from my visit of January 12 to January 16 :
- The people are polite and though a number of buildings are rather old, they are clean and tidy. The area is congested though. While Japan is supposed to be a high tech country, there are many things that are hardly high tech. Dangling overhead electrical cables are seen everywhere, and some of the trains and train stations are quite old fashioned.
- The train fare from Kansai airport to Osaka is not exactly cheap. An express train cost about $30 and it still takes about 50 minutes. The slower normal train will cost about $17. The ticket seller at Kansai airport station wanted to sell me the fast train tickets which would cost about $120 (for 4). However I communicated by showing my notes about the train I want to take, in order to travel on the cheaper train.
- We stayed in a budget hotel in Kishibe area, which is a few minutes by train from Osaka main station. The hotel is a minute walk from the Kishibe train station. I have absolutely no complaint except for the tobacco odour from previous guests. The air freshener provided by the hotel proves quite useful to dispel the smell. The room cost per night is about $75.
- Food is not cheap when compared to other Asian countries. However, a decent meal could be obtained at around $10. A $15 meal is quite good actually, and better and cheaper than the many Japanese food that one gets in Sydney. Bento sets (rice and other dishes) can be bought at local Seven Elevens, supermarkets or departmental stores. Prices should be around $6 to $12 per box. Drink vending machines are found everywhere – a can of warm coffee will cost about $1.5.
- The popular shopping and must visit area in Osaka is Dotonbori, which is closest to the Namba station. There is a very long shopping mall nearby, stretching almost a kilometre long. There are many lanes that intersect the long mall, and good decent restaurants could be found along such lanes. Special local food include the octopus ball (Tokoyaki) and barbecued crab leg. The crab leg was trully yummy, though one barbecued leg will cost about $7.
- Pachinko parlours are found all over Osaka. These parlours are very noisy, smoky at times but highly popular with Japanese of all ages. I tried entering one parlour to observe why it is such a rage with Japanese, but the language barrier did not allow me.
- Popular deparmental stores like Isetan, Takeshimaya and Daimaru are found in the major station in Osaka and Kyoto. The goods seems quite expensive to me. I have a feeling that they hardly make money, given that there are not too many customers (except in food section) and an abundant of staffs. Some of the staffs have little to do other than to greet customers at entrances. The same situation was observed inJapanese banks, where they seem to hire more staffs than necessary.
- The winter in Osaka in mild and comfortable. Kyoto is a little colder, but still bearable.
- Many of the apartments and houses are very small, much smaller than those in Singapore. I notice that there are far few modern attractive highrise apartment buildings like those found in Singapore, HK or even mainland China. The apartment blocks and houses are somewhat squarish and unappealing.
- Japan seems to be very safe at night. I could see many girls cycling and congregating around the station and shops in Kishibe area at night. Cycling is highly popular form of transport as many people cycle to the train stations everyday. The bicycle parking areas are coveniently located close to the train stations. This is something that I find highly admirable.
- Cars in Japan are usually small, of the mini type. Previously many Japanese had big cars, but they had trouble driving through the narrow streets and parking in the narrow garages. As a result, the big cars have been discarded in favour of small cars.
- There are Japanese that I met who could speak English reasonably well, but the numbers a few between. I had hoped the younger shop assistants could speak English given that English language is taught extensively in Japanese schools. On the other hand, being able to read Chinese, helps a lot in interacting with the Japanese and in reading train station and bus signs.
- The Gion area in Kyoto is popular with tourists. It is supposed to be a traditional area where Geishas are found. I could not see any, though I did see several Japanses ladies wearing Kimonos during the long walk from Gion to Kiyomizu temple. The Kimonos are beautiful attire and I would love to see more Japanese ladies wearing them. However, food is pretty expensive in the area. Having lunch in a little restaurant would cost about $20 a person. We were lucky to find a small restaurant selling Okonomiyaki (Japanse pancake) selling for about $12 a person. It was a cozy little restaurant, and the food was complemented with rice, soup and a bottle of warm sake.
- The much vaunted Golden Pavillion (Kinkajuki) temple was a dissapointment. It was much smaller than I had expected. The Kiyomizu temple though, is far more impressive, and I could understand why it is highly popular with visitors.
- Overall, it was a refreshing experience in getting to know Japan a little better with my own eyes. However, it is still not completely satisfactory visit, as communication with Japanese is a tremedous problem.