Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Japan (Osaka, Himeji, & Kobe)

After leaving Taiwan, we went to Japan for four days, which was definitely not long enough.

On the first day, we arrived at Narita around 3pm, exchanged our vouchers for Japan Rail Passes (expensive at $230 apiece, but a good investment nevertheless), and took the Narita Express to Tokyo Station (1 hour) where we transferred to the Shinkansen, which we took to Osaka (3 hours). A friend who lives in Osaka met us at the train station, and took us to our hotel, the Namba Oriental, in the southern downtown area.

After leaving our luggage, we went out for a late dinner. Our hotel was very well located so there were tons of restaurants within walking distance. Our friend chose Chibo, which, despite being a chain restaurant, is well known for their okonomiyaki. I had never had any before, and after sampling three different kinds which were all yummy, I decided I liked it very much:


After dinner, we bought some fresh Takoyaki from a street vendor and walked around for a bit, but soon headed back to our hotel to sleep.

The next morning we got up bright and early to check out the Umeda Sky Building, which actually consists of two buildings which are connected at the top by some escalators and an observation deck. It's a pretty cool looking structure, with a great view from the top:



We ate a simple lunch in the basement (I had a katsu-don) and then hopped on a train bound for Himeji, to see the famous Himeji Castle. Himeji is about an hour away from Osaka by train, but the castle is very much worth the trip. It's amazing to think that it was built in the 1600's; the intricately detailed roofs, the exterior white walls, and the interior rooms are all in surprisingly good shape. Also, the castle is deceptively large; we were able to walk through one of the buildings as well as the main tower (after removing our shoes, naturally) which took much longer than I expected.

Taken from the garden outside the castle:


Taken from inside the main tower:


After leaving the castle we grabbed some snacks in the train station. This is where I discovered Manneken Belgian waffles. I tried the green tea flavor as well as the original, and both were very good (I had a slight preference for the green tea):


I wonder if the name is some kind of weird Japanese tribute to the Manneken Pis in Brussels?

Finally, after everything in Himeji started closing (which was around 6pm!) we took the train to Kobe, where we checked out the local Chinatown, ate some gyoza, played some pachinko, and shopped a bit, before returning to Osaka for a late shabu shabu dinner. Unfortunately, since we were only in Kobe for a few hours, we didn't have time to find a good place to eat Kobe beef. I guess that's a good reason to go back!

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