12.09.23 — Travel


The train from Arima took me and Inés into Osaka, the city that she’d been living in for a good while and where I would spend the last five days of my fortnight in Japan. After switching to the city’s metro system, I waved goodbye to Inés as I hopped off at the stop just outside my hotel.

The room I was allocated was handily on the first floor of rooms just above the reception area, but upon entering it I saw that the window was diffused for what I guess were privacy reasons. This made me feel claustrophobic, so I asked if there was a room on an upper floor with a window I could see out of. There was, and so up to the 13th and top floor I was sent!

Once I’d unpacked, napped, and showered, it was back out to meet Inés once again to look for something to eat and for a little nighttime tour of the city. Inés wanted to take me to a specific restaurant, but for the life of us we couldn’t find it. Our wanderings around looking for it did lead us to discover some gorgeous little side streets and even a tiny shrine in the middle of a square, but our stomachs were rumbling and so finding a place to eat was top priority.

We eventually discovered that we couldn’t find it because it was closed for the summer and was thus missing the bold lighting and menu panels that would normally be found plastered across its facade. Ever prepared, Inés took me to a place she’d identified as an option B, but this second place had quite a queue and it was already pretty late.

In the end we settled for some ramen, which was good but not half as tasty as the otherworldly dish I’d had in Kyoto. It did what it needed to do, though, and had the two of us fed and watered and back on the streets to continue our explorations of the streets of Osaka by night.

The bustling main street of Namba reminded me a little of Tokyo.

Most of our evening was then spent down by the river, a gorgeous area full of lanterns, bars, stalls, shops, and the general buzz of people out for the night. Surprised by how many people were around on a Tuesday night, we eventually found a table and sat down to have a drink of grape pop and a little boogie to the music that the stall owner was playing.

The next morning I grabbed some breakfast at the hotel and then was able to step on to the exact train and carriage of the metro that Inés was already travelling on thanks to the crazily detailed signage and organisation of the Japanese railway systems. We were heading to a different part of the city in order to catch a glimpse of the Tenjin Matsuri, a festival that takes place every July and sees the streets filled with processions which eventually turn into a huge parade of boats which wind their way down the river in the evening.

Most of this photo looks like it’s from 30 years ago.

Once we’d found the area that the parade was going to pass through, we looked for a bar to sit in for a while as we were already tired and thirsty from the oppressive heat of the day. We weren’t very convinced as we wandered in to an old little bar which stunk of cigarette smoke, but we weren’t keen on walking around any longer either so we plonked ourselves down on two of the spinning wooden stools and ordered a drink.

The lady at the bar turned out to be an absolute darling, plying us with freshly made juice mixes and offering us some sandwiches, which we didn’t turn down as we were already getting hungry. She asked us where we were from and then said Inés was very pretty, eventually presenting her with a traditional dress as a gift! It was a lovely gesture and there were smiles all round until the sound of beating drums came in from outside.

It turns out that we’d inadvertently wandered into a bar which sat on the parade route itself, so everyone in the place (the owner included) pottered out onto the street to join the people on the pavement watching the festivities unfold. There was an amazing variety of floats going by, with all sorts of symbolism and groups covering all age ranges.

I was beginning to wonder how they’d manage in the heat.

At one point, a group of young boys came past dancing with lion’s heads, a scene which was quite fun until one of them took it off and threw himself down on the curb. He was clearly suffering with the heat, so throngs of people suddenly showed up out of nowhere with fans, water, sprays… the works. Some medics finally moved him into the bar where we were at, where me and Inés took it in turns helping fan him whilst they unwrapped the seemingly endless winds of sash that he had wrapped around him. It was no wonder he was struggling!

He eventually came to, just as the ambulance crew showed up to take him away. We soon followed, heading off to continue following the crowds as they made their way down to the river and to the parade of boats. We’d to navigate through the throngs of people that were on the streets, passing through street food stalls and the gathered masses until reaching the water’s edge.

We watched a few of the boats go past with their accompanying music and even dancers, but the heat eventually got to us and we headed off to find somewhere a little less crazy to stand. This took us over a very busy bridge, where we were scolded for stopping to take photos. This led us to a metro station and as such to the toilets that we were so desperately seeking, after which we headed back to the riverside as night fell to catch the fireworks which mark the end of the festival.

What followed was a visual spectacle, with a higher density of boats passing by accompanied by music and dancing. This was all framed by an amazing firework display which lit up the sky and created an electric atmosphere which it seemed like the whole city had come out to experience.

Our feet then grew tired from the day’s rambling and so we headed back to the city centre on the metro. There, we plonked ourselves in a bar and had a couple of drinks and a good chat to end a crazy first day in Osaka. It wouldn’t be my last day here by any stretch of the imagination, but as I headed to bed that night I had an excursion in mind for the next day to explore even more of Japan’s amazing cities.

Where was I to go? That’ll have to wait until the next post…