We spent our final evening in Osaka, before we flew out back to LA the following afternoon. The shinkansen (bullet train) only took fifteen minutes from the Kyoto Central Station to Osaka Station. A bullet train ride was a first for both of us so this was a cause for excitement. Also, for the ticket price of under 5 USD, it was the most efficient way to travel between the two cities.
It was hard to leave Kyoto and its romantic history still alive today, its cobblestone streets, its old-style homes, and if one is lucky, a sighting of geishas in Gion who are said to be quickly becoming extinct. Osaka was a shock relative to the small town charm of Kyoto. High rises command the skyline. Osaka was also one of the cities that got bombed in World War II, ergo its lack of preserved traditional structures. There's a thick crowd of people dressed for business. Commerce is in full swing (what recession?) if the lines at the mall are any indication.
Our final shuteye of this brief holiday in Japan was at the luxurious Intercontinental in Osaka, thanks to The Dutch's travel rewards. Our room was vast with a minimal zen aesthetic, but also with the luxuries we skimped on in Kyoto - a massive bed that felt like a cloud, high thread count sheets, bouncy towels, surround sound, an in-room Nespresso machine, kimonos laid on the bed after turn-down service. It also had a traditional Japanese spa, similar to an onsen, which we greedily took to after settling in. It was the ultimate relaxing experience after you get over being stark naked in the company of strangers (all women, thankfully!).
The Japanese work hard, but little did we know, they party hard as well. It was not uncommon to see drunk, passed out people on the sidewalks or, well.. train stations. On the outside, Japan seems like a society perfectly balanced with tradition and industrialization. It is pristine, and its people are helpful and polite, despite the language barrier. I remember a conversation I had with a local I met in Paris who confesses that Japan is his favorite country to visit because it is the antithesis of France. It is on the opposite spectrum of individualism. The common good goes before one's own. And our first intimate encounter of Japan taught me my Parisian acquaintance was right. And the presence of that in modern day society is extremely fascinating.
But like any society, its shadows lurk and they come out at night, after hours of imbibing on sake and beer. Powerful men in business suits who have drowned all of their society's demands for conformity can be found, unconscious, wasted and oblivious, asleep against subway walls. Step inside a subway car at midnight and the smell of alcohol breath accompanies men falling asleep in their drunkenness.
Japan is fascinating, even in its psychosis. And it is not all zen after all.
DIY Travel: Osaka
Fly into Kansai International Airport. From the US, we like flying Korean Air via LAX.
Tipping is almost unheard of in Osaka. We tried tipping our driver and he was flustered. He didn't know why we handed him more money. He was embarrassed which made us embarrassed!
We took the shuttle service from the city to the airport. Save some cash. They don't take cards.