Chasing Cherry Blossoms
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Monday, November 7, 2011


Another day in Japan, another evening at home studying, Skyping and eating ramen... except this wasn't just another day in Japan. Nope, three months in and it was time for me to take my first big trip! Having started this whole adventure in Tokyo, Japan's biggest city, it seemed apt that this time round I venture to Osaka... Japan's second-biggest city for days full of exploring in the sunshine, and nights full of drink, drink drinking.

Arriving at Matsuyama airport, I was thrilled to be asked if I wanted to be bumped up to an earlier flight for no extra cost... well, I say "flight"... I don't mean your conventional Boeing 747. If number’s any indicator of size, this thing barely qualified as a Boeing 47. Yep, the whole plane was powered entirely by propellers, carrying little over fifty passengers. Of those fifty, I was, of course, the only non-Japanese passenger... despite that, the flight attendants still chose to repeat all their Japanese messages in English - I'm sure it's just standard procedure, but it certainly made me feel special... and a little conscious. So of course I did my best, “ooh I’m listening intently” face during the safety talks, instead of ignoring them and flicking through the duty free mag like I normally would.

Arriving in Osaka early, it wasn't quite time to check into my hotel, so instead I went for a wonder and stumbled upon this casual city-centre temple. I love the complete clash of old and new that defines so many Asian cities, Japan included. I saw it in Seoul and I see it here too. In one eyeful, you can see a centuries-old temple set against the backdrop of a bustling city. Amazing.

A couple hours after arriving, I met up with Tom, my friend from Hiroshima... but it wasn't long before, being foreigners in the big city, we'd made ourselves a bevvy of new gaijin friends... Sam from Hokkaido, Joel from Kyushuu and Rupert from Saitaima to name just a few! Together we drank and danced our three nights away. At one point, our two-man hotel room was hosting a room party of about fifteen. When I said gaijins in Japan are magnetic, I really wasn't lying. Over the course of our short stay, our favourite hangout became a bar called Frenzy, where Lady Gaga had karaoke'd to herself back in 2009! ...and, needless to say, after a good few chu-hais, we made sure to follow in her footsteps. From there, we took the party to a local club boasting the kind of offer that'd cause a political shitstorm at home: namely, pay 2000Y to get entry and two drinks - unless you're foreign, when you'll get THREE. (And, unless you're me, when you'll find a random, talk them into giving you their tokens and get SIX). It was the first time I'd stepped foot onto a dancefloor since my other life back in London and GOD did it feel amazing. And as if that wasn’t good enough, you can imagine my jubilation when I bumped into Elayna and a bevy of other Ehime JETs to party the night away with! Literal perfection.

I even managed to pick myself up some new Japanese slang along the way. Namely, that here the term for “village bike” is actually “public toilet”... I’ll leave the exact connotations to your imagination. Hahaha. The source of my new slang was a new Japanese friend called Shu, who thought that “fucking” was just a casually acceptable way of saying “really”. That being so, he’d liberally pepper his conversation with it, all with a sweet smile on his face as if he were being the politest man in the world... “no, no, you’re fucking wrong *smile*”, “oh, can you pass me the chair – I fucking need to sit down! *smile*” ...he said it with such sweetness and cheer, we’d just burst out laughing every time. Adorable.

The only downside to the whole trip was that it was so shortlived! After a brief re-acquaintance with the kind of life I’d grown accustomed to at home, returning to my inaka isolation was certainly much harder than I'd anticipated it being. I mean, my inaka life certainly has its charm, but I just don't know if that's enough to supply what I'm missing from the bustling city life that I'm used to. Not that that's even unique to a city - Cambridge was tiny and I loved living there. I guess it's more just lacking the kind of community which I was used to at home, and which I managed to find in Osaka. Hopefully when I get my car (soon!), I'll feel a little more connected!

And it wasn’t just the nightlife that I had to tear myself away from – our daytime adventures were awesome too! On Thursday, me and Tom hit up the Kaiyukan, billed as one of the world’s largest aquariums. Then, on Friday, we hopped on the train to Kyoto and went to a Monkey Park. (It’s probably not on the top of most people’s “To Do” lists when in Kyoto, but we were intrigued, okay? Plus I’ll definitely end up back there at some point – I didn’t get a chance to walk the streets of Gion, where Memoirs of a Geisha is set, and I’m definitely not leaving Japan without having done that first!) I thought it was going to be your traditional lol-look-at-that-monkey-in-a-cage schebang, but the joke was on me... these monkeys were ROAMING FREE. It was semi-unsettling fearing you may be lynched from the treetops at any given second, but also pretty awesome. I mean, where else could I have got an awesome shot like this?

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