Japan Trip, Part 7

I spent my last full day in Japan wandering around like a tourist. I started the day at Osaka’s highest observation deck, Harukas 300 at Abeno Karukas. The massive building isn’t just the tallest building in Osaka - it’s also the tallest skyscraper in all of Japan.

Trying to capture the immensity of the building is well beyond my capabilities as a cellphone-wielding tourist. No matter what I did to get different angles, it just didn’t make sense visually. In person, you’re so high up that everything below is just tiny. In pictures, it’s just another cityscape stretching to the horizon.

Osaka from above.jpg

Harukas 300 has a really cool “interactive experience” - I think that’s a good way to describe it - so people can get a better idea of just how high up they are. It’s called Edge the Harukas and it’s basically a ledge, a harness, and you out there on a 300m-high ledge. That’s just shy of 1000 ft above the pavement, ‘Muricans.

Of course I had missed it by about 20 minutes, because I suck at life and my timing is terrible. If you’re visiting Harukas 300 and want to experience the Edge, make sure you check what times it’s actually open!

Edge the Harukas.jpg

But at least I scored some Pringles!!

Yes, Pringles. Chips in a tube, Pringles. Japan has something of a obsession for limited edition things, and a number of brands capitalize on this. I didn’t realize it when I bought them, but Pringles had a pair of special edition flavors in Japan while I was there. One of them was takoyaki - those squid balls I said Osaka was known for - which was only available in the Kansai region (where Osaka is).

I bought one of the takoyaki-flavored Pringles gift boxes for shits n’ giggles in the Harukas 300 gift shop. I’d find out a couple weeks later that they’re a hot item, and the $15 worth of chips I snarfed down would cost a few times that to replace them. Fuck it, they were the best Pringles I’ve ever had and I’ll snarf them again as soon as I get my mouth on another can of them.

Despite having been in Japan for over a week, I still hadn’t gone to the one place I go every time I travel abroad: McDonald’s. Okay, seriously, it’s a thing I do and for good reason. McDonald’s has regional menus and, as with the Pringles, Japan gets special edition stuff all the time. The unique items this time around? A Texas Burger and an Idaho Burger.

Seeing as I lived in Idaho for seven years before leaving home to join the Marine Corps, and my family still lives there, I had to give it a try.

Idaho Burger.jpg

A cheeseburger with a hashbrown, Japanese-style, and special sauce. Not bad at all. They also had bacon cheddar sauce that could be added atop fries, which I had to get, and I got a flaky chocolate pastry for dessert because I’m fancy as fuck. The drink was my norm for Japanese McD’s - Qoo, a non-carbonated white grape drink from Coca-Cola that I’ve never seen anywhere but Japan.

I took a train toward Osaka Castle. It’s really easy to figure out where to go as there are giant posters plastered to the walls in the stations. It’s a major tourist attraction and it’s hard to miss.

It was a long walk from the station to the castle itself, but the route was beautiful with plenty of photo-ops along the way. Like the big plaza where a fountain sprayed water from a pile of rough-hewn boulders, with the treeline in the background an the top of Osaka Castle sticking above just there in the distance and OH YEAH A GODDAMN STARBUCKS.

Goddamn Starbucks.jpg

At least it isn’t an ugly Starbucks… but still, I couldn’t help but harrumph. I continued along a walkway lined with perfectly groomed trees and bushes until I arrived at the gates to the castle plaza, and then entered the plaza itself.

There was a line to get tickets for touring the interior of the castle itself, but I decided to skip it after getting swarmed by a group of Chinese tourists who, for some reason, had their luggage with them at the castle. Around the corner was a pond where a bride was doing a photoshoot. I took a couple quick shots myself.

Bridal shoot.jpg

I didn’t want to go into the castle and deal with a mob of inconsiderate tourists, nor did I want to leave just yet. I had noticed a big ‘BEER’ flag earlier and decided to head back toward it to see what else was on offer. I’m glad I did, because it led me to one of the best spots I found during my trip.

Atop a western-style building on one side of the castle plaza is a terrace bar. It cost 1000 yen to enter, which included your first drink, and all drinks thereafter were 500 yen. Basically, it was a less than $5 for a cover charge and beers cost less than $5 each. It was quiet, it was relaxed, and it had this view…

Osaka Castle and beer.jpg

I probably sat there for two hours, just enjoying the view, drinking some beer, and writing away in my notebook. I could hear an occasional hubbub in the plaza below as a tour guide or megaphone-equipped entertainer riled up a crowd, but it was never loud enough at that distance to be a nuisance or disruptive. It was a better way to enjoy Osaka Castle than I could have imagined possible, and I savored every moment of it. Alas, eventually a chill set in and I decided to return to my hotel to get warmer clothes.

That night I went out for my last dinner in Japan. I picked something obvious to mark the occasion: pizza.

Worst. Segue. Ever.

Seafood pizza.jpg

I ordered a carafe of wine and a seafood pizza. It had a bit of everything on it - squid, shrimp (still in its shell), mussels, a couple other things I couldn’t remember after the aforementioned carafe of wine. The combination of pizza and mixed seafood was odd overall, but not terrible. It was a great pizza that was well made and high quality, but I’d probably go for a different type.

After an ice cream dessert I felt like I’d run out of excuses to take up table space so I left to find a bar. And a bar I did find. Not just any bar, but Music Bar. At least, that’s what I think it was called. I tried finding the place on a map after the fact so I could link to it but haven’t been successful yet.

There were a few people sitting inside, surrounded by an almost-but-not-quite haphazard mix of decor.

Music Bar.jpg

An array of alcohols lined the bar so I looked across them to figure out what I wanted. I thought a Dark & Stormy would be a good choice, so I used Google Translate to ask one of the girls working there if they had ginger beer. She went into a refrigerator off to the side to check, then came back with her phone out.

“Do you want sweet or painful?”

I burst out laughing. I think I scared her and worried everyone else in the bar. She started to retreat but I quickly motioned for her to stop and look at my phone. I typed “painful” into Google Translate and showed it to her so she would see the Japanese version of what she’d just shown me. She reeled back and let out one of those half-scream, half-laughs that I’ve only ever heard on Japanese TV shows or anime, then she motioned for everyone else in the bar to come and look at our phones. They all laughed, too. Google Translate had turned another awkward situation into a bonding experience.

Seriously, language is one of those massive obstacles that we face when traveling the world. But people are amazing and wonderful most anywhere you go, and I still find myself blown away by these little connections I make with people once that communication barrier has been overcome.

I chatted a bit with the people in the bar as best I could while enjoying my three Dark & Stormies. Then some American ex-pat came in that hadn’t worn deodorant in at least forever, and made it clear he knew everyone and could hook me up at the clubs and my god that smell and he’s the guy to know and he’ll take care of me and I left.

The cold air outside the bar was a slap of refreshment. Not just so I could breathe without smelling that guy’s armpits, but also because I realized that I was walking back to my hotel for the last time. The next morning, I’d be headed home.

I’d be going back to an empty house.

Clare would be gone. Wallace and Dexter would be gone along with her. It’d be empty. It’d be quiet. My dream-like trip to Japan would be over, I’d be alone, and it’d be my new reality.

Click the link below for the final part of this article.

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