We arrived in Osaka on Friday night, giving us a couple of days dedicated to sightseeing and taking it easy before our time at Yamaha Corporation Japan HQ on Monday and our trip to Yamaha’s flagship storefront in the ultra-expensive Ginza area of Tokyo on Tuesday.
Kansai airport in Osaka sits atop an entirely manmade island that actually sinks a few inches every year and has to be “re-jacked” regularly, which is a cool bit of trivia. Our hotel was on that very island, so we kept close to home that evening, with a few from our group meeting at the hotel bar for a cocktail or two before responsibly retiring early ahead of a busy next day in Kyoto.
The following day, we met our new guide, Sue, who would be leading us from Osaka to Kyoto to Hamamatsu and then sending us off on the bullet train to Tokyo for our final day of the trip.
Our first adventure was being dropped off in the Dotonbori-Shinsaibashi area of Osaka, which seemed to be a busy shopping and dining district with everything from American retail giants like H&M and The Gap to narrow little tourist shops and everything in between. We were trusted to wander off on our own for a couple of hours before meeting up for lunch. I won’t sell out my wandering partner, but we got lost and were about 10 minutes late for our rendez-vous. It would have been much worse without Apple Maps…
One of our finds during that couple of hours, though, was an underground rehearsal space. We followed the picture of the Gibson SG and Japanese characters down a long and narrow flight of stairs and entered the space, which had four soundproofed rehearsal spaces with full drum sets, PAs, and bass and guitar rigs. WE were SO tempted to pay for 30 minutes and have a jam, but luckily decided against it, as we ultimately would have been 40 minutes late and officially the trip’s goats for the remaining few days. Still, it was cool trying to communicate with the guy behind the counter that we were musicians from Canada visiting Japan with Yamaha, as the PAs outfitting each studio bore the company’s logo.
We had lunch at a cool little underground okonomiyaki restaurant with griddles in the middle of each table. On one side was a pancake made of egg, veggies, and meat with a delicious teriyaki-type sauce, and on the other was udon noodes with shrimp and other veggies. Simple but outstanding.
After lunch, we travelled to Osaka Castle, which is apparently one of Japan’s most famous landmarks and played a major role in the unification of Japan during the 16th century. The inside of the main tower is now essentially a museum full of cool artifacts and dioramas, but the real highlight was seeing the unspoiled view from the top of the tower, down over the walls and moats that still surround the grounds and overlooking the now massive and modern city it inhabits.
We got on the bus and headed for Kyoto, where we’d be visiting Kiyomizu-dera, an independent Buddhist temple founded in 778 AD and our last stop before that night’s hotel. The temple was, as expected, stunningly beautiful, and the grounds surrounding it were surprisingly serene considering the crowds sharing it with us. The natural beauty of the area, perched on a green hill overlooking the basin of Kyoto, was unspoiled and everyone was very calm and respectful of the site.
After checking into our hotel, we set off for dinner at a traditional Japenese restaurant in what was once a mansion in Kyoto. The meal was, as has become the norm on this trip, incredible, but what made it an especially special experience was our visit from a maiko – the apprentice of a traditional geisha. After doing a pair of traditional dances in her formal garb, she went around to each table and answered questions about her chosen path. Turns out she lives in a house with other maikos, completely isolated from the outside world (no phones, no internet, only visiting family three times per year), all on the path to becoming a geisha – still a very revered title that many strive for but only few attain.
Following dinner, a small group including yours truly headed out for a night on the town that included a visit to an Irish hookah bar playing Nickelback (?) and then a trip to a five-floor karaoke bar above a fried chicken restaurant where we sang the night away.
Good show, Kyoto…
The next morning, we visited Kinkaku-ji, a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto before lunch on the Kamo River and then another round of shopping before jumping onto the bullet train and heading for Hamamatsu – at over 430 km per hour.