Japan is a place I’ve wanted to go for a long time and was the end goal of this trip. The combination of old and modern culture along with its unique position in Asia as a large, [officially] uncolonised, rich country is one that’s intriguing. As I sit waiting for the flight in Bangkok airport amongst quietly spoken Japanese passengers, there’s a sense of achievement that I’m finally going to see the place and this excitement and wonder lasts well into my 2 week stay in the country. From the first few minutes in Japan, it’s clear this is a country apart from everywhere I’ve ever been before. Despite landing at 10.45pm at Osaka airport, the immigration and airport staff are friendly, welcoming and organised. One of them politely beckons me over and asks if he can check inside my bag. He finds some Ginseng tea and asks where it’s from. “It’s Korean”, I reply, expecting more questions. “Ahhh…is it delicious?”, he jovially responds. Bemusedly I inform him it’s OK and the cheerful chap thanks me and lets me on my way. At the immigration counter my passport is instantly stamped with a 3 month visa, no questions asked.
I jump on a train to the centre, not sure if the ‘hotel’ I’ve booked is still open as they stated on their website that check-in closed at 10pm. I’ve booked cheapest hotel room in the city, a small but traditionally laid-out box room with a futon. The door to the lobby is open but the shutters are down at the counter and I assume there’s no staff there (it’s 1am). I knock anyway and an elderly man promptly comes out. He acts as if it’s the middle of the afternoon and gives me a form to fill in and a key, all the while chatting away in Japanese. He understands I’m from Ireland and assumes I’ve just arrived from there, indicating with hand gestures it’s a very long way to travel. The tiny box-room, which must be the cheapest in the whole city, is traditionally laid out with a futon but to me it feels almost like luxury in the dead of night after a long day’s travel. A five-hour flight but a world away from the polluted hustle and bustle of Bangkok. I wake up the next morning keen to explore some of this new world. I see that there is black coffee (in a strange tin bottle) in the vending machine outside the hotel and buy it but after cracking it open find that it’s hot instead of ice-cold as I was expecting. This freaks me out for a moment until I realise it’s meant to be hot and how brilliant this is. It tastes great and the simple novelty of drinking a hot bottled drink from a vending machine in the cool autumn morning under clear skies in Japan is as pleasurable as it sounds. The streets are quiet, the air is clean and I wonder into what I expect to be a ‘busy area’, taking in these new surroundings. Everything seems so calm and civilised.
I stay only two nights in Osaka. As I’m due to return in two weeks to catch a flight out, I don’t rush around seeing the tourist sites. I’m content to enjoy the area of the city closest to where I stay at a leisurely pace with the knowledge that it’s going to take a while for all this to sink in.