We started our morning with a train ride from Shinagawa to Shinosaka.
These two cities are over 500 km apart. We were there in under 3 hours.
(So if you did the math, we were going about 175 km/hour. Not as fast as their bullet trains which go 250 km/hour, but still. Faster than walking.)
I took a couple dozen pics out the window, but they're mostly green blurs, as one would expect.
Our hotel, the Marriott, was attached to the train station, but as mentioned earlier, train stations are the size of small cities, so you need to know which exit to take, (which we didn't) so we took a cab, driven by a man who must've celebrated his 100th birthday round the time I was being born. He needed 12 minutes to circle around the outside of the train station to get us to the hotel.
I don't know if I'm communicating clearly enough how big those train stations are. Or how vital it is that you know which exit to take. Hang in there, I still have a number of posts to complete. By the time I get to Japan | Six, you will get it. I expect messages of congratulations to celebrate how well we did to pour in from all corners of the globe.
ANYWAY, we got to our hotel around noon.
Sue had to work, so I was on my own, with instructions to 'go see the white castle this afternoon'.
I went to the hotel concierge to ask for help.
(Concierge's are traveler's best friends.)
First we talked about my plans for the following day. (Sue was going to Nagoya for the day, 180 kms to the east, so I was going to go to Kyoto (60 kms north). I inquired about bus tour options. Once we had me registered and paid for (there were two spots left on the afternoon tour, so I took one of them) we talked about the best way for me to get to the White Castle.
After some discussion, the Osaka Hop-On-Hop-Off bus seemed like the best, most efficient method of transportation after I took the train to the next city over.
I looked at the time. It was 1:30 pm.
"What're the chances I can catch the 2:02 pm pick up?"
"If you leave now and go directly there, you should make it. It's really only 5 minutes away."
She was such a big fat liar.
I left her desk, walked over to the Shinosaka train station, (which is attached, but still, it's about 4 blocks from her desk to a JR Train Pass counter). I hold up my pass, he waves me through. But I stop at the window:
"Osaka Train Station?"
He looks at his schedule.
"Track 16" and then he points to an area off to the right.
I head in that direction, see the escalator to Track 16, and end up standing in line with a million other people waiting for the train.
In due time, (probably 5 minutes) a train arrives, people get off, we get on and it's standing room only.
"Is Osaka the very next stop? Or is there a few smaller stops inbetween?" I wonder to myself.
"Will I know to get off at the right one?" I think.
"They're not making announcements in English." I observe.
"I think it's the first stop, I'll be able to read the Station sign." I tell myself.
"I hope I find my way back." I think.
The train comes to a stop, and I can see that it's Osaka. So I get off. And wonder where I go next.
Because I have that JR Train Pass, I can't just walk through the exit turn stiles, I have to leave the track area by passing a JR office. So first I find the office, and as I walk by, I show my pass. I am waved through. But I stop and show them the map in my hand. The JR Train pass attendant reads it carefully, nods, then says, I'm to go to the right, then down a few levels and then straight ahead and it'll be there.
To get a sense of where he was directing me, have a look at that photo above. The station has multiple levels, both above and below ground level. I was deep in the station, underground, and needed to get to the road to the far left, near the middle of the photo.
I just kept walking. And walking. And walking. Asking for directions every few minutes to ensure I was on the right trajectory.
I was at the top of the stairs under that roof in the middle to of the photo looking out onto the street at 2:00 pm. And could see the red Hop On Hop Off Bus pull up to it's stop.
"Oh, God. Please. Can I get there on time, please?"
I start moving extra fast.
"I know everyone is very punctual here, but please, could it wait for me? Like could there be so many people getting on and off, that by the time I get to the curb, it'll still be there?"
I double step it down the escalator.
"But, if there's someone You want me to talk to on the 3:13 bus, well OK. That's fine too. But I really want to catch this one..."
As I get out into the sunshine, I can see that the bus has left. It's 2:05 and I've missed it by 3 minutes.
Okie doke then.
I'll be catching the 3:13 pm bus.
Obviously there's someone I'm supposed to meet.
I have over an hour to wait. In an area where there are no chairs or benches. Thank goodness there's something to watch:
I felt like a bit of a creep, as it's very clear none of those children is related to me. So I left.
And watched THIS little girl do tricks on with this bouncy apparatus.
I never wandered too far away from the bus pick up spot because I had this irrational fear that if it wasn't in my site line, I'd lose it and never find my way back.
So I watched more baby girls.
This age group doesn't dance on the edge of fountain.
They play in it.
There were dozens of diapered kids playing in the fountain.
Once again, I stopped myself from taking a million pics, because creepy or what?
And then this happened.
And it was lovely.
And then it was 3:13 pm and the bus arrived.
No one got off, so it was easy getting on.
I walked up the stairs, hoping for a good spot.
Turns out, I had All The Spots.
They were all mine.
I had chosen the least popular tourist attraction in the entire country.
Japan has a population of 127 million living on two small(ish) islands.
Plus about 20 million visitors, annually.
And yet, with all that humanity, I was entirely alone.
An introvert's dream vacation, actually.
If only it wasn't such an obvious mode of transportation.
For someone who would love to be invisible this was an attention-seeking missile.
As we traveled the streets of Osaka, small children, their parents, students, shoppers, lovers, road construction workers, office workers in second floor windows, all waved. And smiled. Well, laughed or smirked, actually.
At first I just looked straight ahead, perched as I was, there at the front of the bus, very interested in the stop lights and small trees in my line of vision.
Eventually I saw the utter silliness of the situation and smiled back as if I was a visiting dignitary/celeb. I practiced my royal wave while attempting to look dignified in my completely empty double decker private bus.
This is Ayako.
She was on the bus as well; my private tour guide.
She learned English 10 years ago during a 6 month stay in Chicago with her ex, ex, ex, ex, ex boyfriend.
We talked about ex boyfriends.
Every once in awhile she'd point out something interesting, like, "Oh, this is where I like to come on Friday nights for a drink with my friends..." Or, "I bought a great dress in that store..."
At certain intersections, she'd grab the microphone and read from a script because her boss sometimes waits on those intersections to see if she's doing her job. But other than that, we just talked.
The Hop On, Hop Off bus has 12 stops. I got on at stop 10. The White Castle is stop 8. Which means, I had to go all the way around, seeing every stop, before we arrived at the destination I was most interested in.
Ayako, at the very beginning of our beautiful journey together: So will you be getting off at the next stop?
Me: No, I'll be staying on the bus until we get to the White Castle stop.
Ayako: That will be in a few hours.
Me: OK, this'll be fun.
Ayako: Were you hoping to see the White Castle?
Ayako: Why did you choose this bus as the way to get there?
Me: The concierge at the hotel in Shinosaka recommended this as the easiest, most scenic, most interesting way to get there.
Ayako: I see.
She showed me all my tour options, and even tho I would not have time to do this tour again the following day, she managed to sell me a two day pass PLUS a river cruise for 3,000 yen.
Me: Do you take Visa?
Ayako: Solly. Cash only. And have you noticed that I have trouble saying R's?
Me: OK, here's 10,000 yen. Do you have change? And your English is amazing. Didn't even notice the thing with your R's.
Ayako: I'll be right back with your change.
The driver has been weaving in and out of traffic through all of this, and people have not stopped pointing or laughing.
She comes back with my change after ten minutes.
Ayako: You do realize The White Castle will be closed by the time we get there, yes?
Me: Nope. Did not realize that.
All systems go. Nothing but green ahead.
And then, zipping out in front of us were 4 Mario Carts; one million times cooler, a hundred times more economical and a zillion times more fun than the bus I was lumbering through town on.
NEXT TIME I'M IN JAPAN, I'M BRINGING AN INTERNATIONAL DRIVER'S LICENSE AND WILL ZIP AROUND THE STREETS OF THIS COUNTRY IN A GO CART.
After a long ride around the city, where I took no photos (because I was talking to Ayako. AND because this Hop On Hop Off bus had glass windows on the top level. So there was a messy glare) we finally arrived at the White Castle, just after it closed, as predicted.
I was dropped off at the bottom of the hill at 5, and I had 75 minutes to explore the area before the next bus would be by to pick me up.
I checked my phone every 3 minutes to keep track of the time.
I sat on the top of these steps for awhile and watched the sun set.
I love the golden hour.
The moat and the walls:
And then I walked back to here, to wait for my ride.
Which was a full-size city bus.
With no other passengers.
And this tour guide was less inclined to chat with me.
She and the driver had a thing going on.
So I watched them flirt.
By the time I got dropped off at the Osaka train station, it was dark:
Finding my way back to the track that'll get me home.
According to the JR Train Guy it's gonna be Track 8 ...
Ahhh, there it is.
And everyone's waiting nicely.
Sure 'nough, Track 8's train drops me off at the Shinosaka Station, and from there it's only a 15 minute walk through the station to the North Exit, home to Sue.
Who was starving.
So I turned around and followed her back to the station from some eats.
Know what the best part about traveling with Sue is?
Her love of All Things Edible.
In her words, "It's just all so yummy."
Like these waffles:
Or these things.
"They're like Timbits. With Octopus bits in them. You sure you don't want to try?"
We eventually stopped for this.
Mine was pork something something.
Seeing it was date night for us, we did something fun and special.
We hopped back on the train and went over to Osaka.
To ride the ferris wheel:
(Which was at the top of a shopping mall, attached to the far side of the station.
The view was grand.
The ride was fun.
We ended our night out at the McDonald's next to our hotel, having ice cream cones at the bar people-watching.
Are just awesome.