Japan: Bullet train to Osaka

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Mount Fuji from the bullet train to Shin-Osaka.

Day 6. Nov 4. Day of realization and acceptance. But first, the day of the long and sapping bullet train ride.

It is sunny in Iwahara, with shadows rapidly getting shorter and sharper. We come upon neighborly locals (women with young children) who laugh and greet us and laugh more when we ask them to pose for photos. That done, I briskly walk away to explore pastoral life. The upcoming train ride to Osaka is long, so time is short. Far ahead of me is a lady doing her morning stretches as she walks to work. There are fields on either side of a raised road, a canal, a bridge. All of us wish we had spent another day in this tranquil setup. Even the sight of people unloading farm produce from a truck is soothing.

The scenery from the train is uniformly featureless, except for half a minute of Mount Fuji directly above a township. The view, even of Fuji-san, a motherly presence as every Japanese will point out (without provocation), is mostly shredded by cables and grids. (I agree with the Japs, The uni-peak Fuji looks like the gentlest of mountains. Such soft, approachable symmetry. Very comforting indeed. From a distance. I wildly imagine scaling it someday.) I am exhausted after the three-hour ride. We pass by Kyoto, then onto Shin-Osaka, which is where the shinkansen ride ends. We have to take the subway to Namba, where our apartment is located. Osaka is not connected by the shinkansen, Shin-Osaka is.

It is obvious that we have made the wrong choice of apartment. But it was dirt cheap. So, everyday, we will have to travel from Namba to the JR station, Shin-Osaka, to even start our day-trips to Himeji, Nara, Kyoto, Osaka, or anywhere else. The JR pass is a double-edged sword, I’m discovering. Ideally, we should have stayed in an apartment in  Shin-Osaka.

… a slightly technical bit this… We buy the subway ticket to Namba today but later discover that we can use the JR pass and travel over land, provided we take a really long walk underground to the JR Namba station, across acres of stores (a store named Sweets Box), an aquarium, a cavernous space where youngsters practise dance moves, all of which become our landmarks. We would march like true soldiers, taking in our stride the hike in a tunnel of shops and more shops. At the end of our five-night stay here, the atlas of Namba station should be stamped on our unconscious forever.

For now, we need to shake off our weariness post the three-hour shinkansen ride. We do so with light retail therapy at an underground Uniqlo store in Shin-Osaka station. A soft and lightweight jacket (that every single male on the street seems to be wearing) and two fleecy polo necks for Chandra are acquired. Nothing fits or suits the ladies.

Once in Namba, it is a challenge to locate the right exit. Jhini zooms in on a tired yet selfless lady to drop everything and become our guide. She physically escorts us. The apartment owner’s directions are no good. It is an ordeal but with saved screen shots (in my phone) we manage to locate it. All of a sudden, my husband is in his element. His gumption and innate geography quotient come together in style. Heroically, he takes the baton from the lady. Ultimately, we locate Lily’s place. It is on a wide road, the area appears to be reassuringly residential. There’s a dog hotel beside the building. It’ll be our landmark.

This Airbnb apartment is sad. There’s barely any space between the bed and the wall. There’s fungi flourishing in plastic cups from which we are supposed to drink tea. The bed linen and quilts are way better. No one has sneezed, so no mites and dust. There are terrifying (draconian) instructions again, this time threatening to clamp heavy fines on us if we did not take off our shoes. All in grammar-free English with a case of loose motions. The bathroom with gallons of shampoos and the spotless Toto is a facesaver. And there’s pocket wifi, which we however can’t get working. Later, on the streets, we hijack a young Chinese couple to get it kickstarted.

On first impression, the neighbourhood is, let’s say, edgy. Free radicals are dancing in the air. Plenty of tempuras being fried in reused oils. There’s a unmistakeable feel of a red light zone in certain spots. An illuminated building wrapped with flex blow-ups of ‘fun’ pictures stands at a street corner. There are gaming arcades too. I remember reading about a tax-free shopping zone in the listing, but it remains well-hidden for now. Den-den town. It has to wait. No lack of colour here for sure.

There are small food joints slitting the walls. And then, what looks like a ‘family’ restaurant. It is warmly lit, spacious, with blue gingham table cloths. The waitresses are dressed up in vaguely German girly gear. Shortly, we discover, that besides serving food, their brief includes posing for snaps and getting giggly with their male clientele. Many of these posed snaps are pinned to a large board. Plenty happening again. The food is iffy. We rapidly finish our meal. A lion’s share of the time is spent on figuring the menu, as becomes common practice. Outside, I have a fish-shaped fried Japanese sweet with red bean paste stuffing. Floury scales and all.

We lighten up. Chandra’s other talent, improvising, comes in handy, it morphs our zillion eye-opening moments and realisations into quick comedy. Our predicament if it can be called that is not that grave, really. Tomorrow is another day. A little extra walking will do us good. And no harm at all. Jhini’s feet are fine. We will start with Nara tomorrow. Early. We will see new places and we will rock it with conviction.