Osaka, Part 2
As it turns out, my host family got up every day at 7:30, something surprising for a guy from a family that sleeps 'til 10, but this trip was not about what my normal life consisted of; rather, it was a fantastic, dreamlike (brief or not) escape from my normal world, and getting up at 7:30 never ended up being too difficult. The usual morning routine was that my host mom, who'd get up a bit earlier, would turn on the TV then to wake us up, so we'd sit around for a while watching children's before-school programming, which in Japan are each 10 minutes long so that kids can regularly go to school immediately after a particular one finishes. One of them was Pitagora Suicchi though, ahahah, I was excited. At some point, I'd take a shower (they told me to feel free to take one both before bed and in the morning since it was so hot, an offer which I happily took them up on, though I passed on the before-bed bath due to the heat), and then we'd eat breakfast. The first day was cereal, and the rest of the days were a bagel or toast and something else, in true Western style, ha. But my family would always talk about how much they loved America, hehe.
As the kids would take their showers, we'd switch over to MTV and/or Space Shower TV since the mom knew I liked music. Apparently though, I listen to more Japanese music than the average Japanese person though, ha; every day they were surprised by the fact that I knew a particular song or singer. I was both amused and disappointed to know that, but I guess they all really love American and other English-language music. The mom's favorite bands were New Kids on the Block, Guns and Roses, and Billy Joel, hahah.
Anyhow, after we were all ready, we first went to an Okonomiyaki restaurant called Chibou in Nanba (Hankyuu to Umeda, Midousuji to Nanba [these're for my own amusement]) for a welcoming party. We met up with Michelle Otani (who was from California after all!), Ms. Akakuma, and Ms. Hayashi from the International House, as well as Mrs. Isoyama, Ayumi's mom/my "host aunt". The Okonomiyaki was really delicious; It was my first time eating it in a restaurant anyway, plus I'm pretty sure it was a pretty famous restaurant. I got the Doutonbori-yaki (beef, pork, shrimp, squid, cheese, konnyaku, etc.), yum yum. Also, while anyone certainly has good moments and bad moments in speaking a foreign language, I remember being particularly on target at this point, heh.
After that we all visited Douguyasuji ("equipment shop street"), which was amazing, 'cause I never knew such a place existed. You know how every Japanese restaurant has plastic food in the window? Well, this is where they get it! Hah. That and everything else needed to make a store, from "we're open" signs with LED lights to little bathroom or "no smoking" symbols to put on walls or doors.
Next I went with my host family and Mrs. Isoyama to Nara, the land of temples and deer. Seriously, they were everywhere, in hordes! So much so that they sold shika-senbei (deer crackers) which you could feed to them. The kids wanted to, so I joined them, hehe. Anyway, we went to Toudaiji and saw the Daibutsuden (Hall of the Great Buddha), which really was huge. There's a hole in one of the pillars in there that's supposed to be the same size as the nostrils of the statue, and if you can climb through you are said to be blessed with eternal happiness or something of that sort. It's kinda goofy though, 'cause while it's easy for little kids, I watched a guy about my same build but a little shorter try to get through and fail, so I didn't even bother. =/
Afterwards, we ate this huge Obon feast, which I certainly did not have the appetite for, but it was good anyway... Grilled pork, shrimp and vegetable tempura, soumen, clear soup, a plate of various little things I tried bits and pieces of asking "what's this one" before each, and a little scoop of ice cream at the end. I'm sure I forgot something, but close enough. It had turned dark by the time we left, and in order to welcome the spirits of the ancestors for Obon, they had candles lined out as far as the eye could see. It was really beautiful, though my pictures didn't turn out, hehe.
Finally we went home, showered, and slept.
One of the two days I had to go on my own for! This time was less so, though. I took a bus from a nearby stop (Baika Gakuen Mae) to Toyonaka Station, and then the Hankyuu train to Umeda, where I met Mr. Takei, the director of the International House, and we went to pay a visit to Mr. Adachi, the Chairman of the Osaka Sister Cities Committee and Vice President of Marubeni Corporation (apparently a huge trading company), at Marubeni's Osaka headquarters in Honmachi (Midousuji). We talked for about an hour, and it was just really interesting to engage in conversation with such an important person, hehe. Naturally I had to be dressed up too, so I changed into a t-shirt, khaki shorts, and sandals in the bathroom on the way out, hahaha. I went with Mr. Takei, Ms. Otani, Ms. Akakuma, and another woman whose name escapes me to a sushi restaurant a couple blocks away, and I felt victorious to eat my entire meal. Haha, someday I'll learn to like sushi, someday I tell you.
Ms. Akakuma and I split up with the others and headed back to Umeda, where I shopped at Yodobashi Camera for somewhere around two hours. I didn't actually *buy* anything, haha, I always take too long to muse things over first, but it was still a lot of fun to look around. At 2:00, we hopped back on the Midousuji to Shinsaibashi to visit the Doutonbori area. That was such a cool place despite it not being nighttime; I'd've loved to see it all lit up, but I still took lotsa great pictures, hehe. The Glico guy, the crab, Kuidaore, etc. Ms. Akakuma treated me to takoyaki, too, which was tasty. Nothing wrong with octopus when you can't actually see it. :D There was a amusing guy working at that shop too, he pointed at me and was like, "Amerika?" So I talked to him for a bit, but I kept tripping over my tongue. I get nervous talking to just about anyone but middle-aged women, haha... >_< S'cause that's what all my teachers've been.
We stopped back at the International House for a bit to kill time, and both Ms. Chubb, who was being transferred to somewhere else the next day, and Paula, a 21-year-old girl from New Zealand who was starting work there that day were there, so I found it amusing that we were three people speaking English in three different dialects. Finally, we all went to Ikutama Shrine to watch Takigi Noh (traditional Japanese "opera" performed by firelight). I met up again with my host family and we sat in the front row on the side. We received Soukenbicha ("refreshing-healthy-beautiful-tea", a 9-tea blend sold by Coca-Cola), and I must say, cold tea is indeed refreshing. It's just like grain-flavored water, heh. Anyway, the first performance was called Okina, and it was interesting, but it was extremely slow and seemed to be the same actions repeated for an entire hour. I guess that one's supposed to be a prayerlike ritual as opposed to an actual play though. After that was a Kyogen (humorous play in old yet generally understandable Japanese) called Obagasake, and I found that amusing. There were a number of parts that went completely over my head, but I also got the gist of quite a few parts. As the fire-lighting began, we were called up to the second floor of the rest-house building there, where they had a big exclusive party going on that neither I nor my host family were expecting. Even now I'm not sure exactly what qualifications one needed to be part of that party, but there was tons of good food, and I met someone from the Mayor's office (who seemed to recognize me somehow), as well as some kids from America who just got to Osaka a week earlier for the JET program.
After the party, the Noh was just ending, so we watched the end and headed back home, no doubt stopping somewhere to buy a snack on the way back, ha. And thus concluded another full day of my lovely trip.