April in Japan – The Importance of Check-In Luggage

0305 + 0416 = 0331 Osaka

Sorry to make this look so complicated… it’s actually very simple: it’s a blog post about our day on 31 March in Osaka, written on 5 March and 16 April (before and after the trip). 5 March is in black. 16 April is in red italic. WARNING: text heavy!

It’s actually the 5th of March today. I’m listening to a song called Lost Stars in front of my computer at home. A small black leather notebook lies next to the keyboard. Inside, it’s the long-dreamed journey to Japan.

Flights booked. Accommodation confirmed. Places I want to see. Opening times. Ticket price. Which bus to take and where to hire a bike. How long the train journeys are from A to B. The locations of famous local food places, shopping places, market places, book places. Every hour of the day, every transfer of the transport, every meal is planned. (I realised half way this was not true – I forgot to budget for breakfast and local transport. We almost ran out of money as a result in the end…) I know fully that there’s no way we can follow the plan in my small black leather notebook. But I can’t help looking things up on the internet, reading the Lonely Planet books, almost seeing us walking in old streets in Kyoto, imagining what I would wear, feeling very very happy :)

There is nothing more frustrating than getting stuck in the airport before a holiday starts. We waited in Newcastle Airport for about 2 hours due to strong wind in Amsterdam.  There was all sorts of information about people’s connection flights. The connection time for our next flight was about 2 hours, we would definitely have missed it. But the hope was all flights were delayed to some extent. There was only one flight a day from Amsterdam to Japan Kansai Airport. If we missed it, our holiday would be one day shorter! In the end, we were told we had a “short connection” without any further detail. We ran and ran until I could taste blood and iron in my throat. Why is Amsterdam Airport so huge? We sprinted into our gate and the security with burning faces, bringing back my nightmares of P.E lessons when I was in school.

The passengers on board had been waiting for a long time. I could tell just by their way of sitting. They looked up as we rushed by (we were still in sprinting mode) with no expression on their faces. I wondered in a flash if I should apologise for being late but decided not to: it wasn’t exactly our fault; plus I was too happy to catch the flight that I didn’t look remotely sorry. I had a big grin on my face.

We didn’t need to run in the end. The plane didn’t take off for at least another 30 minutes.

On 31 March 2015, just before local time 8am, I imagine myself looking down on the Japanese islands before our plane lands. It reminds me of my first sight of the UK from an aeroplane, London, to be precise. I could see Tower Bridge. The River Thames reflected sunlight, winding  and shimmering like a dream.

I saw vast amount of snow on top of large area of mountains, like a black and white painting.  I was no idea what mountain range it was. But maybe they were the ones we were going in a few days time. The plane approached the runway  over the sea. The airport was a manmade square island. I could see the sea from the windows for such a long time as we descended, it felt like we were going to land on the water. 

April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

A few maps here just to show you our main stopping places. The small red circle is Osaka (roughly):

April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

Zoom in on the red box:April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

Zoom in on the red box again. Four main cities/towns during our journey are:April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

It’s a nice variety, new and old, big and small, cosmopolitan and countryside.

The first unavoidable big chunk of interaction with Japanese people probably will happen at the Japan Rail (JR) ticket office at Kansai Airport. We need to buy/exchange a few travel passes and tickets there.

Right. This was probably the biggest unforeseen situation of the whole journey. I forgot that before we got to the JR office, we needed to go through passport control and more importantly, collect our luggage. 

We waited next to the belt entertaining ourselves by watching police dogs sniffing people’s bags. I asked Andy, what are those people doing there, pointed to a small group of buzzing figures. He answered, maybe if we don’t find our luggage, that’s where we go.  After a bright purple suitcase was carried around and around on the belt for at least five times, a Japanese girl walked toward us with a piece of paper in her hand. I thought, oh no.

Our luggage wasn’t here. After taking all the possible information we could offer about our missing dark blue with red and yellow strap hard suitcase with clothes, shoes, toiletries and makeup in it, she sent us off and said, hopefully it would arrive at our hotel the next day. I was mildly annoyed about our missing luggage (not fully aware of the seriousness at the time), but mostly pleased with how efficiently the situation was solved. The girl spoke such perfect English and worked in such a professional manner that  I was assured our luggage was in safe hands.

We were thankful that it was the luggage that it got left behind in Amsterdam, not us.

Then we moved to the Japan Rail (JR) office…

I’m pretty confident they will speak English. So I don’t expect too much difficulty here. (No difficulty at all. They were actually all native Chinese speakers.) There will also be a few portable Wifi router rental companies at the airport. Hopefully we’ll be able to just go and collect the pre-ordered one in the post office. Of course that depends on if I order it in the next three weeks. My husband is suggesting we do without a Wifi router. Really? (Really. We managed fine without internet. Old fashioned paper maps were perfectly fine.)

Stuffing all the papers and tickets in our bags, we’ll catch a JR train Haruka to Osaka. I will look out of the windows eagerly to catch glimpses of pink clouds. One of the big themes of our journey is cherry blossom viewing.

We had to change two metros after the Airport train before we arrived at our hotel. We were almost glad we haven’t got a huge luggage to drag along. Andy was so delighted by the retro looking metro that he let go of the small suitcase and it landed straight on an old gentleman’s feet. Did he think us lovely curious foreigners or careless stupid tourists? 

Although the plane lands at 8am, even without any delay, I don’t expect us to arrive in the centre of Osaka until lunch time. And that was wise thinking. With all the delay, waiting and faff about our check-in luggage, we arrived at the hotel at 3pm starving. We didn’t get lost at all though. However, 3pm meant we missed the lunch time beef buffet that I was looking forward to… my beef buffet!!

The second theme of the trip is food. I love raw fish on a ball of sweet and vinegary sushi rice. But Japanese food is far richer than just sushi and sashimi (thinly sliced raw fish). (There was a long list of food. I just deleted it…)

After filling our bellies, we’ll head for Osaka Castle. We didn’t have a sit down meal at all, to save some time. We just got some snacks from a 7Eleven and munched while walking towards the river. Not sure walking while eating is acceptable though…oops

We walked through a couple of streets before we hit the river. It was a nice warm day. I had to squint a bit in the afternoon sun. Without the noise and the weight of dragging my small suitcase along the pavement, it finally felt like we were on holiday. We were happy to walk on solid ground again, although we were both exhausted from the wait, the rush and the 10 hour flight without much sleep.

The riverside path was lined with cherry blossom. It was my first sight of the “pink cloud” and probably one of my favourites. Local people were chatting under the trees, walking with friends while carrying their little dogs in the handbags or bike baskets (I’m not joking), and enjoying the view and sunshine (I did wish they didn’t use bright blue picnic blankets though…).

April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

April in Japan

Osaka Castle is a modern replicate of the real thing, a concrete structure which doesn’t sound very appealing. We might decide not to go in, (we didn’t.) reason one, entrance tickets do add up, two we might be able to see a real old beautiful castle the next day. But the Gardens around the Castle are filled with cherry trees that I cannot miss (missed, but it was closed by the time we arrived there). I’m thinking very hard to avoid taking standard postcard photos. It was hard not to take default postcard photos, but who cares, it was gorgeous against a setting sun, with a golden glow.

April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

A old man came up and showed us his camera screen, pointing to his secret shooting spot.  Communication definitely can be done without verbal language (depending on your definition of communication of course…)April in Japan - The Importance of Check-In Luggage

I’d love to see Osaka getting dark and lighting up at sunset. The obvious place to do that is on top of the Umeda Sky Building’s Floating Garden Observatory. You might imagine it to be all romantic. But I can tell you even now, it’s going to be one of the two situations: a competitive photo session of who gets a better picture, or husband takes too long and I get bored.

The real story was, my husband thought I didn’t want to go up and I thought he didn’t want to go up so we didn’t in the end…

If shops open late, we’ll do a bit shopping (and eating) at the end of the day. Unlike other pretty and normal girls, I would love to carry a rice cooker home, rather than popular Japanese skincare bottles and makeup cases.

Here was our dinner for the day, called Okonomiyaki, in Chibo restaurant in Dotonbori area. We were so hungry, this cake looking thing got dismantled and swallowed down without much thought or appreciation… sorry…

In total we walked 4.2 miles today (excluding the mad dash through Amsterdam Airport). #Walk1000Miles

 

Next time, Himeji and Kobe!  Thanks for reading :)

 All photos by us.

 

 

 

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