Osaka by Night, Kyoto by Day

From Osaka and Kyoto 10.20.09

Ta Chan’s sister, Yumi-san, owns a small okinomiyaki shop hidden in an older part of Osaka. The best way I can describe okinomiyaki is as a mix between a savory pancake and an omelet, with various meats, veggies and noodles prepared in front of you on a large griddle and served with a special sauce and dried seaweed flakes sprinkled on top. Ta Chan had the itch to take me there, and after our workout at the boxing gym yesterday we made the trek over to Osaka for this special treat.

It’s a humble establishment with loyal clientele, good food and of course, karaoke. Yumi-san runs the whole place herself. It’s early when we get there, and when we walk in there’s only Yumi and one customer who is smoking in the corner. We take off our shoes and climb up to the tatami mats and Yumi begins preparing dinner for us. An older couple enters – they are here not only for the food, but also the karaoke and it’s not long before they plunk down yen and start belting out what Yuki describes as Japanese “country” songs. Although I can’t understand much of it, the conversation feels friendly and familiar and I’m keenly aware that this is a side of Japan that tourists would never see – and I’m grateful. This is what I want from traveling – not only sites, but people.

Everyone is curious about the unfamiliar American and I’m introduced. I can tell they are talking about me, and Yuki explains to them that I am studying Japanese. As if that was the key to the club, I’m instantly in, and I’m caught off guard when they begin urging me, “Shana – song? Shana song please.” I would have preferred to turn down the offer, but I didn’t want to seem impolite so I sang Alanis Morisette’s “Ironic” – the only thing I could think of and easily find in the book. I guess it was a hit – or maybe they were being polite – but they urged for another. Norah Jones gets a turn with “Don’t Know Why” and thankfully, my singing career for the night is done.

Wednesday we were off to Kyoto. Once Japan’s capital, the city is rich with history stretching thousands of years. Full of temples and shrines, the city attracts vistors from all over the world. We started the day with Kiomizu Dera. This temple rests against the side of a mountain and you have hike up a narrow street, flanked by traditional Japanese buildings filled with wares and treats of all kinds. Tea and spice shops, souvenirs, mochi, green tea and red bean ice cream, swords, dolls – all distractions as you make your way up to the temple.

Autumn is on it’s way and the little bursts of red and orange leaves let the cat out of the bag. I can hardly wait for kouyou – which is what the Japanese call the time of year when all the maple leaves are red. For now I settle for just a hint, which still makes for a beautiful backdrop to this ancient temple.

Next on the agenda was Kinkakuji – literally the temple of the golden pavilion. Fine gold leaf covers this temple that sits in the middle of a koi pond. The sun was just beginning to set and the golden temple was beautifully brilliant in the early evening sun. We enjoyed green tea under a bright red umbrella, the sun streaming in from through the maple leaves above.


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