Shinkansen Style: Osaka/Hiroshima/Kobe

Cherry Blossoms in Osaka

Japan is an expensive country. Osaka is no exception. There were a number of places within a quick Shinkansen ride of Osaka that I wanted to check out, so I decided to make it my base. The Sheraton Miyako was reasonably priced and I like racking up the Starwood nights and points, it seemed like a winner. It was a total dump.

I got to the hotel surly and exhausted on April 3rd. I quickly dumped my belongings and changed. I figured I would only have a few nights in Osaka, so I would give it my best. The desk told me that nothing would be open this late on a Tuesday, but I figured i’d take a crack at some bars in America Mura I had read about. I should have listened to the desk, everything was closed.  The next day I woke up early and made my way to the Dotonbori area to take some photos and try some local Osaka specialties like Takoyaki.

I became very well acquainted with the Osaka metro system. That night I went to some awful club that was having a Japanese reggae night. I paid my usurious cover and while downing the drinks afforded to me by the drink tickets, tried to ask the bartender about another place to go. He spoke absolutely no English, so through the wonders of technology, I went to google translate on my phone, typed in my question and showed him the Japanese characters. He directed me to a bar near Dotonbori. I went there to find they were closed. Someone on the street directed me to another place…also closed. Finally someone suggested a bar called Zerro.

I went in, ordered my drink and started talking to the first non-Japanese person I saw. It was a guy from Turkey on his first swing through Japan. We made friends with the bartender and asked if there might be anywhere nearby that’d be a bit more lively. He directed us to a place up the road, and off we went.

I won’t say it was jammed, but it was better. The bartender was a half-Japanese/half-Brazilian guy who had randomly moved to Osaka. We started in on the drinks, then approached some Japanese girls. They bought us some shots, but seemingly spoke no English. Towards the end of the night, we started “talking” to these two Japanese students. By talking, I mean I would type messages in English into google translate and then show her the Japanese result, and she would do the same on her phone.

This exchange led to one of the funnier moments of the trip. After about 20 minutes of this back and forth translation banter I wrote “So…make out with me?” and translated it. To my great surprise, this actually worked and she obliged. Another 15 or so minutes in I tried to translate “so…let’s go home?” This did not go as planned, it elicited a broken English response from her of

“No! I no go home wif you! Me pure, you prayboy! PRAYBOY!”

I’m not sure how she elucidated that I was a playboy based on a rather short, text based exchange, but it became clear this showdown would not end in victory. My new friend and I had a good laugh, finished our beers, exchanged e-mails and made plans to meet in Tokyo over the weekend, then went our separate ways.

The next morning began my marathon Shinkansen day. I went first by metro from the stop next to the Sheraton to the Shin-Osaka stop. There, I purchased a ticket on the next train to Hiroshima.

Shinkansen Train Arriving

I am absolutely in love with the Shinkansen trains. They are an incredibly hassle free and fast way to get around Japan. I was actually sorry when some of my trips ended, as I had stocked my iPod with Season 2 of The Walking Dead and I was getting rather into it. Once the train stopped in Hiroshima, I got a cab to the memorial. The museum has a lot of touching exhibits, and they do a good job of highlighting the plight of the average Japanese people who were the unwitting victims of our atomic bombing.

That being said, I am a realist, and I will make no apologies for our atomic bombing of Japan. When you are faced with a choice between an invasion that could take years and cost over 1 million in casualties to your own troops, or a quick solution that will cost 100,000 enemy lives, there is no decision to make. You sacrifice enemy lives before your own troops. This was also a necessary show of force to the Russians, and even though some people choose to live in a disconnected fantasy land, there are realities to international politics and sometimes tough decisions need to be made. Political rant over.

After the museum, I walked over to a building damaged but not toppled from the blast, and then to the modern day replacement of the T-shaped intersection that was used as the aiming point for the B-29 crews back during that morning in 1945.

I walked back most of the way to the train station, then caught a cab to make sure I wouldn’t miss my train and took off for Kobe.

Of course, you have heard of Kobe beef. You’ve probably tried it at a restaurant, but I was IN Kobe, I had to go right to the source.

Dinner at Wakkoqu

I had done my research and settled on a place called “Wakkoqu” in Kobe. It was very near Shin-Kobe. I hopped off the train, found the restaurant and was told they were fully booked. I told the host that I had come from America, and this was the only time I could visit Kobe for a meal. He perused the book and told me to come back at 8:30pm, and they would seat me then. It was around 6pm, so I spent the next two hours walking from Shin-Kobe down to the port, taking some pictures and wandering.

I got back to Wakkoqu a bit before the assigned hour and was promptly seated. The service works like this…they bring you a starter, in my case some sort of beef with onions, very unimpressive. Then, they show you your piece of steak (the cut I desired was sold out for the day, so this was my second choice). The chef prepares it three ways and each is served to you as a different course. At the end you get coffee and a dessert.

Without alcohol, this cost over $200 USD per person. For that amount of money, I expected to have hands down the absolute best steak I had ever had in my life. While it was very good, and I would appreciate it more after the fact when I was still thinking about it days later, it was not hands down the best steak i’d ever had. The price was especially insulting when you consider that you can have an amazing steak in Argentina for perhaps 7-10% of the price of Wakkoqu.

Back in Osaka (less than 15 minutes from Kobe by Shinkansen) I went to the hotel to shower and change, then out to the club the bartender had recommended the previous night. Tonight it was open. I started making conversation with the bouncer who was from Ghana of all places, as the bar was almost totally dead and boring as hell.

I left and walked the few blocks over to Zerro. I met up with a bald American lawyer who was in Osaka on business. His claim to fame was that he had once made out with Debbie Harry. I asked him if it was late-70’s Debbie Harry or what. He told me it was mid-late 90’s Debbie Harry. I told him she was pretty haggard by then and it wasn’t so impressive. I showed him a picture of my 23 year old friend who looks like late-70’s Debbie Harry. He asked if she liked bald guys. I took a photo of his head and sent it to her…she laughed.

Some very drunk Japanese girls came into the bar and started hitting on us. This incredibly cheesy Australian guy started trying to proposition them with translated versions of really, really bad jokes. Eventually me, the Australian and the American all went back to the club I had started the night at. It was still pretty empty, and after a drink or two I pulled the old Irish exit, went back to the hotel and slept.

For my last portion of a day in Osaka, I had arranged a car to take me to Osaka castle, then bring me to Shin-Osaka so that I could catch my ride to Tokyo.

The castle was not particularly impressive, but I got some nice shots of the cherry blossoms (this was cherry blossom season) and I would have kicked myself if I had gone to Osaka and not seen their biggest tourist attraction. As it turned out, I didn’t have enough time to jam Kyoto in, so it would have to wait until a future trip to Japan.

Almost to Tokyo

The driver talked animatedly about various Japanese baseball stars he had driven before, then deposited me at the station. He was a very polite and nice guy. I bought my ticket for Tokyo, and got ready to watch the rest of The Walking Dead.




Sheraton Miyako Osaka Report Card:

Pros: Is a Starwood property (?), Good location.

Cons: They charge if you use the gym, the rooms are small and run down, the desk staff/concierge while polite know very little, it’s priced well above what it delivers.

Verdict: Would I ever stay here again? No chance.



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