A couple of weeks ago, the partners in Moe’s firm treated all their associates to Japan. Because I’m super kaladkarin, I tagged along as well.
This is our second time in Osaka- we visited around the same time last year with my brother and sister-in-law. But, we never really got to go around because we spent around 95% of our time shopping. We made a perfunctory visit to the Osaka Castle, spent half a day in Universal and the rest of the time, we were going nuts buying stuff.
This year, since their firm had a fixed itinerary, we actually went around visiting places.
I decided to share with you some of my kwentos about both trips. Will write about practical tips first:
WHAT TO WEAR
Okay, before anything else: Winter in Japan can get crazy cold. The temperature forecasts may not seem particularly daunting especially for those who have experienced colder winters; but dude, it gets windy as f*ck.
Don’t be fooled by all these Japanese women wearing short skirts and tights- they are all immortal. If you plan to visit Osaka around wintertime, do yourself a favor and bundle up.
Here are some things that I did to keep myself comfy and toasty:
Investing in good coats: I have two really thick winter coats that I wore the last time I was in Osaka. They’re bulky but wonderfully insulated. I briefly considered buying cheaper, thinner ones for this trip so I could fit them all in my luggage and have entirely different outfits for 8 days. But then I figured that I’m a grown-ass woman who needed to keep her joints warm more than she needed cute selfies. Comfort trumps vanity. Besides, the more space I saved in my luggage, the more I could shop. Hehehe.
Layering: Despite wearing bulky coats and thermals last year, I was still freezing my ass off. So this year, not only did I pile on more layers of clothing, I went for those “extra warm” thermals in Uniqlo.Wearing the ordinary ones are for Nordic Vikings. We are from the tropics- the “extra warm” label spells a world of difference.
I also bought hardcore long johns from Columbia. I figured if they were good enough for Mt. Everest, they would be good enough for Japan. They were hella expensive, so I only bought a pair and saved it for the coldest part of our itinerary: The Kyoto-Narra tour. I was so happy with them that I ended up reusing them when we visited the Yamazaki distillery. (Yes, staying toasty trumps hygiene as well).
All the layers made me look like an Oompa-loompa. But while every one was complaining about the cold weather, I was walking around with my coat unzipped. Like an Oompa-loompa boss.
Investing in comfy foot wear: Last year, I had on these cheap, fashionable boots from Aldo. They certainly kept me warm, but they definitely did not provide my spoiled, sedentary feet any reprieve from all the walking. So this year, I got these awesome Doc Martens leather boots with rubber soles. They were wonderfully cushy and cozy so I could walk longer without whining (Disclaimer: I said I could walk LONGER without whining, I never said I stopped whining altogether).
Bringing winter accessories: Hats, scarves, wool/thermal socks all help lock in the heat. The thing about layering though, is that you have to peel these off when you go inside heated establishments. Moe actually takes the time to meticulously re-layer every time we need to head out again. I bundle up on the go. So I look nicely put-together when we leave the hotel, but end up looking like a harassed tourist by the end of the night. They kept me warm though, so it’s all good.
Buying disposable hand warmers: You can get these in any convenience or drug store in Japan for less than 500 yen a pack. I find wearing gloves quite bothersome, so they were lifesavers. You just pop them in the pockets of your coat and wait for them to magically heat up. (Thank you Booboo for bugging me about this!)
It is crazy expensive to take a cab in Japan. Moe’s bosses were nice enough to book the entire group airport transfers on the way there, but since we were staying behind, we needed to figure out the easiest but most cost-efficient way back.
When we arrived in Osaka last year, my brother had this bright idea of taking the airport train, transferring to the subway and then walking a block to our hotel.
It seemed like a good plan on paper. But good plans have a way of going awry, especially when you’re in a foreign country. We ended up getting royally lost. It took all of my puny strength to drag my luggage up subways stairs and down alleyways that by the time we got to the hotel I was on self-pity mode. (My very thoughtful husband took a picture of me plopped pathetically in the lobby – I looked like a kid who got all her Halloween candy taken away.)
Anyway, I say skip the extra subway ride and the walking. You can either:
Look for a hotel with an airport shuttle service: Some hotels have airport services exclusive for their guests. Others have public airport limos stopping by on a set schedule. This year, since we stayed in Swissotel for the latter part of our trip, we had the convenience of having an airport train stopping right inside the hotel complex (more on this later). Made things super easy!
Take a cab to the nearest airport limo or airport train station: This saves tons more money compared to taking the taxi all the way to or from the airport, but it affords you the convenience of not having to drag your luggage through public streets and subway stations. Like I said earlier, we were shopping like crazy when we were in Osaka last year so we ended up doing this on the way back.
TAKING THE TRAIN
In Osaka. you will inevitably do a lot of walking. It is unavoidable. I averaged around 15,000-20,000 steps a day. If you’re a sedentary creature like me – don’t be a hero. Take the train, bus, even a cab when you need to. The more energy you conserve, the more exploring you can do. You will get plenty of cardio regardless.
The Osaka subway station however, is not for the spatially-challenged.
My husband and my brother have the skills and the patience to navigate. So for both trips, I was just mindlessly following the leader like some doped up cult member.
Anyway, the simplest way to take the train is to get a prepaid card instead of paying for each subway trip separately. It’s a little cheaper, plus you don’t have to figure out how much fare to pay every time you go somewhere. (To find out which prepaid card suits your needs click here).
Some rookie mistakes that we ended up making:
1. Although we had prepaid ticket cards for the nearer subway lines, we paid for individual fares whenever we had to take the JR Train (which takes you to farther places like Universal or Kyoto).
Moe and I ended up overpaying a couple of times because we would punch in the wrong destination. And just like the rookies that we were, we looked on forlornly as the exit machines swallowed up our tickets. We learned a little bit too late, that you could actually get a refund if you overpaid. You can look for a ticket machine with a refund function, or you can approach one of the attendants manning the information booths.
2. Moe and I used the Rainbow card for 90% of the trip. This is a prepaid card that you can use practically in all subway lines. Since it’s consumable, the amount of money that you have in the ticket decreases every time you exit a station (it records every trip that you make so you can find how much money you have left at the back of the card).
There was one particular time that I only had 100 yen left. We were 99% sure that was not enough to get where we’re going, but I decided that I wanted to milk that 100 yen as far as it could go. So, I took the chance and used it anyway. I figured that I could probably just whip out my new card once it stops working.
I was able to enter the subway station by using my old card. But as expected, I couldn’t exit. “Not a problem,” I thought smugly, as I nonchalantly inserted my new card. To my horror, I still couldn’t get through- the machine kept on beeping, and beeping and beeping- alerting everyone that there was some disruptive tourist on the loose.
Moe, who was already on the other side of the exit, was getting a little bit embarrassed by the slight commotion we were causing. He was insisting that the new card I was holding was probably defective so he would have to buy me another one. My stubborn and kuripot Dysangco genes could not fathom letting all that money go to waste (“all that money” amounted to just less than 500 php by the way) so I refused to be defeated (besides, unlike Moe, I have no issues about looking clueless and kawawa). I ended up asking for help from a nice grandfatherly subway attendant.
After several minutes of broken phrases on our part (“New card! No working! Has money!”) and lots and lots of exaggerated hand gestures on his part, he was able to explain to us that the ticket that I used entering records our entry point. So if I wanted to use a new card to exit, I needed to insert the old card with the new card into the machine. I tried it and not only did it work, but it also proceeded to deduct the fare from my old card first and then and credited the rest from the new one.
I’m from a 3rd world country guys -this type of artificial intelligence totally bowls me over.
Despite all the rookie mistakes, I actually enjoy taking the train in Japan because even during the busiest hours, people come and go in organized chaos: Everyone is walking briskly in different directions, but no one is pushing or jostling anyone aside. Dude I swear, I get jostled around more in Megamall on a weekday afternoon than squeezed inside a train in Osaka during rush hour.
And I guess that’s one of the things I love about Osaka. Everyone is extremely patient and polite.
Just to give you an example; common etiquette in Japan dictates that you leave the left portion of the escalator empty for the people who need to go up or down in a hurry.
There was one time though, that Moe had to put the paper bag he was carrying down while he was fixing his stuff. He ended up unwittingly blocking the left side of the escalator. A middle-aged man, who was hurriedly walking up, literally just stopped in front of our package and patiently waited for Moe to move it. He didn’t step over it, didn’t even make any kind of noise that indicated that we were blocking his way. He just patiently waited. When I noticed him a few seconds later, I sheepishly moved the paper bag out of the way. Instead of rolling his eyes or giving us an exasperated stare, he bowed graciously and thanked us. What a sweetheart!
Needless, to say, I absolutely love Osaka. I loved it so much that I will probably spend another couple of entries talking about the places that we visited and the people that we met. But I kinda went overboard making kwento, so that’s pretty much it for the first part. Hope you stay tuned for part 2!