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Our introduction to Japan: Osaka
Kyoto (Japan), September 12th 2010

It may sound a little bit strange, but our trip to Japan started with the idea to choose South Korea as our next destination to renew our Chinese visa. If your Chinese visa almost expires, you can most of the time apply for an extension in China itself, but if you want to stay even longer, you have to leave the country to apply for a new visa elsewhere. And because we applied already for Chinese visa before in Bangkok, Hong Kong and Ulaan Baatar (Mongolia), we decided to go this time to the South Korean capital city Seoul. We hadn’t been to South Korea before, so when we decided to go there for a new Chinese visa, we decided to see more than only the capital city Seoul.

When we took a serious look at the map of South Korea we soon noticed that it is really close to Japan. We looked at each other and simultaneously concluded: “if we want to bring a visit to Japan, this is our chance”. But our enthusiasm was immediately dimmed by the main reason why we didn’t plant to visit Japan in the first place; Japan is extremely expensive, especially if you are used to prices elsewhere in Asia. However, we didn’t want to let go this opportunity too easy, so we decided to spend a night behind an Internet computer to determine what the real costs are of a visit to the land of the rising sun.

Osaka's centre by night

Our first conclusion was that the price for an airplane ticket to and from Japan wasn’t that high. A return ticket from Busan, the second city of South Korea, to Osaka costs ‘only’ 140 Euros. We were more startled by the price of the accommodation. Because we didn’t want to take a second mortgage on our house, that we fortunately do not have anymore, we decided to focus on the cheaper hostels. A hostel in Japan is often a simple and small family run hotel that offers basic rooms with shared facilities (toilet and bathroom). However, these hostels are often much more atmospheric than the regular hotels. The price for a room in a hostel is between 60-70 Euros and that is huge if you are used to the prices elsewhere in Asia. We gave ourselves some time for reflection and made the decision: we are going to Japan!

Eventually we booked our tickets at the South Korean airline Air Busan. The special fare of 140 Euros per person was only valid for stays of to a maximum of eight days. And because of the high prices in Japan, that was fine for us. Our intention was to bring a short visit to Japan, just to get a good impression of this country. Our flight destination was Osaka, but because Kyoto is so close to Osaka, only half an hour by train, we decided to make Kyoto our main travel destination of our Japan journey. Kyoto is by many people seen as the most beautiful city of Japan. We booked two nights of accommodation in Osaka and five in Kyoto.

Our trip to Japan started with the arrival on Kansai International Airport, approximately 40 kilometres from Osaka. As expected, the airport is super modern and well facilitated. We had some minor troubles finding the most economical way to get to the city centre. The train is the cheapest option, but because of the fact that there is more than one supplier, different classes to choose from and several destinations in Osaka, we had to puzzle a bit. The public transport system of Osaka is extensive but already quite old. And because of the expansion last decades with more lines and trains, the system sometimes looks a little bit chaotic. This is increased by the fact that the signs are sometimes non existent or non consistent. Also the ticket vending machines are not easy to handle, even if they are available in the English language. Buying a ticket through these machines requires some experience.

Edwin eats Okonomiyaki ina traditional Japanese restaurant
Osaka turns out to be a modern city. Real historical places aren’t there anymore and the city makes an impression on us as a typical living, work and shopping city. We were also immediately impressed by the fact that the city is clean, friendly and well organised. The people are neat, well dressed and act exemplarily. Traffic lights and pedestrian crossings are respected and the streets are extremely clean. There is also no visible criminality. People leave their bags and purses on the chair or table when they go to the toilet; and there is no vandalism, graffiti or groups of threatening youngsters in the streets.

Like their counterparts in South Korea, also the Japanese youth spends a lot of time and money on their looks. Especially the girls think that they are all models and all flaunt as Claudia Schiffers on their high heels through the streets of the city. But unlike the Koreans, who dress and behave more as the same, the Japanese youth has more subcultures. They try more to differentiate from each other, of course not on the expense of their looks. Even the Japanese hard rockers still look flawlessly.

Osaka made a good impression on us. Don’t come to this city to see historical or spectacular sights because they simply aren’t there. Osaka is a modern metropolis where people live, work, shop and entertain themselves. But it is a great city to experience the present modern and popular Japanese culture. It is a typical city that you need to experience in its totality; just take a map, start walking and enjoy yourself. If you want more traditional and sophisticated Japanese culture, go to Kyoto, only half an hour by train away. The best idea probably is, to combine these cities. Base yourself in Kyoto and visit Osaka on a daytrip.

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