Sunday, July 24, 2011

Land of the Rising Wes - A First Trip to Japan

Osaka City flagI'm in Osaka, Japan on a business trip, and I must say that I'm pretty psyched.  My work has taken me to Europe with some frequency, but this is only my third trip to Asia (the others were Singapore and Seoul).  I'll be here for about a week, and I'm looking forward to exploring the city in the evenings.  A few impressions from my first day-and-a-half in Osaka:

  • I've seen very few Westerners, even in the Hilton Osaka.  For some reason, I was expecting to see the usual business travelers, but even the Hilton Honors lounge had but one Westerner last night.
  • It was a somewhat unpleasant surprise to find almost no English speakers as I went out and about today.  I'm certainly not one of those "everyone should speak English" kind of guys, but I was expecting to find English in use far more often...
  • Because of the two points noted above, my travel-fu is getting a real workout.  I've been able to navigate the city, and its trains, through a combination of pantomine and map-pointing.
  • I never thought I'd like a food garnished with "fish shavings," but the traditional Osakan takoyaki are delicious.
  • Osaka isn't nearly as garish as were Singapore and Seoul, in terms of nighttime neon and signage.
  • Despite the language barrier, the people strike me as very nice and ready to (try to) help.
  • I am apparently the tallest person in the city.  (I'm 6'5")  Yes, people stare, especially kids.  *laugh*

Osaka Prefecture flagIn a fortuitous coincidence, I arrived in time to see the opening of the Tenjin Matsuri festival.  This is one of Japan's three 'great festivals;' it begins with a processional from the Tenman Shrine, and ends with a massive boat festival and fireworks display.  (More info on the festival here.) After a restful sleep (after an 11-hour flight, is there any other kind?) I managed to navigate the subway/trains and find my way there.  The processional takes place along Tenjinbashisuji, which is a giant shopping arcade, so I was able to do some browsing as well.  All in all, a fun morning & afternoon.

I've posted a few Flickr sets with various pictures I've taken so far.  Don't judge my photography too harshly; these were taken with my Blackberry Bold.  The sets are "Tenjin Matsuri" and "Osaka Weekend" - feel free to add your comments.  If you're on Twitter, you can follow my comments this week by looking for the #WesInOsaka hashtag.

(In case you were wondering, the flag at upper right is that of Osaka city; its counterpart at lower left is that of Osaka prefecture...)

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