The day had finally come: the day when I would leave Tokyo and venture out to another part of Japan. To be fair...Osaka is on most tourists' "must visit" list and isn't a unique city to visit by any means. But for some reason I felt like I couldn't go to Japan without being able to say, "I've been to Japan's three top cities: Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto." It's stupid, I know... but now I can check it off my bucket list.
The trip from Asakusa to Osaka actually took much longer than expected, despite taking the shinkansen (the Japanese bullet train). I had to first take a train to a major train station where I could take the shinkansen. When I was already on the shinkensen and about halfway to my destination, a ticket-checker came around. When she saw my JR pass, she told me that I was on the wrong shinkensen and had to get off at the next stop... it was my own fault for not reading the fine print on the back of the pass, but still.
Turns out that the JR pass allows you unlimited access to most shinkensen lines...not all. The pass allows you to take the slower of the shinkansen lines and not the super express trains, a mistake I will never make again.
After getting off the super express shinkensen, I had to wait for a bit until the correct train arrived. In this time, I grabbed a necessary shinkansen tradition: an ekiben. This is a bento box that you can buy in the train station and enjoy while you're on a long shinkensen ride.The word literally comes from the Japanese word eki which means station and bento, which is a boxed lunch: so it's a "train station lunch."
Traditionally, it is against custom to eat and drink on trains while in Japan, but the shinkansen is an exception.
I rode the shinkansen to Osaka, then had to grab 2 local trains to get to the station nearest to my hostel. I had left Asakusa that morning around 10am and by the time I made it to Osaka it was already 4pm.
By that time, I was exhausted from my day-long train hopping journey and didn't feel like doing much exploring. However, upon arrival to the hostel, I was told that there would be a rooftop barbecue at 6pm. Normally, I'm not one to jump at the opportunity to mingle with strangers. In fact, I tend to be an antisocial and introverted person...but I was hungry.
It was a warm and breezy spring evening and I headed up to the roof early to check out the area. There I met a man from Germany with the most interesting story. He was in the IT business his whole life and got sick of working at a desk. So he sold all of his possessions: his car, electronics, furniture...everything except for a few pairs of clothes. He then used that money to travel the world. When I met him, he was in his second consecutive year of traveling.
Slowly, more hostel guests began to trickle up to the roof. I met more interesting people on that rooftop in Japan than I have in my entire life (granted, I don't go to rooftop BBQs with strangers that often). There were 2 game designers from Finland, a teacher from Australia, recent college graduate buddies on their graduation trip etc. Every person had their own story of how they ended up on that roof in Osaka and it was fascinating to listen to them all!
Eventually the staff came up and started making steak, veggies and yaki soba and we all ate and talked for hours. This is usually the part in the story where an introverted person would say, "I pushed myself to go out of my comfort zone and I was rewarded." The truth is that I didn't plan on going out of my comfort zone...I was just there for the free food and the rest was an unexpected bonus. Intended or not, I can't say that it wasn't a rewarding experience!
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