First trip outside Osaka for the first time since the date of emergency was lifted.
It’s Obon Week in Japan, so I went back to San Diego for a week. I flew from ITM to NRT and then took a direct flight from NRT to SAN on JAL. JAL is using a 787 plane between NRT and SAN but the configuration of the business class is an older one. The seat doesn’t lie flat. It was okay but wasn’t comfortable to sleep in. I lay down for a few hours. The flight was under 10 hours. I got in to San Diego around noon and took Lyft home.
On Wednesday, we went up to Napa for a night. We flew up to Oakland and drove to Napa. We stayed at the Silverado Resort and Spa. The room at the hotel is like an apartment but old. We went to two vineyards (Raymond Vineyards and V. Sattui Winery) for tasting. We went to Raymond because the hotel gave us a coupon for 50% off. The interior of this place is very interesting with a circus theme. The wine was good as well. V. Sattui is one of my favorite vineyards, and I especially like their Riesling. We ended up buying a case of wine from them. For dinner, we went to Bistro Don Giovanni (Italian). I found it on Yelp. The food was good.
I usually get my haircut about every six weeks and it was time for another haircut since I got the last one a week before I left New York. A consultant found me a place in Namba with an English speaking stylist. I checked out their website and it looked like it targeted foreigners. I shared it with my colleagues and one of my colleagues found me another salon close to my apartment to consider as another option. She said I might feel more comfortable with a smaller salon. She sent me the info of the salon with a phone number so I called the salon on Thursday evening to make an appointment. The person who picked up the phone spoke a little bit of English so I made an appointment for 2 PM on Saturday. He did ask me if it was okay that he only speaks a little bit of English and I said it was okay.
The salon is called Atelier Staens and it is located in an historical building. The building is pretty old and charming. I had walked by it many times but didn’t know that there were many shops inside as I thought it was just a coffee shop. The salon is on the second floor of the building. It is a very small shop – with only two chairs with a really cool old school design. The owner (the same guy who picked up my call on Thursday) looks just like a regular Japanese guy. He seems nice and speaks a little bit of English. He has an assistant who mostly washes hair. There was another customer getting her hair cut when I got there who spoke some English as well and seemed curious about me so she helped with the conversation sometimes. I was a bit nervous about the hair cut because it was my first time with a new stylist and in Japan.
The stylist turned up the music a little louder when his assistant was washing my hair. I thought he did that so we don’t have to talk as much but I tried to have a conversation with him anyway. He said he cuts hair and does make up for mostly European female models.
The assistant was very gentle with my hair during washing. She washed it three times with shampoo and conditioner.
The stylist asked what I wanted to do with my hair. I showed him a few pictures I found on the Internet – short hair with small bangs. He looked at my hair and said “balance” and started cutting. At the end, it was pretty short with some bangs. It thought it looked fine. He said it would last about 4 weeks. It was a bit expensive – around JPY 7,000 with taxes.
Despite the hot and humid weather, I had a great time in Tokyo reconnecting with a few friends I went to school with in Boston and worked with in San Diego. I started the day taking a train to Shinjuku from Ofuna to meet with friends I went to school with in Boston. Then, we walked to Yoyogi Park and visited Meiji Jingu Temple.
For lunch, we had a nice lunch at the UN Cafe at UN Square. It was nice to sit down in the shade with a misty fan cooling us off. In the evening, I visited Sensoji Temple and got a nice magnet as a souvenir.
I had a quick trip (2 nights) to Osaka, Japan in early September. It was a business trip on short notice. Luckily, I upgraded myself to business class with Japanese meals. In case you don’t know, you can request a Japanese meal if you are flying business to and from Japan on United. It is a standard option for everyone in business class but it often runs out quickly. However, you can call United to request one before your flight.
This is my second time in Osaka but I don’t remember much about it from my first trip about 15 years ago. This time, I flew in to Kansai International Airport which is a landfill in the middle of the bay. It is about an hour by train from the city center. I took an express Nankai train to the city center. I had a reserved seat and there were only a few stops at main stations along the way.
The train and subway system in Japan is somewhat easy to use and there are English signs in most places. I was able to navigate myself most of the time. I really enjoyed exploring Shinsaibashi district and Dotonbori district where there are many shops and restaurants. If you go, don’t miss the neon signs along Dotonbori canal. The most famous sign there is the Glico sign.
On my first night, I was craving tonkatsu and I found this local restaurant near Dotonbori district. This is a place where you order your food on a machine outside the restaurant first. This kind of restaurant doesn’t offer table service. It only has a counter around the kitchen. You go to the machine, insert money, pick what you want to eat, take the ticket(s) inside and put them on the counter where you sit, the chef will take your ticket and get you food. Most dishes come with noodles. The food was great and it only cost me 480 yen. For water, you can help yourself from cups and water pitchers available on the counter. After you are done eating, make sure to use the available cloth to wipe down your area. No need to tip in Japan.
On my second night, I got to try Torikara stick (fried chicken meat stick). It was pretty good. They offer many sauce options but I didn’t try any since I couldn’t understand what they were.
One of the most famous tourist places in Osaka is Osaka Castle. It is an easy walk from Tenmabashi station. The castle area is pretty big and the castle itself is beautiful. You can go inside the castle which is now a museum. You have a nice view of the city from the 7th floor of the castle. The elevator will take you up to the 5th floor and you can walk up to the 7th floor.
A few random things I learned from this trip about Japan.
– The close and open buttons in elevators really work in Japan
– It is hard to find free WIFI in Osaka. The only place I found was at Apple store.
– It was hot and humid in September.