Der goldene Pavillon Tempel
The Gold­en Pavil­ion in Kyōto

The journey starts
(December 20th to 21st, 2014)

Japan! That was a des­ti­na­tion we had in our minds all along. An oppor­tu­ni­ty arose, when our old­er daugh­ter com­plet­ed a 3-month intern­ship at a com­pa­ny in Osa­ka as part of her mechan­i­cal engi­neer­ing uni­ver­si­ty stud­ies in Japan. We decid­ed to “pick her up” there after this and to trav­el togeth­er through Japan for 2 weeks. So on Decem­ber 20th, 2014 we flew to Osa­ka with 5 peo­ple (includ­ing the grand­moth­er who had orga­nized the trip) to pick her up.

Just at the begin­ning of our jour­ney we already got the first excite­ment. Still in the taxi to the air­port, we got the mes­sage on our mobile phone that our KLM shut­tle flight to Ams­ter­dam, which was sched­uled for 11:30 am, was can­celled. From Ams­ter­dam we should con­tin­ue our flight non-stop to Osa­ka. But once we arrived at Düs­sel­dorf air­port, for­tu­nate­ly every­thing went fine. The lady at the KLM counter had already rebooked us to Lufthansa. The flight went now via Frank­furt. Thank God we arrived at the air­port very ear­ly (my wife always likes to be there very ear­ly!), because Lufthansa depart­ed a bit ear­li­er than KLM.

Our plane in Frankfurt
Arrival at the ultra­mod­ern air­port in Osaka

So we were already sit­ting in the plane a short time lat­er. The changeover in Frank­furt was with­out com­pli­ca­tions, the sub­se­quent flight to Japan was very smooth. The land­ing approach to Osa­ka is awe­some: you fly along the whole Japan­ese coast for a long time. The air­port itself is built on a desert­ed island in the sea, a dam leads to Osa­ka on the Japan­ese main island Hon­schu. Because of the time dif­fer­ence of 8 hours, we land­ed after a flight of about 11 hours in the morn­ing of the 21st of Decem­ber around 9:20 am. The entry for­mal­i­ties were done quick­ly, there were only few peo­ple wait­ing at the immi­gra­tion desk for “for­eign­ers”.

Osa­ka is with a pop­u­la­tion of about 2.7 mil­lion the third largest city in Japan, a tra­di­tion­al com­mer­cial cen­ter and also one of the major indus­tri­al cen­ters. The port is one of the most impor­tant in Japan.

We were picked up at the air­port on time in a minibus (grand­ma had orga­nized the trip real­ly very well). After a one hour dri­ve, we reached our hotel (Hearton Hotel Nishi Ume­da) in down­town Osaka.

Our daugh­ter joined us short­ly after­wards and after a long and warm wel­come we first explored the imme­di­ate sur­round­ings. She already knew the area well and led us to a pas­sage in the sub­way, where we could eat and drink some­thing. There are huge under­ground malls at the sta­tions with many shops and restau­rants. Even in Japan every­thing was dec­o­rat­ed for Christmas:

Already dur­ing the first explo­ration we felt exot­ic in the crowd of Asians. In Japan there are only very few Euro­peans, you rarely see oth­ers. Espe­cial­ly our two fair-haired daugh­ters were always noticed with interest.

Pic­tures of the food hang in the win­dows of the restau­rants or there are amaz­ing­ly real-look­ing plas­tic food imi­ta­tions. In Ger­many, this would not be so invit­ing, but in Japan it is com­mon and it was very use­ful for us. So we knew rough­ly what to order. But you have to be care­ful: not every­thing that looks like vanil­la pud­ding tastes as one, as we were sur­prised to find out. 😉

We soon dis­cov­ered that you can’t read any­thing at all. It is sur­re­al: at first sight, Osa­ka is a mod­ern metrop­o­lis with sky­scrap­ers, neon signs and a lot of hus­tle and bus­tle and you feel at home. It seems like any oth­er big city like Paris, New York or Ham­burg. But if you take a clos­er look, you can’t deci­pher any­thing on the bill­boards except the well-known brand names (Sony, Toy­ota etc.). Rarely is some­thing explained in Eng­lish. Our daugh­ter speaks a lit­tle Japan­ese, but her lan­guage skills were for the most part not suf­fi­cient. We now have a much bet­ter under­stand­ing of how an illit­er­ate per­son must feel. If you get lost, you are doomed.

So it was very good that the trip was well orga­nized in every detail. In each of the cities we vis­it­ed, we had dri­vers who brought us to the hotels and also part­ly guid­ed us through the cities. Nor­mal­ly, we pre­fer to explore for­eign coun­tries on our own (only in Africa we always have guides), but here in Japan it is dif­fi­cult, espe­cial­ly on your first vis­it. You can­not even read the traf­fic signs. The address infor­ma­tion by street name and house num­ber, which we are used to, does not exist in Japan. Instead, address­es are giv­en by sec­tors of blocks of hous­es. It is very dif­fi­cult to find a hotel in a big city by oneself.

Ask­ing for the way is not easy either: only few Japan­ese speak Eng­lish. And when they do, they are often very dif­fi­cult to under­stand. This also applies to taxi dri­vers - if you want to get back to the hotel, you should def­i­nite­ly have a busi­ness card of the hotel with you. What can hap­pen oth­er­wise can be seen very nice­ly in the film “Enlight­en­ment Guar­an­teed” by Doris Dör­rie - the film is gen­er­al­ly very worth see­ing for peo­ple inter­est­ed in Japan. Even with a dic­tio­nary you won’t get far - how do you look up an art­ful­ly designed 漢字 Kanji-symbol?

Since we were very tired after the long jour­ney and because of the jet­lag, we took a rest for a few hours after lunch. Around 6:00pm we got up again and left the hotel for din­ner. We were dead tired and want­ed to sleep on, but because of the jet­lag we would wake up in the mid­dle of the night. With our method (already test­ed and rec­om­mend­ed by our daugh­ter) we had the impres­sion, that the jet­lag could be reduced a lit­tle bit.