After my fun with everyone at Andy’s house I thought it was a idea to move on. I had already stayed at his house for four days and I did not want to overstay my welcome. So in the morning me and Steven decided to take a day trip to Nara, a small city not that far from Kyoto. I had heard good things about Nara and was quite looking forward to a change of scenery. Then only thing was that it was tipping it down so the weather was not really ripe for walking around sightseeing. Nonetheless Steven and I got a train there ready to be tourists again. I had been told by a few people that I would probably see some deer when I went to Nara, as it is common for them to walk around Nara park, although when we got there I was surprised at how many deer were just casually strolling around. They were mainly crowded around these stalls that sold “shikasenbei”, basically deer biscuits, waiting to prey on the next customer. Steven decided to buy some and even before he had exchanged the money a deer was already nudging him in the back pestering him. This provided some fun running around, away from all the deer with their big appetites. Even the little ones were not afraid to get right in your face, and others started butting heads in furious desperation. Like Brighton beach has seagulls and Leicester Square has pigeons, Nara has deer, a hilarious difference, and just like a child would run at a flock of birds, it is just as fun to run at a herd of deer. Me and Steven could not help ourselves. We spent the rest of the day seeing the area around Nara park, which included Todai-ji the temple complex that holds the Daibutsu, the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. I was quite impressed, although there seemed no signs of the rain stopping so we went to get warm and something to eat to finish off our day in Nara. That night I actually stayed with Steven at his hosts house as he had basically left it to him as the host had gone away for the holidays. This seemed a bit strange as neither of us owned this house, I had not even met the owner, and we were just staying there casually. Couch surfing is definitely useful but brings a surreal sense of trust.
In the morning, me and Steven said our good byes, as he was heading to Tokyo and I was going to go to Osaka to celebrate the New Year. I sneaked a quick shower and packed up and left as if I was never there at Steven’s hosts apartment, then jumped on a train to Osaka. I was there within the hour, which made me a little bit dazed as I did not really have a plan as what to do and, like all Japanese train stations, Osaka station is huge, making it easy to aimlessly walk around. However this aimlessness soon paid off when I came across a Pokemon Centre. Of course I instantly went in and marveled at all the Pokemon gifts, my favourite was the Pikachu range of cookware. A large section of the shop was filled with, no exaggeration, around 50 people all huddled around battling out on their game-boys. Children, adults, women and men. Truly a heartwarming sight. I encouraged myself to leave and put down the Pikachu spatula to go do some sightseeing. I went up the Osaka Sky building, and went up and down its slightly scary suspended escalators, to get a nice view of the whole city. This was in Umeda area, the northern part of Osaka, which the quite uninteresting business district, so I headed south to Namba area.
Here I got lost for ages trying to find Dotonbori, the party district, but ended up taking a tour of most of Osaka in the process. I walked through Nipponbashi, the area laden with manga shops, electronic shops and any other shop fit for any type of geek, and ended up in Shinsekai, a nice shopping arcade over looked by the retro sci-fi looking Tsutenkaku tower. Although most of the shops were closed as I had got too lost, so I headed into a bar to get out of the bitter cold. It was a nice Okinawan style bar, owned by a sweet hippyish couple. I found out that they actually were couchsurfing hosts and they currently had an English guy staying with them, who was going to come in and work a couple of hours behind the bar. When he turned up it was quite funny to meet another British guy as he was the first in over 3 months. We all tried to teach him some Japanese as he had to read out some set phrases to help him serve people, although this was more amusing than successful. I could have stayed at this bar all night, sipping the litre beers they sold and jamming out on guitar with the owner, and chatting random crap, however it was New Years and I was up for a good night. So me and this English guy, Seb, headed out just before midnight to find some fun.
This time armed with some directions we headed for Dotonbori, but this was quite a rush as we only had about 15 minutes to midnight and wanted to find a good place to countdown. Luckily we ran in the right direction and came across a massive crowd of people gathered around the Ebisubashi bridge in the middle of Dotonbori. At first I wondered why everyone was here, but soon found out as group a naked guys jumped of the bridge into the freezing river below. This set of a succession of more people, clearly mental, to jump off the bridge doing somersaults, dressed in tutus or brandishing a cute rubber ring, among the audience of hundreds of people shouting and letting off floating lanterns and balloons. After standing in awe, I realized that everyone had started to count down and it could not have been a better place to do it, so I joined in, in Japanese, of course. After the final wave of people had jumped in the river, we decided to find somewhere to get some drinking going. A big group of people with red flags seemed to all be heading in the same direction, so I asked them where they were headed. I found out that they were going to a massive party at an izakaya, but it seemed that you needed one of these red flags to get in. We found out were it was as everyone was queuing to take the elevator up. To beat everyone to it we found the stairwell, ran up the flights of stairs and sneaked through an ambiguous door to luckily find ourselves in the right place. We were in the right place but being the only white guys we stuck out like a couple of white guys in Japan, and we needed to get our hands on a red flag to get in. People were putting them all on a table next to the entrance and I pretended to have one by quickly picking one up and putting in back down, making it look like I had placed it there in the first place. Fortunately this worked for me, but not for Seb. I was stuck the other side after paying the entrance fee, which he was not up for paying anyway so we said a forced fair well and I went on in to find some fun. The izakaya was massive and was heaving with people. All tables were opened up so everyone could sit where they wanted and mingle with all the groups of people. What made it better was that everything was on a drink as much as you want/can, eat as much as you want/can basis. This one group of people were more than happy to have me join them at their table and I had lots fun explaining why I was there. There I met a lot of great people as everyone was up for talking to me as I was clearly an anomalie and everybody was in great spirits. This one guy would not stop holding my hand and started to get a little worried about him. Me and all my new friends drank as much as we could fueling our banter until we had to get kicked. From there on I do not really remember much, but I think I was taken to another bar with the group of people I met as we were not quite done. By the time I had sense of where I was again it was about 8 in the morning. I did not think it was worthwhile trying to find a place to stay so I bought a train ticket and got the 12 hour train journey home, as I did not have enough money for the Shinkansen, thus ending my Kansai adventure.