Day long showers dampen our mood27 November, 2012 by Chad
Randy had checked the weather and accurately predicted that today would be a wet day. There’s no stressing the importance of knowing the weather for the rest of the day before leaving the hotel, especially when the most often visited holiday sites are outdoor. There was a light shower this morning that would continue for the rest of the day so we decided to stay within the confines of Osaka this Sunday.
First a heavy serving of our free hotel breakfast in hopes of saving some money later on in the day. Then we would set out for Osaka Castle on the east side of the city. Our hotel sold umbrellas, which we were in need of but Randy wanted a transparent one, so it was off to the nearby Family Mart first to grab some.
The umbrellas there came in 60, 65 and 70 cm varieties. We each purchased a 70 cm one, something we would regret later in the day as we struggled with the burden of carrying around such large umbrellas.
There’s a pretty long walk from the train station through the park and moats to get to the main tower which most consider Osaka Castle. There was nigh anyone along the walk there, on account of the rain with just a few tourists walking back from the castle. Randy noticed that some of them walking against our direction had turned to look at me. I happen to attract a lot of stares from non-Japanese people.
It’s funny how the Western media often talks about Japan as a conformist society, when things seem to be far worst in the rest of Asia. Amusingly, the standard attire for women there tends to be stringy one pieces, cocktail dresses and parted hair, while men wear their polos with overtly smug faces, buzz cuts and shorts. Yes, the average person dresses like a Japanese prostitute. And to think they look at me funny.
We all had one day Osaka Unlimited Passes which we purchased this morning from Shin-Osaka Station. Immediately after, I wondered if they were really worth getting, but did it for the convenience anyways. You can read up on the previous guide post for more details but it’s basically an all-inclusive ticket that covers all transport and touristy places in Osaka.
You get a ticket booklet when you purchase the Osaka Unlimited Pass. To enter each attraction, you’d need to tear off the relevant ticket and present it together with the special train card which will have the day’s date printed on the moment you feed it through any ticketing machine. You can see here that we were already fumbling between our cameras, umbrellas and whatever else that needed to be held.
Entering the main tower, it became apparent why there were so few people in the park, everyone was taking shelter inside of the castle. Mostly foreigners but since it was a Sunday there were a few local tourists too, such as a mother daughter group (one of whom looked like Shinahama Saemi and the other like Matsumoto Rina, at least according to Randy).
I would definitely recommend a visit to Osaka Castle to travelers who would like to see a Japanese castle for the first time. Himeiji tends to the the hallmark of Japanese castles, but with the exterior under renovation now, Osaka comes as the next best choice.
There really isn’t a good reason to actually enter the castle though, unless you are really into Japanese history or niche museums, well that or if it’s raining heavily. The main building isn’t particularly tall, but you can get a clear look of the castle grounds from the top floor. The rest of the floors document the life of Hideyoshi Toyotomi and contain various artifacts related to him.
Since most of the visitors today were more interested in the more graphic exhibits like these samurai figures, we managed to take a look at the animated history of Hideyoshi. Didn’t get to take a good look during my last trip on account of there being too many local tourists.
There are some 19 exhibits here that re-enact the entire life story of Hideyoshi. They take the form of live-action films, being projected onto a model background. Randy explained how they did it with mirrors. But as primitive a technology as it was, it is also really quite ingenious.
No photography is allowed on the lower floors of the museum, where they keep all of the preserved trinkets and documents. Modern flashes are no longer damaging, but there are still good reasons why not to allow photography in museums.
Further below, there are some touristy shops and displays where photography is allowed. For a small fee, you can dress up as a samurai and take a photo with one of the dragon-fish hybrids that are mounted on the castle.
Spotted one of those medallion machines which they have at every major tourist attraction. I have a bunch of these myself already, namely the rarer color printed ones. Both Eri and Randy got a piece each, on impulse I ended up getting one too. I had forgotten that I had already gotten a medallion, a nicer one no less from Osaka Castle last year. For a token price of 30 yen, you can get the date and your name or message embossed into the coin with the adjacent machine. There’s a video of it in action below.
Outside, the weather had cleared up, bringing in the crowds along with it. It’s quite amazing how it goes back to a clear blue sky immediately after the rain here. One of my loves about Japan are the deep blue skies that look superb in photos, and even more so in person.
After all the exercise, we were kind of hungry already. So much for saving on meals. Didn’t want to spend much time searching for some place to eat, so decided to return to the restaurant which Yan, Wilson and myself took shelter in last trip. For some reason we have a tendency of coming to the castle in bad weather. Lunch at this Western and Beer eatery called “Friendship”.
Friendship’s specialty seems to be their omurice and hamburgs, which is why I sort of regretted getting their omucurry instead. I’m pretty sure I did the same thing the last time and told myself to get the Omurice and Croquette should I ever come back, but by the time I had remembered it was too late. Eri and Randy each ordered a set.
While in the short term I seem to remember completely obscure points in vivid detail, I tend to have a terrible memory in the long run. Which is why these travel articles are as useful to myself since I can come back again a few months later and be surprised at the things I did.
We did manage to order a serving of hamburg to share though. Again, not particularly a fan but it was good, if not the best hamburg any of us ever had. When traveling or even in your daily life, it’s more fun to make it a point to experience everything. Some of the most interesting people I know are also the most innately curious.
After lunch, we spent some time towards getting our B-Mobile Data Sim cards to work again. Somehow Randy’s phone had picked up a WiFi connection from the children’s tuition center above the restaurant and got a message through from Singapore. Nurul, a friend in Singapore was eagerly helping us to get the sim cards to work, soliciting help from everyone she knew in Japan. Being the 3rd day in Japan and still having not activated the cards, we were already pretty stressed out so were definitely touched by her efforts.
I also made the decision to contact my company Director for assistance as a resort should this fail. I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea to, since given my place, I was leaving the company hanging in a rather precarious situation by being away for such a long time. He was nice enough about it, but still I wouldn’t want to impose further.
Losing 3 days worth of data was somewhat frustrating since it upped the average cost per day to higher than expected. Apart from purchasing the cards directly from stores, there had been the alternative of purchasing them from a reseller who would pre-activate them in advance, much pricier, but at least it would had saved us all the days spent worrying.
B-Mobile had also recently released English versions of their Sim Cards, albeit at a far less attractive price. The 1 gb visitor Sims cost more at 3,980 yen and last just 14 days but you can get them delivered to an address in Japan directly. It is slightly cheaper than resold cards though if you’re staying for a shorter duration.
Another alternative, would be to call up B-Mobile’s new English help desk to ask for assistance. There is however an extra 2,500 yen charge to get your Sim Card activated by this way. Clearly, the worst possible option.
In order to make our one day passes worth it, we would need to hit up at least one other travel attraction this afternoon so the three of us headed nearby to Tsurumi Ryokuchi famous for the Expo ’90 Commemorative Park among other things.
The only new sight I really wanted to visit in Osaka was Sakuya Konohanakan aka The Great Conservatory. The large lotus shaped conservatory is the largest of its kind in Japan. I had attempted a failed visit last winter so was keen on checking it out this time.
Sakuya Konohanakan is at the center of the Expo Park, so there was another long walk to be had. A nice leisurely stroll, if you would. We passed by a couple of Shiba dogs along the way, with one of them stopping to pose for Randy in the main picture of this article.
The dogs in Japan are either really intelligent or well trained. Many go without leashes in the parks, yet follow behind their owners loyally. We saw one pet owner sit down on a bench and tap on his lap, after which his tiny dog promptly hopped on and sat obediently there.
We passed by a big hall, which was holding some sort of horticulturist fair. Many booths had been set up to sell various flowers and plants but everyone was already packing up. Realising this, I quickly checked for the opening hours of the conservatory. It would close in 45 minutes time, with the last entry 15 minutes away!
The problem with being familiar with a place is that you tend to be over confident and forget important details like this. The silliest thing about most touristy places in Japan is that they all have very short opening hours, closing as soon as it gets dark, which is about 4 or 5 PM. As a natural reaction, I ended up hurrying toward our destination.
We got our tickets from the vending machine outside and headed for the main entrance. A young lady here collected our tickets, while Randy and Eri played around with plushies of the park’s mascot. Things get a little hazy here, but somehow in the haste, my camera ended up toppling out of my bag even though it was slung right in front of me.
The huge brick that is a 24-70mm 2.8 USM L attached to a 5D Mark II landed with a huge thud, leaving everyone else in shock. Even the ticketing staff shrieked in surprise. I didn’t quite realize it at first, thinking it was perhaps the umbrella that dropped (since it was hung around the bag too). Even when I did, I still didn’t recognize the weight of the matter. My first reaction was just to pick it up and check if it turned on, it did. The staff asked if it was fine, I replied yes as we moved on inside.
It was only after trying to take a photo and having it come out completely distorted did I sense something amiss. Turning the camera around the other way, I would realize that not only had the lens filter it had on completely shattered, worst yet the lens itself had been dented in. We sat down nearby and tried getting the filter off for a while with brute force but that didn’t work.
@supermerlion you have a tendency to drop cameras ehhhh
— Wilson Wong (@kazesuki) October 28, 2012
At this point I was still in a state of denial since it still hadn’t quite hit me what had happened. The two pieces of equipment had a combined retail price of nearly SGD$5,000, so you can sort of understand why. I suggested that we press on first since I didn’t want to be a killjoy.
We would need to depend on Randy for the rest of the photos today. Thankfully, it was a pretty sweet Nikon D40 and he was actually pretty good at it. What ought to had been the highlight of my day though ended up being a complete daze, and I must apologize for a rather depressing article.
We breezed through most of the place given the limited time we had, especially the first zone which contained tropical plants. Apart from two couples and a family that already done, we were the only people around since it ways about half away from closing time.
The conservatory is split into various parts, each being weather controlled to house plants for a different region of the world. Parts of the conservatory run outdoors too, where plants that can survive in Japan’s climate are grown. Under a different situation, the Sakuya Konohanakan would be a nice place to visit leisurely.
Other sections show off arid plants and an even colder area that stores Antarctic plants even. We’d run into lots of flora alien to us. Upstairs, we found another stamp point and bottles containing fragrances from various plants and trees, some of which were kind of pungent as we would learn. The stamp point here had some pretty neat mechanical self-inking stamps.
We left after a quick round of the conservatory since they were already playing Ue Wo Muite Arukou in the background, our sign that we ought to leave.
Still not thinking too well at this point. The rest suggested that we find an electronics store for help. The only that we knew reliably was Umeda’s Yodobashi Camera. We were mostly ignored for the first 10 minutes while waiting at the counter there, then a less than enthusiastic lady staff turned up and asked what we needed help with, I showed her the camera. Unfazed, she proceeded to ask us to wait as they were busy, so I did for another 10 minutes.
Finally, returning later she forwarded me to another of her colleagues, who took a quick look at the camera. He explained that the lens had trouble focusing and then there was the obvious cracked filter and dented front. Further explaining that there wasn’t anything they could do, he suggested that we visit the official Canon offices for help and passed us a brochure. Noting that they were probably closed today.
Given that sending the lens to Canon would cost way too much and probably take more time then we had in Osaka to repair, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I tried looking around Yodobashi Camera to see if they sold pliers but strangely they had none. So the next course of action was to visit a hardware or general store in search of pliers. But not before getting a cheapo mouse from Yodobashi, I had broken mine on the way to Japan.
We spent what seemed like the next hour, scouring around Umeda in search of such a store. We were pretty exhausted by this point and the rain had made a return. Looking at a map of the area, I spotted a Don Quixote building nearby. We ended up taking a roundabout route there, losing our bearing in the rain and the usual shopping crowd for a weekend evening. We did get a better understanding of the Umeda area thanks to that though.
Eventually making our way to Don Quixote, we found a pair of pliers. They have just about everything here. Our original intention was to perhaps grab some dinner outside. Unfortunately though, between all the walking and rain, Randy’s shoes had started to give way, so it was back to above Yodobashi where we had spotted a Regal Shoes branch earlier.
The mall area above of Yodobashi had a ton of shops that were worth looking at, but given the situation, I wasn’t quite in the mood for shopping right now. Perhaps we would return again another day.
Randy ended up getting a different pair of shoes at Regal Shoes from the one he had at seen at Selcy. The shop here didn’t carry the design he had originally wanted. But this new pair fit perfectly and cost less so he was quite pleased with the purchase.
Headed back to our hotel to retire immediately after since we were far too exhausted for anything else. Stopped by the Family Mart nearby to get some cup noodles. Randy also picked out some of their fried chicken cutlets while I got some sweet stuff to hopefully improve the mood.
Back in the hotel, I got the chance to take a better look at the extend of damage to the lens. But first there was the more immediate issue of trying to get the broken filter off the lens. Failing to get it off by all conventional means, I ended up having to smash off the cracked glass and then snapping off the filter while it was still attached to the lens. Scary.
The most anxious moment was after already smashing the cracked glass and realizing that they could had very possibly scratched the lens itself as the glass dust started depositing on it. Thankfully, the coated lens ended up being resistant to the glass from the filter, even as I wiped up the last remaining bits with a wet cloth.
The last 20 or so mm on the lens were feeling rather stiff, though it loosened up after twisting it into place a few times, perhaps breaking something along the way. Sure enough, the lens would have problems focusing automatically after and auto metering would be a problem too. Then came the obvious fact that it would never hold a filter again.
After settling things, it was about time that I did some laundry. I hadn’t brought nearly enough clothing for this trip, since I had anticipated getting some clothes here and way also too busy to pack until the last moments before leaving. Most hotels I had stayed at till now all had their laundry machines stored on one of the middle floors to save you the trouble and embarrassment of lugging your laundry downstairs.
Sadly though, this particular hotel had their laundry machines downstairs in the car park. I didn’t quite realize this until already leaving the room in search of the machines. Ended up having to go past the lobby with my hair in a mess. Even in Singapore, I would never leave the house in such a state. I could never understand how the locals find it acceptable there to go shopping at neighborhood malls in their pajamas. Another befuddling norm.
Today was easily the lowest point in the trip so far. The past few days had been a rush, as we neglected our own advice to take things slowly.
Worst day ever.
— Supermerlion (@supermerlion) October 28, 2012
Having my camera fall our of my bag was an unforeseeable event, but one that could had been easily prevented had we been better rested and less hasty. Given the weather, we really ought to had given any tourist attractions a pass today and stuck indoors to settle our preliminary shopping instead. Definitely an expensive lesson learnt.
The only hope was that this would be the worst curveball that I would be thrown this trip. And with it hitting so early, that things could only get better from this point on.Planning your holiday? We recommend visiting Agoda for a full list of hotels with early bird specials.