Saturday 29th of September heading off for a fortnight in the land of the rising sun. I had to go on business so we extended the trip to take in the sights and experience the culture of Japan. We took a car to the HK airport this time, which we shared with some others, using Shenzhen's Huang Gang border. A Japanese guy in the car was on the same flight. Spot the Aussie passports in this pile.
Few places in Asia stir the imagination quite like Japan. Just mentioning it sets of a huge series of images in the mind: Ancient temples compared with futuristic cities, foggy mountains being sliced by bullet trains, crazily clothed teenagers compared to suited businessmen and little countryside family inns compared to the flashing neon of Tokyo.
One of the great things about living at the bottom of China is that most major Asian cities are accessible. Unfortunately everyone else who could afford an air fair also thought the same thing as it was the beginning of the mid-autumn festival. After a few days of trying we managed to secure direct flights with Cathay Pacific for the 3 1/2 hour hop from Hong Kong to Osaka.
The first impression upon arriving in Osaka was that everything was very quiet and clean. Granted, the arrivals area of Osaka airport is a sea of grey-on-grey but everything was exceedingly orderly. Even the chimes to announce PA messages or open/close automatic doors had a tune to play instead of a more typical 'bong'.
Japan has an awesome program for foreign tourists called the Japanese Rail pass. These must be purchased outside of Japan at registered outlets and then give unlimited use of the Japan Rail network for the life of the pass, including the Shinkansen bullet trains. The only caveat is that Japan has several train companies and most of the subway system is not run by JR.
We exchanged our JR Japan rail vouchers for passes at the JR ticket office at the airport and were ably assisted by an exceedingly friendly service girl. Suitably armed with our 'ticket to ride' we braved the rail system, acquired our tickets and took the 50 minute ride on the train to Nankai Namba station in the southern of Osaka's two city centres. The people on the train were practically silent the whole journey, a characteristic that we later came to take for granted when using Japanese transport.
We stayed at the Suissotel which was an utterly fabulous hotel. We successfully negotiated the maze in the shopping centre with the aid of a map from the website (enter on level 3 from the train station, go down to level one, take the lift up to level 6 and then enter the hotel). We were checked in by an exceedingly friendly Japanese girl who lived in Melbourne for 6 years.
Another woman took our bags and us up to our room. As we exited the lift she took us to the window to point out some of the significant sights of Osaka that were visible from the window. In the room she explained how to use the TV, the lights, the hot water urn, pointed out the card with the next day's weather, etc. Overall she couldn't have been more helpful if she tried. It seemed that in less than one day those stories of the excessive politeness of the Japanese people were starting to ring true.