A Castle Tale


This blog entry about the events of Sunday, October 03, 2004 was originally posted on October 10, 2004.

DAY 351:  Osaka, as Lonely Planet says, is a big modern city concerned with money, food and drink but “if you go looking for beauty, [it] will surely disappoint.”  However, when I got off the local JR train (cheaper than taking the bullet train from Kyoto since it was less than an hour away), I found Lonely Planet to be the disappointing one — their Osaka street map neglected to label any of the streets, and I just got lost.  Really, what’s the point of a map if there are no street names on it?

I found my way anyway by asking directions and made it to the Excelsior Cafe (Japan’s big Starbucks competitor), the meeting point set up by Yusuke’s friend in Osaka.

“Are you Erik?”  A Japanese girl had recognized me from the photo she received that Yusuke had taken the night before with his mobile phone.  Her name was Yukari and she was a senior at Kyoto University for Foreign Studies.  Like Yusuke, she was in the Free Guide Club and was no stranger to leading foreign strangers around her hometown.

“Where do you want to go?” she asked.

“Can we go to the castle?”

OSAKA CASTLE, the former stronghold of Toyotomi Hideyoshi that was supposed to be impregnable — only to be destroyed 32 years after its completion by Tokugawa Ieyasu and his army — is Osaka’s one major historical sight, attracting tourists and field trips of elementary school kids wearing their yellow school baseball caps.  The building today is actually a reconstruction of the original built not exactly the same way; this new one was built to code with modern elevators and wheelchair accessibility.  “Only in Osaka,” Yukari told me.

Yukari had crossed Paradise Bridge over the moat (picture above) to the castle many times before, but didn’t seem to mind going again; all comes with the territory of being in the Free Guide Club I guessed.  Besides, it seemed like she was having a good time anyway; unlike my disjointed conversations with Yusuke the day before in Kyoto, Yukari and I hit it off pretty easily with conversation that bordered on flirtation.  In just a few moments she was an admirer of me and my travels; she had recently been bitten by the travel bug on a trip to India two weeks prior and was excited to hear my plans to go there.  However, she had school and a part-time job at Kyocera to take care off.

We went up to the top floor of the castle to admire the views from all sides of deck on what turned out to be a very clear day.  Yukari pointed out where things were and gave me little bit of history of the building with meanings of some of the architectural elements.  From there we went down to the exhibition galleries on the other floors with displays of war battles using little action figures, and some of the castle’s historical artifacts.  “All the Japanese [war] paintings [take place] in the clouds,” she told me.  “So they don’t have to draw that much.”

One floor was dedicated to a holographic diorama presentation of the life of Toyotomi Hideoshi, who had risen to power from a poor farmer family, and climbed the ranks until he became the unifier of all of Japan.  The presentation was all in Japanese but Yukari was happy to translate everything for me.

“You have to have the takoyaki,” she told me.  It was the definite food of Osaka, grilled dough balls with octopus inside.  There were dozens of stands selling it in the park surrounding the castle, and so we got a platter of them, garnished with seasonings and fish flakes, and sat at a picnic table for over drinks at sundown and joked about Yusuke’s behavior in the karaoke bars.

Nearby there was one of those cardboard cut out displays so you could put your face over a cheesy drawing of characters in old Japanese garb.  “Oh, we have to take a picture here,” I told her.


“Yeah, why not, let’s go.”  We had a passerby shoot the photo for us while we stuck our heads in the holes.  “I’ll put it on my website.”

“No!” she said in embarrassment.

“Let’s take another photo at the castle then.”

“Okay, put that one up instead.”

I DIDN’T HAVE MUCH TIME ALLOTTED FOR OSAKA; Lonely Planet made it sound like it’d be another big city and I already had a reservation to move on that night.  Yukari and I walked back to the subway station, with talks of life and travel.  “India was the first time I went to a poor country,” she told me.  “I want to go back.”  There was something about going to an undeveloped country that just touched her soul or something.  “So you will go to India after Japan?”

“Actually, Nepal, then India.”

“Really?!  I want to go there too!”

“You could come, just quit your job.”

I was hoping I could squeeze in a trip to Dotomburi, the trendy nightlife district that Lonely Planet says looks like a scene from Blade Runner, to extend my time with my volunteer guide, but there was no time before my train reservation on the bullet train.  Yukari and I were about to split ways on two different transfer trains, until she decided, “I’ll come with you.  I’m not doing anything.”  She escorted me to the very end, all the way to the turnstiles of the Shinkansen tracks at Shin-Osaka station, the last point before no passengers were allowed.  Before my departure, we said our goodbyes.

“You have to come back,” she told me.

“Or you can come to New York.”


“Sure, I should be back in March.”

There was something about the moment that just struck me to embrace her for that classic train station goodbye — but I think I made a faux pas because she didn’t reciprocate.  Instead she just extended her hand for a handshake.  Whoops.  Man, That was embarrassing. I walked to the turnstile and she went on her way back home.

“Wait!” she called to me.  Was she having second thoughts?  “You forgot about your ticket.”  No.

THE SHINKANSEN BULLET TRAIN GOT ME TO HIROSHIMA in just under two hours and from the station I took a bus to the Hiroshima Youth Hostel, on top of a hill.  About a week later, that photo of Yukari and me in the cardboard cut out ended up on my website.

Next entry: Fahrenheit 8/6

Previous entry: The Japanese Connection

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.

Comments for “A Castle Tale”

  • HAAAAAAA First!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/10  at  09:56 AM

  • mmm takoyaki!  Love that stuff.  Don’t they put mayonnaise on it in Osaka? 
    That glass (I assume) elevator shaft at the castle just doesn’t quite fit - great that they actually have it, but did it have to be glass? It would have looked way better if they had made it in the same style as the castle.  Weird.  I guess I shouldn’t complain, usually wheel-chair accessible here means throwing your chair down a flight of stairs

    Posted by Liz  on  10/10  at  10:00 AM

  • awww, that was so cute. hopefully your paths will cross again very soon. she seems like a very nice girl. =) though lara seems more feisty. i hope she does a guest episode on the trinadad show again.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/10  at  08:47 PM

  • cardboard cutout photos rock!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  01:02 AM

  • That looks like it would make a killer haunted house!!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/11  at  06:14 AM

  • Liz: I had takoyaki in Osaka, and I don’t think they served it with mayo… Just with a sweet, kinda like oyster sauce just like Erik’s pic. I called them Octo-Poppers because I couldn’t remember there name (till now, Thanks Erik). The ones I ate also had a bright pink bit in with the Octopus. Does anyone know what that was?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  12:17 AM

  • TdOt - pickled ginger.  The sauce is soy based - it is like condensed and sweetened soy sauce… informatively called “sauce” here LOL.  In the Tokyo area they put mayo on top as well as sauce and then sprinkle with nori and fish flakes.  Same as with okonomiyaki (the pancakes).

    Posted by Liz  on  10/12  at  01:28 AM

  • Why do so many countries like mayo? I can’t STAND the stuff…

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  09:54 AM

  • Back from Amsterdam & I think I’m going to Hell BTW,  Love them Octo-Ballz .. gotta catch up to present time ..

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/12  at  05:03 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by BootsnAll.com. It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Fahrenheit 8/6

Previous entry:
The Japanese Connection


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