I never thought I could be so excited to be leaving Asia and heading to Calgary, but an unusual chain of events has caused this to be the case. I'm sitting at the bus stop waiting to catch a bus to the Osaka airport. Thanks to Japanese efficiency and my lack of trust in myself, it would seem that I've arrived half an hour earlier than necessary. That would be fine if it weren't 5:30 in the morning and raining. Happily late last night, I figured out that I was planning on heading to the wrong airport and have rectified the situation, so at least major mishap was averted before it occurred- famous last words ;)
I've had the most wonderful week in Japan. While I've been to this country twice before, it was my first time coming to the Kansai region. In my six days here, I managed to visit Osaka, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe and still not feel like I've worn myself too thin. I've found the people here to be incredibly gracious, generous and helpful. I've been lucky enough to be treated as a guest by three different people- two former students and a friend of a friend. I was also fortunate to have friends, who had formerly lived just outside Osaka, traveling here at the same time as me. It was the perfect mix of alone time and company.
I was able to navigate the area, managing to take trains and subways with minimal effort. Of course there were a few curfuffles along the way and of course an awful lot of rain. My general impressions are as follows: Osaka is an excellent, vibrant city and, much as I felt about Tokyo, I could imagine living here very happily. Kyoto was surprisingly uninspiring, but had some amazing sites and incredible food. Nara was charming and as long as you don't have a fear of deers, a wonderful place to spend an afternoon. Kobe was small, walkable and just generally pleasant to be in.
I think the highlight of my time, other than the people of course, was the food. I guess that would come as no surprise given that that seems to have been the focus of this trip. I've fallen in love with Japanese curry, eaten the most fantastic ramen and gyoza (Japanese dumplings), enjoyed fried stuff on sticks, snacked at izakayas, gorged on oknomyiaki, and even gotten to make my own takoyaki (octopus balls- though of course I substituted the "tako" for beef in my own). I went out with Toru, whom I had not seen in almost 6 years, and Memu, whom I had not seen in more than 8. And while both worried that their English was terrible and they'd not practiced for a long time, they were amazing in their abilities to communicate…which makes me a proud "sensei".
I'm just about to board my flight to Narita where I have 7 hours to pass. I hope they've improved the airport from the last time I had a monstrous layover there…