Settle down in Osaka
December, 1 st Osaka
Kitchen hangout. German travelers have one thing in common. Mainly. They don’t like to meet and speak to other germans. I refrain from discussing this. So it wasn’t love on the first sight when I met Sarah. But it was friendship on the very second sight. It was kind of funny, each time we met in the kitchen, time was flying and in the end we spend hours while talking about everything. Sarah has also WHV, but her way it’s so different than mine. It was very interesting to hear about her story and I got a lot of new ideas and motivations about my stay in Japan. But mainly I got a new friend 🙂 I’m looking forward to see her again after she’d come back from the US.
December, 2 nd Osaka
今ちゃんの実は. Japanese television. Well, I had pretty less expectations about Japan. But there was something I never expected in my life. I’m talking about being in television. Honestly the aim of my life was never being in television. With the age of 28 years I failed. How does it come to take part in a Japanese television show? How does it come to get on a television show in general? Actually, while travelling you will experience strange and situations. Sometimes the stories are unbelievable. Like tales. Honestly, this is why I’m travelling. Tales of trails is actually what is fascinating me beside social-culture experiences. While traveling I’m even more open to unfamiliar situations than in my daily life and so I said yes when the staff in my hostel asked me if I would like to join an interview about Japanese culture for a television show. Already the thoughts of thinking of being in TV makes me feel uncomfortable, for myself, a reason to do it and the opportunity to grow. Well, I was expecting an interview of five to ten minutes with other 2-3 people. No. I realised more and more that I was taking part in a TV show and that it would be more than a short interview, but it was too late to cancel and would also be very rude.
December, 6 th Osaka
Nikolaus. You might wonder what I was doing during the last days. Well, I did some Christmas preparations and forced myself through endless shopping malls which were like maces. In the end I was totally in my preparations that I already forgot Nikolaus day. The day before Nikolaus children and also grown up children sometimes put their shoes in front of the house in the evening. Next morning the Nikolaus had filled up them with sweets, nuts, fruits and sometimes a little gift. On Nikolaus day itself my family usually spend the evening together, listen to Christmas music and making Bratapfel (baked apple). I was really afraid of not being at home during Christmas time and also sad about it. For one, because Christmas time is my very favourite time of the year and second because I was thinking about my family and how difficult it will be for them to celebrate without me. It is a funny feeling not be at home for Christmas and being in a country which is not celebrating it, is my personal challenge. But doing preparations for my beloved ones made me happy and I realised something really important. My family is much more important to me than expected and there is an extremely strong bond between is. For sure, I already knew about it, but I can feel it by now in a way I cannot describe.
December, 7 th Osaka
Taekwondo. Today I went to Sakai to practice Taekwondo again. It was the first time I joined this club. The Dojang was the small Aula of an elementary school and this time everybody was wearing Doboks. Taekwondo isn’t that much popular in Japan, so I dint expected many poeple. I practiced together with three 11 years old boys and they impressed me a lot. Their levels ranged from red belt to second Dan and they were pretty good. The Sabo-nim (trainer) could speak English, so it was very much easier to have smalltalk. Again it is a very special experience how sports is connecting and in this case it’s also about the language, which is Korean. I was thinking a long time if I should continue Taekwondo or learning Karate while I’m in Japan. On one hand, I could learn a new martial art first hand, which would be like learning a new language. On the other hand I would like to live Japanese everyday live and fully integrate into a group. This is much easier while already having some skills. Learning Karate would mean some people would need to invest plenty much energy in me to teach and explain me a lot. It does not seem fair to me, especially because I don’t know how long I will stay in the end. So I’m already looking forward the next training.
December, 9 th Osaka
Hiking around Osaka. The abandoned railway hike. It was out of the question wherever I would settle down, I will continue Sunday’s hiking events. For my very first hike I chose a trail along abandoned railways along a river, where we had to cross a lot of dark tunnels. It looked very adventurous. The perfect trail. Since I already joined so many hikes around Düsseldorf I was not nervous when I left my place in the morning, but I had no idea what was awaiting me. There were around 10 participants on the Couchsurfing event, but this doesn’t mean anything. To my very big surprise the person I saw at the meeting point was a very familiar face – and voice. Lee. I met him while producing the television show and he was the translator. I was really happy to see him again. The group which was meeting under the big clock at Osaka station became bigger and bigger and soon we left for taking the train. Unfortunately most of the people had no IC card and needed to get a ticket first. This procedure was very time consumpting and due to struggling about finding the right platform we missed the train. This was kind of cold start for me. Since I traveled all Japan with my bike I hardly never used trains in Japan before and wasn’t familiar with the system. The very first difference compared to the Düsseldorf hike was that it didn’t matter. We just took a similar one 10 min later. Takedao is located between Osaka and Kyoto, so a group of Kyoto people traveled there directly and were awaiting us. We were twelve people and I wondered that so many people joined on this very cold day. At the trail’s start it was hard to get the group moving and we were going to get very cold. Sometimes life is creating coincidences and so it was today. On of today’s participants was Adrián, Sam’s former flatmate in Lyon. When we cycled together through the Alps this summer he was used to talk a lot about his life in France and his former flatmate. When we met in Osaka last month he also told me that he is living in Kyoto right now, but since I didn’t know him this information just dissolved. Interestingly it was Adrián who organised Movie sessions and weekend trips and inspired Sam to start organising hiking events on Couchsurfing as well. He brought this concept to Düsseldorf, where I met him. I finally got inspired by Sam and brought this hiking trips to Osaka. Coincidentally Adrián was living in Japan and very closely, so he joined my very first hiking event and the circle closed. Actually, Adrián wrote me on Couchsurfing few days before that he read my profile was remembered of a former friend while reading my profile. It was interesting to hear all the stories Sam told me during summer vacations from another point of view. I would have never ever expected this situation in summer. I didn’t talk that much to the participants and went mostly behind the group. The trail was extremely enjoyable and indeed in the tunnels it was completely dark. It was an easy hike with great views of the river surrounded by the mountains. It was very crowded with locals and I didn’t expect that. The trail was with 6 km very short and even before lunch break it was over. We had the choice to walk along the main road a few hundred meters to the next train station or go even further without knowing if the trail is gonna be nice or not. So I did something which would never happed on the Düsseldorf hikes and I always wanted to improve. I led the group decide and they had the nice idea just to walk back the trail. Two of us went to train station while the rest went on the same way back. We made a break at a nice place and ate our bento. Afterwards we went back to station. I was very satisfied with today’s hike in general. But there are many differences. Today we were a mixed bunch of people, while in Düsseldorf most of the people were my friends and each time I went there I had a feeling of coming home. In the end this was the main motivation to continue every week, since the hikes theirselves were quite boring. This feeling I was missing today, but I’m extremely excited about what future hikes will hold. For sure, the trails are promising amazing. I announced the opportunity to visit German Christmas market in Umeda after the hike. Unfortunately the people weren’t as amazed as me about it. But luckily Lee and Masato (Mat) joined and together we went there. Christmas season is my favourite season of the year and of course I love Christmas markets as well. It was almost dark, when we entered beneath the shining banner welcoming us in bold German letters. This Christmas market was small, but surprisingly very authentic. They must have important the original German huts and the stuff. I wondered whether they keep them in Japan during the year are shipping them back. I showed them around and told them about all the customs and cultures of German Christmas market and both of them were very interested and had fun exploring the market. Together we tried a cup of Glühwein (hot wine) and enjoyed my favourite Christmas market dish – crepes with Nutella. I admit I’m addicted to Nutella und biting into this warm crepes with liquid Nutella was heaven! We spent a very nice evening together and I found out something very important. Sharing my own German culture is as much fun as exploring new cultures. And honestly I was happily surprised that their were interested and enjoying that much. Somehow it was implemented into me that German culture is boring and I should rather be ashamed of it. That’s so wrong…
December, 15 th Osaka
Hiking at Minō. During this week I drawed an announcement of today’s hike to hang it in the hostel. So, Ryan, Erek, Eun Taek and me met each other at the hostel’s lobby and went to Umeda together. I might never mentioned, but in Japan it is important to be in time and during my stay in Japan it became very important to me and yet I have never been late. Until today… The hike was amazing and guided us along a ridge in a beautiful wood scenery. We also saw wild monkeys and visited the waterfall. Back in the hostel the others (Ryan, Eun Taek and Erek) went to the local bath and enjoyed while I was rushing to Taekwondo training. The first half and hour I thought my legs would die, but in the end I was happy that I went there. Lucky me, Eun Taek prepared Korean Ramen for the three of us. It was extremely delicious and different to the Japanese one. Since it was Erek’s last evening Tsubasa prepared Sushi, a cake and Tiramisu for us! Tsubasa is a sushi chef and the sushi he made was the best one I ever ate! You might can imagine how I felt after that much food. We celebrated Erek’s last day and drank a lot of beer and Sake in the end. This is what I love most about living in this place, once you enter the living room you never know this will end up and whom you gonna meet. We had plenty of fun and laughed a lot. At 1 am I was totally done and went to bed, while the others kept on drinking. I felt asleep immediately.
December, 16 th Osaka
Jesus. During the night the battery of my phone died and so my alarm clock wasn’t working. I woke up panicked while being sure I messed up the appointment with Melodie. Like a miracle I just woke up in time. Melodie, a girl from France, took me to the local Christian Church in Shinsaibashi which is called lifehouse. I expected a traditional service with elderly people in a business complex. How wrong I was. At the door people at my age from different countries welcomed us and inside was a lot of trouble. The people there were just… Cool! And welcoming! I have never ever been that welcomed in my life before and was totally overwhelmed. The service started in a disco atmosphere and so it was. It was very professional and we danced and sang together on the stage. It was like a rock concert. Only the song text focused Jesus. You may know that I found something on my first camino I never was searching for. My faith and trust. My believe in Jesus. This feeling is still increasing and one thing I really miss in Japan are the churches. I was touched by the atmosphere, I could have cried. I always wonder how a common thing hold people together and how strong they are together. Together we are so powerful, we even could change the world. This people all believe, they trust. Faith makes them strong. This is incredible. I was a stranger, I have never saw one of them before, but I was a member of the family from the second I went in. And I could feel the strength. I cannot described properly about my feelings. The moderator team was also young and the way they talked about Jesus was just cool and… Entertaining. It was fun, while the message was important. Far away from a dusty old book. I had goose bumps several times. I was happy that Melodie took me there. It was the first real Christmas feeling in Japan. Santa was also coming and throwing candies to the people. In the end of service we also sang Christmas songs together. I was introduced to so many people I already forgot half of the names. There was a party afterwards, but I couldn’t join. I’m sure it wasn’t the last time I was at this amazing place. Maybe I found something my I searched for. I don’t know yet, but I’m excited about what the future holds for me on this way. The reason why I couldn’t join the party was because I had an appointment with Jun and her daughters Anri and Kisaki to go to the German Christmas market in Umeda, which I was looking for for two weeks. I was even more happy that Eun Taek also joined us as well. It was pretty nice at Christmas market and I enjoyed crepe with Nutella again. I enjoyed showing my friends a bit around and I definitely felt being at home. Jun and her daughters left for shopping, while Eun Taek and me stayed at Christmas market. Afterwards we went together through Umeda station without any aim and explored. I liked it very much and since I love spending time with him time was like flying. Back in the hostel we prepared and enjoyed dinner together.
December, 17 th Osaka
Bureaucracy. I finally live in Osaka officially. I got the certificate from Tokyo on Sunday and could change my address to Osaka. I don’t have any experience with moving and expected it would be extremely hard. Even though they couldn’t speak any English it was quiet easy. For sure because of Japanese mentality. They helped me with every step. I’m sure it would be much more struggling in many European country even with more language knowledge. I also opened a Japanese bank account in Namba, which was extremely easy and took me only half an hour to go out with my new bank card and PIN. I do not even have to pay any fee. It feels good to settle down and become more and more a part of Japanese society. I cannot believe that around one month ago I was unhappy and just wanted to leave. I’m happy. Deeply inside. It is nearly the same feeling I had in summer in Düsseldorf. I haven’t expected to feel that again, especially that quickly.
December, 21 th Osaka
Korea town. Today I went with Eun Taek to Tsuruhashi, an area which is also called Korea town or K-town. I already have been there when I stayed in a hostel nearby when I was in Osaka the first time. Last time I just bumped into the area and wondered about the food and the way they sell it, because it was way different to Japanese’s way. I really enjoyed to walk around there with a Korean friend, who explained me a lot. The main difference was the open way they offered the food, which doesn’t really exists in Japan. And also there were many kind of food, which looks weird to me to eat for example pig feet and the inner organs of any kind of animals. But of course, there was many many tasty and delicious looking food as well.
December, 22 th Shizuoka
December, 23 th Kōyasan
Temple. After yesterday’s trip it was quite hard to get up in the morning, but I really looked forward this trip. Kōyasan is a sacred sacred mountain and a holy place for buddhists. Temples and Shrines have been established there by famous monks called “Kukai”. I was always thinking about to participate at a temple stay, but wasn’t sure if it is rather a touristic activity. As always when I struggle with decisions I just do anything in the end. So, this time. Eun Taek, who ask me to join, took the decision for me in the end that it would be a day trip. After breakfast Eun Taek and me took the train to Hashimoto. Due to construction works the cable car was not working and we had to take the replacement bus. Slowly we went deeper and higher into the mountains unless there were only small villages hidden in the huge green mountain scenery. I was very excited, I haven’t been that deep into Japanese’s mountains so far. The bus station was outside the village of Kōyasan, so we started walking. We passed the huge entrance gate (Daimon) and walked into the small village. Unfortunately there was no snow, but the temple we visited was very nice. At this time of the year it was very calm and I guess in summer it would be a crowded place. After a while we passed the village with all of its small cute shops and entered a forest. A small road guided us to famous Okunoin temple. We passed a cemetery and the atmosphere was very unique. In this ancient holy forest there were many graves and everywhere the people sacrificed coins and goods, especially sake. The slightly smell of incense was all around and made this scenery even more special. The temple itself was a very nice and calm place with strong atmosphere. We slowly walked around. I lost the feeling of time at this sacred place. We walked back and the sun started to set, so we decided to take a local bus to the main stop. It was super warm in the bus to Hashimoto and it took less than five minutes until I fell asleep. When we arrived at the station it was already dark. And cold. I was really happy finally back at home. Together with Eun Taek I watched a movie, but I only was able to watch the first few minutes…
December, 24 th Osaka
December, 25 th Osaka
Christmas Day. As you already know Christmas is in Japan no big deal and usually a day you spend with your friends. If you are a couple, it’s common to date and go to KFC, which is horribly packed these days. So, celebrating Christmas is uncommon, but I just realised that celebrating mainly Christmas Eve on 24 th is extremely rare even among Westerners. I was the only German one, so literally I was celebrating alone. When I entered the common room this morning everybody was wishing me a Merry Christmas while I was already done with it. I had a nice breakfast together with Eun Taek and we both prepared pancakes. I did German pancakes French style while he prepared Korean ones. We both used the same dough, but the result was extremely different. I didn’t add anything to the dough and poured Nutella on the hot pancake while Eun Taek added some kind of spring onion and oyster.
December, 26 th Osaka
Okonomiyaki. I spent the second day of Christmas traditional German way while meeting friends (respective family) and eat. I met Jun and her family in Sakai and went to an Okonomiyaki restaurant altogether. Okonomiyaki are savory reddish pancakes and a typically speciality of Osaka. Jun told me it would be the best Okonomiyaki restaurant in
town and for sure she was right. Usually the table is a hot grill plate where the food is served on. I already tried pulpo (octopus) several times when I was in Spain and also in Japan, but never like it that much, mainly due to its chewy consistence. This time I tried them again and the taste was amazing! While it is very unusual to eat fish or sea food and meat at the same time in one dish, this is in Japan quiet common (for example Yakisoba, fried noodles with beef and shrimp). This time I ate a dish consisted of fried noodles and rice, which was kind of strange, but very tasty. We should definetly be braver and try! You won’t regret it! I also ate an Okonomiyaki with mochi and cheese inside and I’m totally loving it. I’m keen to eat it again. It was very nice to meet Jun and her family again and I’m so happy to have met her. They treat me like a part of their family and this is exactly the feeling I have about them. You don’t need to be related to be a family in the end. Back at home I felt full and sleepy, but decided to go out for walk with Eun Taek. We went to Harukas 300 building, which is very close to our home and the tallest building in Osaka. It was already closed, but it was very nice to take a walk after all this much delicious food.
December, 30 th Otsu
Mochi. Mochis are Japanese rice cakes, which are extremely sticky. I already learnt to love them in Düsseldorf, where my friend Mami showed me how to prepare them. In Japan you can buy them everywhere in every thinkable taste and colour. While we made them out of powder, the traditional way to make them is quiet different. Today my friend Lee took me to his friend’s house and we made mochi by ourselves. In the morning he picked me up by car and we drove into the mountains of Otsu. Hongo-San (Lee’s friend) and his family and friends already prepared three huge barrels of special mochi rice. They washed the rice with clear cold water running directly out of the mountains. The house was the very last one in the street and surrounded by mountains. The city of Otsu seemed far away and the air was as cold and clear as the water. It started to snowing while the water itself made outdoor oven was starting to boil. The rice was cooked in the water’s steam. Hang-San and his son knew the exact moment when the rice was ready for the next step. They poured the rice into a huge stone made bowl and then manual labour was needed. It was challenging to smash the rice with a huge wooden hammer until it became a sticky homogenous mass. The fresh and still warm mochi were served with sweet soy bean powder, sweet red bean paste, natto (fermented soy beans) and a kind of reddish mouse. They also ate them with nori (sea wheat) and soy sauce. I’m a big fan of mochi and this mochi were quiet the best mochi I ever ate. Some of the small Japanese kids showed me how to cook mochi on a stick in the oven’s fire. It was quiet similar to German Stockbrot (bread dough on a stick cooked on a fire, mostly during eastern). I don’t know how much rice we processed, but the tablets were full of big mochis, which dried outside and will be eaten during the next days. Also another kind of mochi, made of a mixure of both mochi rice and normal rice was made. It lasted until the early afternoon to make the mochi. After making mochi Hango-San prepared a huge bowl of soup and since we stayed outside all the time I began to feel the cold the soup warmed me up and was extremely delicious. I really enjoyed the day and be grateful to spend the the day with Hango-San’s wonderful family and see how one of my favourite Japanese dish was made traditionally.
December, 31 th Osaka
New Year’s Eve. Many people are extremely curios about how I spent New Year’s eve in Japan. Well, for Japanese people this is the most important day of the year and they spend it being around with their families. It is like Christmas for western people. No wonder that all the shops had closed very soon, but compared to Germany, where everything is seriously closed on holidays, it was still busy. In the morning I went for a run with Henryk and we stopped at my favourite temple, Shitennoji, where I always come for praying. I regularly go for running and stop at this temple for praying, this kind of ritual became more and more important to me and a part of my every day life. After the run I felt extremely good. The fresh cold air run through my body in refreshed my brain and soul as well. In the early afternoon I went out with Eun Taek to downtown. The plan was to eat Soba noodles for dinner. Soba noodles are long thin noodles made of buckwheat and it is common to eat them on New Year, because the long noodles should bring a long life as well. One thing I really appreciate at going out with Eun Taek is that we always walk a lot, which gives the opportunity to explore. We entered a Game Center an even though I’m absolutely not addicted to this kind of stuff, I totally understand how people can spend there all their (pocket) money. If this had existed in my childhood, it would have been paradise. They also have capsule with special themes like the walking dead or train simulator, which is extremely authentic! In the top floor they have also all this nostalgic machines from the nineties. I love Japan for this, they froze a feeling of childhood, early Nintendo consoles are omnipresent. We walked along the main road to Dotombori, where the festival of lights is still present. Since I arrived in Osaka again I wanted to capture it and yet the day has come. I have a special feeling about Osaka and the “big city life”. I have strong emotions and I cannot express them words. I might found a way to express what living in Osaka means to me. I’m still excited about it. Taking this pictures in the street calmed me down and excited me at the same time. I don’t know if this pictures can transfer an emotion, but for me my personal emotion is captured into it. And it will last there. I enjoyed a lot and I’m keen to capture the next moments. We went to a small temple in the middle of downtown. A priest welcomed me warmly in the cold and rang a huge bell with me. They gave me a cup of traditional brewed hot rice stew, which was very sweet and delicious. It heated up my body and my frozen hands. We continued walking through the city and explored the very tiny things. I’m still excited about just being in Japan. We struggled a bit finding a place where they sell soba. Usually you can find it everywhere, but it is Murphy’s law, since you tried to find something particular, it is much more challenging. But finally we found a restaurant and we enjoyed a bowl of hot soba. While the most Japanese people sit at home with their families, eat traditional food and may watching tv, we sat in our common room and tried to watch a movie. We just started when some other people joined and it changed to an alcoholic sit in. Like in Germany we watched the last ten minutes in television, where they started a countdown. They showed many people being outside at temples. At New year we clank glasses with the hostel’s staff. That’s it. No fireworks. No noise. I got a sparkler from Tsubasa for Christmas and so we went outside to set it on fire. It was a little bit Sylvester German way in Japan. Even for a few seconds. In summary it was very relaxed and calm, no pressure to find a place to celebrate, no hard decision about with whom of your friends you celebrate, no noise, no smell, no trashy streets, no danger.