It started yesterday as Sargent Suzanne has introduced P.E. into our school days and we are all running now every-other-day. We jogged through the large central park and zoo in Osaka and promptly got lost (a few times in fact). We did accidentally find a few hidden back-streets with many of the famous Japanese love hotels, though, so there was that. :)
Then last night, we wandered into a restaurant (based on the rubber food display out front - more on that in a later post) with everything on a skewer and the kids were in heaven. It is called Yakitori and it is delicious. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakitori
We then walked around for a while and went into one of the famous video game, pachinko and gambling parlors which was filled with both male teens and male "salary men" after work. It was extremely loud, smokey and overwhelming.
Today, Suzanne booked us tickets to the famous Japanese puppet theater, Bunraku, to see the classic 12-hour production of Sugawara Denju Tenarai Kagami (Sugawara's Secrets of Calligraphy). It has both a lunch and a dinner break. We had English translation earbuds and a playbill so we were following along pretty well. Bunraku was at its peak in the mid-1640's and this popular opera/play was written in 1745. We made it through 2 1/2 hours, or 3 of the 15 acts! Check this out: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UV938f46Wpg
What else did we do today? Rode two different subway lines, got lost again and walked through some beautiful Shinto shrines and burial grounds, saw many Cherry Blossom trees in bloom (famous in Japan in April), went to the Times Square-like Dotonbori shopping area, the upscale Shinshaibasi hotel and luxury-store corridor, and finally the Nishishinsaibashi hipster area.
We even had some more traditional Japanese food for lunch as pointing to the menu pictures is pretty safe - that is until we could not figure out how to say "Plain Miso soup with nothing floating in it" and had to fish-out the jaw and large eyeball of some animal (fish?) from Ben's soup. I don't think he ate much of it after that.
Like several other places we have visited on this trip, and 180-degree opposite of most of Australia, we are definitely in a "non-tourist" city. Osaka is partnered closely with neighbor cities Kobe and Kyoto (much like San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose), but is not an international tourist destination like Tokyo. So far in three days of wandering the streets, we have seen maybe 2-3 Caucasian-looking groups of people. The locals are curious about us, but far too polite to stare for more than a nano-second.
For that matter, Japan on the whole is an extremely polite and friendly country, runs like a clock and is mostly spotlessly clean. In the mornings we see people vacuuming the outside sidewalks and picking up trash not only from the curbs, but out-of-the street grates with long kitchen tongs. The cabbies and police wear white gloves and everyone bows after retail or restaurant interactions.
And the entire time we have been here, we have not heard a single car-horn honked once in the streets.
What a pleasant culture. I absolutely love it here and think the kids are understanding how absolutely unique this country is - and having fun!
What's next on our list of things to do to really understand Japan? Hashin Tigers baseball game, Buddhist and Shinto temples in Nara and Kyoto, bullet train to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial perhaps?