Monday, 9 April 2007

Day 3: Osaka and Kyoto

On Friday 23rd I had planned to spend the morning sightseeing in Osaka and then, if I had time, heading over to Kyoto for a bit of sightseeing there too. The first place I went in the morning was Spa World, which was right around the corner from my hotel. Spa World is this big huge building with huge spa rooms, swimming pools, gyms, video arcades and all sorts of other crazy things. It is supposed to be a place where you can hang out for hours and hours and relax. The only part I wanted to go to was the spa. Since Spa World is open 24 hours I thought I could just rock up at any time and it would be OK. But when I got there at 8am I found out that the spa is closed between 8.45am and 10am for cleaning. The person at the counter said there were many other things I could do there while the spa was being cleaned, but I didn’t want to do those things, did I? Also I didn’t want to spend all day there, I had sightseeing to do. So I hurried.

I’ll go back in time a little to explain the craziness of the Spa World system, back to when I first entered the building. The main reason I had gone to Spa World is because in March they have 1000 yen deals, whereas during the rest of the year it costs more than 2000 yen to get in. I entered the building and found myself in a big lobby area. A guard immediately came up to me and showed me to the ticket machine. I bought my 1000 yen ticket. The ticket was made of silver plastic and was the size of a credit card. Then the guard showed me to the big huge counter area, which looked like an airport customs area. The guard said to the two people behind a counter “Explain everything to her,” and went back to the door. I gave the plastic ticket to the lady and never got it back (I assume they recycle them). In exchange I got an electronic wrist-strap to wear. The two people at the counter explained to me that the spa would be closing soon. They didn’t explain anything else to me though, even when I made it clear that I can speak Japanese. They just gave me a piece of paper with the floor plan written in English. So I walked into the lobby and all of a sudden the guard is yelling “Oi! Stop!” at me from the other side of the barrier. I freeze. He is pointing at my shoes. Apparently as soon as I had finished at the counter I was supposed to have taken my shoes off. No one had told me that. So I took my shoes off. Then the guard yelled “Oi! Oi!” at me, and whistled to get my attention (which he already had) and pointed to the left of the lobby to show me where the shoe locker area was. So I went there and found that the shoe locker needed to have a 100 yen coin put in it, which I didn’t have. So I started back towards the counter to ask for change. Then the guard whistled at me again and pointed towards a pillar. I walked around the pillar and found a change machine on the other side. So I got my change and put my shoes in a locker and turned around and thought “Now where do I go?” because from the locker area there was no visible way to the rest of the building. Sure enough the guard whistled at me and pointed. The elevators to the rest of the building were tucked in a corner all the way over on the other side of the huge lobby blocked from view from the shoe lockers by the huge airport-like ranks of counters. I was feeling pretty pissed off by this time, from needing to hurry but getting stuck in this crazy system and on top of that getting directed about as if I was a sheepdog, so I strode across the lobby in a way that I haven’t really done while I have been living here in Japan and pushed the call button with more force than necessary. Possibly the fact that I had not yet had any tea to drink that morning had something to do with it.

There are two floors of spas at Spa World, a ‘Western’ spa and an ‘Eastern’ spa. One month women will be in the Western spa and men in the Eastern, and then the next month it changes. When I went there women were in the Western spa. I got my clothes off (and got a second armband with my locker key – my arm felt very loaded down). Then I went to the spa. The first room of the spa area contained a huge circular bath the size of a small swimming pool with huge statues of Greek gods at one side of it. There was a fountain shooting up out of the water and the walls of the room were modelled to look like some type of temple. The water was much too hot for me, so I moved on. I found myself in a small square with a clock in it (8.20am). In front of me was a cafĂ©. It was closed then because it was so close to closing time, but during the day it must sell drinks (which can be paid for with the wrist-straps). I assume people just sit about naked on the chairs (on their towels, I hope) and have a refreshing drink before continuing with their bathing. There were some other rooms leading off the square to various saunas and massage rooms (paid for with the wrist-strap) which were also closed.

I walked to the left and found a bath that was inside a fake cave. It was all dark in there, and there were very fake-looking paintings on the wall which were supposed to represent scenes viewable from various fake cave mouths. The rocks of the ‘cave’ were painted dark grey. The water in that spa contained honey and milk, which are supposed to be good for your skin. I walked in another direction and found a fake log sauna with ‘outside’ cold bath. The water was VERY cold. I wasn’t game enough to get in. Then I found a room full of roman baths. There were two little herb baths that smelled very nice. They were under little roofs held up by (I think) Ionian columns. I’m not very good at telling the different columns apart. There was another bath in the middle of the room with water that did something but I couldn’t read the sign so I don’t know what it did. The bath was surrounded by four statues that were made to look broken. Coming off that room were the mud baths, but they were closed.

I found another room of baths. The room was called the Atlantis room. It was dark and bluish in there, with big screens on the wall playing aquatic videos accompanied by aquatic music. There were two baths; a fizzy bath with a little waterfall along one side and a detox bath that was also a fish tank. Yes, a fish tank. I don’t mean that there were fish in the bath. The bath was made of Perspex on all sides. Along one side there was a big wall-like fish tank with tropical fish in it. There was also a fish tank UNDER the bath. So one could sit in front of the wall fish tank and look forwards and see fish, and then look downwards and see fish, and feel like one was under the sea. And not drown. Quite nifty, actually, although I think it would be better if there were fish tanks on three sides of the bath, not just one. That would be cool.

In the end it did not matter that the baths closed at 8.45 because by 8.35 I already felt like I had been doing far too much getting into hot water, and that I should really stop before I started to get dizzy. So I rinsed off, got dressed and sat on a seat in the hallway drinking green tea I bought from a vending machine and waiting for my face to stop pulsing with heat it had picked up from the heat of the spas. Then I went to leave. Before you can leave Spa World you have to put the wrist-strap into a machine and pay any extra charges you have racked up on it. There were instructions in English above the machine, but they said ‘Press the correct button’ and a dozen buttons came up on the screen and I couldn’t figure out which one was the correct one. An employee came to help me. I got my exit card which came out of the machine in exchange for the wrist-strap, I got my shoes, and I left the building by putting the plastic card through a wicket thingie and I was finally free. It was 9am.

It took a while to figure out where to board the train I wanted to board to get to Sumiyoshi Taisha. The train that goes there is a Nankai line train, which is the line that goes between Osaka and Kansai Airport. Theoretically that line has a Shin Imamiya stop, but Shin Imamiya combined station is very, very long and the Nankai station area of it was quite a long way away, 300, 400 metres or so, so far that I hadn’t thought that that area was still a part of the station. But I got there. Then I managed to get on a rapid train and overshoot my stop, and I had to get off and wait for a local train to take me back and it took ages, and it was 10am by the time I got to Sumiyoshi Taisha and I was already very sick of Osaka and thinking fondly on the previous day when I was in Nara and things were so much easier.

Sumiyoshi Taisha wasn’t all that great. It felt very old, but I was expecting it to be big because it is described in the Tale of Genji as being a big important shrine. But that was 1000 years ago and it seems as if it has lost a lot of land since then as cities grew up around it. But it had a nice bridge and some huge god-trees, which were nice. Then I travelled to Shitennoji. It turned out that the market was on that day. I had read on the internet that several times a week there is a market ‘around’ the temple, but it turns out that the market is ‘in’ the temple, with only the inner temple area spared from the madness. That’s Osaka for you. I ate a Korean pancake-like thing there, picked up a Danish and a can of grapefruit juice at a nearby bakery and then travelled to Osakajo Park. I ate my Danish and drank my juice, and then I went for a walk. I went far enough into the park to get pictures of Osaka Castle, but I did not go into the castle itself. Osaka Castle is a recent reconstruction, and I’ve heard that the inside is made of concrete. I’m not paying good money to look at concrete.

I caught an express train to Kyoto and then caught the subway and a bus to Kinkakuji. It is very beautiful, but so much so that it looks fake. It is hard to believe that THAT much gold was actually rounded up for the reconstruction. Then I went for a walk to find Gallery Gado, a small museum/shop that sells real modern-day Ukiyou-e. I bought a small print. I own a real Ukiyou-e. I got on a bus that was headed back towards the city centre. It was so full of people and was a very uncomfortable ride. Instead of riding all of the way I had been intending on riding, I got off as soon as the bus stopped somewhere I could transfer to the subway. I ate dinner in that area before taking the subway to somewhere I could catch a train back to Osaka. And that was the end of day three.
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