We’ve been in Osaka for barely twelve hours. Six of those hours were spent sleeping. The remaining six have already left me feeling really quite dizzy, even overwhelmed.
So far, three things have very quickly shaped my first impressions of Japan: an astonishingly tiny hotel room; a quite bewilderingly massive electronics store; and an unexpectedly tasty (not to mention forgivingly cheap) noodle bar.
The hotel room: So we’re travelling here for six weeks, and we’re on a budget. Thus we’ve had to shop around for hotels which, where possible, cost less than £50 a night. Here in Osaka, we’re staying in the APA Hotel. It’s clean, it’s comfortable, it’s cheap. And it’s very bloody small. Barely three metres wide, only a little longer than the length of the bed. I’ve been in bigger cars than this.
You can’t put your bag on the floor because then there isn’t any floor left to walk on. The bathroom is a similar size to a modest wardrobe.
Yet none of this is a problem. We didn’t come to Japan to sit in a hotel room. Rather, having a miniscule hotel room just seems to be a characteristic feature of Japan that we’ll have to get used too. The bed is still very comfortable, the shower still perfectly usable, and the TV is still massive.
Yodobashi-Umeda: My girlfriend, Trang, discovered this morning that her laptop plug wasn’t compatible with your standard Japanese socket. Thus we had to go off in search of an adaptor. We were directed by our hotel receptionist to the Yodobashi-Umeda store, which sells every conceivable electrical item you could possibly imagine, crammed across several crowded floors.
Just the sheer scale of the place astonished me. It felt more like B&Q than an electrical goods store. The electric shaver section alone was home to hundreds of different models, displayed across a dozen shelves. I just stared around wide eyed at the place, as we desperately tried to navigate to the section selling adaptors. Even then, we were given a remarkable range of adaptors to choose from. Not for the Japanese the minimal nor understated, it seems.
A noodle bar in a train station: We’d spotted a few of these as we walked around – small restaurants in train stations selling noodles, who’s diners stand as they eat. Needing lunch ourselves, wanting to keep expenses at a minimum, and having smelt these places several times already, we decided to give it a shot.
Ordering is simple: you choose what you want from a large picture board menu outside, and then purchase the corresponding ticket from a vending machine. You then walk inside and exchange this ticket for your dish, which is served almost instantly. For 400 Yen – about £2.50 – we were given a bowl of fried rice and a large and quite delicious bowl of soba noodle soup, which included vegetables and tofu. We ate standing at a counter, flanked on either side by other customers slurping away. I sense this is an experience with which we’ll become extensively accustomed.
In much less than a day, Japan has already left me feeling quite numb. So far it’s been quite a relentless attack on the senses, an assault which has come from every possible angle at every possible moment. Just taking it all in has been a challenge. The next six weeks promise to be utterly blistering…