In many ways, this is a typical morning.
I woke up all groggy and tired. Flipped open the ol' PowerBook and started replying to work emails. Uploaded files to the company servers. Chatted with my boss. Fired off some more emails. In fact, there's nothing really reminding me that I'm 6,000 miles from home.
Which is the complete opposite of everything last night.
Other than being surrounded by Japanese speakers and hearing announcements in Japanese, I felt pretty insulated until about 7:30 last night. That's when our flight landed in Osaka, and in the plane's nosecone-mounted camera, we could see the ground crew guy waving our plane in with glowsticks. Once the plane came to a stop, he put his sticks down to his side... and deferentially bowed to the pilots. It was at that point when I got the, "Holy crap, we ain't in Kansas anymore" feeling one seeks on an overseas trip.
An aunt, an uncle, a cousin, and a family friend greeted us upon arrival at the airport, loaded up our bags, and took us for a ride into Osaka proper. I think my mom was more excited than I was.
"Isn't this freaking you out?" she asked.
"No mom. I've been on the left hand side of the road in a right-hand drive car before. Hello, we lived in England?"
"What about the narrow lanes?" she challenged.
"Nahhh," I yawned. "They were even narrower in Spain."
"So none of this looks weird to you?"
"I dunno, it looks like a city. With a bunch of neon in Katakana. And there are walls along the highway, so you can't see anything anyw-- WOAH! WHAT WAS THAT!?" I exclaimed as there was a gap in the highway wall.
My uncle answered, "Osaka castle."
There's a freakin' old-ass Japanese castle right there amongst all the tall, shiny buildings. And it looks awesome. Better than any picture in a guidebook. And with its modern surroundings, it's all the more surreal. It was right out of my 2nd grade daydreams of wielding a katana and going all apeshit samurai on someone's ass.
"Can we go there? Can we go there? Can we go there???" I asked my mom.
"Didn't you want to do nothing but eat and drink? I thought you didn't want to see tourist stuff."
"Surely I can eat somewhere near the castle..." I giddily schemed.
Of course, I didn't want to get ahead of myself. There was some eating to be done tonight.
We pulled up in front of my Aunt Fusako's restaurant - a modest little place, with bar seating, a few 2-tops, and a family-size table toward the back. I sat down and dishes started to march out. First up, some braised fish whose species I couldn't recognize as anything but delicious. Accompanying that was big homestyle bowl of oden, a hearty stewed mixture of various root vegetables I'd grown up with. A big basket of crabs came out, each bearing a belly full of eggs - not my favorite, but I had to give it a try. Fusako's specialties - okonomiyaki (often called Japanese pancakes) and yakisoba (fried noodles) - were also on offer, and absolutely delicious.
Then there was the highlight of this little family meal. My cousin Makoto walked out with a plate of sashimi - white beltfish and horse mackerel, to be exact. Makoto, being a chef in Italy, does not mess around. Even when he's on vacation. This was by far the freshest, sweetest, most amazing sashimi I've ever had. The crazy part is, Osaka's not even renowned for their fish. It's all about the fried foods here, apparently. But damn, all I want is more sashimi.
Of course, it's not even 8:00 in the morning, so I think I might have to wait a while. In the meantime, I'll get back to my emails. I hope the coffee here is decent...