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Journey in Japan Part 23: Height of the Lifting Tread

Today I wake up at 4am. My sleep pattern is so messed up from a week in a fourteen bedroom dormitory room; always being woken up by shuffling, or case repacking, or inconsiderate chicken eaters. Anyway, my next seven nights will be of lonely hotel luxury.

With little else to do, I decide to take a look at Japanese television for the first time in months. Honda are launching an aeroplane, the HondaJet. It might as well be a spaceship, it looks like one. Cristiano Ronaldo is advertising some weird gadget that you roll on your body, maybe to release muscle tension, but who knows. A baseball match has been rained off. There’s a game show on; a member of girl idol band AKB48 is being chased down a street by one hundred convicts escaped from prison vans. Hilarious. I switch the TV off.

At 7am sharp I head down for my ‘free’ breakfast. I am greeted by warm smiles, fastidious service, and first-class hospitality. My breakfast consists of Japanese style omelet, grilled fish of the day (salmon), salad with homemade dressing, cooked seasonal vegetables, homemade tofu, white rice, homemade pickles, and a pot of miso soup. I also get to help myself to drinks; I choose orange juice over coffee.

The breakfast is a success. Pescetarian too. I eat everything but half of the tofu; I have never really grown to like it. The rice and miso soup are self-service, so effectively I could help myself to more, but I choose not to be greedy. Full of food I head back to my room to read, but find myself dozing off.

I wake up again at just after 11am; damn, I must have been tired. Hairdryer on shoes and ten minutes later I am out the hotel door with umbrella in hand. It is the sort of hotel that you have to hand in your key at reception every time you leave. Good for me, I hate having to carry bulky hotel keys around with me anyway.

Outside I take a train to Osaka Station. ¥160. My Suica card randomly stops working, and I am forced to buy an Icoca Card. The Icoca card is the Osaka equivalent. Light blue and featuring Ico the Platypus. These cards are always full of hidden puns. The Super Urban Intelligent CArd is a play on the word ‘suika’, meaning watermelon. ‘Sui sui’ is an ideophone that means to move smoothly. Like a penguin swimming smoothly in the water, my card allows me to swim smoothly through the ticket gates. Except when it randomly stops working at the ticket gates.

At Osaka Station, the Muzak kills me. I keep hearing the same songs over and over. This song is Japanese, female vocalist, and has an incredibly catchy melody. I would go as far to say that I like this song, and would like to find out what it is called. My problem is that every time I hear it, it is played far to quietly for me to make out any of the words. As usual, the tune will be stuck in my head for the next few hours.

I leave the torture of train station Muzak and head straight for the Umeda Sky Building. As I arrive the rain stops. Just great, now I have to carry around a useless umbrella all day whilst humming the melody to that song. I see a sign for ‘Fun Fun Plaza’, cheers me right up.

At the base of the Umeda Sky Building there are loads of beautiful and well cared for gardens and fountains. The building itself consists of two 40-storey skyscrapers. These two buildings are connected near the top by two escalators that seemingly float in mid-air. A floating sky garden makes up the roof terrace.

To get there, I have to take a glass elevator to the 39th floor. The building was designed by Hiroshi Hara, the same person who designed that lovely roof in Kyoto Station. I am given no choice other than to get on the escalator. As my foot touches the conveyor transport device, I freeze. I could walk along the escalator and this would all be over sooner, but I can’t move. The very top of the escalator is 173 meters above ground.

On the other side of the escalator I am greeted by a woman at reception. I have to pay ¥700 to access the sky garden. There are all sorts of signs here. Apparently in 2008, Dorling Kindersley of ‘The Times’ newspaper said that the Umeda Sky Building was one of the top 20 buildings in the world. He ranked it alongside the Parthenon and the Taj Mahal.

The route up to the sky garden has the history of other tall buildings from past, present and, rather confusingly, future. There is some information about a sky city in space, there are even to scale models and concept artwork. The sky garden itself offers a full 360 degree panoramic view of Osaka. Unlike other tall building or towers, the sky garden is outdoors; no reflective glass to spoil the magnificent views.

It is really windy this high up, I find it so refreshing. I take a few photographs, wander around a bit, prolonging the inevitable escalator. Eventually it is time to go. I head back across those slow escalator steps, it is less difficult the second time actually. I try to admire the view through the glass paneling, but can’t focus. I head back down the see-through elevator and decide that I am done with heights for the day.

My next stop is Osaka Castle. I head back to Osaka Station, hop onto the loop line, and arrive at my stop. Another ¥160. Built on stone, surrounded by moats, Osaka Castle is fairly high up. Just typical. I walk up endless stone steps and eventually arrive outside Osaka Castle. Sadly, someone has built a small elevator and escalators leading into the castle. It somewhat obstructs the view from one side. Luckily I came in from the opposite side and got an unspoilt photograph. The castle acts like a ‘TARDIS’, in that it has five stories on the outside and eight stories on the inside. Very odd.

After the castle, I head back on the trains to Shin-Osaka. Back at the hotel I collect my key and at the same time I am given a breakfast token for tomorrow. Amazing, another free breakfast. I kill some time, then go for a short doze. I head out again at 6pm for some dinner. I researched a place earlier offering vegan food, in walking distance too. My bearings are good, cross the tracks, turn left at the graffiti.

I find the restaurant with ease, it is right next to Nishinakajimaminamigata Station. I take a seat inside. I am the only other customer. The male owner is very welcoming but doesn’t speak English. A woman with a dog walks in, the owners wife. I already knew the restaurant was owned by a middle-aged couple. Independently run, organic and vegan friendly. Not that I am a vegan. I point vaguely at the menu, “Yasai,” I say, not quite sure what to expect.

My food looks amazing. I take out my camera, and the man who served me, also the chef, laughs and says, “Douzo,” meaning in this context, ‘please go ahead and take a photograph, I really don’t mind’. This is the first time I have been served brown rice, the taste oddly reminds me of porridge and tastes a lot better than the ‘dead’ white rice I am used to eating. I also have no idea what the main part of my dish is; it has a similar texture to quiche, but without the pastry. It could be tofu, but I would be very surprised; tofu could never taste this good. I pay just ¥880 for what was a really nice meal.

After food I head back to the hotel for another considerably early night.

Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I explore the Osaka streets of Americamura, Namba, and Dotonbori, before finally visiting that bar I mentioned by clicking here.

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