Days 9/10 – Heart Rock Cafe

I had only been in Osaka a few hours and I was getting good vibes about it. A lot of people say they prefer it to Tokyo, time will tell for me but first I impressions were good.

My first day here however was to be spent elsewhere, a day trip to Nara. A lot of people would have seen Nara on the TV because it’s famous for its deer just randomly knocking about the place and bowing to visitors for a deer cookie.

When I arrived there was some weird japanese dancing deer on a video which I’m gutted I didn’t video but I’m happy to recreate the dance for you after a few drinks back home.

It was humid and roasting today so was going to be a sweat fest. I headed straight to Nara park, trying to avoid all the amazing shops which had exactly the type of stuff I normally end up buying.

When I got to Nara park it was time to end my temple ban, there were a couple to look at initially and I particularly liked the 5 story pagoda just because it was different.

It was not long before I bumped into some deer, I loved watching tourists get involved in feeding them. Kids were running around with deer chasing them for cookies, grown men were getting nodded by antlers because they were playing silly buggers with the cookies and Japanese panicked faces after deers start having a whiff in the pram looking for cookies (pretty sure they thought the deer were going to eat their babies).

I wandered around the park and refrained from buying cookies yet, although I did have a few failed attempts at a selfie with a deer. I intended to go and see Toda-Ji temple which was number one the list but stumbled upon Wakakusayama Hill which was third on the list.

There were signs of people drinking water which kind of prepared me for what I was about to tackle so I grabbed some and a packet of deer cookies in case I bumped into some along the way up there. The guy also told me the best route for the hill, which was the most scenic.

It was a very tough trek in that heat and humidity but worth every drop of sweat. The views were unreal and I hope my lazy point and click business will do it justice. I was absolutely dripping mind you, if I haven’t lost a stone on this trip by the end I will be tamping!

There were three checkpoints to the top and all had some tasty views. I was pretty much alone at the first one so got involved in the Japanese photo crazed and did some timed shots.

At the top of the hill, the view was mega, and there were loads of deer knocking about it which made it even better given that’s what Nara is famous for.

I decided to have a rest on a tree trunk and see if I could woo these deer with my cookies. While humming that cookie jar song I started to waft them but they weren’t noticing me the little minxes. I videos this effort by the way, I was pretty angry I had to make the first move but eventually I did (in fear of running out of memory on my camera).

Once I had got up and given one a sample of what was on offer, they all got involved so I sat back down and the selfie tries started again. Plenty of failed attempts occurred and this one deer was particularly liking what was on offer so I went in for the kill with a Lady and the Tramp spaghetti moment. It was love at first sight and the photo was nailed.

I got a Japanese guy to take my standard Tony Adams pose by the view then headed back down the other side, swerving the big red signs that had Japanese all over them but a picture of a snake!  Once I had got back down, convinced I should practically be a 28 inch waist now, I set off to Toda-Ji temple.

I was tempted by a shop on the way and I fancied a ornament/model of the 5 level pagoda. It was pretty pricey so though so I decided to swerve and went into the next shop down the road. He had the same temple but for much less but it was still fairly pricey. However, I spotted on the side of it there was a price tag with a number on it at 10,000 yen less than what he was asking (about fifty five quid less). So, I went to the guy and pointed to the price and a day later and I still feel awful. Not about the fact I asked if could have at that price (maybe it was cost price or rrp and notched up for tourists) but because of the way of the Japanese (honour, respect, hospitality and all that) he was mortified that I’d seen a price much lower than advertised. He instantly agreed to that price and was apologetic, he honestly bowed the minute I pointed out and continously bowed until his wife had packed full of bubble wrap, taped it up and ribboned it. As I left he was still bowing apologetically and I felt awful, I was honestly concerned if he bowed anymore he’d snap in half. Still, I’m happy I got it and now worry is setting in on how I am going to get this bloody thing on the flight to Miyakojima next week.

Toda-Ji temple was pretty cool because of it’s size but I was still a bit templed out so I headed back to Osaka earlier than planned after an amazing day in Nara.

When I got back, I suddenly strayed from my Japanese food routine and went into some coffee shop. I had what I thought was chocolate cake with ice cream but it turned out to be coffee jelly which was rank. My straying from Japanese food was to get even worse later.

One thing that is bugging me in Japan is couples dressing the same. Same top or same shoes, it’s nauseating and should be punished severely. It’s almost as bad as joint Facebook profiles.

I got back to the hotel to get showered and changed to go and have a wander and see Hozen-Ji temple at night.

To treat myself after my hill walk and continue my mission of ticking off the Hard Rock Cafes I went to the Osaka one. Greeted by a guy who spoke perfect English he sat me down and asked where I am from. I said Wales and he said ‘Oh man, I love the Pet Shop Boys’, I should have known then this was going to be a grim visit.

I ordered pull pork sandwich which is absolutely standard Kevin Rowe form in a Hard Rock Cafe. When it came I was pleased, it looked like a standard HRC dish.

Luckily, I am a civilised Brit and I always eat burgers and sandwiches with a knife and fork. In doing so, some pulled pork slipped out of the bun, I can only describe what it looked like as ‘heart tubes ‘which is what came into my head for some reason. I explored a bit further and there was a significant chunk of what looked like internal organs of some animal or human.

I ate the fries and the beans and waited until the waitress came over. Now, I have never ever complained (to their faces) about a meal in my life. I’d rather just not eat it and that’s that. I’ve always said it would need to be pretty grim to complain and this is the first thing that’s come into that category. I politely asked ‘if this was normal’? She didn’t understand as I fiddled with the heart tube so called the manager over.

The manager examined my heart tube and immediately started bowing, he said ‘our mistake, normally take out’. To be honest, the fact that shit is in all of my HRC pulled pork is bad enough. If that had gone in my mouth, I would have one hundred percent chundered, and my friends know that me being sick means a five day face rash.

I felt proper queasy anyway so when he asked ‘do you want me to make another one?’ I looked at him and said ‘na you’re alright mate, feeling a bit queasy’, pretty sure he didn’t understand but got the na part. He said he’d give me a dessert for free, so I cracked on with the Oreo cake.

Easily the worst HRC experience ever and it got worse again. Just as I was recovering with the nice cake, a Japanese band come on stage for a live performance. They start off with the Beatles and it was a crime to sound let alone to music and The Beatles. I’m sure this isn’t politically correct but ‘Yellow Submaween’ and later on moved on to other numbers including ‘The Wong and Winding Woad’ but in screaming cat version.

I managed to get out pretty quickly and went to see the shrine which was pretty average. On the way back I only brushed by Dotonburi and was lured in by the bright lights. This wasn’t on my list yet even though it’s the main nightlife/daytime eating, shopping dining place but the lights tempted me in.

The first thing I saw was the world famous Glico man so started snapping away. The adverts, the front of shop displays and the statues around the place are amazing. I absolutely can’t wait to get back to Dotonburi tomorrow night and the night after. The place just looks incredible and buzzing with people, I haven’t managed to find all the displays I’m after yet, there’s a chef one with his mouth opening and closing which need to find.

After wandering around Dotonburi for a bit I headed back. I called home for a bit because I had received great news about the interview. So I was buzzing and happy that the gap between me returning and being back into work was small. Chuffed with the role too, it’s back to doing what I do best, I certainly will be more selective with roles in the future, not because I didn’t like the last one but because I never considered how taking a particular role could damage potential to pick up others in future. I’m talking nonsense probably because clearly it didn’t anyway but hey ho.

I managed to negotiate the Japanese washing machine and bathroom drying system all which have wall controls. I thought the hotel is so gadget filled it would be rude not to use them. Still pretty buzzing, I couldn’t sleep and I’ve got an early start tomorrow for day trip to Himeji and Kobe.

So Day 10 and I’m up really early and absolutely knackered. I managed to make my train though and first stop is Himeji for some castle action!

Despite often feeling ‘templed out’, i’ll never get bored of castles! This particular one was third out of the four (I think) i’ll be seeing on the trip. Himeji is the only one which is a world UNESCO heritage site though and in fact was Japan’s first (I think I’ve also mentioned Japan has the most UNESCO World Heritage sites?)

It was humid and baking hot again today, I’d say the hottest day since I’ve been here, which is achievement. We are in the middle of Obon now which is a Japanese holiday where you celebrate your elders (not sure if I have remembered that correctly). This meant that numbers were high and they decided to limit the number of visitors to the main keep on this day. So in the end it was lucky I dragged myself out of bed and Himeji castle did not disappoint. It was designed and built to look like a White Egret, and now I actually know what one of them is and looks like… it does.

After walking around with my jaw dropped I wandered around the castle grounds and spotted a city zoo. Given it was only 200 yen, about one pound thirty, I thought I’d give it a whirl, wish I hadn’t!

It had about 100 animals, loads of outrageous ones which were cool but it was just too small! The enclosures were tiny, and they had bears, lions, elephants, giraffes and polar bears for christ sake. It was honestly like Folly Farm (Wales reference) suddenly lobbing an elephant, lion, tigers and bears in the pig and sheep pen! Look, I am no hippie and the only WWF I get excited about is the kind where Undertaker chokeslams 9ft 5 Giantgonzalez at Wrestlemania, but this was grim. Needless to say, I didn’t stay long.

While I was at the castle, I spotted my English marketing of the day – T-SHIRT.

Some guy had a t-shirt, one of those ones that hang over your arse at the back, with Japanese on but then at the bottom of the tail… ‘NO BANANA, NO LIFE’. I have a absolutely no idea what that is all about but seemed odd the slogan was on his arse.

Anyway,  I hopped on the train and it was time to head to Kobe, home of Kobe beef!  My only plans were to climb Mt Maya on the Ropeline then walk the rest, and head back down to SteakLand for some gourmet Kobe beef!

I didn’t plan on having lunch, too warm so stopped to try another random Japanese snack in a coffee shop. ‘Hot Cake’ he told me, it looked like a cake shaped pancake with syrup and butter, surely I couldn’t go wrong?

Turned out it was decent, I wonder if those are the hotcakes from ‘selling like hotcakes’.  It looks like some wartime dessert to be fair.

I had to get a bus to the Mt Maya Ropeline unfortunately, it was too much of a trek.  Once I got the first station I had to buy a cable car, ropeway combo ticket (return), I could tell this was going to be cool already looking up at the mountain!

A Japanese guy saw I had a camera and ushered me to the front of the cable car so I could take photos then made sure I got off first to get on the Ropeway at the front, what a legend.  The Ropeway was pretty scary!  I’ve done a skydive, rollercoaster from side of a hotel but for some reason Ropeways scare the hell out of me.

It was still blazing hot today and it was very clear at the top of Mt Maya so could see for miles.  The views were spectacular and I had a small wander around Mt Maya which had loads of hotels, golf courses, farms and other activity type stuff up there, it really was wicked.

When I headed back down the Ropeway, cable car and bus, all I had on my mind was KOBE BEEF! I was at the home of Kobe Beef and top of the things to do while in Kobe is to tuck into some locally produced meat.

I got the restaurant I had been recommended and the experience was instantly cool.  There were metal plates all around for the tables and sort of stool area.  So one of the loads of chefs would come around to your seat and cook your meal and serve it to you in front of you.

I ordered a special Kobe Beef Set which included chips (not our kind), rice, salad, miso soup, vegetables, a drink and 200G of Kobe Beef.  It was pretty pricey but I would expect that for the meat to be fair.

Once I had tucked into my salad and soup, a chef made his way over and showed me the uncooked meat, and explained where in Kobe it had come from.  First of all he cooked up some shiitake mushrooms and crisps.  I actually managed to force the shiitake mushrooms down which I was impressed by.  Then he gave me some jelly like rectangular thing, it was some sort of vegetable or something.  I have no idea what it was but he said for me to dip it in this side sauce they had provided.

Next up it was beef and vegetables time.  Seeing how they cooked the meat was very cool, they were lightening quick with it and same with the vegetables.  On came my rice once he was done and off I went.  I have to say Kobe Beef pips Hida Beef, it was so good!

Once I had finished, they brought me an Orange Juice instead of a coffee and I paid up and off I went.  A great experience and incredible beef.  Not sure I’ll be able to beat that until I tackle South America and Argentina 🙂

I got back to Osaka, knackered from the day.  My intentions to hit Dotonburi tonight were scuppered when I fell asleep (after very little sleep last night).  I woke up at 10:30pm but thankfully a decent time for me to get Soccer Saturday cooking on Sky GO and VPN.

Tomorrow is a full day in Osaka so I am dead keen to go and see what I think is my final castle and see all of Dotonburi in it’s glory.  No snacks tomorrow, piling up on famous Dotonburi street food!


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