Our Travels: Mbithe in Japan | Part Two

(Read Part One here!)

So where did we leave off? Oh, right! I was in my lovely bedroom at the Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute, Kansai (or just “the centre” to us), admiring the view, and realizing that I was finally in Japan. 🙂 I finally fell asleep at around 2 am (which was to be my sleeping time for the next couple of days). Still, I woke up fairly early at 7 am, enough time for me to have breakfast and attend orientation! 🙂

Orientation- my-friend-Timea-with her-Rapunzel-like-hair

Orientation! Spot my friend Timea from Hungary with her Rapunzel-like hair 🙂

Thursday, August 20th 

The first day proved what I had already suspected – as far as the centre was concerned, it was going to be all Japanese, all the time. Introductions were done entirely in Japanese, as was the briefing outlining the purpose of the program and a few rules (including our midnight curfew). We then had a tour of the centre and its facilities. Each odd-numbered resident floor at the centre has a laundry room with washing and drying machines and a few irons and a sink, and each even-numbered one has a lounge and mini-kitchen. And some lounges (like the one on the 8th floor) have a remote-controlled massage chair!! There’s also a karaoke room, a full kitchen, and an exercise room, as well as a cafeteria, library, and self-study room. We could also borrow bikes from the centre and cycle anywhere in the vicinity. Our hands down favourite destination came to be Rinku Pleasure Town – but more on that in a bit!

One of the many nights spent chilling in the lounge. :)

One of the many nights spent chilling in the lounge. 🙂

Later that day we had free time, and a bunch of us decided to head down to the beach, a few minutes’ walk from the centre. I didn’t know it then, but those were going to end up being my closest friends in Japan. 🙂 Federico from Uruguay, Kevin from Jamaica, Melissa from the Dominican Republic, Nadja from Slovenia, Nastya from Belarus, Timea from Hungary, Giang from Vietnam, Richie from Micronesia, and Xin Ying from Brunei. Hi guys!!! *waves frantically, sending hugs through the interwebs*

Before we knew it we’d walked all the way up the beach, past Rinku Premium Outlets (a mall) and all the way to Rinku Pleasure Town (also a mall, but way more fun than Premium Outlets). Despite its mildly X-rated name (and I know it’s not just me), Rinku Pleasure Town is the bomb dot com and was definitely our favourite place to hang out in Rinku! It had a ferris wheel, a bowling alley, a MacDonald’s and a Starbucks, a gaming arcade (where thousands of yen were spent trying to win all the prizes), Casual Outlet Shot, a clothing and shoes store with insane discounts (where I nearly went crazy the day before we left), a pet shop (which was way too expensive for anyone to afford), and my personal favourite, Seria, a 100円ショップ (hyaku en shoppu – hundred yen shop) were everything cost a standard price of (you guessed it) a hundred yen. Or, more accurately, 108 yen, with tax. 😀 Kenyans, that’s KSh. 94 with the current exchange rate. Crazy cheap, especially considering the sheer variety and good quality of products they stocked! Everything from kitchen utensils, cutlery, cosmetics and accessories, stationery, household goods, pet stuff…

Our ferris wheel!

Our ferris wheel!

Seria, the hyaku en shoppu, my favourite place for awesome and affordable stuff! :)

Seria, the hyaku en shoppu, my favourite place for awesome and affordable stuff! 🙂

The gaming arcade. This place should give us shares, because we spent a LOT of money here.

The gaming arcade. This place should give us shares, because we spent a LOT of money here.

Rinku Pleasure Town!

Spot Casual Outlet Shot in the background – amazing bargains! Crazy discounts!

Selfie in front of Osaka Castle :)

Selfie in front of Osaka Castle 🙂

Friday, August 21st

The following day we had our Osaka Tour! First stop was Osaka Castle, which we got to enter. It was completed in 1597 (tafakari hayo!) and is now a museum of sorts, home to interesting relics and carefully kept antiques from long ago.

Next, we went to Shinsaibashi, the shopping capital of Osaka. It was amazing, especially Shinsaibashi-suji, an enclosed street full of shop after shop after shop! It was here that I visited Book-Off, a manga and music store, and bought some manga – Bleach, Naruto, and D.Gray-man.

After this we had the option of either going back to the centre with the sensei-tachi at 6 pm, or staying on in Osaka and finding our own way home, provided we got there before the midnight curfew. No brainer! We toured Shinsaibashi some more, then went to Dotonbori (the food capital of Osaka – hello!). Then we went back to Shinsaibashi and ended up losing Melissa and Richie. 😀 No worries, we all ended up safe and sound at the centre. 🙂

Group photo: all the participants posing in front of Osaka Castle. Can you spot me? :D

Group photo: all the participants posing in front of Osaka Castle. Can you spot me? 😀

The view of Osaka from the topmost floor of Osaka Castle.

The view of Osaka from the topmost floor of Osaka Castle

Eating takoyaki in Dotonbori

Eating takoyaki in Dotonbori – before Richie and Melissa pulled a Houdini 😀

The famous Glico Running Man sign in Osaka

The famous Glico running man billboard in Osaka

You know you're in Dotonbori when...

You know you’re in Dotonbori when…

Osaka by dusk. Isn't she lovely? :)

Osaka by dusk. Isn’t she lovely? 🙂

Saturday, August 22nd

The next day, we had a home visit. All 61 of us were divided into two’s or three’s and visited different homes for the day. Our host family was an elderly couple who didn’t have children. They did, however, invite their neighbour to join us, together with her two adorable daughters who were three and five years old. Kawaii! My partner Xin Ying and I had a fun-filled day full of delicious food and interesting new experiences. For lunch, our host dad made us takoyaki (roast octopus in balls of pastry). We’d had takoyaki the previous day at Dotonbori, but it was great being part of the cooking process. Dinner was my favourite. The display was amazing – a big bowl of rice in the middle, surrounded by various “toppings” of fish, meat, and pickles. We used this to make what I call DIY sushi. We’d take a sheet of green seaweed, put a bit of rice on it, top it up with whatever toppings we so desired, roll up the seaweed, dip it in soy sauce and take a bite. Delicious! As a side dish, we had tenpura, which is seafood or vegetables that are dipped in a batter and then deep fried.  Our tenpura was prawns, sweet potato, and capsicum. So good!

The making of takoyaki

The making of takoyaki. First you have your boiled tako (octopus) chopped into pieces. Then you have your batter, which you spoon into the takoyaki-making machine over some pieces of tako. You can top this up with spices. Then you turn the mixture over and over to form balls. 🙂 Fun fact: takoyaki is quite popular in Osaka, so many Osakan families have this machine. Not so much in other parts of Japan, such as Tokyo.

Lunch is served :)

Lunch is served 🙂

Dinner! Tasted every bit as good as it looked!

Dinner! Tasted every bit as good as it looked!

Sunday, August 23rd

We had free time all day Sunday. But of course when you’re in Japan for the first time, you can’t just sit around in the name of free time! We went off to Nara, a city about two hours by train from Rinku. Nara is famous for Nara Park, where some really friendly deer roam the streets. You can buy deer food at 50 yen for a small pack, and lure deer into taking selfies with you by bribing them with food. 😀 While touring one of Nara’s numerous temples, Federico, Nastya and I somehow got separated from everyone else and got lost, despite our precautions given that we’d lost people the on Friday too! Ah well, sometimes the best adventures begin with “Oh my god, where did everyone else go??” We got to bond which was so nice, and we found our way back home just fine. 🙂

Nara, home of deer :)

Nara, home of deer (shika in Japanese). Fun fact for Naruto fans: remember the character Shikamaru Nara, whose clan owns a large forest with many deer? Get it now? You’re welcome! 🙂

This is Tōdai-ji, a Buddhist temple in Nara, home to the largest bronze statue of Buddha.

This is Tōdai-ji, a Buddhist temple in Nara, constructed in 752 AD (!!) and home to the largest bronze statue of Buddha.

A staple in almost all Buddhist temples in Japan: charms. For health, love, work, safety, you name it, you'll find it.

A staple in almost all Buddhist temples in Japan: lucky charms. For health, love, work, safety… you name it, you’ll find it.

Reason #1 to visit Nara - it is absolutely stunning!

Reason #1 to visit Nara – it is absolutely stunning! Doesn’t it look like some great photographer took it with an amazing camera? Really, it was just me on my smartphone. 😀

Lost in Nara with Nastya and Federico! :D

Lost in Nara with Nastya and Federico! We propped Nastya’s camera on one of the stone lanterns, set it to timer mode, and posed to forever capture the moment 😀

Monday, August 24th

The following day, we had our first cultural activity. Before arriving in Japan, we’d ranked 5 cultural activities in order of preference: wearing yukata (summer kimono), calligraphy, taiko (Japanese drum), karate, and flower arrangement. I chose wearing yukata and calligraphy. Dressing up ended up being pretty fun. 🙂

Spot a sister ;)

Spot a sister 😉

So that’s it for Part Two! Stay tuned for Part Three, where I tell you all about our four-day study trip to Hiroshima and Kyoto. 🙂

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Mbithe’s ideal life would consist of an infinite loop of travelling to beautiful, idyllic locations with breathtaking views, amazing food, and nothing on her to-do list but relaxation and rejuvenation. Mbithe’s actual life involves a lot of proposals, research papers, and code, with just enough travel to make up for the rest of it.

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  • Gillian

    That 100円ショップ was everything! Can’t wait for Part Three

  • JOkoth

    Yes, this travelogue made me space out! Thank you for sharing your experiences.

    • Thanks for reading! 🙂

  • Melissa Tavarez Lopez

    I liked the article!! You are a good writer mbithe :D!

    • Thanks for reading Melissa! 🙂

  • zawadi wangui

    As others have mentioned before, you are an amazing writer…makes one feel like they are in Japan with you…at least I did feel like I was eating takoyaki, making the DIY sushi, getting lost in Osaka, going to Rinku Pleasure Town…And the photos are awesome!! Were they taken on your smartphone, or just the one of Nara was taken on your smartphone? I need to buy the model of smartphone that you have 🙂

    Doesn’t the whole experience of being with people from different countries make Japan feel like the United Nations? Where else would one get the opportunity to meet people from 61(?) countries, all living together for 2-weeks, taking part in classes and other activities together?

    Can’t wait for part 3 (and 4, 5…just kidding 🙂 )

    • ありがとうございます Wanguiさん!Most of the pictures were taken by me on my phone… I had intended to buy a camera but the gaming arcade ate my money! Just kidding 😀

      It was honestly an incredible experience… I feel like I didn’t just go to Japan but to Uruguay and Jamaica and Hungary and Belarus and… you get the idea. 😀 Such a great experience, 61 countries brought together by the Japanese language 🙂

      • zawadi wangui

        True about not just going to Japan, but to so many other countries, through the Japanese language. It appears that with Japanese, the world is really your oyster. 🙂

  • I spotted you in the frilly top in front of Osaka! Oh and I love tempura! Don’t like sea food but tempura, I love. Looks like you had a grand time! I cannot wait to go to Japan!

    • Thanks for reading, Pendotalk! 🙂

  • Federico

    Sorry it took me long to read and comment Mbithe! This series is amazing. I love the way you’re telling everyone the story of our wonderful experience in Japan. The photos are stunning and you’re a really good writer.

    It was a pleasure getting lost with you in Japan 😛

    • Aww, thanks for reading Federico!! 🙂

  • Great experience! I have ever been to Todaiji, Nara; how come you did not post a picture of the “gorgeous smiling buddhist image?” Those deer are always lovely!

    • ブログを読んでくれてありがとうございます!

      I really don’t know why I didn’t post the pictures of the Buddha… I did take some though! 😀

  • Annbeatrice Njarara

    Wow. This is super amazing. I loved every bit of this. The photos, the way of writing …damn someone can really write. Best line …* waves frantically sending hugs through the inter webs (Burst my head laughing). Generally, am really proud. Keep at it.

    • Thank you Ann! It’s great to hear from you 🙂

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