First of all, obligatory: Woo! I'm 21! My birthday just came and passed so I am past the key ages in becoming a full-fledged adult citizen in the US. Kind of exciting, though it's rather toned down being in a society where that age is 20 mixed with my distaste for alcohol, the main privelage granted. However I am pretty excited that I can basically go anywhere and do most things, as age is no longer a restriction. Being able to join my friends at a nightclub, even if I choose not to drink, will be a welcome change from past experiences (though I am becoming tired of nightclubs and so whatever).
Anyway, for my birthday Ben, Rike, and I went under Ben's leadership to an Italian Restaurant in Shinagawa, where he paid for my lunch. A few others were supposed to join us, but kind of wimped out at the last minute. It was pretty nice being in just a tiny group, and didn't tire Ben and me out too much for the bus we had to catch that evening. The food was pretty decent, the breads were surprisingly good, and the deserts were tasty. The pastas were a tad lacking, but way better than I would have expected from Japan. It was nice and fun.
That evening Ben and I caught our bus to Osaka, which was the worst of the nightbuses so far -- the seats were all narrow and there area infront of us was blocked at the bottom, giving us no leg room. Thankfully it was relatively short (8 or so hours, about an hour and a half of that spent off the bus at service areas) so the bus itself wasn't much of a problem. It got us to Osaka rather early, though, leaving us rather tired...but unable to check-in to the hotel (about 7AM for those wondering). Instead we wondered the city, eventually making our way out to Osaka Castle.
Eventually I'll put pictures of both up, but Osaka castle looked a lot like the Imperial Castle to me, only the architecture seemed slightly nicer and the gardens slightly less so, though I am inclined to believe my opinion on that would be opposite if I saw both when the sakura were in full bloom. We were able to enter the main tower itself, which was a kind of dull museum with a very few really cool pieces of art and samurai helms. The best part was undoubtedly the observation deck at the top of the tower, where you could see parts of the castle against the modern city. On our way out we ran across one of Ben's classmates from last year, who is studying abroad in Kyoto at Ritsumeikan. It was a pretty strange coincidence, but kind of cool.
After the palace we attempted to get to our hotel...but we had printed the wrong address. We ended up taking the subway to the wrong part of town and exploring, on foot, for something like 2.5 hours. It was kind of ridiculous, as we were both still really exhausted. However, the trains were rather nice and the area we explored was kind of cool to see - rather residential, a bit quieter than most similar Tokyo neighborhoods. I guess we wouldn't have seen it otherwise, and everything worked out so it is alright in the end. Though we crashed RIDICULOUSLY early (Ben was out by like, 4:30, I was out by 5:30). Haha, it was crazy.
My intial thoughts on Osaka: it basically feels like they took all the quieter machi (neighborhoods) from Tokyo and shoved them together, which is rather nice. Walks seem like they can drag on as there isn't as clear a line between an active city neighborhood and filler area as exists in Tokyo. If that doesn't make sense: Tokyo is basically a lot of small, active city neighborhoods connected with long roads. Between each neighborhood there is basically nothing interesting going on, often the streets widen up and all the area is filled with a lot more gray and such, and perhaps some small homes and businesses and such, spread out. The divide between the two is very distinct and obvious. It is much less so in Osaka, I am finding, which kind of makes it feel more unified. Also there are a few rivers in the middle of the city which is really cool and pretty.
As for today, I don't really remember everything Ben said he wanted to do, but I think we are supposed to go down and do...something, maybe go to the water front, head to the Otaku area, and later head to the gay club/bar area? It could be pretty cool, though I guess I am mainly looking forward to seeing the water and eating some Osakan food. Takoyaki, fried octopus balls, are supposed to be amazing/cheap here, so I guess I will be eating some of those. I kind of like them in Tokyo, but the octopus is always so chewy I don't really ever particularly want to eat more than one of them. We'll see how it goes!
P.S. I got my grades back! All of them A or A+ so I will have a 4.0 Fall 2009 Semester! I think I am supposed to be registering for classes this week or next week, either way I should have my next semester schedule ready by the end of the month.