The thing with staying in a capsule hotel during a typhoon is that you have no idea what is going on outside. The sleeping floors had no natural lighting or windows, and with no external stimulation at all, it was impossible to know how bad it was getting. I’d gone to bed the night before with the news already showing lots of flooding and issues to the east, and when I woke up, the news showed scenes of devastation elsewhere. A tornado had also hit one region, and the footage rolled in of flooding and landslides. Typhoon Hagibis was a category 5 super typhoon, one of the strongest to hit Japan in decades, and Tokyo’s airports were grounded. My flight was out of Osaka airport the following day and I could only hope that it wouldn’t be cancelled. Knowing that Osaka’s tourist attractions had been shut as part of the typhoon preparations, I had nothing particularly to get up for, but my grumbling stomach eventually drove me to get up and head downstairs to the hotel’s cafe for some breakfast.
I popped out of the elevator at reception and walked down the stairs to the cafe which had floor to ceiling windows and was surprised to see no blustering winds and no scenes of destruction. It was raining steadily but not even what I would class as pouring, and as I looked out, I saw people going about their daily lives as if nothing was going on. Either the worst had passed, the worst was still to hit or we just weren’t close enough to the eye of the storm. I couldn’t believe it. I mulled over my options and decided that although little would be open, I could at least take a walk and stretch my legs. One of the things I love about Japanese hotels is that they provided free umbrellas so after procuring one, I headed out, and decided to wander down to Dotonbori.
When I reached the covered shopping street I was surprised to see that most of the shops were open and it was a bustling place to be. I got myself a Hallowe’en themed morning snack and pushed on to the bridge that crosses the broad river. Here it was relatively quiet compared to the hustle and bustle from my first night in the city but the wet pavements created some pretty reflections from the large and colourful adverts that adorned the buildings. The rain was constant but not so heavy to drive me straight back inside so I took the time to watch the people with their umbrellas bobbing past.
After working my way through the rest of the covered shopping mall I decided to see if the nearby food market was open. I find that fresh food markets are a great way to explore local life, and are always a stimulation for the senses. Being covered, it was open and I gratefully took shelter from the rain and did a good bit of people watching whilst also browsing the fresh produce, some of which I didn’t always recognise. I passed by two food stalls that intrigued me for different reasons. The first was selling minke whale meat, the second fugu. Hunting of any sort will always be a controversial topic, one that will fire up many people’s passions on both sides of the table. I don’t personally think the debate is black and white either as there is a big difference between subsistence hunting and trophy hunting, and a difference between hunting an endangered animal versus a non-endangered animal. I strongly oppose trophy hunting and killing endangered animals, but I’m not against hunting as a whole. Even although minke whales are not endangered, I don’t like whaling and I refuse to eat whale meat when I’m travelling. But I’ve visited both Iceland and Japan where whaling occurs and I’ve seen whale meat on the menu in both countries.
I was however briefly tempted by the fugu which had a long line of locals queuing up to purchase. Fugu is not just a delicacy, it’s also fatally poisonous if it’s not prepared correctly. I had always assumed it was only served in high-end restaurants prepared by highly trained chefs so it was curious to see it for sale here in a fresh food market. The popularity of the stall suggested it should be safe to consume but a quick Google search revealed there had been cases of poisoning stemming from consumption of the fish at markets like this one so I decided in the end not to try. Instead I found myself buying a creme brulee style sweet potato dish that was highly disappointing and really difficult to swallow without lots of fluids to help it down.
I made my way to Americamura as the rain started to get heavier. With the benefit of daylight I was able to spy the Statue of Liberty which I’d failed to spot the night I arrived. It stood atop one of the buildings visible from Mitsu Park, a downsized replica of America’s one. With the rain making me feel a little chilled, I wandered through the streets of the region, taking a long route back to my hotel. As I walked, my attention was drawn to a bright yellow manhole cover. I’d noticed many painted manhole covers on my travels round Japan but most of them were either very faded or the colours were quite muted. Osaka’s were bright yellow and this one particularly was still holding its colours well. By now lunchtime I was cold and didn’t want to wander any further so I retreated to my hotel to chill out in my capsule.
It was still raining when my stomach dragged me back outside in the late afternoon. I found an eatery with the classic vending machine style ordering system out the door where you simply ordered off a picture menu then handed the ticket to the server inside. This was to be my last proper meal in Japan but I opted to get a range of bites, ordering a plate of karaage chicken and a mixture of fried and steamed dumplings. I wandered back through the now packed covered shopping street and back to Dotonbori which was once again alive with people and this time I had to dodge a sea of umbrellas as people congregated on the bridge across the river. The sky already had a slightly menacing look about it, but as I wandered the streets of Dotonbori, the sky began to turn a shade of purple like it had the night before. It never quite reached the spectacular shades of purple as it had ahead of the typhoon, but it added another aspect to the menacing look of the heavy clouds as the rain refused to let up. The crowds were not deterred though and by now it seemed that Osaka had definitely just gotten the edge of the typhoon. I lingered with them, experiencing my last moments in the sensory chaos of a Japanese city at night.
All appeared to be well with my flight out of Osaka, and I left the city with plenty of time, reaching the airport so early that the signs said my flight wasn’t open for check-in yet. I waited and waited and waited by the board for the check-in gate to appear until eventually I decided to just wander around the concourse and see if there was any sign of a desk opening. What I found was a single check-in zone for all flights by this airline which had a single queue that wound round and round a set of barriers and half-way down the concourse. A quick discussion led to the realisation that I had to join this huge queue which encompassed both bag-drop for online check-ins as well as normal check-ins. There was no get-around and as the queue struggled to move forward I grew increasingly anxious. Having been at the airport so far ahead of time, I saw my flight creep closer and closer as I waited and waited. The panic began to creep in and I tried to flag someone down to see if I could be prioritised but there was nobody on hand. It turned out that the cancelled flights from the day before had led to a huge surge of people flying that day and that was just how it was.
When I finally got to the front of the queue and the desk it was 20mins till boarding time. I hot-footed it to security to join yet another queue where I impatiently waited for my turn to go through screening. It was already boarding time when I reached the flight-side of security and then it was a race to get to my gate and onto the plane. I couldn’t foresee my bag joining me on the plane with such little time, and I settled into my window seat as we took off under the cloud and left Osaka behind. The Rugby World Cup had driven up the flight prices so much that I’d had to take a route home via Hong Kong, a rather inconvenient detour that took me in the wrong direction and dragged out my travel time. It did however lead to a pretty nice view of western Japan as we broke out of the clouds from the dispersing typhoon and sat within sunshine as we cruised west.
I’ve never had any great desire to go to Hong Kong, but my particular concerns at the time was the ongoing riots that had been plaguing the city for months and had already led to the airport being closed once. There had been another surge in rioting whilst I’d been in Japan so I’d been nervous that my flight was going to get cancelled for that reason, never mind the typhoon. In the end the approach into Hong Kong airport was interesting approaching over the water and in the distance I could see the tall skyscrapers that the city is famous for. I had several hours of a layover and the terminal was undergoing renovations which meant it was one of the worst airports to be stuck at with little to do and few places to sit. I was just tired and eager to get home by this point, but when the gate for my Air New Zealand flight to Auckland was announced I got there to discover there was a pretty awesome backdrop to the classic black plane that was parked there waiting. Then it was just the matter of the flight to Auckland and another connection to Christchurch, and just like that, my Japanese adventure was over.