Sign language for beginners

One of the few practical side-effects about New Zealand being on the other end of the world is that you inevitably cross a whole lot of countries on your way. This meant that an “around-the-world” flight with several stopovers was only slightly more expensive than going to Wellington non-stop (1650€ vs 1400€). So there I was, virtually pointing the finger at my spinning globe in Google Earth, looking for interesting stopovers. Although I’m a bit sceptical about high-densitiy areas, the decision fell on Japan – in specific, Osaka. With a whopping 19mio people living in the greater area, this should prove some drastic change from my 750 souls hometown.

I flew into Kansai Aiport, which is essentially a gigantic artificial island 50km away from the city. First task there: Getting paper-money from my visa. Now, you have to know that I’m bad at maths. I love my calculator-widget. Well, the currency-conversion from euros is pretty strange (1:160), so I horribily miscalculated how much money I would need for my two days stopover. I’ve changed over 1000€, about ten times of what I actually needed – and will probably loose a good chunk just changing back to dollars. Kids, learning maths can really pay sometimes! ;)

This shouldn’t be the last miscalculation for the day: I was being thrown in exactly the opposite day/night-cycle, so ended up sleeping 16h straight from midday till the next morning. After rigorously studying the subway-plan (thankfully with english translations!), I’ve endeavoured into the city. In Osaka you have to look closely to find anything that qualifies for old history, its mostly concrete and advertisements – quite different from my last city visit to Berlin, where you have historical sites all over the place. Tucked away between highways and skyscrapers you’ll find the impenetrable Osaka Castle – a fortress built to withstand every invasion, with massive 20m stone-walls and several defensive rings.

I found it interesting that you can find lots of references to Japans “golden ages” in the middle of the last millenium, but will rarely come across a mention of the second world war. You certainly would expect some information in the Osaka Museum of History, a skyscraper with 9 floors space. The only reference I could find was a map of the fire-bombings by the US in 1945, accompanied with about three sentences of indecipherable kanji (english translations at tourist attractions are a bit sparse) (turns out there’s a Peace Centre tucked away somewhere). Second day was dedicated to the more modern aspects of japanese lifestyle: eating and gadget-hunting! Both not an easy task if you don’t understand the most basic descriptions in kanji (the japanese character-set). I’ve made it a bit of a hobby to guess what products are advertised on the subway billboards (shows you how much graphic design is still dependent on context/textual information). For eating, it really helped that most restaurants have a (scaringly lifelike) plastic-representation of all meals in a showcase – its just a matter of pointing at the right stuff.

So after two days of pretty mild culture-clashes and lots of new impressions, I was finding myself back on the airport (with 1.7km the longest terminal on the planet). Now, after mostly being the only non-Japanese person wherever I went (Japan only has 2% foreigners) halfway across both my known ends of the world, I didn’t particularly watch out for a lot of familiar faces. You can imagine my surprise when I met Conor in my boarding-lounge (he’s been a client of Silverstripe and we quickly made friends). Actually he was on the same plane, sitting two rows in front of me on the same seat-position – what are the odds?! (being a math-looser, I won’t be able to give you an accurate answer to this…). After another 12h of flight I was finally back in New Zealand last Saturday, and basically went right back to my “old life” (welcome drinks on the weekends, starting work on Mondays). All feeling a bit like a strange deja-vú at the moment, but I’m really enjoying to be back!

More Photos on flickr