Ambling Through Osaka

Osaka Travel Blog

 › entry 8 of 14 › view all entries

I headed out early today and bought a subway pass. I was going to brave the Japanese subway system by myself. My first target was the Nankou Bird Sanctuary only one stop away. I managed to buy my ticket, board the right train and get off at the right stop. I had to use the compass that is on Kevin�s watch (which is the reason I stole it from him) and went in the right direction. I found it after about a 15 minute walk. It had some nice paths in a forested area and I found quite a few new birds. It also had a couple nice overlooks of some wetlands but there were no shorebirds there today.

 My next challenge was to find the subway station again.

It was helpful that many signs are in English. I was headed to a National Park outside of Osaka in the town of Minoo. I had a map of the subway and I was to take the P line to the C line to the M line to the Tankyu/Minoo line. Once off the M line I did not have a map. So everything went well until then. When I got to the Tankyu/Minoo line I asked a nice Japanese lady with many gestures �Is this the train to Minoo?� It was, so I thought I was in the clear. I sat back and waited for the stop that had a sign that said Minoo. But at a stop called Ishibashi, that nice lady jumped up and ran over to me, gesturing wildly and saying something which I can only guess was Japanese for �You have to get off here and catch a different train!� So I nodded, bowed, thanked her and blindly got off the train and got on the right one.
All was well with thanks to a kind stranger! As I left the subway station, I couldn�t get out. It seems I didn�t have the right ticket. After the gates slammed shut on me several times, I finally asked the attendant who said I needed a different ticket but let me pass anyway. So I made it to Minoo. I asked a taxi to take me to the park and pointed to a picture of the waterfall. It seemed to be a 15 minute ride, climbing all the way. I had left the city at the end of my subway ride and now we climbed into the forested area. It was a lovely forest. The taxi driver dropped me off at the falls and I aimed downhill. The waterfall was nice. There were some wild macaques (monkeys) in the park for some reason. I heard the story but can�t quite remember the details but they are not native.
They have established a feral population though and can be pretty aggressive.

The trail down was along a stream in thick woods and it was very nice. I had several good birds, especially a red-flanked bluetail and a little egret.

After walking for an hour and a half or so, I began to wonder how to get out of the park. I was a little worried about getting back to the ship before it left! I was not sure if I could find a taxi back to the city. So I finally asked and found out I was still on the right track. I walked a bit more and low and behold, I ended up right at the taxi stand. The strange thing was that it was the taxi stand at the subway station! So I had ended up right where I started, which was a good thing! I caught the subway back to the ship, changing trains at the appropriate times.

At one point on the subway, I saw a bunch of ducks in a river. I was looking for them on the way back and sure enough, there they were. I actually debated getting off at the next subway stop so I could make two more passes at birding the river from the train! I refrained but it did cross my mind!

Back on the pier, some local men and women were preparing traditional rice cakes. They cooked the rice over a wood fire, then the men would pair up and pound it with big wooden hammers. When it was the perfect consistency, the ladies kneaded it until it was just right, rolled it out then filled it with the sweet bean paste that I had tried in Incheon. Then they rolled the little balls in peanuts or sugar and gave them out with some hot tea and chopsticks. They all seemed so enthusiastic to be there for us, even though it was very cold and many people just passed them by without a second look! I didn't know until much later that this is a New Year's tradition.

 "For over a millennium, making and eating the sweet rice treat mochi has been a celebrated New Year’s tradition in Japan, with generations of families and communities coming together to wish good health and prosperity for the new year.  We invite everyone, young and old, to bundle up against the crisp winter air, and enjoy the tradition of mochi tsuki (moe–chee sue–key), or "mochi–making."

Mochi–making involves a centuries old method of first steaming the sweet rice over an open fire, then placing the cooked rice into a warm stone or concrete bowl called an usu. Using large wooden mallets, two people rhythmically pound the rice in the usu while a third person uses his bare hands to swiftly move the rice between each mallet crash. After several minutes of vigorous pounding, the rice becomes a thick, smooth dough — mochi. While traditional pounding takes place outside, back in the kitchen modern mochi-making appliances are also running. Once cooked and pounded, people of all ages hand form the steaming–hot mochi into small cakes. Some are filled with a sweet bean paste called ahn. Guests can then eat their mochi warm and fresh, or bring them home to be later roasted and dipped in a sweetened soy sauce."

Back on the ship, I followed my usual pattern. Up to the hot tub for a while, shower, dress for dinner, eat and go to bed. It�s working well for me! I saw lots of new birds, I�m feeling fine and all is well with the world!

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photo by: yasuyo