Japan Diary – September 14, 2013 – Hanshin Racecourse and Namba

I am re-posting my diary from my September 2013 trip to Japan. This is the report from September 14 with my girlfriend (now fiance) Jordan which recounts our visit to Hanshin Racecourse and Namba in Osaka.

Start of the 2nd race at Hanshin Racecourse. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013
Start of the 2nd race at Hanshin Racecourse. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013

It was an early start this morning as Jordan and I took a visit to the Hanshin Racecourse, one of Japan’s horse tracks. I was invited to the facility by representatives of the Japan Racing Association (JRA) through connections at work.

On the way to the track I noticed a lot of younger Japanese greeting older people with ‘Ohayou Gozaimasu” (Good morning) … this weekend is a holiday known as “Respect for the Aged”, so that’s probably one way it ties in.

I was surprised at the amount of people who exited the train at the stop next to the racecourse! The crowd that exited the train for the ordinary Saturday races would be typical in the US if a big race were being run… think the Belmont Stakes.

As promised, Mr. Tanaka, representative from the JRA, was waiting at the entrance and escorted us through the paddock area to the front of the grandstand.

The infield "Turf Vision" at Hanshin Racecourse. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013
The infield “Turf Vision” at Hanshin Racecourse. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013

The entire place was enormous, and the popularity of the sport in Japan justifies the very long grandstand. Mr. Tanaka pointed out the “Turf Vision” HD screen in the infield, then escorted us to our seats on the fourth floor, right in front of the CCTV operation.

After a few minutes, he brought us in for a tour of CCTV… there are about 20 control room operators and 20 camera operators at the track, and broadcast control was very spacious. Towards the end of our visit, Keisuke Morimoto, the CCTV producer that I met during his visit to Aqueduct earlier in the year, stopped by to say hello.

We stayed for 8 races, including the featured Hanshin Jump Stakes which we enjoyed very much.

Of course, Jordan left very happy as she had a 3,000yen ($30) winner in one of the races! And of course I was broke….

Much thanks to the JRA for accommodating us, and for leaving us with some presents prior to our departure.

After the races Jordan looked to try some Okonomiyaki again, as today was our last full day in the Kansai region. We took a detour to the southern part of Osaka city, to Namba, home of a large shopping arcade and what Jordan would refer to as “The Times Square of Japan, only much larger”

We did some shopping and one of the shopkeepers recommended we go to Fugetsu Okonomiyaki… the same chain that we visited a couple of days ago in Tempozan.

Dotonbori Canal in Osaka. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013
Dotonbori Canal in Osaka. Photo by Jose Ramos, September 14, 2013

After that it was a quick trip over to see Dotonbori canal and the “Glico Man”, one of the trademarks of Osaka – it is a neon advertisement of a running man that has been standing in Osaka since the 1930’s.

After some more shopping, we returned to Kyoto and called it an evening.

Tomorrow we go to Tokyo! I am starting to get a little worried since there is a hurricane heading straight for Tokyo… there will be rain tomorrow, and it looks like the heavy stuff will start hitting around Sunday night/Monday… hopefully we’ll make it in before the hard stuff hits…

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS

As you read, my first visit to a racetrack outside of the United States was phenominal. Jordan and I were both stunned, struggling to see how we could compare Hanshin to other tracks in the United States. We just could not. The atmosphere was great, and the fans were friendly and passionate.

Much as we would have loved to stay for all 12 races – which is typical of a JRA card – we had to press on with our plans.

It was nice to visit Namba and Dotonbori for the second time – Dotonbori is the area around the canal near Namba. We picked up a bag from a store in the shopping complex at Namba station for Jordan’s sister. It was the sales clerk that eventually redirected us to what winded up being another Fugetsu for another dose of okonomiyaki!

The Kansai Thru Pass ended up being a tremendous benefit for us today, as we had to do a lot of traveling to get around. Our route:
– Kyoto Subway to Karasuma
– Hankyu Kyoto Line to Juso (outside of Osaka)
– Hankyu Kobe Line to Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi
– Hankyu Imazu line to Nigawa – the station for Hanshin Racecourse
Then to Namba:
– Hankyu Imazu line to Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi, connecting to Imazu
– Hanshin Main Line to Osaka-Namba via Namba Line
When we were finished, we opted to take Kintetsu back to Kyoto
– Kintetsu Nara Line to Yamato-Saidaiji, outside of Nara
and finally
– Kintetsu Kyoto Line to get us back to Kyoto Station

Needless to say, we saved a lot of money today by using the Thru Pass for foreigners!

Since we had a little bit of extra money we opted to pay a surcharge to take Kintetsu’s premium train services back to Kyoto. A little circuitous, but it was very fast, very comfortable, and we were able to avoid the commuter train crowds during the evening hours. Oh yes, we could eat too. 🙂 I believe the surcharge was 870 yen per person to go back this way.

As you may know, the storm I was worried about at the end of the post ended up being the powerful typhoon that lashed across Japan. Let’s see how we ended up…. 🙂

Japan Diary – September 11, 2013 – Kyoto

Jose posing in front of Kinkakuji in Kyoto, September 11, 2013. Photo by Jordan Martin
Jose posing in front of Kinkakuji in Kyoto, September 11, 2013. Photo by Jordan Martin

I am re-posting my diary from my September 2013 trip to Japan. This is the report from September 11 while staying in Kyoto with my girlfriend (now fiance) Jordan.

Today was a whirlwind day of sightseeing that left us tired at the hotel when everything was all said and done.

First order of business was to go to Kyoto Station to purchase the three-day Kansai Thru Pass. This is an economical pass that allows unlimited travel on private railways in the Kansai region for 2 or 3 days, and it is only available to foreign tourists. With that done, we were on our way to the first destination, Kinkakuji Temple. We could have joined the long lines for the city bus at Kyoto Station, but instead we opted to take the subway, then take the bus. I can see why this method of travel is recommended… Hassle-free and room to sit (on a weekday morning, granted) and the trip was actually quicker.

Kinkakuji was a wonderful place – a first for me as I’ve never been there. The gold leaf plating was a sight to behold… of course, so impressive that we were not allowed within a good 20 feet of it…

Next stop was Ryoanji, which was a pretty quick trip on the then crowded bus. Ryoanji was our first stop in which our shoes had to be removed before entering.

The rock garden was beautiful… there are a total of 15 stones in the garden and it’s said that when viewing the garden from the angles provided, one rock is always hidden from view. Ryoanji was actually quite a small place otherwise. One thing I did notice was that there was a row of about 15 red water buckets lined up along the side of the main temple…. fire buckets in case the worst should happen.

Monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto - September 11, 2013. Photo by Jordan Martin
Monkeys at Iwatayama Monkey Park in Kyoto, September 11, 2013.
Photo by Jordan Martin

From there we walked to the tram for the trip to Arashiyama. After having a delicious curry lunch next to the station, we went to the Monkey Park. A long, looong uphill climb (for me at least… Jordan was fine) – but we were rewarded with monkeys and an impressive view of Kyoto City and the surrounding mountains from a height of approx. 520 feet above sea level.

We returned on the Hankyu Railway which zipped us back to the subway for the ride to the hotel.

This evening we went to Kyoto Station again for dinner at a rotating sushi restaurant, which was fun for the both of us – this is a place that I’ve been to now in each of the three trips I’ve made here, but the first time I’ve seen all of their menu items translated to English.

After the sushi we went to the Kintetsu Railway station to purchase our “Vista Car” limited express tickets for tomorrow’s journey to Nara, and called it a day.