Episode 9 – Play Time (2015 – Season 1)

Synopsis : 

After surviving the wildest of Japan, a surprising vote decides it’s time for the team to return to civilization in Osaka, Japan’s 2nd biggest city. After meeting Nara’s free roaming deers and the largest bronze buddha statue in the world, at Todaiji Temple, Dean pulls out the skates and famous pink hot pants, and it’s off to Osaka Castle. The next few days they see the city lights, eat the famous foods, visit the theme-parks and even spend a night in one of the mysterious and fascinating ‘Love Hotel’!

Cast

Dean Newcombe, Duncan Buckley, Natali Jacobsen and Timothy Buerger

Locations

Nara and Osaka Prefectures

Points of Interest

Yoshino River, Nara City, Todaiji Temple, Mount Ikoma, Osaka Castle, America Mura, Universal Studios Japan and Kansai Cycle Sports Center and Dotonbori

Day 1:

Todaiji Temple

It was time for Dean to be reunited with his bike. He would ride out of this beautiful village on the ‘Yoshino River’ to reach ‘Nara City’ and the ‘Todaiji Temple’. 44km pass quickly, and Dean is soon surrounded by deer at one of the most famous temples in Japan. The area around the temple is thriving with tourists and deer alike. The team decide to join the madness, buying snacks sold for the deer and feeding the many appearing heads of hungry deer…the snacks don’t last long. Souvenir shops offer the chance to buy local snacks like Japanese Senbei (rice crackers) and even chocolate drops sold and marketed as ‘Deer Poo’! The team move towards the temple, chatting to hordes of children on school trips. They move through the main gate, made of solid wood which has stood almost 1,000 years! Visitors push 1yen & 5yen coins into the cracks in the woods surface for good luck. The team buy tickets and move into the main temple courtyard. Natali lights incense sticks with Dean and they proceed into the main hall to see the Big Buddha. The buddha stands 15 meters high and is one of the largest buddha statues in all Japan. The hall building itself is the largest wooden construction in the entire world! It was hard for the team not to be in awe as they moved around the central statue, learning what they could from the school children as they went. Dean queued with the kids to also strike a large shining gong, but it was the ‘Buddha’s nostril’ that had everyone excited. A small hole through the main pillar of the building is referred to as the Buddhas nostril, and people queue up for their chance to pass through it. For children this isn’t much of a challenge, but for Dean it proves a real task as he flaps his hands through first and follows with his body like a beached fish! His success is met with applause from the entertained Japanese bystanders, and then Tim leads Dean off to see ‘Goshuin’, which is a Japanese stamp which can be collected at temples throughout Japan. It’s time for the team to say goodbye to the deer and head off to try a local dish. ‘Asuka Nabe’ is a Nara version of the Japanese hot pot which uses milk. The team eat their way through the dish in record time and head back to their guesthouse to toast with a beer, and talk about the fun times ahead in Osaka.

Day 2:

Skating to Osaka

It had been more than a year since Dean skated from Tokyo to Yokohama. Today it was time to be reintroduced to the skates! This time the team had an experienced skater to lead the way. Tim had played hockey as a child and still skated well. They meet outside ‘Todaiji Temple’ with deer looking on. Dean suddenly pulls out the pink shorts made famous by Dario last year, but Tim flat out refuses to wear them, forcing Dean to now wear the standout pink! The boys prepare their skates and then begin heading out of the city, but the hills of Nara prove very challenging for Dean and he soon has his first fall. Eventually they reach ‘Mt Ikoma’, which is completely impassable using skates. Dean continues alone running 12km over the mountain and down the other side into Osaka. There, once again, he grabs his skates and moves quickly on smooth roads towards ‘Osaka Castle’. It’s dusk when he arrives and Natali is waiting for him in the castle grounds. He is happy to teach Natali to skate in this amazing setting, before they head off to meet Felicity in the city, a girl from Australia, who they had randomly encountered last in ‘Wakayama Prefecture’. Felicity introduces Osaka’s famous ‘Okonomiyaki’, which is a kind of savory pancake. After the meal, they say goodnight to Felicity and settle down in their inner city hotel. It was time to have some fun!

Day 3:

Amerika-Mura

The team start their day at Osaka Castle, this time enjoying the historical building in the daylight and finding a ‘Shamisen’ (a three stringed Japanese instrument) player who Natali needs to be pried away from. The team discuss what to do, and where to go, settling upon, first visiting Dotonbori’s shopping street, where they buy local sweets, taste flavored ‘shu-cream’ (cream puffs) and wash it down with Japanese tea. The next stop is ‘Americamura’ (or American Village), where you can buy all kinds of street food and watch Osaka’s quirky and trendy locals. They snack on the famous Osaka ‘Takoyaki’ which is octopus pieces in balls of batter. They also try the gluttonous ‘Cream Dog’, a hot dog style bun filled with cream! Surprisingly the team still wish to eat lunch and do so in a local restaurant, with walls covered in the signatures of Japan’s stars who have all visited this understated, yet popular little eatery. Dessert is Japan’s tallest ice cream, which they share – probably a good idea – before heading to a game centre! ‘Round One’ is a popular game centre in cities around Japan. Dean and Natali ride a mechanical bull, Natali tries archery, Tim hits balls at the batting centre, Duncan shows his boxing skills, and Dean dunks on the basketball court. The highlight though is bubble-ball, a new game, which looks like football, only you’re surrounded by an inflatable ball! Duncan wipes out Dean, Dean wipes out Natali, they don’t even bother keeping score! In the evening, Felicity returns for more fun, and introduces the team to a local supermarket. They buy their own ingredients to make their very own ‘Takoyaki’ balls, only this time, they fill them with Japanese Wasabi and Chilis! Despite the team’s efforts to make sure Dean lost this dangerous game of roulette, Natali twice is unlucky enough to eat the spiciest Octopus ball this world has ever seen! As the evening gets late, Duncan beats Dean and Natali on an old school version of ‘Street Fighter’ found in the hotel. What could be a more Japanese way than to play out the remainder of the day on a ‘Sega’ classic.

Day 4:

Theme Parks

Today would be a very different kind of day for the team. One of the most famous attractions in Osaka is Japan’s ‘Universal Studios Theme Park’. Dean was excited to take Natali and become two of the 8 million visitors, that come each year to visit the theme park. Meanwhile Duncan and Tim headed to a much more unique amusement park, called ‘Kansai Cycle Sports Centre’. While Dean and Natali searched for their favorite rides in the fantasy movie setting of Universal, Duncan and Tim found themselves enjoying all kinds of weird and wonderful bike-like contraptions and rides. For Dean and Natali it went from Spiderman, to Jurassic Park, to Harry Potter and walking around Hogwarts. Dean was in his element, looking for once as if he fitted in amongst the amusement park visitors, who were mostly in fancy dress for the upcoming date of Halloween. Mostly they weren’t meeting scary characters though, but more like ‘Where’s Wally’, and the ‘Mario Bros’…this is Japan after all. Tim’s highlight of the day was taking the ‘Neilpryde’ bike out on a velodrome, to hit some high speeds and conclude a somewhat physical, and very much whacky, day out. It was equally whacky for Natali and Dean perhaps, as they had a final ride in the Hello Kitty themed cups, and then headed out of the park through a contamination zone populated with zombies! In the evening the team came together in the city at Dotonbori, where the crab claws and running Glico man draw crowds. To finish this episode though, they were off to spend a very special night…in…a LOVE HOTEL! It could have got wild indeed, but the reality was Natali enjoying her bathtub alone, while the boys enjoyed the gimmick of a pool table in their room! Boys will be boys…

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