Get to Know Osaka Tour Guide Mayumi Otsuji

Get to Know  Osaka Tour Guide Mayumi Otsuji
To lead visitors through one of the world’s largest cities takes professionalism and aplomb – something that doesn’t come with simple training. Being born and raised in the city certainly helps, but even then, a guide is faced with the challenge of trying to keep things fresh and new – to look at the familiar with fresh eyes. Unique then is Mayumi Otsuji, an Osaka tour guide who appears more comfortable talking about her home city in Japan, than about herself. Aside from her walking tours of Osaka, she also offers sightseeing trips around Kyoto and the world-famous Arashiyama Bamboo Gardens, and excursions to learn about traditional Japanese tea ceremonies and flower arranging.

We met up with Mayumi as she was about to enter the height of cherry blossom season and asked her what it is that makes her home so exceptional.

In conversations you and I have had, it’s obvious that you really love this city.  What makes Osaka special to you?

I was born and raised in Osaka, where people are very open, friendly and optimistic. They are pretty straight forward but its usually in good humor. And always eager to entertain. Plus, the food is good, reasonably priced and very tasty. This makes me proud of being an Osakan.

When and how did you decide you wanted to become an Osaka tour guide?

I traveled in several cities in Spain, where I was led by a talented guide who loved his country. He was professional as well as entertaining.  This helped me decide to becoming a certified guide to show my own country to foreign visitors.

Describe a perfect day in Osaka.

My perfect day starts at the Museum of Oriental Ceramics, on Nakanoshima Island in the northern part of Osaka, after which I’ll walk around the nearby rose garden. If it is a nice day, I’ll walk along Midosuji street, lined with gingko trees and unique sculptures. Next, I head for Kuromon Ichiba Market in the Sennichimae area. There are about 180 stores selling fresh vegetables and fruit, fish, tofu, and housewares. There are many good local restaurants around here. I usually choose one of the revolving sushi bars for lunch. Then I go to Doguya Suji Street, or Kitchen tool street, also in Sennichimae, to look for some pots and tea cups. Later, I head for Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. I may go inside the aquarium but my favorite thing to do at the end of the day there is to watch the sunset behind the Aquarium building, watching the fish boats coming home, with  the sun sinking in the back. Such a placid scene.

The Fushimi Inari-taisha Temple in Kyoto, built in 1499

What other places do you want to show people?

Kyoto and Nara, both of which are the ancient capitals of Japan, and where there are many sites registered as UNESCO’s World Heritage. Visitors should also visit hot spring resorts such as Shirahama Hot Spring and Arima Hot Spring. Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage Routes, another World Heritage site will give visitors a very different experience.

All of those are truly beautiful spots. What part of Japan do you personally want to visit next?

I would love to visit Hokkaido for skiing and Okinawa for diving.

Besides guiding, you’ve had a lot of other jobs related to the English language, for example interpreting and teaching. Can you tell me a little more about that?

I am also a conference interpreter. I teach two interpreter courses at Kansai Foreign Language University, and teach translation to adults, too.

The Kinkakuji Temple is one of the highlights on Mayumi's tours.

What made you interested in studying English in the first place?

As a junior high school student, I was watching Apollo Captain Neil Armstrong taking the first human steps on the moon, and a simultaneous interpreter was translating the news about this historic event. She was fluent and precise. This incident got me interested in becoming a professional linguist.

Are you excited about another historic event, the 2020 Olympics, despite them being held up the road in Tokyo?

Yes, we will warmly welcome guests from all around the world with “omotenashi” or hospitality. We hope that the 2020 Tokyo Olympics be a special event where those visiting Tokyo will also visit other cities like Osaka and Kyoto.

What Japanese food should the traveler not miss when they visit?

Besides tempura and sushi, travelers to Kansai region should not miss “okonomiyaki”, a Japanese savoury pancake that contains a variety of ingredients such as cabbage, pork, shrimp, yam and flour. “Takoyaki” is a round shaped casual fast food which tastes like okonomiyaki but with a much different flavor since it has cooked tako (octopus) inside. “Kushikatsu”, (also known as kushiage), is a Japanese-style deep-fried kebab. As for sweets, do not miss green tea-flavored soft cream, green tea parfait, green tea-flavored Kit Kat, and green tea-flavored Oreo cookies.

As a junior high school student, I was watching Apollo Captain Neil Armstrong taking the first human steps on the moon, and a simultaneous interpreter was translating the news about this historic event. She was fluent and precise. This incident got me interested in becoming a professional linguist.

 

Eating is definitely one of the easier things that guides get to do while on the job. What’s one of the toughest parts?

To request people to be on time. Some people are precise about time, some are not. I once had over 30 people in one group, and it was very hard to maintain time. But I suppose that is OK. Tourists are here to enjoy their holidays and as a guide I should respect how they want to spend their time.

What is one of the most memorable experiences while guiding?

I guided a gay couple from South America around Osaka. I took them to Sennichimae-doguya-suji Street, known for the shops where professional chefs and food experts buy cooking tools and other kitchen items. They bought a pair of green tea cups, chopsticks and a Japanese kitchen knife. They were very sophisticated, very happy and fun people, and professional in what they do for a living (writing and engineering). They really enjoyed the food and entertainment in Osaka. They loved what we call “baby sponge cake.” We laughed so much!

What advice would you give a person who wants to become a guide in Japan?

I would advise that he/she study history and local culture, along with foreign history and culture, so that they can explain what was happening in Japanese history while other things were happening in other parts of the world.

To you have any messages to people who want to come to Japan?

It is nice to visit Japan at any time of the year, but it is especially beautiful at the end of March and the beginning April with the cherry blossoms in full bloom. Or in autumn when the temples and shrines shine beneath the trees full with their red or yellow colored leaves. Also, Japan is a try safe country. People are willing to help you when they see you are in trouble.

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