Sorry for the long interruption. Things have been quite hectic since my last post, but, I am back to finish the rest of the tale of my recent trip! This new post picks up the next morning, after the events of the last blog post. I am still in Kyoto. Thanks!
Another morning has begun, and I’m still in Kyoto for one more full day. Surprisingly, after yesterday’s trek through the mountains of Kurama, in northern Kyoto, I managed to wake up on my own, just a little bit before my alarm went off. Upon opening the curtains and looking out the window, I saw right away that it was threatening rain again. However, that made me happy as I do enjoy photographing the hoards of umbrellas that appear in a good downpour. At the same time, I knew it was going to be another very humid day. Oh well, first things first- time for more yogurt and Frosties. And a little morning news as well.
I wanted to get out of the room as fast as possible since this was my last full day in Kyoto but I had a big choice to make. Do I stay in Kyoto and explore some of the temples in the northeast part of the city or do I do something else entirely? My other idea was to get on the train and head to Osaka. Osaka is very close by Shinkansen, 14 minutes to be exact so it would be a simple trip and I could have some time to do a little exploring in a city that I haven’t seen really at all. I wouldn’t have all day since I did wanted to get back to Kyoto and wander the older Gion area before I left the next day. If I went to Osaka, my plan would be to go up into the Tsukentaku Tower in the Shinsekai area to get the bird’s eye view of the city.
I decided that Osaka would be my destination for the day, but before I left, I had to do a few things to get ready, like download some memory cards. After a nice video call home to see my wife and daughter, I was out the door and down to the JR ticket office in Kyoto Station, where upon I actually attempted to ask for the ticket in Japanese. I gave up though when the ticket agent asked me a question that I couldn’t understand. I was happy I tried though.
Next, I went back to the bakery in the basement of the Isetan Department store to pick up some small snacks for the road, then made my way back into Kyoto Station via the basement entrance which put me near the local JR platforms. This way is easier and almost like a short cut to get to the Shinkansen platforms which are on the south side of the massive station complex.
When I got down to the Shinkansen area and figured out which platform I needed, I still had plenty of extra time before my train departed so, I decided to buy a collapsable fan in hopes that it would help me avoid some of my overheating problems of the previous day. I started looking at the large selection of fans in the souvenir shop and decided that 1,000 yen would be my budget. At first, all I found were the higher priced fans but then I noticed a saleswoman helping a young salaryman in picking out some fans as gifts that were in my price range and quickly saw what I wanted. The fan I bought has a magnificent image of a tiger and dragon against a grey background, all printed on the finest polyester. Definitely a great purchase.
After that I decided to stock up on some tea, then made my way up to the platform to wait for my train to Shin-Osaka Station.
At this point I should say that I really didn’t need to take the Shinkansen. I cold have taken a local JR express train. But since it was free due to my JR Rail Pass, I felt I had no choice but to take it and enjoy its smooth and speedy ride.
My train arrived into Kyoto on time, of course, and I quickly boarded and found my seat, seat 3-E in car 7. As I settled back into my seat, the train began to speed out of Kyoto Station and before I knew it, we had arrived at Shin-Osaka station in the northern part of the Osaka.
The first thing I did after leaving the Shinkansen platforms, to was find a tourist information booth and get a map of Osaka. After a slightly confusing conversation with a police officer about the whereabouts of the tourist information booth, I found it and got my map. The woman working the booth was very friendly and fortunatelyspoke english quite well, as she had lived in the United States for a few years. She was very glad that I had come to Japan considering the earthquake of March 11th. I explained my history with coming to Japan and why was here this time- the conversation was quite nice indeed.
So, with my new map in hand a positive feeling about my day’s adventure, I made my way to the Midosuji Subway line (that line I had taken before when traveling to and from Koyasan) and took it to the Dobutsuen-mae station. The morning commute was over and the trains weren’t too crowded. I was surprised though, by how many salarymen still seemed to be on their way in to the office at 11:45am. Osaka feels different from Tokyo, perhaps a bit more relaxed and informal as compared to Tokyo. And I think the short sleeve oxford style that most of the salarymen had going on exemplified that feeling. (Also, on this subway ride, a young, early twenty-something woman sat down across from me on the train and spent her whole ride doing her make-up. It was a fascintaing thing to watch and it seemed like this was something she did all the time. She got on the train and by the time she got off, at the station before mine, she had completely transformed herself into someone else. )
Dobutsuen-mae station was pretty quiet when I got off the train. I was one of only a few people who did get off there and it made me think that, at least during midday, it was a quiet part of town. The station seemed a little more run down than some of the other stations I’ve been through and it set the tone as far as what I thought I could expect for this part of town. And, as I wandered above ground, I began to wonder even more what I was going to encounter. I was heading into what the people of Osaka seem to think is a very dangerous part of town, crime-ridden if you will. Well, compared to the Namba area north of Shinsekai, its definitely more run down, but compared to say downtown Los Angeles, it was just fine. I suppose it’s all relative, right?
By now it was noon and there were quite a few people in the area, although I think not at all like the amount of people that would be down here at night. Most of the excitement here really happens at night -and it had the same feeling as walking around the Kabukicho area of Shinjuku (in Tokyo) during the day. Where it’s not until the sun goes down, and the bars and restaurants open and fill up with people, that the seemingly seedy side of things really come out. Because at this point it was pretty dull actually. I saw no gangsters or dubious looking types lurking about. Only tourists and young people mixed in with older guys on bikes winding through the narrow streets. The few places places that were open were either small souvenir shops or restaurants mixed in with mahjong parlors full of men who looked like they spent everyday there, smoking, drinking and playing their games.
So much atmosphere here, I wish that I had more time to spend there. Many interesting characters and sites that would be fun to examine closer. It is on my list of places to return to for sure when my Japanese is good enough to have a conversation. Would be a good place to come and do a portrait project…
In the end, it didn’t take too long for me to make my way from the subway station to Tsukentaku Tower and I was looking forward to getting up high and seeing the (what I hoped to be) majestic views of Osaka.
I found my way into the tower and went inside, taking the elevator from the ground up to the second floor observation platform. From there, I paid my admission fee to the Sky Lounge observation deck and rode the elevator to the top. The view was fantastic! And, aside from the overcast conditions, well worth the trip. I love just looking out across the dense sea of buildings- so many people doing so many things every day all packed into what feels like a very confined area. It looks very abstract to me. (One thing that I like, visually, is how when you are up high, like in a tower, and look out through a telephoto lens, like 200mm or greater, the buildings visually compress and create these beautiful abstract images.)
A truly fantastic image to me was that of Osaka Castle, nestled amongst the skyscrapers but standing out distinctly- am iconic image indeed.
On the top floor observation deck where I was, there is a statue of Billiken, the “God of Good Luck”. It’s a iconic thing in this area, popular in Tsukentaku Tower and Shinsekai for that matter. (I first saw a statue of him when I exited the Dobutsuen-mae subway station.) Anyway, up on this deck, people like to have their photos taken with this statue, and to help facilitate that, there were two photographers there to provide that service as a souvenir ( after you buy the photo they took of course). I didn’t end up doing that as the whole Billiken thing meant nothing to me- in fact when I was there, I had no idea what it was even all about. But, never the less, I was in the minority with that and there was a constant line of people waiting to be photographed.
Now, as it happened, this whole photo thing was going on right next to where the best view of Osaka-jo (Osaka Castle) was. When I pulled out my 70-200mm lens to photograph the castle, it caught the eye of one of the young photo employees who stopped to compliment me on my lens. That then lead to a nice conversation with the two young employees, about my book project and my times in Japan. Part of the conversation was one I’d had many times before, where they are surprised that I am interested in Japan and that I am at all knowledgeable about the country and it’s history. (I still haven’t decided if it’s because they want to be polite somehow or that it is a genuine response.) At any rate, they were very nice and did their best to belittle their camera equipment next to mine which amused me. I really enjoyed the that they wanted to stop and talk with me. I gave each of them my card which they seemed very happy about. (I wonder if they ever looked at my website or blog?) After that, I decided that I’d spent enough time up there and it was time to leave.
On the way down from the observation deck you end up in a museum about the history of Shinsekai and Tsukentaku Tower. There were amazing diorama’s of the city in older times, a room showing old films and then finally the souvenir shop. I was gettng hungry at this point but decided against a lunch of soft serve ice cream and instead bought a postcard of the tower to send to my daughter. The final cool thing that I saw there was a display near the elevator to the ground floor. It was, what appeared to be, a transforming robot model of Tsukentaku Tower! I wasn’t able to get any great shots of this model since there were guys all around it, working on it but it looked cool. I do love transforming robots.
When I arrived back down on the street from the tower, I decided that I would continue walking instead of taking the subway to my next destination, Namba and the Dotonburi. So, I headed north on Sakaisuji Avenue, into the area known as Nipponbashi or “Den-Den Town”- Osaka’s version of Tokyo’s Akihabara .
On the walk, I had stopped in some shops, mainly some toy and anime shops but bought nothing. I walked up Sakaisuji Avenue until I reached Nansan-dori turned left and headed into Namba. There I did spend some time in a camera shop, they had a some great used gear but nothing that I truly needed.
Namba was where I had caught the train to Koyasan days earlier and was curious to see it in a little more detail. With this in mind, I left the main streets and headed into the shotengai, or covered shopping arcade. It was magnificent. One shop that I found most interesting was the knife shop. I was mesmerized watching the owner show some beautiful knives to (who I think was) a chef and his assistant. There were more shops in this section that made me think this was the restaurant supply area of the shotengai. There were many shops selling seemingly everything you’d ever need to run a restaurant, including one that sold what seemed to be every conceivable sign you could ever need for your establishment. Way beyond the no-smoking or toilet signs it seemed.
Next up- the rest of the day in Osaka and my evening in Kyoto.