Saturday, August 29, 2009

Osaka Day 1


Great to be back in Japan, the land of great food, manners, and functionality. Will be traveling around for nearly two weeks, which provides a better opportunity for a deep dive.

Woke up with a slight head cold, which I hope I can keep at bay. Jet lag is bad enough without a headful of goop.

Moh and I decided on a day of Osaka tourism, seeing some of the major sites and museums. First stop was the Osaka Castle and surrounding park. Hot muggy day and mostly cloud covered skies, thank god, which kept me from being baked alive.

Hard to know how much the late August weather or summer vacations contributed to the mood, but we both remarked how laid back Osaka is vs. Tokyo. Of course it's about 1/5 the size of Tokyo, but the energy level is different. So are the clothes, esp for the young people. Lots of 'big hair' but the outfits far less daring than what you'll see up north.

I'm always up for history lessons when I travel, and the area surrounding Osaka, which includes Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe, is rich in history and tradition, not all of it peaceful and prosperous. Osaka and southwestward toward Hiroshima, of course, were the epicenters of extraordinary firebombing runs by the USA in spring 1945 through the atomic blasts in August of that year. Osaka itself, therefore, has been almost completely rebuilt during the last 60 years. And its monotonous functional architecture reminds me of other cities rebuilt after devastation in WW II, such as Milano.

Osaka Castle is a totally rebuilt replica of the original structure that stood on this site, starting in the late 16th century. Not sure if the warlord, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who oversaw construction of the first fortification, was considered the first Shogun, but his was the first rule over a unified Japan, and he is a revered historical figure for this reason.

Also stopped in at the Osaka Peace Museum, which is not terribly impressive but did provide a remarkably straightforward narrative of Japanese bellicosity starting in the early 20th century as well as a graphic description of American firebombing of Osaka in 1945.

Museum-wise, the highlight of the day was the National Museum of Oriental Ceramics, special exhibit on Korean Celadon from the 12th century. If you love fine ceramics, as I do, it's a must-see.

Osaka at night is a neon-illuminated theme park of pachinko parlors, karaoke joints, and gentlemen's clubs. I love the light show, and the people watching.

As a city, it struck me that Osaka was to Tokyo somewhat as Chicago is to New York. In some ways, the city resembles Chicago, as we sat along the banks of one of the rivers flowing through town, I mentioned to Moh that I had a brief Chicago flashback.

Was too tired for a big night out. Still a bit under the weather and not yet adjusted to time zone. We decided to head to Nara on Saturday.

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