Friday, March 13, 2009

Osaka

Osaka was a party. I have a deep affection for this town. This is partly because Kansai (Osaka, Kobe, and Kyoto) was the first place in Japan that I visited, partly because I've got a good friend there, and partly because Osaka exudes this charm that other places in Japan don't have.


The thing about Osaka is it has some really nice places and some REALLY bad places. I don't mean "bad for Japan", I mean "Bad in general" but I'll get to that later. Even the nice places of Osaka have a little grime on them, and it's not like "Eww, that's dirty! Stay away!" It's just part of life there. People accept it and move on.


And speaking of people, Kansai people are WAY more energetic, noisier, and livelier than Tokyo people. For such an exciting city, Tokyo people are a tad dull.

Anyways, back to Osaka. Our hotel was a mere 7 minutes walk to Dotonbori, probably the most famous place in the city. If not the most famous, one of the busiest and most exciting.

It doesn't look too exciting in the day, but at night, this place is crazy.

And what do we do in Osaka? Eat okonomyaki! I met up with a friend and she took us to her favorite place in town.

Normally okonomyaki is cooked on a hot iron skillet in front of you and most of the time, you do the cooking, but at this place, the staff took over. And this guy was PICKY! He made sure everything was just right and when to eat. I ordered the yakisoba and okonomyaki combo (with a 'lunch beer'. Osaka is great.) and when my cohorts were waiting for their food, my yakisoba was done. Being the polite guy, when he told me to eat, I wanted to wait for my friends. Two minutes later he came back and told me to eat again. I asked him which was better for the okonomyaki, the sweet (normal) sauce, or the unsweetened (Osaka style, I guess) sauce. I asked him what he recommended, he paused for a second, and said with confidence and a coky look in his eyes "unsweet". He wasn't wrong.

I'm not sure if it was the BEST okonomyaki I've had in my life, but it certainly ranks on my top 5, no question. I miss that unsweet sauce.

The place was right around Dotonbori, so we went there when we were done. Here's the picture that everyone knows.

And actually, a few blocks from there is a kabuki theater. I had no idea.

The thing about this part of Osaka is there is a REALLY long underground tunnel. It links (and this is a bit confusing) Namba station, JR Namba station, and Osaka Namba station. That's right, 3 stations called "Namba". And while they can be accessed by an underground tunnel, they are probably a good 10 minute walk apart. There's another odd thing, but I'll get to that later.

Inside the underground passage are a lot of shops. There was also some nice new year's decorations.

Another example of some of the fine people of Osaka. I should also mention at this point that the whole underground mall is playing nonstop Para Para music.

Just leanin' against a whale. Without a care in the world.

After enjoying some Namba time, we headed over to Umeda, specifically Umeda Sky Building. Last time I was in Osaka, I was out in front of there for new year's, but I never went to the top. This time I got the chance.

It was quite a view.




One thing I noticed about Osaka is that the whole town is rather brown.

Not everything is brown, but there is a LOT of brown in Osaka. Lots of wood, dry grass, rusted metal, dirt, and just brown buildings. I'm not sure if this is better or worse than the bland grey of Tokyo, but that's the way it is.




Umeda sky building has these really odd escalators that take you to the observation deck. They look strange, but they're a lot of fun to ride.

Here's an odd out of place building. Note the orange train, a lot like the old Chuo trains that I ride occasionally.

And here's a building that has a road through it. If you look in the center, you can see it there. I first heard about it here, but it was nice to see it in real life.


Inside the top of the Umeda Sky Building was this odd little 'game,' I guess, where you had these chairs with plastic bubbles and the more you jumped and the more bubbles you put your weight on, the more it reacts to your movement with different colors, shapes and sounds.

It sounds odd, but it was a lot of fun.

Anyways, it was time to leave and I took a shot of that odd escalator. Those were actually quite great. It would be nice to take an escalator like this every day instead of a boring one inside.

So, after the ultra modern city, we headed to Osaka Castle. Here's a shot from inside a train station.

Near the castle, we were greeted by a friendly cow.

And there's the castle!

Apparently, a lot of the stones for the walls and base were 'donated' by neighboring regions' leaders and a lot still have markings on them indicating where they came from. You can't really see them in these pictures, though.

Osaka Castle was pretty damned big.

The inside was kind of strange. It seemed like the whole castle had been gutted and replaced with a museum. Well, it's been a long time since someone has ruled from it, so I guess it's better than letting it go to waste.

Here are some shots from the top of the castle.







After we left, we were a little hungry, so this being Osaka, we went to a takoyaki stand. I couldn't help but notice this precocious feline.

We headed back to Umeda station and I couldn't help but notice the lights.

These odd neon chandeliers were both tacky and classy at the same time. Kind of like Osaka.

From Osaka Castle, we headed towards another famous landmark, Tsutenkaku.

This tower was originally built in 1912, then torn down due to the war. In 1956, it was re-built and it's still there today. This tower is also near a REALLY bad neighborhood. But first, how about some T&A?

Yum.

I saw this building in the distance. I wasn't quite sure what it was, so I asked my friend.

Most neon lights like this in Japan are either love hotels or pachinko places. This was actually a grocery store.

My friends told me that it was a chain of super super super cheap grocery stores, and most people know to stay away from their meat and non pre-packaged items. A friend even got some pudding there that was bad. Later we went in one and it was quite depressing. Really bright lights, tons of security cameras, and just an overall creepy feel. There was also a large selection of cheap alcohol. I feel bad for people in this neighborhood who don't have another alternative but to shop there.

Anyways, back to the tower. The neighborhood around the tower must have been awesome in the 50's, but it's not the 50's anymore. It wasn't bad, but a bit more run down than most. Even the sign for the main shopping street was a bit broken.

Despite the grime, this was actually a pretty fun place. I could see myself going back there to hang out if I lived in Osaka.


Here's a close up of the tower.

To the right is the kushiage restaurant we went to. Kushiage is essentially deep fried anything on a stick, and another Osaka specality. It was GREAT!

You can see the tower from where I was sitting. Man, that place was good. I want to go back.

After our bellies were full, we headed back to the station a different way.

This time we headed through spa land. It's a giant building filled with hot bath spas, apparentlly from around the world. They love spas in Japan, but honestly I've never been to one. The idea of getting naked with a bunch of strangers is one I'v never really warmed up to.

Here's the front (HDR image). Apparently, it's open 24/7.

On the way back, we saw this work wear shop. Just another indicatior of the class of the neighborhood. Their local clothing stores are open late at night and are aimed squarely at the market for construction workers.

All and all, it was an interesting experience. If I was to spend some real time in Osaka, I'd check out this neighborhood during the day.

We headed back to the hotel, which like I said was near Namba. Here was a peculiar sign for the JR-Namba station.

The reason it's odd, to me at least, is JR is the company (Japan Railways), and normally it's written just as "JR" in signs, even if everything else is in Japanese. Here it's written as じぇあーる which is "Jae Aru", which is the closest pronunciation in Japanese. The strange thing is, Japanese language has a set of charcters for foreign words (Katakana) and since "Railways" is an English word and even the word "Japan" didn't originate in Japan, one would guess that they would use the katakana, which would look like ジェアール, but they didn't. Why? It just seemed strange.

Another thing I liked was the artwork in the giant tunnel connecting JR Namba to Namba station. Apparently it was all reproductions of pieces from a museum in Chicago.

But seriously, why the chain? I guess to just remind people not to touch.

After we got out of the staion, I saw the new Hello! Project building, called "H!PS", or "HIPS". Not sure which. If you know what Hello! Project is, than I'm sorry. If you don't, then you're better off. Sadly, I was quite overly excited to see the "H!PS" building.

I kinda wanted to ride the mini roller coaster inside, but after a LONG day of walking, I just wanted to go to sleep. But not after some more pictures.

It sure did seem super exciting.


I kinda wanted to go back on Saturday just to see what would happen.

But, I never did. Here are some more pictures of Dotonburi at night. I know it's touristy, but hey, I was a tourist.

Osaka: one giant crab, a million bicycles.




So, that was Osaka. I miss it severely.

I can't quite describe it in picures or even words, but there's this sense of Osaka that people are truly ALIVE! The excitement in the air is very tangible and it can be felt everywhere. It's most ceartinly not the nicest city ever (but it has some really nice parts), but it just feels great. I hope I can go back, as it is one of my favorite places in the world. One day was not enough to spend there.

3 comments:

Michelle said...

so, the bad areas of Osaka....is there lots or crime? unsavory folks about? places you wouldn't want to walk alone at night? Or just run down and old?

Keith said...

I'd say pretty much all of the above. I didn't really go too far in, but there were a lot of empty cups of cheap sake, people sleeping on the street (literally) often without much more than a thin blanket in January, and a MASSIVE police presence.

I studied the area a little bit before going to Osaka. It's actually a pretty sad story. Most of the people there are Burakumin, which is sort of a group of people left over from the days of the caste system (which was abolished about 130 years ago). If you wanna know more, look up "Burakumin" and "Kamagasaki" (the neighborhood).

JonnyMono said...

Haha!

You said:
"...there were a lot of empty cups of cheap sake, people sleeping on the street (literally) often without much more than a thin blanket in January..."

This sounds an awful lot like what I would call "a great night in Phoenix!"

Good to see another post! Hope you are enjoying your new digs. You need to get you some "Banana Taste." Ben knows what I'm talkin' about.