Monday 13th July, Kyoto & Osaka Part II

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Osaka Station going home time for some…this was one of those fortuitous pictures as he came past in his black and yellow uniform.

I headed back into Osaka city centre and took the subway to Namba station before walking some more to the Dotonbori (click for link) area. The Japan National Tourism page gives a good description of the area.

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It is an area downtown with a canal and plenty of neon signs which have becoming iconic and emblematic of Osaka, no segement on Osaka is complete without the Glico man.

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The area is a promenade of restaurants and shopping and popular with both tourists and locals. It is a cacophony of sound and light and quite overwhelming, this was my second visit there, the first time was a few years before during the afternoon. Night time brings the neon signs out and there is a different buzz.

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Just one of the building fronts, this one advertising takoyaki, another one of those Osaka staples that Japanese people always seem to ask if you ate if you tell them you’ve been to Osaka! Even though it is not just found in Osaka, takoyaki seems to synonymous with the city.

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Takoyaki are a ball shaped snack of wheat flour based batter that contains pieces of octopus and are cooked in a specially shaped pan. It is smothered in Japanese brown sauce, mayonaise, sprinkled with green flecks of seaweed and dried bonito flakes.

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There are vendors selling different size portions from 6 to 8 to even more.

Greed and the knowledge that I would no doubt be asked if I had eaten any led me to eat a 6 takoyaki portion while not exactly a proper meal it was a start.

I had no real idea of what to eat that evening and despite all the choice available was overwhelmed by it all and how busy many of the restaurants were with some of the more popular ones having queues forming.

There is a small storefront there where you can tell the staff what you’d like to eat and then they will take to a restaurant that serves the food you like. The staff lead you to the restaurant and they get paid or rather the company they work for does by the restaurant for the custom and a wage is given accordingly. The reason that I know this, is because I ended up asking for a recommendation and spoke to an outgoing girl who led me well away from Dotonbori to a okonomiyaki  restaurant. I actually just wanted to eat around Dotonbori! At one point on this meandering walk, slight paranoia and feeling fed up made me start to worry that I was being led away to get beaten up and have my wallet stolen.

Needless to say this was not the case and I finally arrived and my elfin restaurant guide duly vanished. I ate at a restaurant called Bonkuraya, I probably couldn’t direct you to it or find it again to be honest despite it being close to a station that did get me back to Osaka station.

I had the Ebi Modern Okonomiyaki, prawn with yakisoba noodles cooked in with the okonomiyaki.

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I’m not even sure what time I finally got back to Kyoto that evening.

I don’t seem to have made a note of the final steps tally either.

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Monday 13th July, Kyoto & Osaka

I decided to head into Osaka, in retrospect I should have just left early and I may well have accomplished more than I did that particular day. My mother would be heading back to Tokyo, so I met her for breakfast at her hotel first.

Despite it only being a few steps away I took the subway in part die to the heat, I think this may have been the opposite platform.

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I’m not sure which is worse in a hot summer in Japan, getting on a crowded subway carriage or walking outside in the heat.

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At the station I spotted this wonder of spelling on the sign, I’m not even sure what language it is! Oh dear and this in a major city in the world! A city full of world heritage sights no less, spelling obviously not their list of priorities. 😉

From my photographs I can trace my movement approximately and while breakfast wasn’t anything worth photographing, it does look like I made my way back on foot since I have pictures in the covered food shopping market called Nishiki. This is Kyoto’s traditional food market and you can find all sorts of pickles, Japanese sweets, vegetables, fish and tea. I probably was trying to escape the heat of the sun as well as enjoying seeing what was on offer. Everytime I visit Nishiki, I find myself wishing that I had some catering facilities wherever that it is I am staying so that I can buy and try many of the foods on sale.

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Lots of pickles…

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 Little octopii(?) marinated in mirin and soy sauce with a quail’s egg inside. These came in all different sizes as well, it was really, really delicious.

Osaka is not that far from Kyoto and easily reached by train. From Kyoto station I took a train that must have taken 40 minutes or thereabouts. It is a markedly bigger city than Kyoto and one that I do not know at all. This was only my second visit to it, the previous time had been with a friend from Kyoto and we saw an exhibition before a quick visit to Dōtonbori (more of which later) and then a quick meal in Koreatown which I probably couldn’t find on my own.

I had a quick meal in a shopping centre opposite the station, I don’t remember the price but it was cheap and passable.

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On the left is Katsudon (Pork in breadcrumbs with egg on rice) and a bowl of Udon with if I remember correctly a deep fried prawn in batter. I remember though that even in the shopping centre over the tannoy jazz was playing, what is it with jazz in Japan?!

I had decided to come to Osaka a lot in part to discovering from my Wallpaper Guide to Osaka that a sculpture by the Japanese artist Taro Okamoto although reconstructed was still standing and also in the grounds of the Expo Park was now The National Museum of Ethnology.

Now a word about Wallpaper travel guides, some of you might be familiar with or even be avid readers of the magazine or even fans, I am neither of those. Their line of city guides are very collectable little objects in themselves, pocket sized with colourful covers. The pictures inside are often great but as guides they are terrible in fact I’d go as far as say useless. There are no maps, there is no advice on how to get to some of the super-stylish places they suggest or how long it might take. So I’m not sure I would recommend them…basically you could buy one but then discover you need to buy a real guide book and or visit the tourist office. So if you do buy a Wallpaper Guide and then get annoyed after reading this, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Taro Okamoto, (click on the name to be linked to Wikipedia page) is a Japanese artist 1911-1996 that I don’t know a lot about since he’s not a household name in Europe. He however is well known in Japan for his work and prolific writing, part of his mythos as well I think stems from his having studied and lived in Paris during the time of the Surrealists and for being seen as a peer with artists such as Picasso whilst there. Back in Japan, he was a public figure and one of his most iconic pieces for Japanese people and artists was made for the Expo ’70 titled Tower of the Sun.

It was that sculpture that I wanted to see and had been alerted to by the Wallpaper Guide but what the guide does not tell you about, is the little mission to get there which involves changing trains. From Osaka station I needed to walk Umeda station to catch a Hankyu Kyoto Line train, which is a local train that was going to stop everywhere. I asked a station guard which train was heading out the way I wanted and duly got on it. It was already around 3p.m and kids were filtering out of school or heading onto their after school clubs as tennis rackets, baseball gear accompanied the book bags and satchels.

The train map in the train was bilingual with the names written in Japanese and English alas the driver was not as he announced each station. I noticed that the train would fork at one point but wasn’t too concerned since the guard at the station had assured me that this train would be “ok”.

Naturally, it was not “ok”…I just had a feeling that the train was not going the side of the fork that I wanted and waited for the next station. As I had suspected it had in fact gone the other route, thankfully it was only 2 stops back to where the train would split but it also meant I was losing time. There would be no time for The National Museum of Ethnology what with the 5p.m closing time of museums. I figured I’d still try and get to the Expo Park after all I could at least have an early evening walk around the park before heading back into the bustle of the city.

I still had to change trains and then walk to the monorail station to get to the Expo Park. None of this made clear to you in the Wallpaper Guide (just saying).

I did eventually get on the Osaka monorail and I will admit that seeing The Tower of the Sun from the carriage was worth it and did give a thrill to see a Japanese art icon.

19637856496_85106b6ce3_oTaro Okamoto’s Tower of the Sun.

I got out and headed around and down towards the Expo Park.

As I came down the ramp from the station and round the bend I was greeted by numerous souvenir shops, the ubiquitous bank of vending machines of refreshments and people leaving the park. Yes, it was 5 p.m closing time! Just because something has ‘Park’ in its name doesn’t mean that it is a park in the sense that we might understand it in the West!

The security guard let me at least take some photos of the sculpture from under the awnings by the turnstiles.

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I settled down on a bench and by way of consolation and refreshment got an ice crema out of a vending machine.

I knew full well that what awaited me was the reverse trek back taking the monorail then the local line to get back to Osaka with the slightly deflated and disappointed feeling that I hadn’t quite managed to see what I had wanted to. However, I also believe that at some point I will find myself back in Japan for something or other in the future.

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Here comes the monorail…

I headed back into Osaka, worn out but of the attitude that I was here so I must try and make the most of it despite the afternoon setback. It seems according to the note in my pocket sketchbook that I’d already walked 20,118 steps by 1819h and was still going!!!!