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. ūüėČ

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 DŇćtonbori (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!!!!

Saturday July 4th, Lunch, Yamahan Udon

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More noodles for lunch again in Azabu-Juban, there are different types of noodles in Japan and quite often restaurants will specialize in one type. Lunch was in a restaurant called Yamahan and their  speciality  is Udon which is a thick noodle made of white flour. It can be served hot or cold and with a variety of toppings.

Here you can see two dishes, the top is a hot version served in a broth made from Dashi (fish broth) which is then mixed with Shoyu and possibly Mirin. I ate the dish below so I am speculating to as to what was in the broth but have listed those typically used. On the side is that particular restaurant’s take on Kakiage which is a fritter of sorts made from Tempura batter.

I tried the Tororo Udon set which came with rice as well, mine was served cold. Tororo is a sticky white food made from grating a yam and is then flavoured to taste with dashi which was served in the pot at the bottom right of the picture. It’s then mixed and eaten with the noodles. It’s not something that you find it England so easily so that was part of my reasoning for trying it. I actually quite enjoyed it but did make a mistake of pouring all the dashi on in one go, I now have the impression that to add it incrementally or when needed be better.

I would have liked to return to try other dishes or even the same without the ‘all in one go’ mistake but somehow never did get round to it.

Saturday July 4th, Tokyo, Mori Art Museum

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I suppose in some respects I am an art tourist as it is one of the things that I do research before traveling or look up when i arrive in a place and it does occasionally dictate why I would travel to certain cities. A good example is Bilbao where I went because I wanted to see the Richard Serra pieces.

A valuable resource for finding out what is on in terms of art in Tokyo is the website for Tokyo Art Beat.

Azabu-Juban and Roppongi’s skyline is dominated by the Mori Tower at Roppongi Hills which stands at 238m and is one of the tallest buildings in the city. The first few floors are home to numerous shops and restaurants which in all honesty I have not really looked at or eaten in as the majority from window glances seem to be high end European fashion labels or European style food.

The reason that I do go to the building however is for the Mori Art Museum as well as the City View, there is also an open-air rooftop deck which I haven’t been to so can’t vouch for that experience. The photograph at the top is from the city view which is indoors. The museum’s design shop is also pretty good.

In Japan, they like to produce A4 size information sheets for exhibitions which are found all over the place as well as the more conventional advertising of posters. So combined with the afore mentioned website and spying a poster somewhere I had seen that an exhibition called “Simple Forms – Contemplating Beauty” was coming to an end at the museum and so wanted to see it.

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It was an exhibition that spanned a wide variety of time and cultures and brought together work that was not just classed as fine art but also items that might be considered to be craft items. So brought together were Japanese teacups to Brancusi sculptures as well as paintings and photographs.

Interestingly as I was to notice more frequently over the next month or so in various museums, is the adherence to “No Photography” in most museums by visitors, which is perhaps a good thing as sometimes we spend too long trying to get a good photograph of an object rather than actually looking at the object while we are there. That said Japanese museums do select one or two pieces where photography is allowed.

One of which was “Liminal Air Space-Time” by Shinji Ohmaki.

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This was a very effective piece and brilliant in its apparent simplicity, no doubt helped as well by having the vista of Tokyo behind it. The cloth is supported if I remember correctly by fishing line and suspended, the square areas below house fans which direct air from below to create the undulating forms.

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Yes, there was the briefest respite from the rain while I was there which allowed for the pictures on this entry.

Then it was onto visit my uncle in the evening via a neighbourhood that has been transforming itself into a place for young couples to bring to their families. While on the train there, I spotted that the light was doing strange things to the surface of the water turning it into a mirror like effect. I still don’t know what the people down there were actually doing.

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