Sun 26 Jun 2005 31 °C
Arriving in Osaka, we were warmly welcomed at the Yamatoya Honten Ryokan with tray after tray of various delicacies, generally quite fishy; raw fish, fish dumplings, fish soup, fried fish and so it continued. We were stuffed by the end of it all! And for breakfast, guess what, more fish It was a pleasant experience, but we were glad we had only ordered that treat for one night!
Our meal in Osaka
The hotel is diagonally opposite Dotonbori Street, one of the livelier areas in town and we had views of it from our window on the 9th floor. I spent some time trying to pick tattoo'ed men missing fingers, supposedly a sign that they are members of the Yakuza, the Japanese maffia who call Osaka home according to our guidebook. Well, none were seen from such a height, but we did spot one or two tattoo'ed men while wandering the streets. Don't worry, I didn't test my very limited / non-existent ninjutsu skills on them.
The view from our room
Osaka Castle was our first port of call as far as tourist attractions were concerned. The structure is quite impressive with the arched walls and grand building inside. Inside the main building is an exhibit spread out over 6 floors. Really, the interior of the building is about as exciting as an average department store, I guess somewhere along the line the original was 'renovated'. Conveniently, it does have an elevator, but inconveniently (for us), it is only supposed to be used by disabled people. The view from the 6th floor is quite nice though and not bad after you recover your breath.
One of the walls of the Osaka Castle
Not quite as nice as the view from the Umeda Sky Building though, where we headed the next day. 175 metres and 40 floors up, their Garden Observatory (no, there's no garden up there, just a few plastic plants) offers some fantastic views of Osaka. The place feels a bit like a spaceship with suitably spacy outfits for the various staff up there.
Not far from the Umeda Sky Building, we stopped for lunch at a little cafe, which as far as we could tell was called 'Cafe Bar', though that could be due to our lack of Japanese. It was a very pleasant place with good food at reasonable prices and a couple of very friendly hosts. Their English was broken, but they seemed to enjoy the opportunity to make conversation.. conversations like
'aahhh, you have ..' *she makes some hopping hand motions*
'you mean kangaroos?'
'aaah, yes, kangaroos, hahaha'
and so it went on. In fact it was quite pleasant and nice to have people take some interest. Kind of like the guy in Tokyo who approached us and started an interrogation routine; just to finally explain that he was practising his English!
Another stop in Osaka was the Folk Art Museum, not too far from our hotel. Lots of objects created by various Japanese craftspeople. Some nice pottery, weaving and bits and pieces.
Osaka Folk Craft Museum
Himeji lured us away from Osaka for a day, primary attraction naturally their World Heritage listed castle. Three metro stops and a Shinkansen later, we were presented with a quaint looking tourist bus bound for the castle. Instead, we hopped on the nearest public bus (because we've had such good experiences with them, ehem) and before too long found ourselves one stop too far. Oh well, at least it only cost a fifth of the tourist bus. Janelle was particularly pleasantly surprised that the temporary art exhibition she had previously seen on some flyer in Tokyo was in fact in the Museum we were now walking past. So, first stop was the Himeji Museum of Art. The exhibition was actually rather impressive with various takes on nature by contemporary Japanese artists. We particularly appreciated some charcoal drawings that at first glance looked like photographs, very impressive. Nice to appreciate some good art now and then. But ok, back on track and back out of the eirkon (that's Japanese for air conditioning), we headed up the hill to the castle.
The Himeji Castle is a great place to visit, though there is no elevator, leaving six flights of stairs needing to be climbed. The interior of the building is original with weapon racks, toilets and all sorts of other interesting nooks and crannies (dunno what a 'crannie' is actually, but there definitely were nooks) to look at on the way up. Just mind your head if you're anything over 140cm.. Outside the main building, the grounds are pleasant to walk around, though most likely more pleasant on a less hot day. There's a well that supposedly has a story attached to it that is the basis of the movie The Ring (see previous post from Tokyo) - if you want to scare yourself, you should watch this Japanese classic sometime.
And that concluded our stay in Osaka. I don't think we felt we needed to stay much longer, though it was a pleasant enough time. Onwards and upwards (if North is up, which it in fact quite often isn't on maps here) to nearby Kyoto.