Sunday, June 2, 2013

Day 2: Osaka

Sooo, we've got the boring stuff out of the way, all settled in here at Kyoto. From here we're gonna attack a few other cities over the next couple days before finishing up with some sights in Kyoto. Mostly, I'm scheduling stuff based on what the weather's doing so today we're running away from clouds and light drizzle in Kyoto and hopping over to Osaka where we've just some overcast skies.

Osaka has it's roots as a thriving merchant town and a primary source of trade in both goods and culture between Japan and it's neighbours. Osaka proper is crisscrossed by a series of large canals to facilitate this that remain in place and in use to this day. We're going to start our visit by going to Osaka Castle; built to secure and protect the vital trade hub.
While it was largely destroyed in WW2, the rebuilt Osaka Castle is the first castle in Japan that looks like what we'd expect a castle to look like over here from a layout standpoint if not architectural. Surrounded by layers of moats and walls and built atop a hill, it's like something straight out of a fantasy epic and stands in sharp contrast to Nijo Castle in Kyoto which, layout wise, is conceptually more like a flatland fort. The downside is that the experience ends once you actually enter the castle where the interior has been thoroughly modernized and turned into a museum to Hideyoshi Toyotomi and the Summer War of 1612 that would see hundreds of thousands of Japanese fight against each other as Tokugawa's army besieged the army of the descendents of Toyotomi, took the castle, and signaled the primary end to his efforts to unify the nation. Suggestion: if you're just interested in the architecture, skip the paid entry fee and tour the grounds. There are multiple gardens to enjoy and much that can be learnt just from the exterior alone.

Moving on, we stop for lunch below the Osaka Museum of History and chow down on curry rice and pork cutlet:

then head upstairs to the museum itself. The museum focuses on Osaka's history, behaviour at the court while it was there, and the build up of the merchant culture that would drive the city's success both in the past and going forward. From here I'd work my way over to the Osaka International Peace Centre which is heavily focused on the damage done to Osaka by the incendiary bombs during WW2, the events in Asia that led to the war and it's outcome, and then current threats to the world; both military and environmental. It's an interesting and sobering series of displays that reminds one of the devastation wrought by "Total War" doctrine and doesn't try to dodge issues or paint Japan in a positive light.

Next up, I go south to Tennoji Park and the temples nearby. On the way there I find one way to deal with a busy intersection - a circular pedestrian overpass:
The park itself charges admission to the grounds despite the fact that it has a Zoo and Art Museum as additional fee based features inside. Skip them both and, instead, simply tour the grounds where the garden is pleasant but not really my thing.
From here I head off to the Osaka harbour area where there's an Universal Studios amusement park and shopping area. I was going to try and get a shot of the Ferris Wheel but can't find a clear path out of the place and give up. Able to get some shots of Hogwarts being built so the Harry Potter experience can be had there starting next year though but skip the park entirely. There are things I'd consider spending 6600 Yen on this trip (~$66), but that's not one of them.
Pick up a few essentials downtown I'd forgot to pack, then head to the Sky Garden observatory building. I've never been fond of heights so heading up to an open air observatory 43 floors above ground that has both a) an open windows elevator and b) an open air escalator... yeah, not fun. But, the view up there is pretty nice.

Finishing up the day, I head back to Kyoto for dinner where I stop at a kaitan sushi place where you pay by the plate prepared, placed, and then picked off a conveyor belt. The basics most people would recognize are there, but there's also some stuff I've never seen before and some things that are labeled but I'm just not trying: like horsemeat and mane.

Don't ask me what the mane is; I have no clue. It's white though.

Tomorrow's forecast: sunny, hot, chance of deer.

(PS: "Remember dear, we're parked in 'Hello Kitty'")

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