Finally, the long awaited (or at least long-procrastinated) posting of more Kansai pics. It’s been a bit hectic with the end of school, getting back to Tokyo and settling in. Still not exactly done with that since there’s lots of moving parts and, hey, I’m going to Singapore next week, but my rule of thumb is to get a giant mass of pictures uploaded before I go out and take another giant mass of pictures, so here they are. I bit of geography first. Along with Kyoto, there’s 3 other cities of some note in the Kansai region- Osaka (which is the second biggest city in Japan), Kobe (which is the 2nd biggest port), and Nara (which isn’t that big at all, but was one of Japan’s previous capitals, so there’s lots of neato old stuff to see there). Since they are all in the same region, it was pretty easy to set up camp in Osaka and just take trains around to the places I wanted to visit.
This was the weekend of Feb 18- I took the shinkansen to Osaka. I had already had one abortive attempt at visiting Osaka the weekend I went to Kyoto. There’s cheap commuter trains going directly from Kyoto and other stations to Osaka/Umeda station, and I figured I’d jump out, walk around, have some takoyaki, and then go back to Kyoto. Well, it took me a good 45 minutes or so to find anywhere near the right exit from the station to take, so the evening was a bit of a bust. This time I was back with a bit more planning in place, so things went much more smoothly.
Now, having been a veteran of Shinjuku Station in Tokyo, which claims to be the busiest train station in the world, and after having spent 3 months in-country there was still seeing parts of the station I hadn’t seen before, I thought Osaka Station would be…easy? Not that big a deal? Well, Osaka and Umeda stations have grown so large that they now interconnect. They are so big in fact that when they built the Shinkansen they had to build a 3rd train station, Shin-Osaka to handle the bullet train traffic- it’s just across the river and is pretty sizable in its own right.
So to get a flavor of this experience, imagine pulling into a train station, and walking off the train and not only seeing about 8 or 9 other train lines to decide from, but also about a million square feet of retail space to walk through, and the various exits from the station are interspersed throughout.
Oh, also, this is just the underground part. Then you exit out of the station, and are surrounded by a 9 floor electronics store, other retail, various hotels, etc.
This time I knew where I was going, though. After arriving at Osaka Station (during the day this time), I went down to Shinsaibashi, one of the main shopping areas.
This is the Dotonbori area of Osaka, which is kind of their version of Shinjuku, where there’s lots of retail and lights. The Glico Man is a popular picture to take. It’s a neon sign that dates from the 1930s (although it doesn’t appear to be working- later that night it still wasn’t on).
This is a popular chain of crab (duh) restaurants called Kani Doraku (kani being Japanese for crab). Apparently it has mechanical arms and everything, but the sign kinda freaked me out. Not really a fan of bug-like creatures, and especially not giant animatronic ones.
It was still afternoon when I got down here, so I went and had a coffee to wait for darkness to fall to get more of the nightlife atmosphere. Dotonburi seems to attract the larger than life signs:
These were the ones I tried- they put some sauce and some bonito flakes (fish flakes) on top. Tasty, but not extraordinary. A similar shot to above, but at night. A shot up toward the Glico Man from down on the canal.
On Saturday I went down to Kobe (pronounced Kohbay), which is known as the flower city- they have a flower festival in the spring. Kobe has always been an important port, and was one of the cities first opened to the West at the end of the 19th Century. Here was one of the displays near Kobe City Hall-
This was a building in the same park near City Hall where a few remaining ‘western’ buildings stood. This used to be the ‘Kobe Club’, a private meeting place for the ‘international community’. The Kobe Club still exists- they’ve moved on to different digs.
These planters were in front of a bankers club, and I was struck by their…Victorian? design. While there wasn’t a huge foreign population around, these little touches seemed to give Kobe a slightly more Western feel. I dunno. Maybe it was because I was looking for it.
The other half of the foreign influx in Kobe was the cheap labor (i.e., the Chinese). Japanese rules had set land aside for foreigners to live, the so called Foreign Settlement, but apparently the Chinese ignored these rules and set up shop elsewhere in Kobe. It’s one of only 3 established Chinatowns in Japan (the other two also part of port cities Nagasaki and Yokohama). I had some gyoza here, which were tasty but had to wait for a bit. It was a cold and snowy Saturday and hot street food is popular.
Kobe of course also had a horrific earthquake in 1995, and I went down to see the memorial for it.
This waterfall, called ‘Cosmic Elements’, has an underground component that I didn’t see at first. There’s a circular area under the waterfall with names etched into the walls for all those killed in the earthquake. You can better see this in this YouTube video (not mine). It was unexpectedly overwhelming.
I also walked down to the waterfront, where there’s a large shopping area. The red object in the distance is the Kobe Tower. This is the area in front of Kobe Station. The building on the right there seems to have a pretty significant European influence, but it’s likely not that old.
This is Ikuta Road (the overpass is part of the Sannomiya train station). It’s a fairly large shopping area since the Sannomiya station is the closest train station to Shin-Kobe, where the bullet train comes through.
This is the entrance to Ikuta Shrine, which is a few blocks up from Sannomiya station. In fact, right outside the shrine is a Tokyu Hands, which is a somewhat hard to describe megastore. It got it’s start as a DIY hobby shop, but they now also have furniture, home furnishings, etc. I finally found a Kobe postcard there. Anyway, it’s interesting to walk out of a shrine area and immediate come upon a 7-story store.
Last but not least was Sunday in Nara. I’d wanted to go to Nara for a long time, because there’s 2 ancient giant Buddha statues in Japan. One is in Kamakura, which I visited in ’06, and the other is here in Nara. So it was a while before the other shoe dropped.
Nara was the first permanent capital in Japan, starting in 710. All the main events in Nara to visit for the most part are either part of Nara Park or immediately adjacent to them. So even though you are in a city, it’s still fairly easy to walk around.
The other bonus (?) of having all the Buddhist temples as part of one big park is that they can house a bunch of deer. Yes, deer. Apparently over a thousand of them live in Nara Park. Deer are considered messengers of the divine in Shintoism, so there’s a number of places they are allowed to roam more or less wild. Nara is one place, and an island I visited when I went to Hiroshima (Miyajima) is another. But Miyajima is an island, while Nara is a city. So it was a little disconcerting to see lots of deer roaming around while cars are zooming past the park at 40mph. I saw a lot of these signs:
We’ll get back to the deer, because they made for some nice entertainment throughout the day.
Here was one of the signs up in Nara Park explaining that the deer may…not be so friendly? It was nice to learn the Japanese for bite, kick, etc. That was one of the reasons I took this picture. The deer in their natural (?) element. This one is sick of his low-iron diet. This is the entrance to Todai-ji, or the Great Buddha Hall.
A small Shinto Shrine in the middle of the temple complex, which is kinda par for the course. This is the entrance (middle) gate. The building that the giant Buddha is housed in. The Great Buddha in Kamakura is out in the elements. Kinda hard to tell the scale of this building, but it’s the largest single wooden structure in the world at 157 feet in height (and it was rebuilt in the 17th Century smaller than the original building). The Buddha inside it is the largest gilded bronze Buddha in the world (bigger than the one in Kamakura, which surprised me).
I’m not sure if it was because Buddha was indoors this time vs the outdoor one at Kamakura, but I was almost more impressed with the building itself than the statue. Seeing birds fly around between perches up there made me realize just how huge it was.
Okay, enough being awestruck- back to the deer.
So one of the interesting sociological behaviors to watch if you go to Nara (or any Japanese town that has these deer) is that people really don’t understand the relationship between semi-wild animals and food. They just don’t get it. And it doesn’t help that there’s various vendors around selling deer crackers for 150 yen, either. By the way, another note to visitors, there’s plenty of other places selling snacks and other souvenirs- the 150 yen crackers are deer food, not people food. I’ve heard stories.
So. People come to Nara with their kids and a camera. They see the cute deer. They see the deer food for sale. And they think: “Wow, wouldn’t it be great if I could get a picture of little Ichiro feeding one of the deer a cracker.” So they shell out 150 yen, and their carefully thought-out set piece photo is not what happens.
The deer know when you have food. And they wants their food. So you are essentially paying 150 yen for getting mugged by a dozen or so deer. I must have heard screams/cries of or seen a half-dozen kids getting followed around by a pack of hungry deer. I mean, if I wanted that sense of terror, I’d probably just go see a scary movie.
Another pic from a different angle. This somewhat plain-looking temple is Gango-ji, which was group of temple buildings physically moved from a precursor capital of Asuka (where the temple was called Asuka-dera) following the Emperor’s move here. There was a big Buddhist argument over which temple was the real one, and now there is Gango-ji in Nara and Asuka-dera in Asuka.
Gango-ji has a number of historical artifacts, including a wooden sculpture of a 5 tiered pagoda that is from the 8th century (the time when the capital was established in Nara), but unfortunately pictures were not allowed. I did however get accosted by one of the guards there, who wanted to practice his English with me.
Last and least was I walked through Naramachi, which is supposedly old-town Nara, but there wasn’t really any assembled area or a lot of shops to go through. I took several pictures of places that looked interesting, but many of them to me look like old Japanese styles with newer materials, especially concrete.
That’s all I gots for now. I should have a mess of pictures from Singapore and Malaysia, and I’ll update eventually with some Tokyo stuff too.