Friday, September 12, 2014

Osaka, Japan

Osaka (大阪) was the final stop of my Japan trip. It was formerly known as Naniwa (難波), the first ever known capital of Japan. Presently, it is the 7th largest metropolitan economy in the world, and an important economic centre in the Kansai Region. With its towering skyscrapers and busy streets, it is the opposite of the more relaxed Kyoto, which is why it initially overwhelmed me. I immediately warmed up to the city though, because of the very friendly people.

I stayed in the Roynet Daiwa Hotel in the Sakai-Higashi area (堺東駅). It is quite far from the city, but it was the best I could find. For some reason, most of the hotels around the Osaka Station area were fully booked during that time. Luckily there was a nearby Yoshinoya just around the corner from the hotel. There was also a Takashimaya adjacent to the train station and lots of convenience stores nearby, so it's not really a bad location at all.

There were also lots of shops and food establishments just across the street. It was already night time when I arrived, so there was nothing much to do. I walked for a bit, bought some donuts and looked for laundry detergent so I could wash my clothes later in the hotel laundromat. It was funny – I had a bit of a hard time asking for laundry detergent. I didn't know what the Japanese word for laundry or detergent were, so when I said laundry soap the clerk gave me bath soap. I tried to re-enact the motion of washing clothes; it was like playing charade; the clerk's face distorted in figuring out what I wanted. By some sort of miracle (and some minutes of re-enactment on my part), she understood what I wanted to say; her face lit up and she searched the shelves for a small box of laundry detergent! We both laughed when she handed it to me :D

Tampozan Marketand Tampozan Ferris Wheel.

Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan (海遊館).

Jellyfishes, surreal!

 The seal be like (´ω`)

The following morning, I headed out early to visit the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan (海遊館). I initially was not interested since I have already been to a few oceanariums, but one of my friends told me that the Osaka Aquarium is one of the must visit places in Osaka. I figured for a change that I visit the aquarium, before embarking on more temple visits. The Osaka Aquarium is one of the largest aquariums in the world, well known for its whale sharks. It is located in the Tempozan Harbour Village, near the Osakako Station (大阪港駅).  Being a Sunday morning, there were lots of people, mostly little kids and students. It was crowded, but the aquarium did not disappoint. The biggest tank in Kaiyukan was the Pacific Ocean which spans a few storeys and contains 5,400 tons of water. It was really nothing but remarkable. My favourite part was the section on jellyfishes. They looked so otherworldly. I roamed the Tampozan Market place afterwards, and admired the Tampozan Ferris wheel from afar.

I took a train (JR Tennoji Station天王寺駅) to Shitennoji Temple (四天王寺), one of Japan's oldest temples built in 593 by Prince Shotoku, and famous for its symmetrical designs. The original buildings have been destroyed by fire and other disasters over the centuries, but have been rebuilt according to its early designs. The place is quiet and nice, but I think my heart was still in Kyoto because I was a little underwhelmed. Nevertheless, I appreciated the temple for its long history. There was a ceremony in one of the buildings so I stayed for a while and observed.

Shitennoji Temple (四天王寺).

Afterwards, I took a long walk to nearby Shinsekai District (新世界). Literally translating to “new world”, it was a district originally developed before the war, and is where the iconic Tsutenkaku Tower (通天閣) stands. It literally means “tower reaching heaven”, and was patterned after the Eiffel Tower. The original one was built way back in 1912, and during that time it was the tallest structure in Asia. In 1943, it was damaged by fire, and was too severe to be rebuilt so it was disassembled and the steel was used in the war efforts. The new tower was later rebuilt in 1956. Hitachi in 1974 became a sponsor, thus the Hitachi lettering on the side of the towers. I bought takoyaki and hung there around for a while. Shinsekai somehow evokes feelings of nostalgia. The atmosphere really gave me feels of Studio Ghibli's “From up on Poppy Hill”, specially the part where the students visited 1960s Tokyo (yes, I know it's Tokyo, not Osaka, but still!). There were still a lot of traditional (for lack of better term) shops in the area. There were some selling handcrafted items, vintage toys, and footwear. I managed to buy a pair of Japanese wooden clogs (geta) at a very affordable price.

Tsutenkaku Tower (通天閣).
On the left, a replica of Billiken. On the right, random mascot raid haha.

Shinsekai District (新世界).

I went to Dotonbori (道頓堀) afterwards for food and some shopping. Dotonbori is one of the most popular food spots in Osaka. They say that the okonomiyaki, takoyaki and udon are a must try here. Actually, more than the food, I find Dotonbori fascinating because of its very lively atmosphere. You see, I have a thing for colourful billboards (which is why I like Tokyo and Taipei). Dotonbori is not only famous for its restaurants, but for its colourful billboards as well. They are extra mesmerizing at night when they are lit up. One of these billboards which has become an icon of Osaka itself is the Glico running man (if I read it correctly correctly, it was the very first electronic billboard in Japan), installed way back in 1935! I was very happy when I finally spotted the Glico man! You could say it sort of completed my Osaka trip, haha. Some shops were even selling Glico man lollipops, so I bought some for fun! Speaking of billboards, another one of the most famous and most recognizable billboards in Dotonbori is the Kani Doraku, the giant crab billboard with mechanized arms built way back in 1960. It was so famous it actually spawned a number of imitations.

Colorful Dotonbori (道頓堀). 
With the mini version of the Glico Man!

Rainy night in Dotonbori.

The original Glico Man!

I was very much looking forward to the following morning, because my first destination was the Osaka Castle (大阪城). From Sakai-Higashi, I took the train until Morinomiya Station (森ノ宮駅), had a quick brunch in one of the vendo machine stalls nearby, before proceeding to my long walk to the Osaka Castle, passing by the Osaka Castle Park.

The Osaka Castle Park was very beautiful during autumn. It is a historical area housing not only the Osaka Castle, but other buildings such as the Osaka Castle Hall, Osaka International Peace Centre, and shrines such as the Hokoku Shrine (豊國神社). My favourites in the Osaka Castle Park were the gardens, where I think the best were the plum trees. The Park is the second largest in the city, and spans back to the 1500s, when Toyotomi Hideyoshi built the Castle. It is one of the most famous hanami (cherry blossom viewing) spots during spring. I had a nice long walk surveying the gardens, before finally arriving at the Osaka Castle. The Osaka Castle is one of Japan's most famous and most historical structures. It was constructed in 1583 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣 秀吉), one of the most powerful politicians and was regarded as Japan's “Second Unifier”. After Hideyoshi's rule, the Castle has seen a lot of events, both natural and man-made.

Osaka Castle Park.

Osaka Castle and moat.
Osaka Castle Tower.

The castle is very impressive, surrounded by a moat, massive gates and citadels. The Castle Tower houses the Osaka Castle Museum where artifacts, dioramas, and AVPs featuring the era of Hideyoshi can be found. It is really more like a museum rather than a castle per se. The top floor of the castle is an observation deck where you can get to see the whole of Osaka Park and the high rise buildings that backdrop it. It was very windy and cold up there though, so after a round, I immediately went inside.

After visiting the museum, I stayed in Osaka Castle to browse their souvenir shops. There was this Japanese folding fan with an ukiyo e print of ‘The Great Wave of f Kanagawa’ (神奈川沖浪裏), but it was too expensive so I had to let it go :( It really looked beautiful on its wooden stand; I had to drag myself out of the shop, knowing I would probably regret not buying it. It still bugs me until now. To cheer myself I just gorged in takoyaki and ice cream from the stalls outside. For a while I just enjoyed sitting in the garden bench.

Osaka Castle Tower Observation Deck and city skyline.

Last snap before leaving Osaka Castle!

Afterwards, I went to the Osaka Station area to look around and do some shopping. I easily spent half a day in the Osaka Castle Park and Osaka Castle Hall that I arrived in Osaka Station around past lunch time already.Osaka Station (大阪駅) which was renovated in 2011 is considered one of Japan’s most attractive railway stations. Aside from the train lines, it also houses a massive shopping and entertainment complex. I liked its open space design, especially the bridge which connects the north and south buildings, called Toki no Hiroba (Time and Space Plaza). From there, you could see the flaming red Hep5 Ferris Wheel, located on top of the shopping mall.

I was supposed to walk until the Umeda Sky Building (梅田スカイビル), however, I was already feeling extremely tired that afternoon. I hung out for a while on one of the top terraces of the station, until the wind became too unbearably cold, deciding to head back to the hotel to retire early. I thought there’d be no point to walk all the way to the building, when the best view was from afar. I guess my adrenalin levels had already reached critical levels at this point. I have been walking every day for the past two weeks after all. Carrying my plastic bags, I made my way back to Sakai Higashi.

Osaka Station and Toki no Hiroba.

Osaka Station facade and train platforms.

I thought I would do something grand on my last night in Japan, but I spent it spending my remaining coins in a nearby Lawson convenience store looking for something interesting to buy. Not that it wasn't fun. I bought mostly UCC coffee in different variations and small sake bottles. Afterwards it was sorting and packing time in the hotel. I realized I bought a lot of food, and not anime stuff as I was expecting. Almost ¾ of my suitcase were all food!

The following day, it was finally the time to go home. I took the train from Sakai Higashi to Kansai International Airport (関西国際空港). It was lunch time on a weekday, so the train was almost empty. It was my last train ride in Japan (for now!), so I tried to take a video. I mostly captured rooftops and powerlines and empty stations, which looks melancholic now that I watch it. But another way to look at it is the start of another adventure.

And that ends my Japan trip.

I suppose this is the part where I reflect how traveling alone has changed me, but the thing is, I guess a trip won’t necessarily magically change you or your perspectives. But what I did realize about traveling alone is how much overwhelming freedom can be. It can be intimidating, and it can be exciting. Mostly, exciting. And that whatever it is, I know I will be fine.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Transatlanticism

Last Thursday, I was on the early morning train when I saw on my newsfeed that Chris Walla has left Death Cab for Cutie. I could not believe it. I immediately wanted to plug in my earphones and listen to my DCFC playlist in the hopes that maybe, after playing my favorite songs, I'd see it was just a prank. But I realised I left my earphones at home. And Chris really did leave.

I cannot pretend
That I felt any regret
Because each broken heart
will eventually mend


 Jason, Nick, Ben, Chris. Death Cab for Cutie Live in Singapore, Fort Canning Park 2012

DCFC is one of my favorite bands. With their beautiful poetic lyrics, albeit sometimes borderline depressing, they make me relive some memories both pleasant and sad -- like growing up, choices, heartbreak, and moving on. If my life had a soundtrack, a lot of the songs would probably from DCFC.

Looking upwards
I strain my eyes and try
To tell the difference between
Shooting stars and satellites
From the passenger seat
as you are driving me home.


Ben Gibbard.

So I rummaged my files for the DCFC photos I took when they were here in Singapore last 2012. It was an outdoor concert at Fort Canning Park and I managed to drag my friend Aris along. It rained that night, so I got my shoes soaked in mud and grass while squeezing amongst other people trying to find a good view. I was a little bit pissed off with the kids smoking cigarette, and I was also hungry because I skipped dinner to get there on time. Needless to say, I swore to myself never to go to an outdoor concert again. Though, I forgot about all the inconveniences when DCFC began playing. Seeing them finally live was easily the best concert I have ever been to. They played a lot of my favorites, especially "I will possess your heart", and "New Year". They ended the concert perfectly with "Transatlanticsm". A still tear a little bit when I remember it.

The rhythm of my footsteps
Crossing flatlands to your door
Have been silenced forever more


Chris Walla.

"I think I long for the unknown. It might be that simple," Chris Walla said on why he left. I am incredibly saddened, but I could sort of understand why. I guess at some point, everyone needs to move forward.

I've packed a change of clothes
And it's time to move on.


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