Osaka has been an relaxing time for me. I haven’t really tried to go around and see all of the sights, because my main reason for coming here was to eat and relax. Osaka is known for good, cheap food, of which I have had plenty. Some of the famous dishes here, namely takoyaki (octopus and dough balls) and okonomiyaki (“Japanese pancakes”), are also popular dishes in the Tokyo area (not to mention the rest of Japan), but they taste different here. The takoyaki is softer and the okonomiyaki is just plain better than in Tokyo. I haven’t tried fugu yet (blowfish), another Osaka specialty, but then again, I don’t feel like spending a whole lot of money before moving to another country.
I took a nice long nap on Monday after I checked into my hotel. The hotel I am staying in (Hotel Fujiya), is comfortable, but a little small, as might be expected from a cheap business-traveler hotel. The location, just off of Dotonbori River and shopping area, is hard to beat, though. I have loaded a bunch of pictures of Dotonbori on flickr, so please check them out. It is a very tacky, wacky shopping area with a lot of restaurants that is definitely worth a visit. Be careful not to stray too far from the main drag, however, because some of the side streets prove Osaka’s other claim to fame – home of the yakuza (Japanese mafia). One thing I always find rather disturbing about Japanese cities is one minute you are walking along a perfectly normal shopping, restaurant area, and the next you are in the middle of a red-light district where the air is just full of sleaze. Yuck.
Anyway, on Monday night I met a group of foreigners in downtown Osaka and on the way back I met some Japanese rappers freestyling on the street. They had some old-school funky beats backing them up, but it was really hard to understand what they were rapping about when they were rapping in Osaka dialect on a crappy sound system. It was still cool to get a free show, though.
Yesterday (Tuesday), I went to Osaka castle. I have wanted to visit this place for a long time. I believe the one standing now is a reconstruction that dates from the 1620s. It was originally built by the warlord Hideyoshi in the mid 1580s, but was burned down by the Tokugawas in about 1615. It was my first visit to a Japanese castle, and the indoor museum was a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon. It was also nice to go there by myself, because I could tour at my own pace and take my time. On one of the floors, they have one of the coolest museum displays I have ever seen. There are diorama boxes set around the room, each telling a particular episode in Hideyoshi’s life. They play one at a time in sequence. Inside a box set into the wall are model sets. In the middle of these sets is a transparent screen that displays video or digital images of real actors acting out the scenes. The three dimensional model and use of real actors adds to the realism, but the images of the actors are very bright compared to their surroundings. This makes them look like they are glowing – almost like ghosts. Very cool!
As I stepped off the subway, there was a Japanese band on the street playing a mix of rock and swing. They were pretty good, so I stopped and listened for a while. Again, there are pictures in my photo gallery. I struck up a conversation with an American couple who were watching and we wound up hanging out for a few hours. They are from LA and teach English at a Catholic University in Korea. We had an interesting discussion about the effects of rapid industrialization in East Asia at a Western style diner until early in the morning. That might sound like a pretty dry topic, but when you actually see and experience this stuff, it can be very real. South Korea developed VERY quickly into a modern, industrialized nation. In order to do this, many sectors of the economy were given priority over others, resulting in a situation in which some facets of life are hyper-modern, and others are very behind-the-times
Example: Samsung, a South Korean electronics company, has released a cell phone with a seven megapixel digital camera built in to it. Some South Korean cell phones have breathalyzers built into them. Yet most South Korean homes, including luxury condominiums, do not have that little S-curve at the base of their toilet’s piping. For those of you who don’t know what that is for, that little bend in the pipe under your toilet holds a little bit of water at the bottom of the curve by our good friend, the force of gravity, which in turn blocks noxious gasses from the sewer system from filling your home. Thus most homes in Korea smell like sewers. Not a pleasant thought…
Anyway, today, I slept in. It was raining again and I am leaving the country tomorrow, so I didn’t really feel like going all over town. I decided to go to the coin laundry and wash my clothes from the last four or five days. Nobody likes to stuff a bunch of smelly socks in their luggage, right? Well, that is where I met an interesting character. I tried to post his picture on this post, but it won’t accept it for some reason. I will try to load it on flickr.
His name (the only one he gave me) is Scorpio, and he is a professional wrestler. He is an American that has been a pro wrestler for about 20 years. He lives in Germany with his half-German, half-Turkish, kickboxing champion wife and travels to Japan, among other places, for matches. We talked for about an hour in between business phone calls. He was really nice and a fun guy to talk to. I didn’t really think about him in the ring much until his stuff was done in the dryer and he pulled out his wrestling tights. My guess is he isn’t quite as friendly in the ring as he is at the coin laundry.
What can I say? There are some really interesting people in this country. .