WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 18, 2017

Category: 2014 Japan

Back To The Big Smoke, Osaka

Another Pleasant Rail Journey ….
We departed Kanazawa shortly after 9:00AM for a very pleasant 2 1/2 hour rail journey to Osaka.  Travelling by train in Japan is a great experience.  Trains run on time, are spotlessly clean and very comfortable.   There is so much to see with varying landscapes and an insight into the real Japan.  Virtually every piece of level ground is either a house, a building or is being farmed.  On the other hand the mountainous regions remain largely untouched and are so beautiful, particularly in Autumn.  The 2 1/2 hour journey just flew by and before we knew it we were in Osaka.

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Typical landscape as seen from the bullet train

A Contrast To Tokyo ….
The subway trip from Shin-Osaka Shinkansen station to Shinsaibashi was painless, followed by a 400 meter walk to our apartment.  This country is so easy to get around even though there are limited English signs.   The constant announcements in Japanese at the train stations and on the buses seem largely redundant.  The area where our apartment is located is called Amerikamura and is close to the famous Shinsaibashi Arcade.  It is an interesting area, predominantly for the youth generation with funky shops, night clubs and restaurants.  It is very similar to Harajuka district in Tokyo.  It is a great place to have an apartment for the week.  After a walk around the area I decided that Japanese must get very tired during the day as you can rent hotel rooms by the hour in this area.  Some of these rooms are very fancy with round beds and mood lighting.  Seems pointless if all you want is a power nap.

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Miniature Statue of Liberty on top of a building in the Amerikamura district

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Typical night scene in the area of our apartment

Orientating Ourselves ….
Our first afternoon we spent orientating ourselves and finding a supermarket for some basic supplies for our apartment.   We were lucky to stumble upon a huge supermarket in Namba, the neighbouring suburb and had a great time exploring the products on offer.  There is no English on any labels and you rely soley on pictures to decide what to buy.  Even to buy milk is difficult as we found out when we had the strangest tasting Corn Flakes one morning followed by white tea that was undrinkable.   What is fantastic and cheap are the pre-prepared meals and the sushi and sashimi which we both love.  Food in general seems to be 20 to 30% cheaper than Australia and alcohol about half what we pay.   A bottle of whisky or gin is about AUD$10.

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Frozen food in the supermarket. You need a good picture to work out the contents

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Freshly prepared sushimi at the supermarket. Tasty and relatively cheap

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Freshly prepared satay sticks avaiable at the supermarket

Off Exploring ….
On our first full day in Osaka we decided to walk the Tenjinbashi-suji arcade.  This is a covered street full of retail shops, restaurants, bars and pachinko parlors and is 2.6 km long, the longest straight shopping arcade in Japan.  It is where the locals shop and has a great atmosphere.  During our walk we lunched on okonomi-yaki, a delicious pancake filled with cabbage, egg, green onion, shredded meat and a most delicious sauce, not unlike chinese plum sauce.  We stuck our heads into a couple of pachinko parlors but these places are deafening as the game uses 10mm ball bearings in what looks like a vertical pin ball machine with up to 20 balls rattling down at a time on each machine and there are hundreds of machines.

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Entrance to the 2.6 Km long Tenjinbashi-suji Arcade.

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Pachinko Parlour in the Tenjinbashi-suji Arcade

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Liz enjoying a delicious okonomi-yaki in the Tenjinbashi-suji Arcade

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One of the fresh food shops in the Arcade

The Best View In Osaka ….
Our next stop was the Aerial Garden Observatory at the Umeda Sky Building.  This observatory is on the 40th floor bridging two buildings and provides a 360 ° view of Osaka.  We timed our visit to coincide with sunset and had drinks overlooking the skyline of Osaka.  Well worth a visit if you are in Osaka.

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Evening drinks at the Umeda Sky Building Observatory

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View of Osaka from the Observatory at night

Osaka At Night ….
The city takes on a completely different atmosphere at night when the neon lights come on.   It transforms into one big party like New Years Eve in Melbourne, minus any drunks.  Shinsaibashi arcade at 8:00 PM at night is amass with shoppers.   Dotonbori, the night club and restaurant district is packed with people and everyone is happy and laughing with no signs of bad behaviour. It may be different at midnight but us oldies are in bed by then.

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The famous Shinsaibashi arcade at 8:00 PM at night

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The Dotonbori district of Osaka. A restaurant and night club district

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The Glico Man. The most photographed neon in Dotonbori

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The Crab restaurant. The second most photographed landmark

Another Side Trip ….
Saturday was a perfect day weatherwise so a quick decision was made to visit Kobe.   On the subway to Shin-Osaka station, hop on a bullet train and 13 minutes later we were in Kobe.  Our first stop was the Nunobiki Herb Gardens and Ropeway (read cable car).   It is one of Japan’s largest herb gardens with 75,000 herbs and flowers.  We caught the Ropeway about 1 km up to the top of the mountain and then slowly walked down through various displays of herbs and flowers including glass houses with more exotic varieties of plants.  Upon reaching the end of the gardens at the middle ropeway station we then caught the ropeway back to the top station where we enjoyed a light lunch.  This visit turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

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Ropeway (Cable Car) to the top station of the Herb Garden

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Interior of one of the glass houses at the Herb Garden

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The glasses houses at the Herb Garden

Going Loopy Again ….
We then hopped on the Kobe Loop Bus for a quick tour of the city finally ending up in Chinatown where we enjoyed a Peking duck snack before walking the full length of the Motomachi Arcade back to the Kobe train station to hop on a local train back to Osaka.  Kobe is a fairly modern town with the buildings being relatively new as many of the buildings were destroyed in 1995 by an earthquake which killed 5000 people.

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China Town in Kobe

Back In Osaka ….
We awoke to a wet Sunday so decided on a visit to The National Museum Of Art, Osaka which displays works of both Japanese and foreign artists.   This was followed by a visit to the Osaka Science Museum which is interesting given that everything explaining the displays was in Japanese, not unlike the supermarket.  But we now know the Japanese for milk,  ミルク and skim milk ミルクのスクリーニング.  We’re working on yogurt next.

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Large mural at the Art Museum

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Entry to the Science Works Museum

Exploring Namba ….
Namba is one of the main shopping districts in Osaka. There are multiple shopping centre developments and department stores in this area all interconnected by basement walkways and intergrated with subway and regional railway stations.  In total it is a massive development and on top of one of the 8 story buildings is a two story garden complex which is very impressive particularly given it is all decorated with Christmas lights.  We estimate the total Nanba Shopping District would be at least 5 times bigger than Chadstone Shopping Centre.

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Rooftop Garden at the Namba Parks Shopping Centre complex

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Christmas lights at the Namba Parks Shopping complex

A Delicious Dinner ….
Whilst in the Namba area we decided to have dinner, so up to the restaurant floors we went and chose a nice restaurant.   We were given the menu with not a word of English in sight.  Unfortunately milk and skim milk weren’t on the menu so we had to rely on glossy pictures and sign language from the waitress. Our meal was delicious but we had ordered far too much as the actual plates were far bigger than the pictures on the menu.

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A specials menu at the restaurant were we had dinner. Not a word of English in sight.

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Our dinner. The plates were much bigger than the photos

Our Final Day ….
We awoke to a perfect autumn day and decided to visit the Osaka Castle.   Construction of this castle began in 1583 but has been rebuilt several times due to lightening strikes and wars.  The latest of these rebuilds occurred in 1931 and as well as a viewing platform on the 8th floor contains a museum documenting the history of the castle and the many wars that took place in its vicinity.  The castle is set in a beautiful park containing two massive moats, the outer moat filled with water.

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The impressive Osaka Castle

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View from the 8th floor Observation Deck balcony of the castle

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The outer moat of the castle complex

We Leave Japan ….
After three great weeks we leave Japan with fond memories of the friendly people, the vibrant cities and the beautiful country side.

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My favourite sign of the trip. You see a lot of Jinglish signs in Japan

A Side Trip To Hiroshima

Back On The Bullet Train ….
Whilst in Osaka we planned a 2 day side trip to Hiroshima with the primary objectives of visiting the island of Miyajima and the Peace Park in Hiroshima.  Our 87 minute Shinkansen journey took us to Hiroshima and we immediately hopped on another train for a short journey to Miyajimaguchi where the ferry terminal is located to get us across to the island of Miyajima.

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Bullet train to Hiroshima

Miyajima Island, A World Heritage Site ….
The ferry trip across to the island took about 15 minutes and was free if you had a Japan Rail Pass.  One of the highlights of Miyajima is the O-Torrii Gate, a massive 60 ton cypress wooden gate that sits in the water about 50 meters away from the Itsukushima Shrine.  At high tide it is in the water but at low tide people can walk out to the gate on the sand.  The Itsukushima Shrine is also built over the water at high tide and is an impressive orange structure.  Construction of the shrine first started in the year 563 and was later remodeled in 1168.  The shrine consists of a main shrine, a drama stage, music rooms, halls and several other smaller shrines surrounding the main shrine.

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O-Torrii Gate that welcomes you to Mirajima

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Walkways on the impressive Itsukushima Shrine

We See A Wedding ….
During our walk around the shrine we were lucky to witness a traditional Japanese wedding with the bride in a Kimono and the groom in traditional costume.  Lots of formalities, drum banging and chanting.  Very interesting.

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A wedding in progress at the shrine. Very formal

Another Shrine And A Pagoda ….
A walk up a rather steep hill and we were at the Five Story Pagoda and the Toyokuni Shrine.  Whilst we were there we witnessed a special ceremony where we assumed new buddhist monks were being ordained.  Once again, lots of drum banging, speeches and chanting for this very formal ceremony.

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5 Story Pagoda

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Formalities at the Tokokuni Shrine

A Delicious Lunch ….
We were recommended to try Okonomi-yaki for lunch in Miyajima and it did not disappoint.  This delicious dish was invented in Japan dating back more than 70 years and became very popular as a street stall snack following the A Bomb attack.  Flour is mixed with water to provide a pancake style mixture and then on the top was added spring onions.  Over the years it has been refined and now includes chopped cabbage, noodles, bean sprouts, pork and egg or beef, scallops or oysters then covered with a delicious sauce topping.   Healthy, nutricious and very tasty.  Another popular treat on the island are fresh oysters baked in their shell then served.

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Our Okonomi-yaki restaurant for lunch

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My half eaten Okonomi-yaki Lunch. I was too hungry to take the photo before I started

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The compulsory gift shops

Back To Hiroshima ….
After several hours in Miyajima visiting shrines, temples, gardens and compulsory gift shops we were back on the ferry and train headed for Hiroshima.   We checked into our hotel, The Parkside,  right next to the Peace Park and then just as dusk fell went out to walk around the Peace Park developed to commemorate the loss of life and devastation caused by the dropping of the first ever atomic bomb in wartime which occurred at 8:15 AM on August 6, 1945.   Walking this park is a very moving experience particularly as dusk fell and there was the orange glow from the setting sun on the buildings, monuments and the autumn colours on the trees.  The most dramatic monument is the A Bomb Dome, another world heritage site, which was originally built as the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotions Hall but now stands witness to the devastation caused by an atomic bomb.  Our day finished with a walk up the Hondori St covered arcade and then a delicious meal at a restaurant right on the water overlooking the Peace Park.  The end to an interesting day.

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A-Bomb Dome at sunset

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A-Bomb Dome at night

An Early Start ….
Up early the next morning to walk around the Peace Park visiting many of the monuments commemorating loss of life as a result of the atomic bomb and then a visit to the Peace Memorial Museum, the National Peace Memorial Hall for the bomb victims and the Childrens Peace Monument.  We walked to Hiroshima Castle and then on to the Shukkeien Traditional Japanese Garden to complete a full and interesting day.  It was then back on the Shinkansen to our cosy little apartment in Osaka.

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Childrens Peace Monument. The boxes at the base contain millions of paper cranes sent from all over the world

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Cenotaph for A-Bomb victims

Hiroshima Castle

Hiroshima Castle

A wedding at the Shukkeien Gardens

A wedding at the Shukkeien Gardens

Autumn colours at the Shukkeien Gardens

Autumn colours at the Shukkeien Gardens

 

Kanazawa, The Old And The New

Kanazawa, A Contrast To Takayama ….
Once again a very pleasant train trip from Takayama to Kanazawa which took about 2 hours.  We wound our way down out of the mountains and on to flat plains as we arrived in Kanazawa.  This city is much larger than Takayama and the historic sights tend to be spread all over the city rather than concentrated as they are in Takayama.  To get around you have three main options, walk, bicycle or a loop bus which goes around the city to all the major sights.  Our first day we elected to walk and went to the Omi-Cho Market, a combined fresh food market with a sprinkling of other vendors selling clothes, bags and other necessities that the locals require. Being a Saturday it was bustling with the Japanese doing their weekend shopping and buying fresh fish and vegetables of all varieties.

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Omi-Cho Market. Fresh foods and other delights

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Beautifully prepared and presented food and ready prepared meals

Gardens And Castles Fill In The Day ….
On our second day we decided to rent a bicycle from one of the many “bicycle locking booths”, similar to the tourist bicycles in Melbourne city, the difference being that an adult does not require a helmet in Japan, only a child. After translating the rules and paying by credit card, we set off to explore part of the city and to visit the Kenroku-En Gardens.  These gardens cover an area of 11.4 hectares and are well worth a visit.  After parking our bikes we wandered the gardens which date back over 300 years and over hundreds of years have been transformed into a magnificent park where visitors can learn about nature and history right in the downtown area of Kanazawa.  There is so much to see including lakes and ponds, waterfalls, tea houses, traditional bridges over winding peaceful streams, and of course a selection of over 8,200 trees and 160 species of flowers.  It was just pleasant and peaceful to walk around until the dark clouds opened up and it poured with rain.

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On our bikes in one of the shopping arcades

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The amazing and beautiful Kenroku-En Gardens. View of the Tea Houses in the gardens.

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Kenroku-En Gardens.

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Autumn colours in the gardens. Yes that is a bird in the tree

Not Unlike Melbourne ….
The saying in Kanazawa is “you can forget your boxed lunch but dont forget your umbrella”.  We fortunately had not forgotten our umbrellas and scurried undercover to enjoy a soba noodle lunch before venturing on to visit the castle opposite.

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A wedding ceremoney. Bride in a traditional wedding outfit

Still Under Construction ….
The Kanazawa Castle construction began more than 400 years ago but has had many fires over time.  The castle is being restored to its original form using the traditional construction methods.  The structure consists of a framework of Japanese cypress pillars and American white cedar beams with pine logs used for the ceiling beams all jointed with resistant mud walls and strengthened with braces.  It is the largest wooden castle in Japan and the buildings are expected to last 200-250 years. It is being so perfectly restored. The rain continued so we decided to abandon our bike ride and catch the Loop Bus back home.

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The amazing Kanazawa Castle

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Entrance to the castle

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The amazing roof structure of the Kanazawa Castle. Every joint in the roof structure is like a jigsaw puzzle. No nails, bolts or scews used

I Think We Will Go Loopy ….

On our last day we decided to buy an all day Loop Bus pass for 500 yen (approx $5.50) and visit the other tourist areas of Kanazawa.  Again, we didn’t forget our umbrellas and our first stop was Higashi Chaya District.  This area is full of artisan shops where you can experience different works of art including ceramics, gold leaf, lacquer art, fabric dying and silk work. Very expensive shops are set amongst the traditional houses of the feudal period.

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Higashi Chaya district. An old part of Kanazawa with traditional houses

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Welcome to my shop

Back On The Bus ….

It was then back on the Loop Bus for our next stop to soak up more of the city of Kanazawa.  We walked up little alleyways, down shopping boulevards and covered arcades, indulging in coffee and cake under a marquee at a cake exhibition in the pouring rain and then back on the bus to the Nishi Chaya and Termachi Temple area to see temples and again traditional houses along a cobbled street.

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Morning coffee with delicious cakes at a cake expo in Central Park

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Our morning coffee and cakes. About $10

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Oyama-Jinja Shrine

By the end of our final day in Kanazawa we were ready to continue onto Osaka, our next adventure, leaving  the next morning at 9.00am.

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The magnificent autumn colours of Kanazawa. Note the approaching storm in the background


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