Tuesday, 7 August 2007

大阪と京都 Osaka and Kyoto

[吃驚な訪問 Surprise Visit]

On Thursday the second of August evening I found a mail from my parents in my email account saying that they will come and visit me this Sunday morning. In such short notice they couldn't find any plane to Tokyo, so they went to 新大阪関西国際空港 (Kansai International Airport) on the other half of 本州 (Japan's main island).

Oh boy! Since I knew that it would be really hard for them to get along by themselves and due to a prior misunderstanding as of how long they were going to stay (I first thought less than a week), I kindly asked my boss, if I could get two days off on Monday and Tuesday. Usually we are to keep the paid "holidays" for the case of getting ill and only after it is clear, that we won't need all of them for sickness can we apply for holiday at least one month in advance.
However my boss Owa-san was really kind and understood the special situation. So it was decided, that I catch up my parents on Sunday 8 am at the international airport near 大阪. Yet this only meant that the trouble started, since I had to plan the three days including where we'd go, where we'd sleep and how we'd get back. After a lot of searching and booking, I started to clean up my little room in 厚木 (Atusgi) to make it fit for three people (if such a thing is even possible). Then on Saturday evening I joined the 祭り (matsuri, city festival) that was happening on that very day in Atsugi.

[厚木祭り: 花火 (Atusgi city festival: fireworks)]

The festival at the least doubled the number of people in the city, as it has already done the year before, and made the officials close every street in the center of the city. All these streets where filled with countless festival stands, where you could buy drinks, sweets, meals and other stuff. Also some performances and music was played all around the city.
I tried some fried soba noodles, which were very good and a かき氷 (kakikoori a kind of stomped ice cubes with fruity sauce). Then I met Tor, the Swedish intern and our Japanese teacher from Atusgi Rumi-sensei. Together with friends of them we made our way to the riverside, where the 花火 was going to be displayed. You can't imagine how crowded the place was. The riverbed and the shored were crowded by people in a way, that you couldn't be sure which was the river. But eventually we found a little spot in the midst of a path and settled down to enjoy the 花火. Japanese 花火, at least the one I watched, is different to European ones in several aspects. For once, while European ones last for about 20-30 min, the one in Atsugi lasted for 3 hours. Therefore there is even a program for the fireworks which is parted in different Acts, like a theater. And each Act has a certain theme. To make a 花火 in such a large scale, sponsors are required. Therefore each Act was sponsored by a different company, which again hired a group of fireworks craftsmen artisans, which designed and prepared the fireworks.
It was truly amazing, there were some awesome effects, I had never seen before. Once they even wrote a name into the sky using consecutive rockets, but alas I couldn't decipher it. On the other hand they often used sophisticated combinations of a limited set of colors to get artistic messages across. And of course a major aspect of the art was to perfectly time multiple rockets and make them go to a certain direction and explode at a certain height to achieve a desired effect.
Alas I only could watch about 2/3 of the theater, because I had to move on to 新宿 (Shinjuku, Tokyo) to board my Night Bus to 大阪, so I'd be able to catch my parents the next morning.

There were so many people in the streets, that the city hired man to regulate the traffic

so many people

and the 花火

[新大阪関西国際空港 Kansai International Airport]

One thing you should know about Japan is that there is a kind of concurrence between its two biggest cities Tokyo and Osaka. Out of this strife to proof to be a center of commerce and travel as well as Tokyo and mostly just to show off, Osaka, resp. the Kansai region built an enormous airport in the middle of the Sea Of Japan during the period of great economic growth. An artificial island was erected and an enormous bridge spanned to connect it with the main land. On this island the airport was built. However after the so called bubble economy burst, the airport project proved to have been way to exaggerated. Therefore today only one single terminal of the airport is in use, and it is far far beyond its planned capacity. Also it has never become the center for Asian commerce and travel it was supposed to become. Nonetheless, as you can see on the satellite photograph, it is a truly impressive structure. More impressive if you go there by Bus and look out of the window having the feeling to drive over the sea.
At the airport I had to wait for a little bit, fearing the worst, when finally my parents advanced from the Gate for international arrivals. They were late, because though waiting at different package returns, they both were picked out by the airport police and had their luggage searched through. Since some of the interns asked me to ask my parents to bring shampoo and deodorant from Germany, they had to explain why they needed 5 shampoos and 7 deodorants for their personal usage. ;p Furthermore they were shown pictures of drugs and asked if they would carry stuff depicted on those pictures... ;) My mom had to laugh... ;p

Satellite picture from 関西国際空港

[大阪 Osaka]
Right and settled we left the airport, this time by train (using the same bridge), back to 大阪.

[大阪 Youth Hostel]
Their I booked a room for us in a Youth Hostel for one night. Since my parents had a lot of luggage, we first had to find this room. As it turned out the Youth Hostel was inside a huge stadium being originally devised for international sport players, yet being open to everyone, when their was no major sports event. It was really nice and comfortable. It also included a お風呂 (A Japanese bathroom), a dinning hall, a common room and a TV corner. The rooms are separated by gender, so dad and me had to split from mommy for the night. I can fully recommend this hostel to you, since apart from the nice interiors it is also quite cheap (2.500 Yen per person per night). http://www.nagaiyh.com/

The stadium the Youth Hostel is located in.

[大阪中心 Osaka Downtown]
First thing we did in Osaka, after deploying our luggage was of course the search for food. We were landed up in Osaka's downtown, which for now we had a first glance at and later would walk all the way through (several kilometers! takes more than an hour). The whole road is covered by a roof and is only for pedestrians. Apart from the main road, there are also countless side roads crossing it, being filled with stores just like the main road. It is impressive, given, but after walking it for the first kilometer you have seen everything and the stores and surroundings just keep repeating until the end. Since my parents were still a bit scared and exhausted from the flight, we went into an Italian restaurant and did not dare Japanese cuisine yet.

The long road of 大阪 Downtown.

[民家集落博物館 Open Air Museum Of Ancient Japanese Houses]
Although my parents arrived in the morning, due to the jet lag and the time it took us finding the Youth Hostel, we didn't really have time or energy to visit many places in Osaka. So we decided to go to an area in the north, which looked very quiet and easy. There's a big green spot, where you can find various gardens (including the Osaka botanical garden), some lakes with fishes and fountains. Apart from that there is an open air museum where you can see and enter ancient Japanese houses from all over the country. Of course they were pretty simple and plain, but nonetheless the trip to this spot is surely worth it. You can look at the pictures below.

Pictures from the village

[京都 Kyoto]
The next day, after a refreshing night and an invigorating breakfast at the stadium, we moved on to Kyoto. There we ran through the same procedure in finding our youth hostel. For 京都 there is a nice applet, where you can find all the places, we visited: http://www.jref.com/practical/kyoto.shtml

[京都 Youth Hostel]
Well in Kyoto we ran into the opposite of what we had found in Osaka. The hostel only had tight sleeping dormitories and no place to place your luggage or anything. It was not very clean, and inconvenient for taking a shower. Well in accordance to what I said about the Osaka stadium one, I do not recommend you to stay there. The place is called Kyoto Cheapest Inn, and it probably is: http://web.travel.rakuten.co.jp/portal/my/info_page_e.Eng?f_no=29943

The Hotel from the outside

The common room on the first floor (= ground floor in Japan) of the Hotel.

[祇園 Gion]
After we left the Youth Hostel we went to see Kyoto's old 芸者 (Geisha) district. It is still very colorful and full of interesting stores, although most of them specialized on tourists and of course you can't find any more 芸者 or etablisements nowadays.

[Handcraft Center]
I have learned in Erlangen that 京都 is most famous for its traditional handcraft. Since we spotted a place called handcraft center, we decided to start there searching for it. The place turned out to be very well hidden and it took as a long time to find it. My opinion on the place is somewhat twofold. I start with giving a description. It's a large building with about 9 floors. Almost each floor is built in the same concept. You start at a tourist shop selling all those stupid souvenirs non Japanese tourists would buy (samurai mouse pads, fake katana, etc.), then the main part of the floor is specialized to one aspect of 京都 handcraft, e.g. jewelery, dolls, printing, wood and others. In those areas you can actually see people working and crafting the items displayed and sold there.
So on the one hand it is a great museum like place for seeing traditional handcraft, which is actually made by people, which you can watch working.
On the other hand it is all too specialized on tourists and the handcrafting people have to work in Zoo like conditions: "Boah honey look, a traditional Japanese handcrafts person. Make a picture of me next to him".
But best is you'll build your own opinion about it, since I am not the german Bild newspaper.

[ポント Ponto]
Since we spent to much time, it was already after 6 pm, which means everything in 京都 was closed already. Since we saw and ate already in 祇園, we checked my parents 京都 guide book for alternatives, which would still be open. It said there'd be a kind of modern version of 祇園 called after the Portuguese word for bridge ポント (Ponto). The name was chosen because there are nice bridges over かも川 (Kamo River) as well as nice terraces on wooden piles on the side of the river. Alas those terrace restaurants were a bit expensive, but we found another very cool restaurant, where they build towers of food on a grill plate, which is then grill cooked right on your table. It was very good!

The tower grill food, after the tower had already been made colapse

[京都御所 Kyoto Imperial Palace]
The first thing we did on our second day in Kyoto is go to the Imperial Palace, because we were told, that one had to register around 9 am showing their passport, to be allowed entrance. After you filled out some paperwork you are actually allowed to enter the palace for free and even get a free tour guide speaking in good and understandable English. Apparently this tour concept is especially made for foreigners as they outnumbered the Japanese ones by 20 to 1. Visiting the palace is pretty interesting, especially with a guided tour. You learn much about the crazy customs and rules of the courtiers and how the 天皇 (Tenno) lived. However strange those rules were, they can't compete with Versailles ;p.
What I like most were all the different places, courtiers and the 天皇 could directly access and park the ox carts at. I think there were more buildings for ox carts than for the 天皇.

Pictures from the palace.

The palace's wonderful gardens.

In this building is the Tenno's magical mirror, a symbol of his arcane power.

[二条城 Nijou Castle]
The original castle of the Tenno, which burned down several times. Each time the Tenno moved to some other courtiers, until he finally decided to stay out of the castle and build the Imperial Palace, where he used to move out to.
We were going to visit this castle at the second day in Kyoto after we had seen the Imperial Palace itself. But alas this day happened to be Tuesday, the day where the 二条城 is closed...

[三十三間堂 Sanjusangendo]
After not having seen 二条城 we went to see Kyoto's temples! We started with one close to the station called 三十三間堂 (Sanjusangendo). It hosts no less than 1001 statues of Buddha guarded by several arch demons and greater guardian spirits. 1001 statues are a lot and quite impressive to look at, but their guardians are very magnificent too. For each guardian their is a sign explaining their significance and origin in Japanese and English.

[清水寺 Kiyomizudera]
This temple lies north of 三十三間堂 and is known for its awesome platform and the magnificent view from it. We spent a great deal of our day there, because there is much to see and it covers a big areal inside the hill woods, therefore it is really nice for walking and enjoying nature, shrines and the view. Since there is so much to see and walk, I can recommend this one as well.

The water from those wells is said to be holy and very healthy

[銀閣寺 Ginkakuji]
The silver counterpart to the famous golden pavilion 金閣寺 (Kinkakuji) in the north west of 京都. After 清水寺 we convinced ourselves, that we had not enough yet and so we moved on northwards to the silver pavilion. We did not visit the golden one for two reasons, one being that it is just too far away and second that it is mostly a tourist trap, even though it does look magnificent.
Alas we arrived shortly after it closed. Japanese temple and shrine usually close at 5 pm, you should keep that in mind, when doing sight seeing!

[哲学の道 The Path Of Philosophy]
But we already anticipated that we won't be able to see 清水寺 and went there for another reason, namely the path of philosophy. Its a very nice path along a small river, where Japanese philosophers used to walk up and down when thinking about a problem. It is beautiful, quiet and not crowded. And naturally it can't close.

the path of philosophy

[出発 Departure]
When it started to rain we left the path of philosophy before finishing it (we covered about 2/3) and went for the nearest bus stop. There we waited for 30 min, cause my parents wouldn't enter the crowded buses, but honestly I don't know if we could have. So we took another line, that did not go directly to the station, but to 京都 downtown, which is just north of the station. Since the rain already became lighter and eventually ceased we took the chance and walked the downtown up and down and had a meal in a Japanese restaurant. Afterwards we took another bus to the station. 京都駅 (Kyoto Station) is also something so see. In spite of the traditional city it was built very futuristic and large in scale (see pic). There we searched for the place, where our night bus was supposed to leave from and waited for it. When it came we returned to my little room in Atsugi and made my parents settle in, while I walked to work.

京都 Station

[他の写真 Extra Pictures]

Me explaining my mother Japanese culture.

My mother loved to photograph Japanese people wearing 着物 (Kimono).

My lovely parents

We found dozen of statues like this, but I am not sure about their significance yet

these two straw figures figures from the ancient houses say good bye on my account, and hope that you tune in again

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