A trip to Paris, feudal Japan, and New York in the heart of Osaka.

Editors Note: We mentioned in an earlier post that we had a major computer issue, well sadly enough the majority of lost data was from Andrew’s camera on this day. Maybe we will be able to recover it later but it is doubtful. Luckily Andrew is a total weirdo with pictures and insists on multiple cameras and shots for just about everything, so we still had some pictures to show.

Andrew did a little research about museums in Osaka and found that the National Art Museum was showing a special exhibit from the Musée national du Moyen Âge in France; a collection of six giant, elaborate tapestries from the late 15th century entitled, “The Lady and Unicorn.” This exhibit has only left France twice counting its current stint in Osaka. Andrew had originally seen them in Paris, but he insisted that it was worth a visit here in Japan. The tapestries were truly incredible, and the special displays created for the exhibit were great.

We spent about an hour enjoying the work, and headed upstairs to see the rest of the National Art Museum, which consisted of…nothing! Well, not entirely true, there was a small wing of contemporary sculpture from Japan, but as far as we could discern there was really nothing much there to begin with. Maybe it was all removed to house the special exhibit. So much for a National Museum.

On to the Umeda district, which contains the Umeda Sky Tower. The tower is actually two tall buildings side by side, connected by a series of bridges and escalators, giving it the nickname “modern Arc de Triumph,” despite the fact there is already a modern Arc de Triomphe in Paris named Le Grande Arche. Even so the description is far from accurate. Its gleaming exterior is visually interesting and you can buy a ticket to go to the top and see the “floating botanical gardens.” Wow, that sounds awesome! Let’s go!

Forty stories up, a wonderful observation deck offers great views of the massive sprawl that is Osaka. The observation deck was also virtually empty. We lounged on couches and enjoyed a sunny view, tempered with some smoggy haze from the city. The Umeda Tower is not particularly easy to get to. The closest subway stop is still quite a trek away, through an unpleasant industrial section filled with construction sites and bad sidewalks. And of course the weather was terrible.

Did I mention not to come to Asia in the summer? Yeah, don’t do it.

Escalator to Heaven

Escalator to Heaven

Finally feeling refreshed from the air conditioning and melon soda floats, we set out to find the “botanical gardens.” We made a full 360 of the floor, headed up to the roof for more views of the city, and then back down to the lowest elevator. No gardens, no hint of greenery whatsoever. From what we could discern from the info posted about Umeda, it is apparently a futuristic building concept, the center of which they refer to as a garden, but it doesn’t actually contain plants. That’s some very misleading advertising Japan…

The Tower refers to itself as a sky structure, and lists many other “sky structures” around the world, my favorite being the “Sky Stick” of Italy or more commonly known as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. A little disappointed, we made the long walk back to the station, taking as many short cuts through air-conditioned malls as possible.

Next on the agenda, Osaka-Jo, or Osaka Castle to us. Rebuilt at least twice over the last 600 years and expanded significantly the last time with an inner and exterior water moat, the castle grounds here are massive. While many of the village “buildings” that once covered the grounds are gone, an impressive pagoda-style castle remains, which houses a new museum about the castle’s history. The contents are a bit dry for those of us not particularly enthusiastic about ancient Japanese Imperial history. The museum did offer a break from the oppressive weather outside. Some intricate screen paintings and woodblock prints depicting life and battle on the castle grounds were interesting, as were the fascinating holographic projections of Japanese theater onto miniature kabuki sets, which depicted scenes about the life of the castle’s founder.

Osaka-Jō

Osaka-Jō

A couple hours of touring the museum and the grounds in the heat tired us out, and we went back to the hostel to relax for a bit. We traded stories about Japan with two pleasant travelers from Germany, who had witnessed the historic Tokyo fireworks fiasco a week earlier.

With the sun down and the weather a little more bearable, we headed off to take a peek at Amerika-mura or Amerimura, a small area near Shinsaibashi where apparently young Japanese can pretend to live like Americans, or what they think Americans live like… This disappointing little district consists almost entirely of punk and skater culture clothing and music stores blasting hip-hop and rap, as well as a grungy little mock Central Park where young Japanese punks with tattoos and piercings can hang out and smoke. The center of the area is marked by a miniature Statue of Liberty standing atop a high rise building. Unfortunately this was also the dirtiest area of Japan we have come across, trash littered the streets and the park (despite the presence of public trashcans), a sight uncommon anywhere else in Osaka.

While we had been curious about this so-called “Little America,” the actual reason we had come to the area was to visit the Space Station, an ex-pat run video game bar that had been recommended by a fellow teacher in Japan. Since Andrew had agreed to do away with his Xbox when coming to Japan, I indulged his video game addiction for a couple hours. The bar has a pretty neat set up, with video game consuls of all decades available, and hundreds of games lining the walls, waiting to be played. It was also the only bar we had seen devoid of all Japanese. If I liked video games, I would definitely see its appeal. The downside of a bar like this, however, is that all the video game nerds of Osaka hang out here, waiting for tourists to come play with them so they can geek out and show off their expertly-honed video game skills. Of course, Andrew ended up trying to battle said resident nerd at a Soul Calibur 4 (a game he had played twice before), and proceeded to get creamed for a solid hour. 2-15 for I think. If watching other people play video games wasn’t so horribly boring, I would have found Andrew’s defeat very entertaining.

Dontonburi at night

Dontonburi at night

Eventually unable to take anymore, I managed to pull Andrew away with the temptation of okonomiyaki, a delicious savory pancake-like food famous in Osaka. Our okonomiyaki that night consisted of cheese, pork, and cabbage cooked in a batter and topped with sweet teriyaki sauce, mayonnaise and a basically raw egg. I know this random combination of foods sounds terrible, but it is ridiculously delicious, and when I get home I am looking up recipes immediately.

Back to the hostel for another relatively uncomfortable night’s sleep, with dreams of a Kobe ocean breeze for tomorrow.

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