OSAKA - First impressions of this city are certainly that it is a smaller and
more compact city without the liveliness of Tokyo... however this could just be
that we are in the area that is not the happening place. Shibuya was
certainly an energy centre of Tokyo and not for the faint-hearted.
Kita-Ku is certainly not that, in fact quite the reverse with its
reserved manner and feeling of quiet wealth about it. Funnily enough it
does remind me a little of Brisbane, as it is set on a river that winds itself
through the centre. It could also be that the view from my motel room is
pretty much the same as if I was sitting at the QPAC building on tour in
Brisvegas. The river with the highway suspended above it.
But the arrival on a Sunday is never a good light to see a city, particuarly
one that is the business centre of Japan. And I believe we are staying
right in the heart of the Administration area. There are suit shops
everywhere and the area seems deserted on a weekend. I went for a walk
upon arrival to try and get some bearings and familiarise myself with what was
around and available. There was pretty much nothing on the streets and in
particular there appeared a distinct lack of funky cheap eateries. But
this is the beauty of touring, finding the diamonds in the rough as it were.
This will certainly be a challenge here but I am sure it will yield some
First impressions are always interesting though and the first impression of
Osaka was how bloody cold it was! And of course, then it snows. So
I have had 2 cities and 2 days of snowing... it was lovely and quite a decent
fall of snow so it had that magical attractiveness to it. I sat inside
for a little bit and watched it as I fell about on the bed and waited for
baggage to arrive. Oh, yes that is one of the advantages of travelling in
a large group... tickets are ready for you at the airport, bags leave 2 hrs
before you from the hotel and arrive about an hour or so after you... no
hanging around and waiting for carousels... hehe, what a luxury. Of
course this means that anything you didn’t bring with you you end up not
getting until the baggage arrives. But it is kind of cool. So
unpacking was fun and then you run into people at the foyer and go along with
whatever is happening.
We have a couple of days off here so on the first day off, I and my PT decide
to look for a gym to join where we can train. Hotels always have the
habit of finding the most expensive place that is near the hotel and
recommending it, so it was with trepedation that I went to the Naniwa Training
Centre. Boy was I wrong. I walked into a very tacky and old
building thinking I had the wrong staircase and was led all the way up to the
roof to find a small tin shed on top with a rather archaic gymnasium of free
weights and machines from the Stalin era in Russia. There was this little
old man at the door who tottered about the gym and obviously didn’t believe in
dusting much. This was true grass roots and warehouse flavour working
out. AND WE LOVED IT! My PT was entranced by it and we decided that
the little man was so sweet and accomodating and it was so real that we would
spend the week here training as if we were an East Block Olympic team.
After a couple of workout days already I can tell you how much fun it
actually is. We are the only people in there really, except for maybe one
or two others and there is this 40’s jazz music playing on the speakers and the
weights are all mismatched and made of steel... it’s such a characterful place.
No membership cards or such nonsense, the little man remembers you and
that you have paid. He asked us when we first went in whether or not we
were models?!!! Love it! Laurie and I are fast earning the
reputation that we are the fitness freaks of the company. After running
along the river for 30 minutes today and returning to the hotel in a sweaty
state, we were given a round of applause by those waiting to go to a tourist
destination for the day. hehehe. Let’s hope we are laughing when
the season starts back up again.
Osaka Castle was the tourist drive for the first day (after working out).
We walked the distance to the centre of town along the river and it was
actually a lovely thing to do on that day. The sun was out, it was warm
and there was a whole group of us so there was little conversations going on
everywhere. Learning little bits and pieces about everyone is kind
of nice and the walk took a good hour so there was plenty of time to spend a
bit of time with individuals. Also it was nice to see the residences of
Osakians... how they live and so forth. Having suffered such bombings in
the war it is full of 50’s fuctional architecture so it is not the most
beautiful city, but we enjoyed it’s character nonetheless.
The Castle is also a rebuilt representation of the original with the original
suffering a case of bad fortune having been struck by lightening in the early
1600s, burned down in the 1800s and bombed in 1945. But the grounds are
still beautiful and you can get an impression of what the building was like
when it was the centre of a fortress in the 1600s. The inside is very
contemporary and serves as a museum to the Castle’s founder Todeya Hideyoshi (
I think I got that right) who was the first emporer to unify Japan. It
has 8 floors of artefacts, history and presentations inside the castle.
Quite lovely really, but as is always the danger of going in a group, you
are restricted by time and the fact that not everyone wants to wait with you
and spend the day in the one place. Oh well, it was great to see anyway.
That evening was entertainment of a different sort. Dinner with about 10
of us in a foreigner friendly eatery. We get shown into a private room
with a round table for our group... and then we see it... the karoake machine!
It is cheesy, bad taste, meant for bad drunken people, but it was oh so
fun. They had to chuck us out at the end of it. And it is always
the way, after the loud raucous ones who are happy to make fools of themselves
have done endless renditions of Beatles and Simon and Garfunkels classics (and
the obligatory Send In The Clowns), someone gets on the microphone and actually
sings a beautiful rendition of a contemporary song and everyone just sits there
open mouthed in appreciation of this beautiful voice that has just come out!
Buit then the drunken and loud renditions take over again and the night
is a huge laugh for all concerned!
Today was another cultural iconic moment; SUMO WRESTLING! YAY, it
is just one of those things that you have to do when you are in a nation where
this thing only happens. But it was fantastic. The whole ceremony
of the bouts and the tournament is very much a part of the whole experience,
and these HUGE men just doing the most incredible posturing and leg extensions
as they try to intimidate the other. Then in a 30 - 45 sec push and slap
fest it is all over. How they don’t sustain serious injury to their
ankles in this process is unbelievable as they are on a 2 foot platform and
they literally get thrown and pushed off it every day for 14 days. The
size of the men does vary but the fact that they are so large of girth and yet
able to do the box splits is rather fascinating. We saw about 2 hours of
bouts and it was kind of fun to be a part of it all and watch the excitment
mount as the better wrestlers came on towards the end. The ceremony of
slapping and chucking salt on the dhoya was fascinating and just as interesting
to note that the traditions that surround the sport are still as much a part of
the experience now as always. It was fun and we did some pretty amazing
feats of strength, agility and underdog guts. I can only imagine how I
would feel squaring up to someone the size of them wearing that little
jockstrap... enough to make your eyes water just thinking about it.