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 beautiful things.
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.