Autumn Leaves in Japan 2010

October 15, 2010 3 comments

Autumn Leaves in Japan 2010For those who haven’t experienced it, the fiery colors of changing autumn leaves in Japan are a magnificent thing to behold. Momiji-gari (autumn-leaves viewing) is just as popular as cherry blossom viewing in the spring, and televised weather reports include the status of leaves in Japan as they change–a sort of “autumn leaves front” moving from north to south through Japan.

For information on when the leaves will be at their best for each region, as well as detailed information and up-to-date reports, check out the helpful info at Japan-guide.com, one of my favorite resources for anything related to sightseeing in Japan. Although this site does not list information on Osaka (although it does include surrounding areas such as Kyoto and Nara), I can personally recommend Minoh Park as a great spot to see autumn leaves. If you want to stay in Osaka City, Osaka Castle Park is a good option.

November is the best time for viewing in Kansai.

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Ebisubashi Bridge (aka Hikkake-bashi)

October 11, 2010 1 comment

HikkakebashiEbisubashi Bridge was built around the same time the digging out of the Dotombori River (canal) it passes over was completed, the year 1615. The current Ebisubashi was completed in 2007, and was built to replace the former 1925 incarnation. While some theorize that the name Ebisu comes from the long-established Imamiya-Ebisu Shrine, located south of Namba, this has not been proven. It has acquired numerous names throughout the years: in the Edo Period, it was called Ayatsurishibai-bashi (puppet show bridge) because of the small puppet theatre supposedly located on the south end; it was changed in 1867 by the Shogunate government to Naganari-bashi, a very typical name, because the word “ebisu” carried the negative meaning of “foreign barbarian” at the time; today, it is often called “nampa-bashi” (“nampa” means to pick up/hit on girls, and sometimes vice versa), but its most common nickname–more commonly known than the bridge’s actual name, in fact–is “hikkake-bashi” (literally “ensnare/trap,” but in reality it has a similar connotation to “nampa”), in reference to the decked-out “hosts” who attempt to woo girls for business purposes or to hire them for temporary jobs.
Besides acting as an important bridge connecting the famous Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade and the other shopping arcades and entertainment and gourmet venues of Namba, this bridge itself is a tourist attraction. The Dotombori River area centers on Ebisubashi, and such famous sites as the Glico “Running Man” neon signboard (one of the three symbolic sights of Osaka, along with Tsutenkaku and Osaka Castle), the Shochikuza Theatre (originally built in 1923, and the last of Namba’s old theatre buildings), Osaka’s beloved Kani-Doraku restaurant complete with mechanical moving crab on top, and of course the Dotombori arcade and river cruises. The bridge was designed in a plaza-like fashion, which encourages street performances and enables a large number of people to cross (and a large number of tourists to take pictures) at the same time. And with recent riverside boardwalk renovations, you can now walk down gently sloping ramps from the bridge and sit along the famous riverside, perhaps with a chu-hi and some okonomiyaki or takoyaki bought from one of the many food stalls nearby. This is also a great area for people-watching, especially if you can get a window seat at the Starbucks located at the south end.
Despite popular belief among expats new to Osaka, this is not actually a good place to pick up girls, despite the nicknames. So don’t waste your time 😉

More information is available in Japanese here.

The Meaning of Travel

August 17, 2010 7 comments

I’m not sure how or when I became a travel addict. Certainly there is an allure in going to new places, encountering unpredictable situations, and seeing unfamiliar things, but understanding where that feeling comes from takes a bit more thinking. Here’s what I came up with.

To start with, I think the opportunity to escape from daily worries is a major reason. Whether we know it or not, every day is filled with anxiety about trifling things that needn’t be worried about in the first place. As I pore over documents every day, wracking my brain for new ad copy, elegant translations and smoother rewrites, I become physically and mentally exhausted. After work I worry about what I need to do, what I haven’t done, what can’t be done but should be done. The amount of things to do in a day is simply overwhelming. However, the moment I step foot on the train or bus bound for my next destination, all of that is forgotten. Whether it be a day- or a week-long excursion, the time is my time, and I can think about things like the future, my humanity, the world around me, and the little things that often go unnoticed–things I don’t have time to consider most days. The lack of small worries lets me finally see the world clearly.

Next, there’s one of the most basic concepts in travel: movement. I truly believe that movement, both literally and figuratively, is freedom. I always bring along books to read on my train trips, but in the end only about five pages or so ever get read, because I just stare out the window at the things whooshing by, at scenery familiar and new. Just the ability to move, whether it be at a screaming shinkansen speed or rickety wanman clunker-train crawl (see photo), is exhilarating. It’s no coincidence that we say life is “at a standstill” when things seem to be stagnating and unchanging; movement, whether it  toward something or just movement’s sake, is liberating.

Movement also means we are going to new places, seeing new things. But why is that important? Because encountering new situations, people, and ideas helps us grow, especially when we don’t have the burden of everyday worries weighing us down, hindering our clear thinking. I have never gone on a trip and come back as the same person: whether it be to a small or large degree, I have always changed and grown through travel. My view of the world becomes different, and my perspective becomes wider yet more refined. Occasionally traveling alone only enhances these aspects further.

Onomichi

So get out there and explore, see everything you can while there is still time. Enjoy not only the destination, but the journey to get there. Appreciate small things, and don’t plan every day meticulously. Go somewhere nobody would ever think of taking a trip to, stay somewhere—a run-down hostel, a capsule hotel, a sleeping bag under the stars—you wouldn’t normally stay. Take every type of trip you can, at any chance you get, and you will not only experience more of the world, but will become a  happier person with a richer set of experiences.

A free mind, movement, growth, and new experiences. That’s the meaning of travel.

Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival 2010

July 30, 2010 3 comments

One of the biggest and most beloved fireworks festivals in Osaka, the Naniwa Yodogawa Fireworks Festival (なにわ淀川花火大会) has been held along the Shin-Yodogawa River every year since 1989, and despite its size, the festival is put on almost entirely by the local residents and businesses of the Juso neighborhood. Attendance each year is approximately 500,000 people, and the fireworks display is massive. The 2010 festival will be held on Saturday, August 7: the fireworks start launching at 7:50 pm and the show lasts until around 9:00 pm, but unless you have a reserved seat somewhere, I suggest bringing your tarp and staking out a place along the river in the afternoon if you want any chance of sitting. Most people dress up in yukata and have picnics beforehand, making it an all-day event.

The closest stations to the festival are Tsukamoto Station (JR Kobe/San’yo Line) and Juso Station (Hankyu Kobe, Kyoto and Takarazuka Lines). Admission is free unless you want reserved seats. The festival’s homepage (Japanese only) can be viewed here.

Note: Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Beaches Near Osaka

July 26, 2010 5 comments

Shirahama, Wakayama

One thing metropolitan Kansai is not blessed with is an abundance of beaches, and when the hot season comes around, many people find themselves stumped when searching for places to enjoy sand and surf. So here are a few of my recommendations to help people living in the Osaka area enjoy this toasty summer weather with a relaxing time on the beach.

Suma

This is probably the most popular beach in the Keihanshin tri-city area, and also attracts many people from the Chugoku region. Located west of Sannomiya in Kobe, it is easily accessed via Suma Station on the JR Kobe Line/San’yo Main Line (it’s right outside the station). While it can be a bit crowded, this compact beach has a nice atmosphere, and a number of beach parties and DJ events are held here throughout the summer.

Tarui

If you’re looking for something a bit more secluded and less crowded, try “Tarui Southern Beach,” located about 15 min. on foot from Tarui Station on the Nankai Main Line (about 50 minutes from Nankai Namba Station). Even though it’s small, this beach offers rental parasols, food and drinks, and all the amenities you would find a larger beach.

Awajishima

This Biwako-shaped island located out in Osaka Bay/the Seto Inland Sea can be easily accessed via Kobe by ferry or bus, and has a number of small beaches lining its shores. There are also some sightseeing draws in the area, such as the Naruto Whirlpools out in the Seto Inland Sea.

Shirahama

This famous beach/hot spring resort area, located on the southern part of the Kii Peninsula in Wakayama Prefecture (facing the Pacific Ocean), is known for is beautiful white sands (imported from Australia), scrumptious seafood and luxury resorts. The beaches here are relatively clean and quite beautiful, and there are also some tourist attractions (many geared toward children) in case you are going as a family or on a date. It’s a couple hours from Osaka by JR limited express (Shirahama Station), so Shirahama is more of a weekend getaway than a day trip destination.

Isonoura

Located in Wakayama City, this is a large, rather crowded beach that’s popular among Kii Peninsula residents and Osakan alike. While it won’t offer the peace and quiet of a small beach, it does have a fun atmosphere and lots of chances to people-watch. Not to mention Wakayama has great food in general, so the chance to explore the city afterward is a plus. This beach can be accessed via Nankai Railway’s Isonoura Station.

A small safety note: Jellyfish tend to arrive in large numbers during the later part of summer, so please exercise caution from August onward if you plan to go swimming in the ocean.

A Personal Note: Please be sure to collect any trash that belongs to you to help keep Japan’s beaches clean. Coming from Oregon, where beaches are heavily protected and kept in a very natural state, I am always shocked at the amount of trash people leave behind on the sand, and I hope everyone will avoid this sort of behavior.

Tenjin Matsuri 2010

July 17, 2010 Leave a comment

Only one week remains until Osaka’s biggest festival, the Tenjin Matsuri. Millions attend this epic event, known as one of the three great festivals of Japan, and also as the greatest boat festival in the world. It reflects Osaka’s mercantile, canal-centric history as Japan’s “city of water.” The Tenjin Matsuri’s history reaches back 1,000 years, and is dedicated to Sugawara-no-Michizane, who is enshrined and worshipped as the Tenman Tenjin, the god of learning and the arts. Needless to say, it is an important time for Osakans, and is a huge part of Osakan culture.

Along with a tremendous fireworks display, over 100 boats and 3,000 people take part in the festival, and spectators from around Japan and all corners of the world flock to Osaka, clad in yukata and geta for a summer experience they will never forget. The festival technically takes place throughout the month, but the main events are on July 24 and 25. It starts at the Tenmangu Shrine (link to Japanese-only site), and proceeds first by land through the streets and then by water down the Okawa River. Bunraku performances and other events take part throughout Osaka, and of course there are plenty of food stalls and alcoholic beverages for sale along the riverbanks. The boats going down the river is the highlight of the event, with hypnotic rhythms throwing people into a dancing frenzy as the decorated, lit-up vessels cruise down the river and circle the bonfire blazing atop the water’s surface.

Once again, that’s July 24 and 25, 2010. For more information, as well as footage and shots of this spectacular event, check out at Osaka-Info’s website.

Osaka Live Cams

July 1, 2010 Leave a comment

Just in case you have time to kill at work or elsewhere, here are two live webcams I’ve found for Osaka.