Oh really

Oh really
Osaka, Japan

Osaka, Japan

I woke, with a plan. Long run, check out by 10, walk to Tennoji and get a two day Osaka pass. After yesterday’s walking extravaganza I’d then have unlimited subway travel, and a list of potential things to get into – potential, because the pass gives you access to 24 attractions, and you’d have to go some to get to them all.

Marvellous. Woke, tried my bread and found it was filled with something syrupy-that wasn’t the idea, this seemed the lightest I could find when browsing the supermarket so I was hoping for just bread. Never mind, small breakfast nibbling round the edge, start the ridiculous ‘h20 sports water’, quick snooze and up at 7. The castle is the beginning of the river path – you can get all the way to Kyoto via 27km of river, I read somewhere – so I was determined to head there. I’d also seen a big park strip near Osaka station, looking similar to the one in Valencia which is made out of a diverted riverbed, but that will have to wait for another visit.

One 5 storey narrow pagoda, and a broader 2 storey temple

I struggled early on, but seeing other runners, or the fact that I had climbed a little to the castle and was now benefitting meant I slipped into a rhythm. I thought to head along the path I’d looked over from the castle grounds the day before, wooded over and with the noise of a festival/protest/exercise class leaking up into the hill. I found myself, though, orbiting the castle, and having spent 18 minutes or so doing so the first time, I was nearing 50 minutes and figured I had my route sorted without a short out and back trip elsewhere. That let me switch off route finding and concentrate on passing and then putting away the local just up ahead. I finished with a half lap of the castle to take me over the hour and a half and then ran back.

Job done, boy that felt a virtuous start, 14 miles in the bank. It was noticeably cooler at 7 than the day time, though obviously warming up as time went on. Certainly the early miles scotched the thought I’d had whilst struggling yesterday, that there’s a temperature beyond which I just can’t speed up, but having salvaged some pace later on I ended the run happy.

Tall, green plants, with broad open flower-like leaves (?) at the top
Triffids in the garden.

Quick change, dump the bags and off to Tennoji to buy the Osaka pass. 2000yen for a day, 2700 for two, 28 possible venues. Normally the second day being a Monday would limit the choice a bit, but it turns out tomorrow is a national holiday so most museums are open. I started, seeing as I was near, with the big temple. Shitennoji, they call it, though it seemed nice enough to me. It covers a huge area, lots of disparate buildings and little stalls everywhere, selling trinkets and food. Imagine a Christian church with a perpetual fete outside, though less ****. Most is open access, but my pass got me into a separate temple, with which I didn’t bother, and the garden of Gokuraku-Jodo, which is lovely. It’s also not huge, so a lovely place to go and relax without wondering “but what’s round that corner?”. I walked to the pond of paradise, though paradise seemed infested by triffids. Getting to the temple had involved a very slow walk – it doesn’t half gain a crowd, Shitennoji, and with that crowd mostly elderly, progress along crowded streets is slow. There are backstreets, for sanity’s sake, but the temple entrance is also narrow, so it was back to a slow plod in.

View over the city. Skyscrapers and construction
From the Ferris Wheel.

I hopped on the subway to the castle. Opposite the castle itself is the Osaka Museum of History, in a building with a view over the castle and its surrounds. It shares an entrance with the NHK building behind, and the Kansai Music conference was providing guitar noise in the foyer. I got the lift to the 10th floor where it starts – not the first museum where you start at the top and work your way down, though I can’t confidently say that’s a Japanese standard. Emerging into the entrance hall it was dark, with a recreation of the outside of the Naniwa palace. I’d seen the grounds yesterday, there’s little left of the palace itself and the recreation was beautiful. Suddenly, whether due to the presence of people, weight of numbers or just the right time, the darkened room suddenly became light, as shutters lifted to give a view east over the city and castle. It couldn’t have been better timed for me to see the change at its finest. The rest of the museum was festive and with plenty of dioramas to show the history of the city and so on, but without Japanese the words were lost on me. They give a ‘highlights’ route and suggest it will take an hour, but I walked round the whole thing in that time without great difficulty, including a break in a secluded spot on the corner of the 9th floor with a view over the city.

It was only midday so I retraced the route I’d run and walked already, into the castle grounds. I was moving quite quickly, knowing where I was going, when I heard the sounds of feet banging, loud shouts and screams from the building opposite. Worth a look, surely. It turned out to be a Kendo competition, I’m not sure how integral banging the feet on the ground is; whether it marks a feint, an attempt to intimidate as with the shouting or is part of the move. It’s an aggressive sport, for sure, though like boxing, they end up close up, not quite holding on to each other but hand to hand, stick to stick, for quite a time. A great start.

Stream running through rocks and green grass, narrow trees in a garden
Hondo Garden.

I got to the castle keep and was footsore so took a rest and started updating yesterday’s blog. A Japanese man wandered up and chattered at me. I didn’t understand and he slipped into English; it turned out he wanted to recommend the garden I was near, but I’d seen it. The picture of the keep reflecting on the water yesterday is from there, it really is the spot to see Osaka castle from. He used to make curtains, kimonos etc, traditional things for which there just isn’t much market any more but is in any case retired now.

He was keen to compare notes on Japan, and I thought at first his English was excellent. It was certainly pretty good, but he had learnt to use “oh really?” A lot, and over time it went from nice statement of interest through punctuation and to ‘something said before I’d actually finished my statement’. Of course, the ‘l’ sound wasn’t entirely there. I forget the exact sequence of events but I was definitely humming “I so ronery” later on, and you may spot a link. He was happy just to practise his English with me, but as time dripped by and I’d exhausted my list of places I’d been in Japanese I was keen to either move on or get some food. The Big Mac I’d had before getting on the train was more or less done by now. The keep also gets a crowd, though with the pass I could skip past the queue for tickets, and with legs pass the one for the lift, going straight up the stairs instead. Again you start at the top, viewing gallery on level 8, and work down. I was a bit tired and short of energy to concentrate, but the exhibits on the Tokugawa/Toyotomi war were fascinating and with plenty of English information too. There are dioramas of the castle further down; the later 1629 Tokugawa reconstruction is well known, but they are still digging to find the slightly different foundations of the original Toyotomi building – that was destroyed when the latter lost the war.

Next to the castle is another attraction for which I had free entry, so I took advantage while I was there, having a laze in Nishinomaru garden, where a flautist was playing “in the street where you live”. After a lie around and a drink – yes, a walled garden with an entry fee also has a vending machine – I was ready for the next step.

And that step was food. I considered heading back and checking in to my final hotel, on side 3 of a square, but figured I could take in a bit of Umeda, which had previously been a little too far North for me to head to. It promised to be just 15 minutes so I went first to the Ferris Wheel on the top of Hep Five, a mall. There are two wheels in the list of attractions but as it went up and up I remembered for the 1000th time how bad I am with heights, and I mentally marked the second wheel as ‘optional’. This being Japan, there is some extra tech, and you can plug an ipod in for some music, so I had Muse for company, but wasn’t mad keen on the slow progress over the top of the wheel. Safe as houses, of course. But I still can’t hack it. Good views over the skyscrapers and hardcore shopping area here; although I’ve seen plenty of shopping areas already, it seems there’s always room in Japan for another mall, and railway stations are built with great towers of mall space attached. Dinner – by now essential – on the same floor as the wheel reminded me of Russia, in that a pop song I recognised came on, but then I spotted this was no Bruno Mars but a cover version. How many countries have people faithfully recording their own versions of songs we know?

In a gym, two people practice Kendo, dressed all in black, while others watch
Kendo smacking.

If the mall was hectic, Osaka station defied description, with a confusing multiplicity of entrances and exits. I wandered in a loop trying to find my way to the back of the station and failing – and this without going to the underground section, which apparently spreads through most of Umeda. That might have been the best way to try to get to the floating observatory, which was to be my last stop for the day, given that the railway lines block the North of the station. I tried to think of a similar area in Britain, but our stations are nowhere near the size – perhaps if you combined Thurrock and Liverpool street then dotted St Paul’s and Big Ben around it and tried to find a route through the mall to the cathedral you’d be getting close. By the time I found the right direction it was still some way off and the sun was setting, so my quick goal of seeing sunset – darkness up on the top of the 173m building was aborted in favour of the subway home.

Run: 2:00:35, 23.56km.

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