So it’s been a little while since I’ve written, but life is what happens while you’re making other plans as one great man once said and I have been quietly living here in Okinawa. However, there were three days stretching out in front of me and Osaka was calling me again.
Now you all know I’ve been there once before, but I only really spent a day and that is just not doing Osaka any justice at all. This is a great city that will need many more trips to begin to get to know the character. But just what is the character of this sprawling, third-largest city in Japan? Like people, it has many facets, a sunny welcoming nature but also a darker mysterious world emerging at twilight.
Osaka used to be a little more dangerous at night, I am told, as there were many homeless people who would aggressively panhandle. I did see more homeless people here than anywhere else. Sad people, on so many levels, reminded me of some of the folks I worked with who were severely mentally ill, compounded with alcoholism.
Like everywhere in Japan however, it is safe to wander the streets at night, even with an expensive camera without the fear of being bothered or harassed. So, I arrived in the afternoon, got to my hotel room, showered up and went out to meet the night.
I found a little sushi restaurant where the chef prepared the fish in front of me and placed it on a small wooden block. I had learned the proper way to eat sushi before going there so I picked it up with my fingers (yay!) dipped only the fish into the soy sauce and into my mouth. It is heaven. In the States, I never really cared one way or another about fish, over here, it is so fresh, I develop a craving for it.
I took the train on the Osaka Loop back to my hotel and got ready for the morning, I had planned to go to the Sagano Bamboo Grove – chikurin. It is located in Kyoto, about a half hour away, but as trains here are user friendly, it was only a matter of determining what time I wanted to go.
It was a sunny day and a Sunday, so many people were out and about. Here’s a little history about the temple complex I went to. I got this from Into Japan at https://www.jnto.go.jp/eng/spot/shritemp/tenryuji.html
“Tenryu-ji is located in Ukyo-ku, Kyoto. As he toppled the shogunal regime in Kamakura and established a new one in Kyoto, Ashikaga Takauji built this temple in 1339 in memory of Emperor Godaigo. The first head of this majestic temple was a noted priest by the name of Muso Soseki (Muso Kokushi). Although the temple no longer boasts its former magnificence, the Sogenchi-teien, or Tenryu-ji Garden, a garden designated by the Japanese government a special historic and scenic site, still retains vestiges of how it appeared when the temple was established.
The Tenryu-ji Temple Garden is said to have been built by the founder of the temple, Muso Soseki. The garden is arranged so that visitors can enjoy the changing scenery while walking around the Sogenchi Pond in its center. The scenery of two hills – Kame-yama and Arashi-yama – both of which are located outside the garden, form part of the composition. This technique of making use of the surrounding landscape in garden design is known as shakkei. Stonework on a hill at the back of the pond symbolizes a mountain stream cascading into the pond. There are also stones symbolizing carp. This idea stems from a traditional Chinese fable in which a carp swims up a waterfall to become the more superior dragon. Among the gardens designed by master gardener Muso Soseki, this garden is believed to be the least changed and is considered one of the most exquisite of all Japanese gardens.”
People lined the streets and it was difficult to make progress to the bamboo forest. So the quiet and restful stroll through the bamboo was not to be. However, it was a tranquil experience, even among the throngs, there was a freshness to breathe the air in that little forest. Chatter melted away when I looked up and watched the tops of the bamboo sway in the small gusts of wind that didn’t reach the ground. It was like watching them secretly dance in the sky, a show only seen by those who looked up.
I had a wonderful dipping noodle with fresh tofu and sashimi before going back out to the street. As I made my way back to toward the train, I started to hear rhythmic booming coming from a small Daihatsu truck with two boys and a big drum. It was a matsuri, a local festival, this one to honor the elderly, specifically the grandmothers (obaasan). This is the amazing thing about Japan, you never know what the day will bring you, what you will encounter when you travel.
it was beginning to get late and time for me to head back to the train and Osaka. Time to go out and get some famous Osaka cuisine, namely takoyaki. Otherwise known as octopus balls. Now I realize that does not sound all that appetizing. And when I first came here I kept hearing the locals talking about tako, which I assumed was taco and I thought, geez, is Mexican food really that popular here? Well tako is octopus! Ha, the things I have misconstrued along the way! But octopus is divine and takoyaki is made in these circular pans and moved around quickly to make a ball shape. Inside the doughy consistency is the treat of a piece of octopus. It was incredibly delicious!
The next day was the Isshin ji Temple, here’s a little information about this temple, I got it from Travel Japan – https://en.japantravel.com/osaka/isshin-ji/6800.
“The first thing that caught my eye was the temple’s gate. A contemporary geometric structure of steel, glass and concrete sits in place of the traditional wooden Mon though the Nio still stand guard. Accompanying this is another modern structure. The Hiso-den building was built in 2002 and strangely designed to resemble a church. More surprisingly the current head priest designed both, as he is also an architect. These are two reasons alone to come and visit.
The temple is in fact famous for another reason though. Amida, the principle Buddha in many sects of Buddhism is a common effigy on display at temples. Isshin-ji has seven in it’s possession though they very different from others. Okotsu Butsu (お骨佛) literally means bone Buddha and the Amidas on display here are cast from resin and the ashes of those who have passed. In 1887 the first statue was brought to the temple by common folk and since then one has been produced every 10 years. Up until WWII there were six though these were lost during the bombing of Osaka. From their fragments the seventh was created and incredibly it was formed from the ashes of 220,000 people. Number thirteen was completed in 2007 meaning 2017 will present the next. Though this may seem a little macabre to some it must be a greatest of honour to spend eternity so close to Buddha.”
So I spent a morning enjoying the park in and around Tennouji, visiting temples, including a Korean Buddhist Temple and a Shinto Shrine that had a 550 year old tree. I leaned against it to gather its healing energy as I saw one or two people do before me.
One last little encounter, I had an amazing lunch at a small restaurant. I had gotten a card stamped at the Isshinji Sanzenbutsu-DHO Temple, which means all Buddhas in the past-present-future world of Buddhism. The monks were very sweet and gave me the English translation so I could understand what I was seeing. I put it inside my little Osaka guide book so that I wouldn’t bend it. I was looking at it in this restaurant and when I left, I forgot it. I realized when I got back to my hotel it wasn’t with the rest of my things. Well, in the States that little guidebook would be discarded as the table was cleaned, but this is Japan and I thought they might have put it aside as a courtesy. I wandered back there and there was a couple in there enjoying something delicious. I could not remember how to say book or magazine in Japanese to the young chefs. The man came over, smiling, friendly and offered assistance. The young man came back with the guidebook and apologized because there was some water on it.
The friendly man invited me over to his table with his wife and we began to talk about where he has been in the States and what he does here. How amazing, this is how easy it is to meet and connect. Language is not a barrier, people want to connect. We exchanged email addresses and a friendship is begun. This is the character of the people of Osaka.
Osaka is in my future, for the food, friendship and exploration, but it is always sweet to return to my first, last and forever love, Okinawa.
Take care everybody, have a great week!