Less than two hours. That's how long the 330km journey between Hiroshima and Osaka.
We arrived at Shin Osaka station around 17:30 pm. We set up shop in a café near Osaka Jo Kitazume until such time as the young resident our hostess with us if you could find.
Mayu arrives after 22pm. We walked her home. When we arrived at his apartment on the 10th floor, we realized that not only are we close to Osaka Castle, right in the center of Chuo-Ku, but we also have a privileged view of the fortress, the surrounding lake and the aligned buildings of the Central Business District. .
Mayu puts us at ease. Offers us cold beers that we share in a pleasant chat in English. Until midnight. By this time, he apologizes but he has to go to bed. From our side, after the long journey from the bottom to the middle of the island of Honshu, her plan seemed fine to us.
We only wake up at 10 in the morning. Mayu he had left for the gym and would not return until the end of the day. We were still somewhat confused about the plan for exploring Osaka.
Conquering the Old Castle of Osaka
With the city's castle close at hand, we bet on simplifying. After all, more than highlighted above the heart of the city, as one would expect, Osaka Jo is inseparable from the history of what is now the third Japanese city.
In 1583 he erected a daimyo that resisted the growing domination of Ieyasu Tokugawa, this, the unifier of Japan, first shogun of the Tokugawa shogunate.
A lightning fire nearly consumed him fifty years after Ieyasu had conquered him. And although Allied bombing in World War II damaged it, the Osaka Jo withstood the appalling destruction that took place, above all, in an area to the southwest of the Chuo-Ku neighborhood.
Accordingly, with a rehabilitation that lasted from 1995 to 1997, the castle regained its medieval splendor and an oriental grandeur that had seduced us from the day before. Moments after we pass into the inner domain of the ancient moat, we come upon a small army of young students.
Despite the formality of their uniforms in suit and tie, they had given in to the temptation to conquer the monument, favored by the absence of authorities in the complex and by the size of the arrows between the granite blocks of the structure.
Tiptoe, stone after stone, the boys advanced on this base, more forward than uphill since the climb involved defying gravity.
However unconscious and immature theirs proved, the young people knew that the castle had seen enough tragedies. As such, they turned to us, agreeing with a cool photo or two. After which they tried to return to the ground without sprawl or fuss.
When they do, they ask us to peek at the images. "Sugoi!” they exclaim in approval of the registration. We say goodbye to the little gang. We went out in search of other Japanese and photographable subjects.
Nippon Escape and Fun around Osaka Jo
A tour guide with a yellow flag in the air urges her group of visitors to join her. Next door, in a style that contrasted with the lady's uniform, another subject of the emperor stood out for his exuberance.
He wore snow boots, purple pants, a green T-shirt, and a pink hat.
With headphones in his ears and a mini-camera hanging around his neck for whatever came and went, this tourist-dancer gave himself up to movements and choreographies dictated by the music. Indifferent to the surrounding audience and, above all, to what they could find of him, he made the access patio to Osaka Jo his private path.
Other visitors poked their heads into medieval Japanese character models and photographed themselves with the castle in the background.
This way, that way, above and below the seven floors that house the museum dedicated to the castle itself and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Japanese warlord who ordered its construction, we arrived in the late afternoon.
We step back below the moat and lake and enjoy the dual atmosphere of the Chuo-Ku neighborhood at night. The one of the yellowish castle that almost seemed to hover above the dark patch of forest.
And that of the CBD's tall, modern buildings, veritable light boxes perched on the edge of the lake, each with its own corporate reason for being. Or rather, with hundreds of them.
Osaka CBD and the city's relevance in the Nippon Financial Panorama
Osaka has become one of Japan's main financial centers. Among the world famous multinationals that have their headquarters there are Panasonic and Sharp.
Despite its business relevance, the city is known for its less ceremonial, more informal, spontaneous and festive culture, in comparison, for example, with the capital Tokyo, with Yokohama and with the traditionalist Kyoto.
Even the willingness of our hostess Mayu seemed to contribute to confirming this.
Located in the subtropical zone of Japan, Osaka has a milder climate but also more rainy throughout the year than its neighbors.
For the next two days, gray skies and showers were expected.
Dotonbori, the Cosmopolitan Heart and Soul of Osaka
In accordance with the weather, informed of its abundance of arched streets, we dedicated ourselves to exploring the Dotonbori area, which stretched between two of the bridges that cross the homonymous river channel, one of the many that furrow the city. from the Great Bay of Osaka.
In fact, Dotonbori has confirmed the heart and soul of the city's cosmopolitan life, the network of streets and alleys that reflect its cultural and commercial wealth.
We passed countless restaurants, some traditional, others not so much. we peek salons of pachinko (Japanese electronic luck game) and others from purikura, hypermodern versions of the ordinary photo machine.
Both the open streets and the arcades are covered with vertical advertising banners, some in the form of neons that carry the night with light and color, several accompanied by figurative symbols on their doors.
At one of the intersections, we are surprised by the golden statue of a large baby with a mocking smile, sitting on a throne in the shape of a childlike Buddha. An inscription that identified him as “Billiken – Things as They Ought to Be”, little or nothing explained to us.
The Strange Urban Phenomenon of Baby Grande Biliken
And, however, adults, teenagers and children who passed by paid homage to him and repeated, with the doll, photos and more photos.
It was only much later that we learned where its popularity came from. And it came from far away.
In the early years of the 1896th century, the figure appeared in a dream of Florence Pretz, an art teacher and illustrator from Kansas City. Fretz gave him the name Billiken which he found in an XNUMX poem called “Mr. Moon: the Song of the Little People”.
Arrived in 1908, Pretz registered the patent for the doll that made a stir both in Canada and in the United States, where it became the symbol of the University of Saint Louis, soon after, the nickname of a series of minor baseball teams.
The doll arrived in Japan, taken by Japanese sports representations that traveled to the United States. One of the most impressive representations of Billiken was erected as early as 1912 at Luna Park in Osaka representing a prolific assortment of Americana .
In 1923, this wooden statue disappeared when the park was closed. And in 1980, a replica was placed in one of the city's famous towers, the Tsutenkaku. From then on, the notorious, almost divine Billiken from Osaka kind of toured inside Japan and even the United States.
It only took a few steps to find another of the cultural influences with which the North Americans filled the void left by the Japanese defeat in World War II.
Baseball has become Japan's number one sport. It moves billions of yen, part of them in foreign player signings.
Next to it, two models, players or ex-players, displayed the equipment of a team from other times, Osaka Gold Vilignes.
America-Mura. Where Japanese Culture Merges With United States Legacy
We walked along the America-Mura, better known as Ame-Mura, a sector in the Minami area, the fulcrum of culture and youth fashion in the Japanese region of the Kansai region, which the presence of a few gaijin (foreigners) makes it more cosmopolitan.
Ame-mura stretches along Naga Hori Street to the neon culmination of Dotonbori. When we get back there, it's still daylight. A crowd roams the alley shopping or savoring different appetizers, such as the okonomiyaki, the kale pancakes that make Japanese and foreigners travel from far and wide to enjoy them in Osaka.
Above, imposing, one against the other, rival billboards of Kirin Lager and Asahi Super Dry beers are imposed, in any case, appropriate drinks to accompany the intricate okonomiyaki which, invited by Mayu, would still delight us.
Without leaving the scope completely, when it gets dark, the victorious athlete of the food brand Glico, also from Osaka but present in more than thirty countries, stands out on the channel and reflected in it.
Notwithstanding your signature in English “Good Taste and Good Health”, this multinational exports chocolates, French fries, chewing gum, ice cream and several other mismatched products.
An already unexpected rain shower attests to the Dotonbori channel. It sends the crowd out into the arched streets. With fatigue gathering at the same pace as the night, we retreated to Mayu's comforting shelter where, until bedtime, we went back to drinking cold Asahis, chatting.
Bay Area: The Most Marine and Open Version of Osaka
The next day, we dedicated it to the Bay Area, the estuary area that reminded us of an Osaka-style Expo 98. There is also a large oceanarium, the Osaka Aquarium. Nearby, Universal Studios Japan and a huge Ferris Wheel.
None of these attractions was a priority if we wanted to remain faithful to the discovery of the exotic and creative Japanese culture.
Even so, unobstructed by the sea, the Bay Area made us walk more than we counted and go up to the observatory of the Umeda building, from where we watched the urban lights come on.
We finished the tour of Osaka in an underground floor of that same building. On the skids, we sat watching a happy community of breakdancers and hip-hopers from the city, perfecting their acrobatic dances.