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An Itinerary in Osaka for clear skies

Osaka Travel Blog

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Random Observation/Comment #: Your brain only visually focuses on a section not much larger than your two thumbs at arms distance – everything else is just jumbled together in peripherals. Scenery like the ones from the top of mountains and towers blow my mind. These eyes pay so much attention to detail that I can barely notice the pixels =P.
The weekend was supposed to be a JETs filled crazy time, but one major detail slipped my mind between the essence of JETs and tourists. JETs (think of them as Japanese English Teachers even though it’s really called the Japan Exchange & Teaching Program) are vampires and tourists are zombies. JETs party all night and morning, waking at the crack of noon for some breakfast and a solution to their hangover (which probably leads to an earlier drinking schedule – it’s a vicious cycle). The weekends are free time to drink with friends and coworkers, and celebrate the blessing of a few days with a little less responsibility.
Tourists also haven’t got a worry in their world, but tend to stay awake when the rest of the world is awake for the best lighting effects and regional attractions. They feel an obligation to put their most effort into having a relaxing vacation (I didn’t know relaxing required this much effort). I actually think the super hi-tech, expensive cameras have latched onto their minds and pulled them to capture their next scenery shot and perspective. Who’s controlling whom? You must feed the camera or it will eat you. It whispers to me in the middle of the night during the weekdays (because the bulk of my photography work occurs on Saturdays and Sundays). I was wondering why the battery needed a recharge when I didn’t even touch the camera until a week ago. And yet, it stays powered for a full day of picture-taking – as it continuously feasts on the shades of life around me. I am, in all the descriptions possible, a tourist.
I stayed within the main Umeda area, knowing that I would eventually meet up with the JETs whenever they woke up. It was already my 4th weekend in Umeda, so I had already visited Yodobashi Umeda, HEP5, the whole Namba area, Osakajo Koen, Osaka Castle, DEN DEN Town, and Ebisucho. However, today was special. The clear skies and cool breeze was an indication to climb upwards. All of my past experiences with Umeda hinted rain, so I had put off visiting the Floating Garden Observatory (even when it taunted me with every Hankyu train ride). I’m glad I patiently waited for a clear day, and I suggest those with the clear skies opportunity to definitely head upwards for a birds-eye view.
The Floating Garden Observatory is an instant favorite from the very first sight of the beautiful reflective windows and large halo that connects the two adjacent buildings. The cross-beams and bridges (which are actually escalators between floors) add this exquisite flair. I was initially reluctant to face my terrible fear of heights, but my camera must have taken control of my body. I wasn’t exactly dragged kicking and screaming because my knees were mush and my legs were too weak to put up a fight. For some reason, I thought there was going to be glass floors like that tower in Seattle. Good thing there wasn’t because I would have shat a brick.
For those who can’t even climb a stool without getting scared of heights, I would not suggest going up here – actually I suggest you take care of that fear with some tough love. Any fear of heights less than that should be fine since everything looked like a very detailed painting to me. The windows don’t even angle outwards at the top so you could look directly down (my heart is beating faster just thinking about lying on one of these, 40-stories up). The top floor, right before the roof, is tiled white with cute little clear seats on every side of the circle (not the outside though). There are elevated chairs and strategically placed cafes around this floor. I’ve personally found this floor is better than the roof for photography purposes.
The very top has these ugly gray spikes all along the perimeter to prevent crazy tourists from jumping the fence or something. These annoyances force me to zoom-in, or at the very least aim for 65:35 sky:building ratio (which just isn’t my style). You’re actually not even close to the edge of anything (probably to prevent people from throwing stuff off the roof) so the fear of heights should be replaced by the awe of the 360 view. I spent most of my time trying to find some type of detail to focus my gaze. I always feel better to see moving cars in the distance when I’m in these picture perfect situations. It’s like the little pinch or nudge that makes sure I’m not dreaming (or looking at a large postcard poster wrapped around the building).
If you want to get in the scenery and not show up as a silhouette, your camera must be set with a flash (preferably SL to light up the background as well). The overcast doesn’t help, but since you can angle yourself towards the sun, I’m sure you’ll find a manageable angle and blend of squinty faces and shadows. Hmm, I bet this would look absolutely breath-taking at sunset, but I’ll have to adjust my schedule so I’m not exhausted by 5PM.
Anyway, the pictures in the air conditioned top floor were perfect as long as you chose a window that was not dirty (most were very clean) and there wasn’t a light source behind you to cause any glare. You’ll probably get great pictures of 3 out of the 4 winds. Out of the 60 or some odd pictures I took, I really love the view that follows the train tracks across the river and into the distant city – you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there.
To highlight my day, I met a large group of high school Alabamians who were all sight-seeing and following a 10-day exchange program, similar to the one I attended 5 years ago (damn – I’m old). I spent about an hour following their friendly tour guide and spoke with the students and teachers. They picked my brain while we walked around and had lunch together. I’ll dedicate a completely separate entry to them because I don’t want to stray from my topic of “places to go in Umeda if the sky is clear.” I’ll leave the reflections of my past and suggestions for the future separate.
This entry is getting dreadfully long, so I’ll outline what I did this weekend and write in more detail throughout the week:
Saturday:
10AM – Flower Garden Observatory – this entry
12 PM – Lunch with Exchange Program Alabama Students – next entry
1PM – Tenjinbashi 6-chome – 3rd entry
1:30PM – Tsutenkaku Tower with Billiken
2:30PM – Tennoji Zoo
5:30PM – Spa World – 4th entry
8:30PM – Shabu shabu dinner
10:00PM – Namba and Dotonbori wandering
11:00PM – Met up with JETs for a quick talk and introduction
11:45PM – Head home because I was exhausted and didn’t want to spend what I approximated to be $15 Karaoke, $35 Pure, and $25 Capsule hotel
Sunday: - Kobe entry, maybe separate entry for shabu shabu reflections
10:00AM – Head towards Kobe – Rokko Mountain
12:00PM – Cable car & bus rides
12:45PM – Rokko Garden Terrace
2:30PM – Mt. Rokko Country Club
4:00PM – Cable car & bus ride – commute was terrible
5:30PM – Shopping for groceries to make my own Shabu Shabu dinner =)
7:30PM – Flight of the Conchords!
9:00PM – Ping pong!
Monday: Holiday stroll entry
9:00AM – No bus…
9:30AM – No train… Oh, a holiday!
10:00AM – Decide on Kobe
10:30AM – Forgot Camera, head back home
11:00AM – Back to the Hankyu Railway
11:30AM – Sannomiya
12:00PM – Shinkobe
1:00PM – Got lost on a trail
1:30PM – backtracked to find some waterfalls
2:00PM – Hike up the mountain
3:30PM – Walk through the garden
4:30PM – Cable car ride of 100 pictures
5:00PM – Back home
6:30PM – Shabu shabu again!
~See Lemons Love These Blue Skies

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Random Observation/Comment #: You’re not a bad influence if the person you’re influencing is the one who gave you the idea, right? Having this power of persuasion over a different generation makes me feel old… older (let’s keep me in denial).
We first spoke in a crowded elevator. Our gazes met and my voice was clearly received. The dozens of eyes and ears (probably the same number of each) commented on my good English. I guess I do look like a Japanese tourist with shorts, a Jansport backpack (old school), Diesel shoes, and an Armani shirt – I’ll take it as a compliment. “Sumimasen, America-jin desu.” “::smile:: so desu ka? It’s okay, I speak English.” “Wow, your English is really good!” “I’m from New York.” “Who’s from New York?” “Are you an actor?” “That pudding has nipples!” What? Stop adding conversations that didn’t happen to the elevator ride.
When she asked me if I was an actor, I paused to search through the levels in my knowledge tree to make sense of this hypothesis, and in turn appropriately respond to fit the situation. Did she see right through me to this darker side of wearing masks and playing roles? Did I look like a heartbreaker who would ride out of this town as quickly as I rode in, and when I left I’d take her heart with me? No, it was probably not that deep rooted. Appearances make the first impression, so she probably just put New York and Armani together as an actor – not to mention my dashing good looks (cough, I just threw in my mouth too – haha inserted humor into my own stream of consciousness blog). I contemplated answering with “Aren’t we all actors and actresses?” but I was afraid my response would have been received with confusion. A lesson I learned throughout college - the third sentence out of my mouth should not begin with psychological mumbo-jumbo. People can be scared and run away when they slowly get to know me – not within the first minute. My response was a simple smile and head shake. Better for a person to think I’m stupid than creepy, right? The really smart people are smart enough not to even act smart – ingenious plan.
I boldly asked to follow their group with the hopes of finding a new underground sight-seeing area, or just a simple cure to my sickness known as loneliness (awh). Alabamians (Alabamites? Alabamanese?) are very friendly and they let me wander within their group (of course, the teachers needed to cross-check my references, pry into my deepest secrets, and strip search me for weapons, but it was much expected). My presence drifted through the crowds of high school students submerged into a new culture (literally, I think they were drowning of the culture shock).
Well, actually, I think their slow assimilation caused more harassment of the locals than the other way around. I would have probably been slapped if I randomly walked up to a group of girls and put my arms around them for a picture, but contrary to popular belief (actually just my own belief), my failure does not mean that it cannot be accomplished. First of all, it doesn’t hurt if you look foreign and speak very broken Japanese with an English accent (my natural Japanese look would just make them think I’m retarded). And secondly, you need a fairly large group to pull this off (which is kind of difficult when it’s just me). Once you have this winning combination, just walk up to pretty girls and have a field day with pictures.
I wound up answering a lot of the same questions about who I was and what I did as I hovered through different groups. In fact, I was talking so much that my questions never filtered into the conversation. What I really wanted to do was give these young minds the advice that I wish I would have gotten before their 10-day excursion. The high school trip I took part in 5 years ago seemed similar in description – separate high schools brought together from a selection process; independent home stay and international high school experiences for 5 days; 3 days of sight-seeing and learning different international problems or new research technologies; some type of report or presentation as a follow-up.
I personally loved my experience, but there were a few things that I wish someone would have informed me before the trip.
1) Freeeeeddooommm! – Your parents, teachers, and counselors probably told you not to let this go to your head because you have to be a respectable ambassador to the school and whatever, but honestly, go and have fun. Never stop asking questions and keep your eyes open for any opportunities to meet new people and try new things. Keep the mysterious American quirks while being mindful and respectful – all will be forgiven as long as you don’t burn down any buildings or accidently cause student fatalities.
2) You may think Japanese customs are weird, but they think American customs are weirder:
a. Don’t jay-walk – even though the police officers can’t really do anything to you, it’s probably good to just wait the extra few seconds – you’re not in a rush.
b. Don’t try on shirts before you buy them – this is just a silly rule, and you’ll probably be forgiven the first few times you do it because you look foreign. Plead ignorance.
c. Refrain from sleeping naked – the story wasn’t pretty, although quite funny and extremely embarrassing. Just trust me on this one.
d. Don’t hit on the girl you’re home staying with – I think Japanese girls have a problem with showing emotions. They just tend to fluster and turn red instead of facing these sorts of conflicts. Now that I look back, maybe it would be better if you stay as unattainable, foreign eye candy. It’s a little difficult with the language barrier anyway. Hitting on other girls from different high schools is definitely okay.
e. Stay awake in class – so you’re in a state of perpetual jet lag and the teacher is speaking in his foreign tongue. Your eyelids get heavy and your head begins to doze off like it normally does in Government class. Don’t fall asleep in front of a Japanese teacher because she will throw chalk at you (this probably happens back at home too).
f. Try not to sing that song stuck in your head out loud unless you want some odd looks – There’s a time and place for that: Karaoke! I think this mainly applied to me. Now that I think about it, I get weird looks in the States too.
3) Nato? Get that shyt away from me. Being open to trying new types of food is a wonderful thing (keep in mind of dietary restrictions). I ate everything they gave me and enjoyed every grain of rice and piece of noodle. I thought I’d be surrounded by sushi and sashimi, or even eel, but the Americanized version of Japanese culture opened me to only the higher end of Japanese cuisine. Most of the time, you’ll be eating udon, soba, or ramen with small portions of meat or tofu. As I speak, my diet of meat is on orange alert, and my fruit intake is on red alert. Damn, I just want a slice of pizza or a chipotle burrito.
4) Pictionary Mastah. Always have that notebook to draw on for Pictionary or hope you’re really good at acting out everything if your Japanese is poor. You won’t have to act like a chicken, squawking and flapping your wings (unless you really want to), only because chicken is the same in Japanese, but most of the other things will need a translator or some telepathic superpowers. Even though these conversations may be hard work, they are well worth the experience of overcoming a language barrier.
After sharing email addresses and facebook information, we all sadly parted ways. Before they left, we took pictures, exchanged information, shook hands, hugged, flashed gang signs, and I signed autographs on unspeakable body parts (that last part didn’t happen). The only piece of the puzzle missing, to make me feel more like someone chased by the paparazzi, was my aviator sunglasses. I think I’d make a good movie star. Well I guess I’m used to it, since I’m an actor. Aren’t we all?
I wish y’all (:D) the best of luck and the most amazing time in Japan. Enjoy =).
~See Lemons Meet New Friends

Osaka
photo by: yasuyo