Umeda Sky Building

Looking for something touristy to do in Osaka? Consider a visit to the observation deck on Umeda Sky Building! The views are pretty spectacular, and it’s conveniently located near Umeda station. Admission is not too expensive either!

The Japanese name is 空中庭園 which means “sky garden,” but most people will understand if you say Sky Building as it is written in Katakana, like スカイビル (sukai biru).

You can walk to Umeda Sky Building from the Umeda Station Area. It is closest to Osaka JR station and it’s about a 10 minute walk from. Not far at all.

When I visited just a few days ago tickets for adults were 700 yen. There were slight discounts for certain groups, like senior citizens for example.

Once you get up there you can walk 360 around the deck. This is quite nice as you can take a wide variety of photos. There is no glass between you and the outside. For me this was a great thing, as it meant I could take glass free pictures!

Another great thing about the sky building complex is that it offers other entertainment beyond the Sky Building itself. The basement holds an eating area that is made up to look like Osaka did in the 50s and 60s. There are also some pretty fancy Japanese places that offer a view of an artificial waterfall. Finally, they also have a cheesy gift shop that could be handy if you’re still waffling about what travel souvineers to bring back home. The complex even houses an art movie theater. Good stuff!

That’s all for now! If you’re in Osaka and looking for a while to burn a few hours in Umeda, check out Umeda Sky Building. Good stuff.

Related Links:
Umeda Sky Building Wikipedia Page
Umeda Sky Building official site (空中庭園)

Burning Characters into the Mountains – Daimonji

I had the opportunity to witness Daimonji yesterday with some friends. We all met on a friend’s balcony in Sanjyo. Pretty spectacular view!

The wikipedia entry on Daimonji, officially called gozan no okuribito, does a better job of explaning the event than I could ever attempt. So read it.

At the most basic level daimonji is entertaining because there are five giant bonfires lit in the mountains… on a deeper level, it is an ancient ritual that marks the end of Obon, sending dead ancestors back to the spirit world.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a zoom lens on me, (actually I don’t own one…) so these photos were all taken with a 35mm. Still I was pretty close huh?

There are some better pictures on of Daimonji on Wikipedia here.

Had a ton of fun!

Daimonji 2012

  • Daimonji in Kyoto. Giant bonfires in the mountains to end Obon festival. More info here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gozan_no_Okuribi
  • Daimonji in Kyoto. Giant bonfires in the mountains to end Obon festival. More info here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gozan_no_Okuribi
  • Daimonji in Kyoto. Giant bonfires in the mountains to end Obon festival. More info here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gozan_no_Okuribi
  • Daimonji in Kyoto. Giant bonfires in the mountains to end Obon festival. More info here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gozan_no_Okuribi

Tourism in Osaka – Doutonbori River Cruise

Ever wanted to take a 20-minute cruise down Doutonbori river in Osaka? I lived in Osaka for about 4 years and didn’t… but I tried it yesterday!

My parents are in town visiting so I was desperate to find easy touristy things for them to do. My mom would be happy just walking around a “mall” all day long, but that’s not for me. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are PLENTY of culturally interesting and much more exciting things to do in the Kansai area, but, I was with my folks, and they’re not into all of those things.

Anyway. You can catch the water cruise in a few different places in Osaka. We caught the boat at the stop right in front of Donkihoutei in Namba. The location is perfect. You can check out Kanidouraku, see Kuidaore, check out the Glico sign, eat some takoyaki, and then walk over Ebisubashi and walk down to the ferry.

The ferry has a few regular holidays, but it runs quite frequently so you don’t have to plan too far ahead. The price was very reasonable. The ride was about 20 minutes long.

You can get all the details on their official website, which is multi-lingual. Here is the English website for the Osaka sightseeing river cruise.

Our cruise had a mix of Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, and us, the Americans. The tour guide was an Osaka native, of course, and the tour was done entirely in Japanese. You can pick up pamphlets that are in English at the place where you buy tickets, but the explanations in the pamphlets do not come anywhere close to the detail that the guide provides. Having said that, the detail isn’t that amazing. They basically tell you about each bridge that you pass under, pointing out facts like more than 200,000 people cross over Ebisubashi in Namba every day, and that more than 4,000 Hanshin Tigers fans jumped off that bridge into the murky river after the team won the season. They also point out that the ferris wheel on donki houte is the first (and only?) oblong ferris wheel in the world! But, if you’re a long time reader you already know that I ALREADY KNEW THAT.

If you can, sit in the front of the boat. The back is covered so you can stay in the shade or out of the rain, but it severely limits your view, as you can see from my photographs!

Yodogawa Hanabi Taikai 2012

Summertime in Japan means festivals and fireworks displays!

I’m staying in Osaka now so I was able to check out Yodogawa Fireworks festival. There are also fireworks during Tenjin Festival, which I also went to, but locals all agree that Yodogawa Fireworks display is more spectacular on the fireworks front.

At Japanese fireworks events, usually called HANABI TAIKAI 花火大会 in Japanese, you can enjoy most of the same activities that you can see at a festival, but the fireworks are the main event. You’ll have stalls selling the usual Japanese festival food fair, and other stalls with mini-games that you can play for prizes. There will also be a insanely crowded area where people have claimed a place to watch the fireworks show!

Here are some photos I took during the Yodogawa Fireworks festival in early August. We watched the display from the Fukushima area.

I actually set up a tripod for some of these shots. My first outdoor tripod attempt actually. I have a long way to go.

If you are ever in Japan during the summer ask about “hanabi taikai” in your area. They are free to attend for the most part, tons of fun, and a very Japanese thing to do. The only thing you might spend money on is food, and if you want to be fancy you can purchase advance tickets to get seating in a special area. That’s it!

Good times for all.

Here is a video of last years show that I didn’t make.

Oh, and here’s one of this years!

Related Links:
http://www.yodohanabi.com/

Furusato – Traditional Japanese Children’s Song

Some of my friends gave us a gift to congratulate us on our new baby!

It plays music! Watch the video below to hear the song. It actually plays much longer but I just gave it a little tug to make the video.

This is a traditional Japanese song for 6th grade elementary school kids that was first released in 1914. The title is Furusato, which basically means “hometown.”

My friend Yuko was among the group of friends who gave me this gift, and she also gave me some interesting background and cultural insights to the song. I’ve mentioned Yuko a lot on this blog. You can find her on the interwebs in the following places: @guideyu and @guideyu_ and Guide-Yu.jp. She knows a lot about Japan!

This song is about someone who is already an adult and living far away from his hometown missing his family and friends. However, this song is often sung by elementary school kids who would have no concept of what this feeling would be like.

Yuko’s mother, who is 70+ years old now, remembers not understanding the line that goes 志を果たして (I achieve my aim) when she was a child singing this song in school. Also, Yuko (who is my age, 30 something) says that her generation thought (or perhaps joked) that the line that goes うさぎ追いし (usagi oishi, chasing rabbits) was actually うさぎ美味しい (usagi oishii, delicious rabbits). The expresson うさぎ追いし is rather old-school, so modern-day Japanese kids are often not familiar with its meaning. Moreover, Yuko grew up in Tokyo, and kids in Tokyo never chase rabbits anyway! Yuko also points out that, even though they didn’t find this song to be especially moving when they were children, today most Japanese get very sentimental when they hear this song because of the beautiful nostalgic melody and lyrics.

After the 3/11 disaster this song was used a lot in Japan, so if you were in Japan at the time you may recognize the tune. The destruction and radiation from the disaster has created thousands of people who were forced to leave their hometowns and don’t know when they will be able to return, so the lyrics of this song are very appropriate.

Here is a JapanesePod 101 video that has the song and a decent translation.

Here is an audio file of an apparently normal Japanese person singing Furusato.
http://soundcloud.com/akiko-a/furusato-japanese-traditional

And, here is yet another video fo the same sung by a professional!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmrJyek9mpw

Here are the lyrics and meaning (in Japanese) yanked from Wikipedia.

歌詞

兎追いし 彼の山
小鮒釣りし 彼の川
夢は今も 巡りて
忘れ難き故郷
如何にいます 父母
恙無しや 友がき
雨に風に つけても
思ひ出づる 故郷
志を 果たして
いつの日にか 帰らん
山は靑き 故郷
水は淸き 故郷
読み

うさぎおいし かのやま
こぶなつりし かのかわ
ゆめはいまも めぐりて
わすれがたき ふるさと
いかにいます ちちはは
つつがなしや ともがき
あめにかぜに つけても
おもいいづる ふるさと
こころざしを はたして
いつのひにか かえらん
やまはあおき ふるさと
みずはきよき ふるさと
意味

兎を追ったあの山や小鮒を釣ったあの川よ、今なお心巡る思い出深き故郷よ。
父や母はどうしているだろうか、友は平穏に暮らしているだろうか。風雨(艱難辛苦の比喩とも)の度に思い出す故郷よ。
夢を実現したら、いつの日にか帰ろう、山青く水清らかな故郷へ。

Enjoy!

Things to do in Tokyo: Kagurazaka

I had the opportunity to roam around Tokyo with Yuko (@guideyu and @guideyu_) from Guide-Yu.jp!

Even though I lived in the Yokohama/Tokyo area for more than a few years, I learned a lot during our day-long tour and saw a lot of neat areas of Tokyo that I had maybe passed through but never really thought about when I was living there.

One of the places that we visited was Kagurazaka 神楽坂.

Kagurazaka in Tokyo

I’m almost embarrassed to say that I wouldn’t even have been able to read 神楽坂 before this trip. Basically the name means, a hill where you can hear the kagura. The kagura is a song or dance used to celebrate the gods.

Kagurazaka is a very fancy neighborhood with many traditional Japanese restaurants called ryoutei 料亭. Usually ryoutei serve fancy Japanese food in courses with a limited menu. Another feature of ryoutei is that they often employee actual Geisha to entertain their guests. @guideyu was telling me that during one of her small-group tours of the area they actually saw some geisha on the move. What a treat!

Many of the ryoutei in this area follow a strict policy of not letting any first-time customers in without an advanced invitation from a someone who is already a regular customer. This practice is called 一見さんお断り (ichigensan okotowari), and literally means, refuse those who appear for the first time.

There are not many places in Japan that continue to practice this tradition of keeping newcommers out. On this Japanese question and answer site someone is asking what the purpose of this was. The highest rated answer explains that basically, the practice was used to avoid trouble. The service at ryotei is top notch. The food is also excellent, and the prices are also extremely expensive. In order to perserve the quality of the experience for all of the customers, the owners want to be sure that all of the customers are well-behaved people that they can trust. If someone who has been introduced by someone else causes trouble, the shop can follow up with the person who made the introduction to resolve things. Apparently these days there are more of these shops in Kyoto than anywhere else in Japan.

Even if you don’t have an invitation to dine at a ryoutei, Kagurazaka is still a great area to visit. You can enjoy the old-style cobbled roads called ishidatami (石畳 いしだたみ), the traditional Japanese wooden architecture, and like I mentioned you may also get lucky and spot a real Geisha. The streets are so narrow that you’ll feel like you have discovered some sort of secret exclusive part of Tokyo to explore all on your own.

Kagurazaka was a great area. We ate at a shop called Daikonya, which is just a usual restaurant that does not follow the ichigensan okotowari policy of turning away newcomers. It was tasty! True to their name, Daikonya specializes in dishes that use daikon — and the use it very well. We also ordered a sashimi plate that was quite impressive. I would recommend Daikonya to anyone looking to have a fancy dinner in Tokyo.

Enjoy the photos!

Related Links:
Kagurazaka Wikipedia page
Mochi and Anko: and other Japanese sweets. Guest post by @GuideYu
Daikonya – gurunavi
Japanese Ryotei, the art of service. NYT 1997
Traditional Ryotei are in Danger. Japan Inc
Tiny Ryotei entry in Wikipedia