One of the stops on my trip to Tokyo with @GuideYu a few months ago was to a Tenugui shop in Harajuku called Kamawanu.
Tenugui are a traditional Japanese multipurpose cloth. To name just a few of the many uses for tenugui, back in the Edo period people would use tenugui as small towels, or wrap them around their heads to keep the sweat or hair out of their eyes. Tenugui are usually are decorated with traditional Japanese patterns and designs.
Tenugui that I bought at Kamawanu - Click for larger image
One of the tenugui I bought at Kamawanu depicts cats… I don’t like cats, but my wife does, and this was pretty cool artistically, so I grabbed it. It may seem a little weird to put a tenugui in a frame and hang it on the wall, but I swear I got this idea from the shop in Harajuku itself, and the art on this particular tenugui is a recreation of some traditional Japanese art from the 1800s, so I’m going to say that it’s wall worthy. To further justify my wall-hanging case I learned that one of my Japanese friends, @ukti2009, also has a tenugui framed and hanging on her wall. She has the 蚊取り線香 katori senkou pattern tenugui.
Kamawanu is a cool shop. If you are interested in Tenugui you should stop by. The shop name, Kamawanu, is a play on words. The first image is of a sickle, followed by a circle, and then the hiragana character nu. The following image explains everything, but basically in Japanese a sickle is “kama” 鎌, and a way to say a circle is “wa” 輪, and then you have the sound “nu.” In Japanese the phrase “KAMAWANU” means, “I don’t mind” and sort of expresses a feeling of indifference.
It seems that the original artwork for my “cat tenugui” was done around 1848 and is called 猫飼好五十三疋（みょうかいこうごじゅうさんびき）(Cats suggested as the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido). I didn’t realize this until I started writing this blog post, but it seems that the images of the cats are also a play on words.
The image on my Tenugui is a small slice of the original much larger image featuring more cats. You can see the entire image here in high resolution thanks to wikimedia commons.
(Click for larger image) 猫飼好五十三疋 Cats suggested as the fifty-three stations of the Tokaido
So, each cat and its pose are a play on words that describe one of the stations on the Tokaido train line.
The cat in the lower left of my tenugui is running away with a blue fish.
The blue fish he is running away with is called サバ SABA in Japanese.
The cat is a tabby cat. A tabby cat is called a ぶち猫 (BUCHI NEKO) in Japanese.
So, the train station the image is referring to is FUJISAWA train station! Because FUJI sounds like BUCHI and SAWA sounds like SABA.
So, in my tenugui there is a picture of a cat dragging away a huge red octopus.
A huge octopus in Japanese is 大ダコ (OODAKO).
Huge octopi are heavy. Really freakin heavy. “Really freakin’ heavy” in Japanese is おもいぞ OMOIZO.
So the station being referred to is 大磯（おおいそ）OOISO, because OMOIZO sounds like OOISO! And if you roll up OODAKO and stuff, I guess it’s even tighter?
Had some delicous steak in the Kitashinchi area of Osaka a while ago after I saw it introduced on a Japanese TV show. If you’re looking for an awesome lunch in Osaka check it out. You can walk to Kitashichi from Umeda station (closest to Nishi-Umeda) in about 15 or 20 minutes, but there is also a Kitashinchi train stop on the JR line.
We had to line up to get in at lunch time. Also, the TV spot featured their hamburg lunch, but when we sat down at 1pm we were told the hamburg had sold out at about 12:30pm that day. Apparently the TV spot caught them a little off guard and brought in a ton of new customers so they had been scrambling. We did however get to try the steak lunch and it was delicious.
The lunch course is very filling. You get the main dish, a mini curry, and a coffee or tea at the end. The shop allows smoking, but when we were there for lunch there were very few, if any, people smoking.
Go eat meat.
Steak House Fuubi
Hamburg Lunch 1,575 yen
■ 住所：大阪市北区堂島1-3-11 スタックビルB1F
Address: Osaka-shi Kita-ku Dojima 1-3-11 Stack Building (sutakku biru) Basement Level 1
■ 営業時間：ランチ 12:00～13:30 ※平日のみ
Hours: Lunch – 12 pm to 1:30 pm *weekdays only
Dinner 17:00 to 21:30
Regular Holidays: Sunday and national holidays
Steak Lunch: 2,625 yen
Tender loin Steak: From 12,600 yen
※ Dinner only
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.
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?
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.
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!
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!
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.