Japan Trip Part 1

Record of my Second Trip to Japan :

A note before we begin…This going to be a very long and rambling account, parts if which I am certain are not going to be interesting to everyone. So the answer to this is easy…if you don’t find something interesting, don’t read it. Just skip ahead, I won’t mind, really. It’s written in a semi-episodic format (even though it’s in chronological order) so even if you miss a few parts it won’t matter, and I will try not to reference previous events overmuch.

Oh yeah, and there will be some Japanese in the text because, well, it’s a trip to Japan and I speak Japanese. But translations will be provided and I’ll try to keep it to a minimum to ensure everyone knows what I am talking about…^_^

Ok, without further ado, on to the trip itself.


Day 1 –

Ok, all bags packed, off to Changi Airport we go. I’ll spare you the needlessly dreary details about the flight there (which aren’t terribly interesting) except to interject with the fact that I found Changi Airport pretty confusing compared to other international airports – it’s truly very good and among one of the best in the world, BUT THE LAYOUT IS PERPLEXING. Dubai owns it, honestly.

Anyway, got to Japan without any hitches, caught a Morning Liner train to Nippori, where my ryokan was located.

Now I’ll take the time out of tell you about the landlady of the ryokan, who was the very model of an old, crotchety Oriental Ah Mah. Sure, she was saying everything in Japanese, but to my ears it could very well have been replaced by “ni ah! wei she me fang zhai zhi bian…zhi bian BU KE YI fang!” and “ji qu li mian YI DING yao (take off) xie zhi…” the list going on. Kind of funny but also pretty damn bloody irritating as well. Well I guess this just goes to show old people (at least old, crotchety Oriental Ah Mahs) are the same the world over.

So I hook up with my travelling partner Xuan Ru (who will be referring to as XR from here on out since I can’t be bothering to type 4 extra characters each time I mention him) decide to go off. First destination – Ueno Park. Yeah this is in direct contrast to the last time when I went to Japan, since the first destination then (and all the other destinations, actually) were anime shops. But off we went.

The park was really very pretty – spacious, clean, well laid out with signs in both English and Japanese. We had stopped to get some bread beforehand (remember it’s not just any pan! It’s JA-PAN!) and took it to the park to eat, which is were we encountered the Friendly Pigeons of Doom. Well perhaps I am exaggerating a bit…but I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.


 “Dude, where’s my food?”


 Bird attacks! Sandwich takes 21 damage! Sandwich is going to be eaten soon!


 “Hand over the bread and no one gets hurt.”

Apparently even though they were tons of signs exhorting the public not to feed them, enough people have done so to make the pigeons extremely friendly…not to mention aggressive. Friendly in the sense that they would come right up to you with no fear, jump on your shoulder and lap – but if food was not forthcoming, would peck it right out of your hand (which is what happened to XR even though we didn’t get a shot of it) All in all it was pretty amusing though – even the passers-by stopped to laugh.

Then it was off to the museums, which we actually had some trouble finding even though they were all located pretty close to each other. There was this nice Japanese lady who tried to help us find them (in English no less) but it turned out that she didn’t know where it was either. So much for native assistance. However, we did finally find them, and in order, they were :


 Not a great shot of the park unfortunately…

1) Museum of Children’s Literature. Probably not too interesting to the average tourist, but thanks to my abiding interest in the field, fun for me (not so fun for XR though) The building itself was quite unique…looking more like a medieval cathedral than anything else. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of it

The inside of the building was pretty wide and spacious, with a nice, pleasant layout. The selection of books was also relatively extensive, which made me happy. (since children’s books = good, it follows naturally that more children’s books = better) I found it interesting that the Japanese apparently consider books on people’s beliefs, books about where the sun comes from, and assorted legends to be under “Philosophy” – yes, they have a Philosophy section in the children’s book section.

We then went to the top floor to check out an exhibition on Russian children’s literature, which I also found quite fascinating. Their collection was pretty good, with lots of old original manuscripts, writing implements of that era etc. I would have spent more time reading the plaques on the walls to learn more, but I thought that XR would get bored, so we left.

2) Then came the real highlight of the Ueno trip, the International Art Museum. This was probably worth the entire visit to the park and the 700 yen entrance fee. Each of the bigger exhibits cost 1500 yen, so we opted for a smaller one, the Gallery of Modern Women’s Art. Good choice, it turned out.

There was simply incredible abstract art there…I was quite literally spellbound by it. A veritable plethora of art – lines that emphasized shape, shape that constrasted form, form that defined space. Lots of it, and almost all of it good. Without a camera I wasn’t able to record anything for this record, and words honestly don’t do justice to the quality of the abstract art there, but this is about the best I can do at this moment.

The best piece was probably the one which (rightfully IMHO) won the exhibition prize…a collage created out of grey/black/white (possibly with newspaper) into the shape of a tree with a road leading up to it. The color constrast was excellent, and the sheer variety and amount of collage pieces (everything from advertisements, anime art, to historical documents) lent power to the piece. You really had to see it for yourself, though, to get the full effect.

There were lots of other worthy inclusions here, but I only have so much space and without images my descriptions seem rather lackluster to me. So I’ll end this episode here but leave you with a small revelation – I now know why anime songs seem to have this obssession with wind, poems, light, song and other such assorted terms…I saw no less than 8 Poems of the Wind/Trees/Forest/Light, 4 Songs of something or other, 5 Memories of the Void/Oblivion/Land/Sun. Nature sure is poetic to the Japanese.

After that is was part to walking in the park. We decided to head down to the lake area, which was pretty pleasant (even though the lake was so overgrown with water lilies you couldn’t actually see any of it) and visited a few shrines in the vicinity as well. Then we headed back to the ryokan for dinner. During the evening rain I discovered that my shoes had holes in them, leading to soggy socks and soaked footwear, so new sneakers were in order…tomorrow.


Day 2

The first part of Day 2 was spent obtaining sneakers, a phone charger and other such necessities. Once that was out of the way, we headed over to Mandarake in Nakano to buy anime stuff.

Mandarake functions more or less like any other large anime store in Japan. There are tons of new goods, used goods, models, DVDs, doujinshi, manga, games – you name it, they probably have it, and they have 5 floors of it to boot. This particular store was actually their HQ so the selection was even more extensive.

The first thing that I noticed this time around was that not only were all the signs written in English as well as Japanese, the store announcements and map were also in 2 languages. Quite a difference from the last time I was here. The reason for this soon became apparent when I headed into the store – there are were quite a few Americans/non-Japanese buying anime stuff, and as tourists are wont to do, they bought a LOT. I saw 2 African Americans with at least 8 Gundam models between them (High Grade too!) another woman with a HUGE bag of manga, and XR tells me he saw some Singaporeans there the other day too.

All this was made for some food for thought – not only was it another indication of anime’s increasing international status, it was kind of funny because generally speaking, Japanese people get catered to (even language wise sometimes) when they go out of country, since they are such big spenders. Rather amusing to see the reverse here, but only logical considering that making the “pilgrimage to Japan” for an anime fan is fast becoming de rigeur.

As to the actual buying…in a moneumentous feat of willpower, I forcibly restrained my normally prodigious appetite for hentai and only bought ONE (count it! one!) hentai manga. Yes, only one. Yeah, I know it was nothing short of a miracle…no pictures please.

But honestly I only bought some gaming stuff and LOTS of doujinshi for my sister. Also got to help one of the counter staff practice her English, since she wanted to speak to me in that language. Lots of the staff cosplay in Mandarake, which sometimes makes for an interesting buying experience.

But speaking of doujinshi…people probably already know this, but I feel that it bears mentioning when there are no less than 2 complete bookshelves of Prince of Tennis yaoi doujinshi, each sorted by school, by couple (into seme/uke, no less!) and by god knows what else. It’s quite…terrifying on some level. I received quite a few raised eyebrows but buckling down and actually asking for a couple by name (after a few failed attempts to locate the requisite doujinshi), but hey, a man’s gotta do what a man…probably is the wrong phrase to use here.

In a marked constrast to my earlier trip, I didn’t really spend that much time at Mandarake, but I stopped in to look at the adjoining Sakura Taisen cafe. Now for an ST fan like me, it was quite an experience, but unfortunately XR didn’t feel the same…the cafe itself was well-designed, very tasteful paneling and furniture in general made to capture the look and feel of an actual cafe in ST (which I think it did very well) Of course it came replete with costumes, old posters, an actual Cinematron (sorta), and all the ST fixings.

The interesting point (as least to me) is that the layout was actually pretty nice without the otaku flavor of it – which is to say that even if it wasn’t ST in nature, the cafe would still look pretty good. It was more French than Japanese though (i.e more ST 3 than anytime else) which I felt was a good design choice. The clientele didn’t really seem very otakuish either…two middle-aged dudes (one with French beret, which made the atmosphere EVEN MORE FRENCH) and two other businessmen. Not really the type of people you’d associate with anime in general. (Salon, rather than cafe, would actually be the more accurate term here…)

I didn’t actually BUY anything in the cafe…as most people know I am not a Merchandise Person. I did take the time out to write something in the guestbook (which actually had quite a few Korean entries) and generally just admire the cafe in general. The stuff actually inside was really for the true OMG GOTTA CATCH THEM ALL variety of fan though…far too specialized for my taste (like original movie posters, fans, bathrobes etc) And the food was just…ridiculous. I’m not paying 200-300 yen more just so I can eat in an ST cafe man. However I did find the drink section more interesting, since all the hour pours were named after the characters and had the flavors to match their personalities – otakuish to the max, but interesting nonetheless.

In any case even though I wouldn’t consider myself a rabid ST fan by any means, it nevertheless did my heart good to stroll around and heard the softly played music…I mean, I step into the cafe and they are playing Hanasaku Otome. I couldn’t help but smile. Then came Moshimo and as I stepped out, Icarus no Hoshi…a really nice choice of music, and when played softly made the whole cafe thing seem nicer. Ok now I am seriously sounding like an otaku so I will stop…no pictures BTW, the cafe attendants said no-no.

Anyway, the rest of the afternoon was pretty uneventful, we basically headed back to the ryokan to rest. Later in the evening we decided to head to Roppongi Hills.

Wow…Roppongi had certainly made a big change in it’s appearance. From an area typically acclaimed as the red-light district of Japan, the new face of it was quite a surprise. (However for all I know it may still BE a red-light district…just that we didn’t head into that area.) In any case, red-light district or no, the whole place was really very well laid-out and stylish. The architecture, general construction and all had a great sense of style and elegance about it…even the advertisements were stylish and utilized color and contrast to great effect. Abstract advertisements…now I’d seen everything. The Roppongi Hills logo was really cool too. But honestly, if Cowboy Bebop was a building, Roppongi Hills would be it.

Upon entering we headed to the art exhibition on the 52th floor, taking a ride on the artistic elevator, in which the lights dim upon entering and ever so slowly brighten as you ride up. Zomg. 1500 yen gets you into both the observation deck (which takes up the entire 53th floor) as well as the exhibition, so it was a steal.

The exhibition, if possible, was even better than the Ueno Park one…the moment we entered we were greeted by a HUGE piece of installation art that practically took up the entire floor. I have to admit it – until that day I had always had a rather dim view of installation art in general, seeing as a waste of time and money. Well, now I realize it was because I had previously only viewed crappy Singaporean installation art, the materials of which were best recycled – this was the real McCoy. Pictures weren’t allowed, so I can’t show you all the pieces (which I would dearly love to do) so instead I’ll just describe all the best (IMHO) ones.

Bird : This was the star attraction, and probably worth making the entire trip alone. At the centre of the floor was a poem/description of what a bird was, surrounded by glass cups. In the space between the writing and cups were words…or rather, pictures, since these words in question were the earlier form of Chinese writing, they were more pictorial in nature. The words/pictures became slowly more defined as the shifted to the left (following the development of the Chinese language) and finally rose to the air, having fully transformed into birds.

To say that the work was just excellent would be a understatement…it was more of a masterpiece. In addition, the design sketches for the piece were placed on a wall to the side, so you could see the artist’s development of ideas, which I found interesting.

Toilet : Only 3 people at a time were allowed inside. It was basically a toilet with extremely small figurines/words located at various points inside, which you needed a magnifying glass (supplied by an attendant) to see. The dual far/near perspective was pretty innovative, and the piece altogether well worked out.

Garden : Very unique piece. It was a room with a mural on the far side, music playing, and a pond sculpture which contained a video screen inside it (the “pond”) The piece worked on 3 levels – the music, mural and video/pond…as well as having a poem outside (4 levels) Interesting to say the least.

Other notable pieces included a house made out of cloth, an exhibit with a stream of consciousness winding around the piece
and some video installation art…would take too much space to recount them all. XR and I were kind of disappointed that the installation video pieces would have taken upwards for 1 hour to completely view…as the museum was closing soon, we had to leave.

Fortunately the observation deck was close by. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.


 These pictures really don’t do justice to the splendor of the night sky in Tokyou…tried to get the moon and Tokyou Tower equally spaced from each other, but without a telescoping function it was tough


 Unfortunately the angle and flash made this shot blurry

I actually had a lot more shots than these but the glass surrounding the deck and the quality of the camera made it hard to get good shots…

We also visited the museum shop and cafe. Even the cafe was laid out in an artistic manner – it had a semi Cubist structure to be precise. (I believe it is actually internationally reknowned for this) The shop had artworks created by one of a Japan’s foremost pop-culture artists, Takeshi Murakami – his work has been called “deconstructionist otaku” by many, and I feel it is an apt title. Check it out and see for yourself (http://www.toyboxdx.com/rumble_plus/042601-wink.html -) I myself was impressed – I believe it invites comparison with Andy Warhol.

What is more interesting is probably his interview (http://www.jca-online.com/murakami.html) which expresses certain beliefs about himself, his art, art in general and Japan that I find make for interesting reading. He is an otaku looking at otaku in a critical fashion, analyzing the social phenomenon from without and within (much like the director/scriptwriter of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hideaki Anno) – sort of like a “nega-otaku. “

For the building itself, Anyway if you want to check out the place for yourself online you can go to http://www.roppongihills.com/en/information/ – especially since I didn’t take any pictures. ^_^


Day 3

This would be our last day in Tokyou before heading to Osaka, and we didn’t really know what to do…we settled on going to an Internet cafe to find out exactly where our Osakan accomodations were, as well as take a side trip to Akihabara to track down some more anime stuff.

Results : cafe found, anime stuff proved elusive, so we headed over to a nearby shopping complex (whose name I can’t quite recall) and found…Namco City! Yeah, apparently the whole complex was owned by Namco (which is a video game company among other things…check out http://www.namco.co.jp for details)

What should be there but a cat and dog exhibition! Having been bereft of feline companionship for a while, the aileurophile in me just had to take a trip there…the space inside was kind of small, but the dogs were extremely friendly (a bit too friendly IMHO) and the cats…sleepy. Well, it was in the daytime. Some pictures follow :


 Sleeping cats are always good to look at.


 “Oi. Who are you. Where’s my food.”


 Very nice coat on this cat.


 Pondering the mysteries of the universe while she rests.


 Extremely well-kept coat – very unique color too.


 Yes, I have ONE dog picture. The dogs here are actually pretty cute too.

I was kind of impressed that the dogs were so well-trained they didn’t even jump out of the small space they were being kept in, as well as gratified to know that attendants regularly walked the dogs (as in, took them out of the exhibition hall) and cleaned up after them. At least they weren’t being mistreated. One young punk in the cat’s room tried to pull the tail of a cat, but after receiving stern looks of disapproval from myself and an old grandma in the room, he desisted.

The cat in question had a lot of fun playing with the dangling strings from my jacket…here he/she is wondering where the strings went after I tucked them away :


 So cute!

We thought of visiting the aquarium but it was a bit too expensive (1500 yen), so on the way back we tried to find a music shop instead. When that search didn’t turn up anything we settled on a nearby car exhibition…which I’m sure would be really interesting if you were into F1 cars (like XR was) but I found it kind of boring. (though the artistic representation of a battery cell they had inside the display room was unique) Oh yeah, and we played the Retarded Hybrid Car Game, the details of which are best left undisclosed.




 Pretty slick looking car.

Since we had some time left we also took a trip to an arcade. In going to the arcades I also realized that even though Sega might have withdrawn from the console market, they are still very much alive and kicking in the arcade scene – whole buildings were owned by Sega, and they had entire floors stocked with nothing but Sega arcade machines. Especially popular were the card game, of which they were three…the Key of Avalon (a board game with an RPGish element in which you could level up/raise your character), Quest of D, (basically a polished Diablo clone) and SANGOKUSHITAISEN, which was the real attraction.

Essentially Sangokushitaisen (Three Kingdoms War) was a game in the tradition of The Romance of the Three Kingdoms – which is to say that they used the characters from the game. It was played with 5 character cards, which you got by buying from a machine and then placing on the game surface. The twist was that the surface and the cards were magnetized, so moving the cards in real life caused the corresponding characters to move on the screen. Besides that it was basically a strategy RPG (but with the requisite hundreds of moves and other factors that kept the game interesting)

I felt the real-time aspect of the movable cards, as well as the collectible card feeling (you weren’t guaranteed of getting the cards you want) were innovative enough to warrant a mention. The game itself was a smash hit…almost all the machines were always occupied, and there were even signs to tell players to vacate their seat after either losing or completing an entire campaign, as well as printed movelists for all the generals (provided free by the arcade) and a message board (again free) where players could write down which cards they wanted to trade. Also, as an RTK fan myself, I found the fact that they got a whole slew of different artists (in a variety of styles) to illustrate the cards giving a very different spin on the whole legend. It was quite a sight to see a well-dressed businessman sit down before his day started, take out his briefcase and produce a pack of sealed RTK cards, then sit down and play. Then again, the businessmen ARE the arcade kings of Japan, so maybe it’s not that out of the ordinary.

That was really the only game that drew my attention…the rest of the arcade (though it was a HUGE building, 8 floors to be exact) had the usual fare of shooters, fighting games, UFO catchers, and whatnot.

On the way out of the arcade we did come across an advertisement for a male escort service. This wasn’t really out of the ordinary…or at least that was what we thought until taking a closer look. The 3rd most requested escort had a name like none other – here, take a look


 (it says “Gundam”)With a name like that it’s no wonder he’s No.3…

Soon 9:10 came and it was time for the night bus ride to Osaka. Taking the night bus wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience – sure, it was cheap, but some of the roads leading to Osaka were pretty bumpy, and I ended up not getting much sleep despite having done it before. XR didn’t get ANY sleep…:( The Shinkansen would definitely have been a lot faster and more convinient, but would necessitate getting a JR Railpass. Why not get one, then?

This is probably a good time to reveal the fact that *gasp!* getting a JR Railpass might not really be the best option for travel in Japan if money is a concern. (and frankly, when isn’t it?) The reason being that even though it serves to offset the Shinkansen cost, it only covers JR lines…and A LOT of train lines in Osaka are NOT JR Lines. About 90% of them, in fact. If we had gone with our original plan and gotten the pass, we would have ended up about $400-500 out of pocket.

However, the bus trip WAS pretty aggravating in terms of lost sleep and lost time (since I for one needed to sleep more to make up for the lack of rest) Then again, you save on accommodation expenses. Was it worth it? Yes and no…really depends on what your priorities are. But here is the information, make of it what you will.


Day 4

The Osakan morning dawned on a tired Tai An and XR as we made our slow way to the new hotel. Upon arriving we promptly slept until noon and missed showertime. Upon waking it was too late to be making any long trips anywhere, so we decided to just walk around the area and find something to eat first.

Osaka is ample evidence that Japan is a country with an ageing population…I think the area we went to should have been called Roujingai (Old People’s Town) since 90% of the people we saw had white hair. I guess there is really not much opportunity for the young people in that area…they’re all headed to the towns and Tokyou. But the atmosphere there was really very different from the generally highly urbanized feel of Japan – more sleepy and quiet (most of the shops didn’t even open until 11) and slow-paced. However, it also gave one a sense of decline, with dust and shops in various stages of disrepair…probably a good place to retire in, but not one you’d enjoy if young.

We then decided to go to Umeda Station and check out the city life there. Umeda/Osaka station (both were close to each other) was much more similar to Tokyou, with all the hustle and bustle of city life that you might expect from a major train station. After checking with the tourist staff there, we headed over to Hankyu-Higashidori, which was a shopping district of sorts.

Some sights from the station :


 I kid you not…these are REAL Osakan wrestlers. Makes the WWF look like some serious social drama.

People distributing flyers were out in full force there, making travelling through the area an exercise in polite refusal…however, the shops were plentiful and varied, including such names as “Otoko wa Tsurai” (It’s a hard lot for a man), The Best Potato (a bar) and The Underwear of the World (just like the name says) Turns out there was also another Mandarake in Umeda, which was just as good as the Nakano one. For a 1000 yen purchase you could even go up onto the stage on the 3rd floor to sing. Outside was a friendly Mandarake assistant who explained to XR why all Japanese staff wear aprons…apparently the tradition was first started by food sellers and became a societal concern after some time.

As evening rolled around we checked out Namco City (bigass Namco arcade) which for some reason had Sega games as well as a Gyoza Stadium. After that we tried to find the observation tower in Umeda to check out the Osakan night sky, but we had such trouble with direction we decided to head back and call it a day instead.

In the hotel that night, I had my first experience with a traditional Japanese bath, which went something along the lines of “OMGWTF NAKED MAN!” It was actually pretty ok after I got over the initial embarrassment…which honestly there wasn’t much off. I sort of understand what nudists must feel – if everyone else is also naked and thinks nothing of it, then you don’t really feel the need to do so either. And in terms of efficiency it’s a lot easier to have a bigass bath where everyone can bathe at once. I would rather have a public bath with hot water, a nice furo and plenty of soap/shampoo then a private one which wasn’t as well supplied.

Day 5

Today was the day that we had planned to go and see the Osama Tezuka museum…which we didn’t actually see until the next day because we had neglected to call and find out what the opening hours were. Oh well, a lesson learnt.

Of course we didn’t actually know that until AFTER it was too late, so in the morning we set out on our merry way for Expoland, home of the Gundam World 2005 exhibition. Also in the same location was the roadshow for Mahousentai MAGIRANGER! It was an easy choice to decide which to see.

BTW, we also saw…


 the ULTIMATE garbage bin!

So upon entering the grounds what should greet our eyes but the MAGIRANGER roadshow…surely this was fate working it’s subtle magic…anyway, amazingly enough NO ONE WAS LAUGHING during the sentai show, incredibly cheesy though it was. It made me think about cultural differences, actually…when you stop to think about it, Batman, Superman, Spiderman et all look pretty damn cheesy in their respective outfits, but we don’t bat an eye. Do Chinese/Japanese/Thai/other ethnic groups find them cheesy but are too polite to say anything?

Question unanswered, we nevertheless settled down to watch Magiranger (wow I didn’t capitalize it!) It was basically half a sentai episode and half a children’s show – I tried to get a shot but I was blocked by the masses of people (the entire place was packed) We decided to come back later to maybe get an picture with the cast, but it turned out to be the last show of the day…which we again only realized later. 🙁 Damn, I would really have wanted a picture with a real-life sentai crew – would have been the very pinnacle of cheesiness and coolness. ^_^

In any case, the next stop was Gundam World 2005, which actually was MUCH harder to find than the Magiranger roadshow (no I’m not exaggerating for humor, the roadshow was JUST outside the Expo grounds, but the Gundam World was much further in) However, a huge Zeta Gundam model served as a signpost…

The exhibition was actually pretty small as these things go, but there was a lot to see and do. Besides the usual assortment of goods, merchandise and all things commercially Gundamish, there were 2 life-size Gundam models, explanations of the series/mechanics, collections of famous lines etc – of course the One Year War featured heavily, but as we all know all Gundam collections of ANYTHING inevitably future the One Year War more than all the other series combined.


 Hyaku-Shiki (Type 100) for those not in the know


 Zeta Gundam! Kudos to XR for taking these shots while I was occupied with the rest of the Expo

Oh yeah there was a big Seed section near the end of the hall but I hate Seed so I didn’t take a single step into it. So there.

Besides the mechanical explanations (I found the detailed comparison between Zaku and Gundam interesting) I particularly liked the wall panels which summarized the Zeta/First Gundam story…when you looked at them from the context of an exhibition, you really got a different view of the whole series. Now, I am not what you would call a rabid Gundam fan (not like some friends I know) but the sight of all the key scenes, complete with quotes, models etc did stir in me some sort of excitement…when viewed all at once, you got a sense of the epic quality of Gundam. For better or for worse, it remains THE defining series of Japanese science fiction, and is on some levels a cultural institution in it’s own right. Like it or not, Gundam is here to stay.

Unfortunately though, the other series besides First and Zeta were given short shrift…just some models and the original posters. Even though seeing each series arrayed next to each other in chronological order was pleasant, I would have preferred more complete treatment. (especially for G GUNDAM!) I also checked out the advertisement for the Zeta Gundam movie, which was then airing…made me want to go see it. After viewing a collection of all the opening songs (they were playing one by one on a plasma screen TV) we left.

This is the part where we discovered that it was too late to go to the Osamu Tezuka museum…so we went to the park instead. Turned out to be a blessing in disguise – but we’ll get to that later. The Osaka Park was, if possible, even better than Ueno – wider thoroughfares, better landscaping, and less people. We even saw an enterprising entertainer :


 MUSCLE POWER! (in case you can’t tell, the left chair is suspended only by ONE strut…it’s hanging on almost thin air)

We checked out the Rose Festa (picture below)


 Roses…lots of them. Tons, even.

and XR had to wait for me while I went to the Osakan Children’s International Literature Centre. Again, this one was even better than it’s counterpart in Tokyou…it had more books, and even children’s literature in different languages! I read Anthony Brown’s Piggybook (called Kazoku Gorigori or something like that in Japanese) just to find out how a English children’s book would sound like in Japanese. I was also impressed by the fact that they kept a large archive of writing materials, reference books and the like (such as Children’s Writers 2004-2005, List of Known Authors, Encyclopedia of Children’s Literature etc) in both languages. It meant that it wasn’t JUST a library but also a serious research institution.

We also took some time to just walk around the park…as the pictures will attest to, the scenery was simply fantastic. To quote XR “I think after this the Botanical Gardens can go to HEL!” I found myself agreeing…


 Side view of the lake


 I spent some time with the angle on this one…still am not very satisfied with it.


 Beautifully kept green field. I didn’t really think this shot was that good but XR was insistent on it, so here we are.


 Gazebo on top of a hill. Once again I couldn’t really get an ideal shot because of the limited zoom capability on the camera…still, the architecture is great.


 I’m pretty proud of this one…managed to get some of the sunlight filtering through the trees. I find the three people in front actually add to the picture instead of detracting from it by giving it more of a human quality…your mileage may vary.


 Has the old Japanese garden feel about it. I personally like this shot.


 Really couldn’t get this one to turn out the way I wanted…finally settled on taking the best picture I could instead of giving up and moving off.


…and then I came back for a second try. Still not too good.


 Probably the best landscape shot I have of the park, if not the best in the entire trip. We were ascending the hill when I just happened to turn around and…there it was.

Then it was time to see the fireflies! This is where not going to the museum proved fortuituous…the park laid out paper lanterns to add to atmosphere and signs to lead on a suggested firefly viewing route, so I could they had put some effort into the event. Pictures were prohibited, so I don’t have any…but that’s not the only reason. You see, (the enormous amount of people at the area notwithstanding) you CAN’T take pictures of fireflies…they flicker too fast. And also, taking pictures of the viewing seemed somehow…crass. In any case, on a purely logistical level, park wardens were stationed near most of the viewing spots, so they would have noticed any flashes immediately.

As to the fireflies themselves…let me just say that they were quite worth the trip. (XR says they were worth the entire holiday to Japan) The paper lanterns, almost complete darkness and the entire landscape and feel of the gardens contributed to an effect that was almost…mystical in nature. Despite the masses of people, if you went to the edge of the boundary, as close as possible to the fireflies, and focussed only on them – for a while it was like being transport to a kind of fairy garden, where the only lights were the blinking, darting glow of the fireflies.

Ok now I am probably waxing overly poetic. But they were truly a sight to behold – there weren’t many of them, but the garden itself set off the Christmas tree effect of the twinkling lights adorning the trees very well. Some would skim on the water, some flit from bush to frond…as the Japanese would put it, “hakanai koso utsukushii” (Beautiful as they are fleeting)

We stayed at the gardens till really late (about 9:30) and even went back for a second round. But soon it was time to go. On our way back from Senri-Chuo, we happened to see a musician duo whom I personally thought was excellent…Fullhouse and Mr.T. (yeah, no A-Team jokes please ^_^) In this age of electronica, they were playing with just one acoustic guitar and one Arco percussion box (a really cool instrument which is a box that you sit on and strike the edges of to produce sound – side is snare, middle is bass, other side is hi-hat) which I thought was unique, to say the least. And they sounded good!

According to their fact sheet, they were semi-Beatles inspired (although they also listed some other contemporary Japanese bands as their influences) We got to ask for a special request since we were tourists, so I asked for a Super Robot song and XR for Mr.Children – leading to some debate and confusion…so in the end I told them to just play what they wanted. It turned out to be a fortuitious choice, since their last slow song was particularly good.

Unfortunately they didn’t have a CD to buy, but I did get a shot of them jamming (at my request to look like they were “really into it”)


 Mr. T and Fullhouse

We got back so late we almost missed the curfew and had to make a mad dash for the hotel…so no bath for the night (I ended up taking one the next morning)

Day 6

Having missed the Osamu Tezuka museum the first time, we resolved to do it right this time, and off we went to Senri-Chuo again. Going to the museum was NOT cheap…all in all it ended up costing about 2000 yen, round trip, just to get there. But it was worth every cent. More on that later.

This is also a good time for more…RANDOM SUBWAY PICTURES!

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 Would you trust YOUR vagina to this guy? Because that’s what he’s asking you to do. (Actually the text says that he can cure hyperhidrosis, vaginal diseases and other “odorous diseases” in the comfort of your own home…apparently the Japanese are not shy about writing the word vagina in public. Then again there was a fighting game which was called, among other things, “Super Virgin Girls”, so…)

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 This is probably the only lottery advertisement I have ever seen that made me want to buy a ticket…the guy REALLY looks like he won the lottery…there was another version of this where he had two fans and was surrounded by geisha girls (and looked even more WTF if that was even possible) but I couldn’t get a shot of it.

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 See, even Sesame Street gets in on the public announcements act. Here they are telling you to fold your papers when reading or it will turn into a “war”. These Japanese sure take their morning dailies seriously.

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 Ok…someone please explain to me WHAT is up with this picture…as in, what is it about, what it is advertising, anything. The text reads “Chichin Puipui” which is sort of like the Japanese equivalent of “Abracadabra” – kind of like a nonsense phrase. But I have no idea what that has to do with the picture of the…things inside. Which BTW look scary.

So first we head to good ‘ole Senri-Chuo again, no problem there. Next we take the monorail to Takarazuka, which was a pretty interesting place. For those of you not in the know, Takarazuka is an old Japanese dance form which is largely derived from Western traditions. It is essentially contemporary opera performed solely by women (as in the women dress as men for the male roses) Lots of glitz, glam and makeup, and was hugely popular back when it first sprung up in Japan (around the late 19th century if my memory serves) Yes, for those of you who are astute readers (or just have played the game/watched the anime) Sakura Taisen is about a takarazuka troupe, which explains my in-depth knowledge of the term. ^_^

Anyway, this was my first real experience with a dance town – by that I mean a town whose principal commodity is dance, is based around dance and has dance halls everywhere. Even the children dance! (we were there during a Sunday, so there was a children’s dance and a band playing, not to mention lots of people giving out flyers and soliciting donations) Kind of interesting, since one would normally associate this kind of activity more with a European locale…but considering takarazuka itself originates from Europe, perhaps it was only fitting.

It was a bit antiquated in nature but altogether quite pleasant…as befitting the artistic nature of the town, the streets and all were just a LITTLE bit more elegant that what you would normally have seen on any other town. There were lots of flowers and statues everywhere (the latter commemorating famous plays/performances) which also added to the effect. The event below was probably unplanned though…


 BeruBara no Haato wa Eien ni! (Okay that was honestly a terrible pun, you can shoot me now)

So we finally made it to the Osamu Tezuka museum. If there was every any doubt about what Tezuka-sensei’s work meant to the people of Japan, the musuem laid it to rest…it was three very wide floors filled with a whole variety of historical documents, original manga, pictures and computers. We’ll go through it floor by floor :

First Floor (Entrance) : This was by far the widest floor. The entrance hall had a statue of Black Jack and Pinoko (which I took a picture with) as well as a big spiral staircase leading to the other 2 floors. Oh yeah, and there was a digital diorama of Osamu Tezuka’s life, including a mini Osamu Tezuka RPG (which I found hilarious) The rest of the floor was devoted to showcasing Tezuka sensei’s life and works – the hall had a gallery of all his works (all 139 of them!) a timeline showing what genres he worked in when, biography (again with timeline) documents, pictures…very complete. What impressed me the most, though, was the slow, orchestrated arrangement of the Astroboy theme playing in the background as I strolled through the galleries…it was a very tasteful touch, and because of the slow pace of the arrangement, had an almost music-box quality I found very fitting.

The bottom floor was more or less the kid’s floor – it has an entire replica of the science lab from Astroboy, as well as a history of animation (all the way back from 5000 BC no less) and types of animation, all presented in slides/panels on the walls. There were also small interactive consoles in which you could watch short videos, turn knobs to show something etc…as well as a section in which kids could draw something and the staff would try and animate it. That was a hands-on addition that I personally liked a lot.

The top floor was all devoted to Black Jack, probably Tezuka-sensei’s best-known character. Black Jack is a mysterious doctor garbed in black, who, even though he possesses no license, has miraculous powers of healing. His titular manga potrays him as a wandering figure who refuses to treat anyone unless paid an exorbitant amount of money (generally in the millions) – only to render free service to those dearly in need of medical attention.

Black Jack’s appeal is easy to understand…being tall, dark and mysterious, he appeals to the “coolness” that almost everyone desires in a main character, and since he serves the higher good (or rather what he considers the higher good) people admire him. But I believe Tezuka-sensei’s genius goes beyond those simple facts…however, you’ll have to read the story to find out what I mean. ^_^

Anyway, for better or for worse, Black Jack is famous, and he had the entire 3rd floor to himself (and his “sidekick” Pinoko) Most of the exhibition was explaining or illuminating aspects of Black Jack’s character – like why did he have a scar on his face, what did he do with all the millions he earnt etc. There was also a Pinoko section, and a special section for the TV anime of Black Jack which was still airing (the manga is far superior IMHO) What I found interesting was the wall panelling of the manga (picture below) Even though manga is meant to be read in smaller printed form, I found the display of it interesting…really makes you rethink your ideas of space when reading.


The rest of the floor (okay so I lied, it wasn’t all Black Jack, just mainly) had a multimedia interface where you could cross-reference Tezuka-sensei’s work, glass cabinets with more works displayed, and lots and lots of manga. This is where XR spent most of his time as I walked around the museum. Oh yeah and they had panels all over the stair walls too…those made for entertaining reading as well (about comics thoroughout history)


 One of the stairs with the wall panels


 Picture of the Black Jack gallery which I agree was a horrible shot…

Since the museum was the one public area in Japan we visited that didn’t have pictures of it readily accessible on the Internet (and also because my sister asked me to) I took a lot of pictures of it’s interior. Hopefully my meagre photographic skills will at least give you a semi-accurate picture of what it was like…


 Main Gallery


 More of the collected works


 Super Osamu Tezuka Wars! Well not really…these are most of but not all of his well-known characters (there were even more but the camera couldn’t zoom far back enough)


 Because of the screen flicker the image turned out funny…I really wanted to get Black Jack smiling instead of the grim face he normally presents but I didn’t quite get it. Next time perhaps.


 Black Jack and I. XR helped me take this one…I wanted Pinoko in the shot too but I forgot to tell him that. Oh well, it’s still a nice shot.

Suffice to say that I found the visit to the museum, (2000 yen and an hour and a half of transport!) well worth all the trouble. Being an anime fan nonwithstanding, I definitely feel that Tezuka-sensei is a creative genius easily on par with literary greats…sure he chooses to use a different medium, but it doesn’t change the power and relevance of his art. 139 works, all in a different variety of genres, is nothing to sniff at. Even though he is best remembered for Astroboy and Black Jack, those are just a glimmer of his entire body of work…series will come and go, mangas will rise and fall, but I think his work is for forever.

Anyway, after that it was about 6, so we took our leave and had an uneventful trip back to the hotel. The next day would be our last in Osaka.

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