Many things happened today, including the fact I nearly had to buy an EOS20D DSLR, but more on that later.
Tiger fever is all around us here in Osaka, as the city celebrated it’s victory. As I type this, the Tigers rally song is playing through a tinny speaker in the shopping arcade behind me. The Hanshin department store is having a sale, as are many other places nearby. Everyone is wearing their favourite Tiger clothing, men and women, young and old. On my way back to the hotel tonight, I got a Tigers cardboard loudhailer, except the girl who gave it to me motioned that I had to wear it on my head. Everyone else was, so here I was, standing in the middle of Kita/Umeda in bustling Osaka, with a cardboard cone on my head, with several other folks, sararimen in suits, teenagers, and the like, all wearing these silly cones.
We took a Shinkansen out from Osaka to Himeji this morning, bright and early. Himeji is about 30 minutes or so by train and features a beautiful white castle, finished in 1609. About 15 minutes away from the train station, the outer moat was actually where the JR tracks are today.
Nadine and I walked up through the castle, wearing slippers to avoid damage of these cultural heritage sites. I already have trouble wearing slippers, but climbing 50 degree staircases made of creaking wood adds a certain amount of difficulty. From the sixth floor, you can see around Himeji, a relatively small town. In the distance are graceful rolling hills.
This is where, coincidentally, I forgot my camera on a park bench.
Around the time we were walking to the track for the return train, I was thinking about lining up a shot of a JR Series 500 Shinkansen streaking by with it’s characteristic pencil sharp nose and grey and silver livery colours. This was also the time I realized I my Lowepro backpack was a bit lighter than usual and that I didn’t have my EOS300D slung around my shoulder.
I was contemplating how much ‘idiot coverage’ my travel insurance covered and if I could afford a EOS20D with 17-85 IS USM lens package with it as we walked by to the castle. There a professional shooter doing tourist group shots had found the camera and was keeping it safe. I was really thankful he had found it. He asked to see my photos and mentioned he figured it was a traveler instead of a local because all of my menus were set to English.
Overall, I’ve found Japan is a very safe and trusting place. As a fellow tourist from a British group we’ve been running into here and there says, ‘it’s strange to leave your rucksack and not have it nicked’.
We headed back to the bustling metropolis of Osaka, where, now expert in the configuration of the Osaka JR Loop Line, a circular railway which encircles the city, we went to see Osaka Castle, situated not far from Den Den Town. This building from the outside looks pretty similar to Himeji’s castle. However, this one was only built in 1931, a reproduction from the same period.
The original Osaka Castle was started in 1583, but was completely burn down in the 1615 after a significant siege. The new one built in it’s place features elevators, a museum, and air conditioning. The view from the eight floor of this structure is startling, when you see the
skyscrapers of the city surrounding it.
The last time I was in Montreal, I found this strange hand dryer in a bar which was so powerful, it blew your skin around. Today we found a Mitsubishi hand dryer which was shaped like a U. As you put your hands in the top of the dryer, a thin curtain of fast moving air dried your hands in an instant. I was suitably impressed.
After Osaka Castle, Nadine planned to visit the Osaka Museum, which I decided to opt out of, instead, needing some time to rest, the few days of nothing but noodles, sushi, and traveling catching up with me. I eventually headed back to Den Den Town, Osaka’s electric goods avenue. On my way, I saw the NHK Osaka building, the national broadcaster. As if a matte painting out of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, this gleaming arc of a building shot up from the ground, it’s technofuturistic shape only punctuated by a small NHK logo and an array of microwave domes on the very top.
Named after the first syllable of the Japanese word for electricity, Den Den Town warranted a return trip. The prices weren’t anything to write home about, but the variety is surprising. I particularly liked the stores of used computers, which I mentioned last night. Unlike our used computer shops, which are mostly populated with corporate lease returns of old Dells and Compaqs, these stores have a spread of very small and compact computers, usually the size of a small phonebook, or sometimes, built right into the LCD panel display. The staff are seen in the background, scrambling to unscrew hard disks and wipe the drives of personal information, putting them back out on display.
Speaking of science fiction, William Gibson’s seminal novel, Neuromancer, speaks of a market street where ‘softs’ are traded and sold, in a bazaar. Just like the book in Den Den Town–neon signs proclaim softs for sale–used and new software–and even lavender MemorySticks can be found, loose in a bright red plastic basket for 940 yen a piece.
I also found a number of hobby shops which sold all sorts of anime and manga related items like models, figures and videos. Though I’m not really into anime, I did recognize a few of the Japanese names like Gundam, Neon Genesis Evangelion, and Macross. Macross Plus, Seven, Zero and Do You Remember Love? to be exact.
I ended up buying something, yes, the great Ebbro 1/43th scale Honda JDM Inspire, also known as the Honda North American Accord. Going for about $55 Canadian in Toronto (once talked down to $35 plus tax), I found it for 2900 yen, which was a sale due to Hanshin Tiger mania today. The Ebbro model is a highly detailed model of the Inspire, which is the same body style as my Accord. The clerk behind the sales desk couldn’t really figure out why I would want this model–apparently the Inspire isn’t very popular here.
I also got a strange USB cable extender for 300 yen made of weighted rubber. Sadly, and I did spend a lot of time looking for it, no 90 degree USB cables were to be found.
The breadth and depth of the items stocked at these stores, is staggering. Want a plastic model of a Nissan Skyline? A JR Series 100 shinkansen train? In N or HO? The computer stores stock rows upon rows of motherboards, memory chips and hard disks, more varied than any store at home, though not at any better of a price. A regular Chinese computer store in Toronto might have five or six keyboards. The keyboard section here has about thirty–including an all black Happy Hacker Keyboard, which has a fantastic tactile response and an Sun Type4/Amiga style Control key placement.
We met back at the hotel and headed out for dinner in Kita. I had seen an ad for another conveyor belt sushi place, which I think Nadine humoured me in going to. After dinner, we walked back through on the elevated pedestrian walkway, where bands were playing in the humid night sky to passerbys.
One band playing underneath the walkways was Trick Star Jump, a U2-esque quartet rocking out on the streets of Osaka. I snapped a few photos of them, their faces dripping with sweat in the evening heat as they entertained the crowd of Japanese city dwellers. As they finished their set, the lead singer rushed to give out photocopied handouts for their upcoming gigs.
All in all, a pretty full day. Two castles, a Osaka rock band, more conveyor belt sushi, all the MiniDisc players you could ever want, a scale model of Ohio’s pride and joy, and I nearly lost my EOS300D.
Your comments, by the way, are encouraging and fun to read. Tomorrow we are headed south to Hiroshima, then a day later, back to Tokyo and onwards to Hong Kong after that.