Due to McPho's limited schedule, I ended up going back and forth between Osaka and Kyoto a few times in order to get in the sights I wanted to see. The first night we arrived in Osaka, we stayed at Sumo Backpackers. The lady that worked there was very helpful, giving me a call right when I arrived in Osaka to check up on us, she even came to the station and walked us back to the hostel. Unfortunately, the hostel isn't centrally located and the condition of the bathroom could have been better. I'd opt to stay elsewhere if I were you, which I did when I stayed overnight in Osaka a few days later (J-Hoppers).
Before crashing, we walked around the area and nearby Umeda where everyone partied at. From the looks of it, Umeda's scene is pretty similar to Shinjuku's. Stores draw the crowds during the day, party scene in the evening keeps the area lively. Back near the hostel and Nakatsu Station where all was quiet, we came across a few small restaurants, some which had too many exterior banners and lights. We even walked by a small architectural office where a bunch of architects around my age were working through the night, not too surprising... the thing is, they were incredibly lively and all of them had smiles on their faces. They must be working on a really fun project. I toyed with the idea of tracking down Ando's office and paying a visit but my lack of Japanese would have really hampered any visiting attempt so I discarded it.
The next morning, we started the day off by checking out The Floating Garden Observatory in Shin-Umeda City. Osaka's skyline isn't unique so the view was incredibly boring. The escalators and observatory were more interesting than the view. If you have time to kill in Osaka and by chance are in Shin-Umeda, pay a visit, otherwise it's not worth going to Shin-Umeda for. I assume the evening may be a better time to visit so consider checking the place out before partying in Umeda. For you diehard Sim City fans, Wikipedia mentions that "The Umeda Sky Building was featured as a renovated skyscraper in the computer game Simcity 3000."
Our next stop was Namba, walking slowly through Dotonbori Street we took in the sights and had some okonomiyaki and takoyaki. According to our guidebook, Okonomiyaki originated in Osaka. The restaurants on the street employed interesting three-dimensional billboards of blowfish, dragons and even a giant moving crab. Also got decked by E-Honda outside a theater here.
With our bellies harboring large amounts of squid, we made our way to the bay area to check out their survivors. The Osaka Aquarium "Kaiyukan" was recommended by many and it seems to be a huge attraction for the locals too. The interior is laid out nicely, movement through the space was logical and areas were themed. Unfortunately they didn't seem to care about recreating the natural habitat so many tanks were pretty bare, no rocks or vegetation at the bottom. I guess the combination of having high expectations set by friends who visited before, and the insanely large crowds on Sunday led to my overall disappointment.
Next to the aquarium is the Suntory Museum Tempozan. Designed by Tadao Ando, I think this is one of the few projects of his where concrete doesn't take center stage. Instead the large steel and glass truncated cone is the focus, intersecting the rest of the building built of reinforced concrete. That intersection is visible to all the pedestrians walking towards the Aquarium and I think that was the most interesting view of the museum. Reminded me of Optimus Prime =T. McPho and I spent some time walking around it and even went inside, but decided the Marie Laurencin exhibition wasn't worth paying for.
I've seen some of these umbrella racks throughout Japan, but never in use. Every time it rains, I think people just go and buy the cheap $1 - $5 umbrellas available everywhere. And when the rain stops, they'll just leave it in the buckets at restaurants, or standing by a fence or entrance to the subway. I've yet to see someone carry an umbrella other than those cheap ones. But yeah, who would've thought that umbrella locker racks would be needed... ever? Guess people carry some expensive umbrellas around...
Cesar Pelli's NMOA
On the way to the JR Station for the Kyoto-bound trains, I convinced McPho to stop by Nakanoshima Island. The National Museum of Art, Osaka and the Osaka Science Museum are both located on the island, right next to each other. Approaching the island from Higobashi Station, there are a few small dilapidated buildings blocking the view and I'm glad they are there. They take nothing away from the museums and provide great contrast to their modern designs.
"Pelli suggested that the externally visible design structure represents waving reeds in the wind." In some views, the NMOA's sihlouette looks a bit like Calatrava's original design for the World Trade Center Transit Hub. Sadly, with all the security aspects now incorporated in Calatrava's design, it looks more like a stegosaurus (my favorite dinosaur) than a bird about to take flight. Calatrava should just go back to the drawing board, taking into consideration all the security issues and offer a whole new design rather than the existing one hacked up by security experts.
Anyway, back to the NMOA. Overall, the design is great, it soars, it's airy, but does anyone else think the metal frame looks like it was made out of giant stovepipe wire? Are they going to cover everything with some modeling clay or papier-mâché? Blech. Ooh, memories of booth came up.
Women in Japan dress up in traditional garb all the time, it's common, it's accepted and I think it's really awesome. Adds some diversity to the men in black look all the males rock. The dresses limits their ability to walk quickly (stride length is very short) but at least they don't walk like the idiots in heels and boots with their toes pointed inwards. If some dudes start dressing up in samurai gear or ninja gear, I'm going to give them high-fives. Or better yet, maybe I should start rocking some samurai gear and start a trend. Actually, I think the construction workers in Japan already have me beat. They wear these baggy pants called tobi-trousers that balloon out at the calf area and tabi-shoes where the big toe is separated from the other toes. More on that in a future post... I'm going to buy a set and totally rock it.