Thursday, June 17, 2010

Osaka, Japan

First off, before you ask, yes Jim, yes Chuck, I was really in Japan this last week so this post is current. Good. Now that that is done...


I love Japan.

Out of every place I've ever been, no where else has quite the mix of old and new, tradition and lack of tradition, east and west... It's my poster child for what I call the "intersection of cultures". I use the term for any place where you find dramatically different influences that are at work in the same physical location. Some examples include places like Istanbul (intersection of east and west as well as Christian and Muslim), southern Mexico (Mayan/native and Spanish), and, believe it or not, lots of places in southern California and New York city (too many influences and cultures to list but how about the one time in Orange County (California) when I had a chicken-teriyaki burrito from a lunch truck owned by a Guatemalan guy?). In short, any place that could be called a cross roads of the world.

I spent this last week in Osaka, a city that I hadn't been to during my first two visits. Osaka is the second largest city in Japan and, although there are around three million people living there, it feels much smaller. As with all of Japan, it's incredibly clean and orderly. There's no trash on the streets, no graffiti anywhere, and, compared to everywhere else in the world, crime-free. The city is known for its cuisine (like Okonomiyaki) as well as its Osaka accent, which I guess is very tell-tale in Japan. Here are some city skyline photos taken from the Osaka Castle:

The downtown area of Osaka is a great place to stay because there are tons of places to see and fun things to do. One area that is fun at night is called Namba. It's full of stores and restaurants and is great for checking out the locals. I know this sounds funny but, the place is full of Japanese (and Koreans to a lesser extent) people. Wait. Let me try to explain. In most of the larger cities in the US for example, if you're "downtown" you'll see people of all different ethnicities and probably have some people from other parts of the world. In Osaka's case, there just aren't a lot of non-Asians running around the area. My guess is that it's like 1 Gaijin for each 1000 "locals". This picture gives you an idea of what the area is like:

There are some great kitschy store fronts. You can see giant crabs, waving octopuses, and the huge face of one restaurant owner:

And what photos from Japan would be complete without your futuristic, Blade-Runner-cum-Times-Square-style, giant advertisements photo:

Osaka's a cool town. You definitely get the traditional, eastern feel while you're there but you also get to see the modern, "western" things too. On the trad side, there's the older architecture, some traditional clothing, and things like the Osaka Castle. On the newer side, there are the armies of white-shirted-attache-bag-toting salary men, over-packed subways, and huge underground "cities" with your mandatory Starbucks and McDonald's. In other words, the perfect intersection of cultures that I continually seek out.

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