So after 4 full days in Tokyo it was time for us to move on to our next destination – Osaka. This was a trip made easy by the brilliance of the Japanese Shinkansen (bullet trains) which travels at speeds in excess of 200 km/h. However we extended our journey by making a stop off at a small sea-side town called Atami along the way. And there was really only one reason for this stop over.. The Atami Adult Museum. A museum on the subject of sex, which to be honest is rather less of a museum and more of a small-scale amusement park of sorts..
At this place, for a modest entrance fee, you can explore a series of rooms which showcase all kinds of weird exhibits – from a hallway of butts and breasts to a Marilyn Monroe doll whose skirt blows up to reveal she’s not wearing any underwear, to a wall of peepholes which, when peered through, reveal a series of short (10 second) clips of girls bending over.. the place is.. weird.. to say the least. But also perhaps the natural result of a culture which generally frowns upon public affection (one of the norms here that Sam and I have had some trouble accustoming ourselves to is the fact that to show any affection above hand holding in public here is considered inappropriate.. the amount of times we’ve gone to put an arm around each other and had to retract it is painful). You can even interact with a few of the displays here, to an extent, without anything getting too weird.. For example there’s a couple of chairs you can sit in which reflect your image next to a hologram maid or man-servant in a mirror opposite you who preform all kinds of weird tasks, or you can ride a tandem bicycle which similarly reflects your image as naked beside you when you pedal.. And there’s plenty of buttons and handles to push and turn as well. Ultimately it’s a pretty involving kind of place. Maybe more explicit than I expected, but none the less a worthy stop. And as this unusual destination sits at the top of a hill (accessed by a short gondola ride) it offers a pretty nice view out over the quaint sea-side town of Atami if nothing else.
In fact we ended up spending the best part of a day searching through the town of Atami for an ATM so we could pay to get into the Adult Museum in the first place..
So by the time we departed again for Osaka night was already beginning to fall and by the time we arrived at our destination dinner time was long overdue.
We dropped off our bags and headed out immediately to find food along Dotonbori street – a well known riverside boardwalk full of food vendors. But we actually ended up stumbling upon an awesome little yakisoba (fried soba noodles) shop before we even made it to the river side, so we stopped here for a delicious meal and a drink instead.
And before we called it a night we stumbled further into the local scene by entering a tiny underground bar.. Within which a Japanese man sung and played his guitar to the couple of small groups of locals who could fit inside. And the small crowd in return clapped and sung along to his crazy tunes with tipsy enthusiasm.
It was adorable and we were welcomed warmly to take part. And only once the man had finished his set did we make our exit (just as one of his peers was preparing to get up and perform next) satisfied with the cultural exchange we had just taken part in.
So our first real, full day in Osaka began the next morning as we headed out to see Osaka Castle. Which was a pretty beautiful castle. Painted in simple colours as sitting atop a modest bare brick defence wall. This place was another example of the understated beauty of Japanese design. And, as expected, the surrounding gardens were vast and gorgeous and glowing with the first of autumn’s reds, yellows and purples. We climbed a slow slope to the castle gates, looking out over 2 impressive moats and a small forest of greenery all the while, and entered the main body of the building – which is now a fully modernised museum. We read of the destruction that the castle has been through and the almost complete reconstruction that has been required on two occasions – the first, the result of a fire set by attackers and the more recent following the bombardments of WW2. And we climbed up 8 stories worth of stairs to look out from the castle’s top floor balcony. The view was nothing particularly spectacular. Just a perch for an emperor to look our over his village from. But the traditional Japanese awnings and golden gargoyles that strutted out from beneath the decking added a timeless, ancient air.
Then, after descending and stopping briefly to sample a selection of unusual snacks from the Japanese food trucks parked in the castles courtyard we ventured on to The Shinsaibashi Museum of Housing and Living – which was freakin’ awesome!
This place was set up as a full scale model of a small Edo (olden Japanese) village – complete with cosmetics store, pharmacy, bookstore, toy store, town hall, local well and housing (With examples of that of both the rich and the poor classes). You could stroll through the town and in and out of the various stores and houses for as long as you liked. And we even had English audio guides to provide a little extra information (I am definitely an advocate of the brilliance of electronic audio guides). And when we’d seen all that there was and explored all of the nooks and crannies of this little faux-town we headed through to a display room full of miniature model towns which depicted further scenes of the progress of Japanese housing through the ages.
I don’t know if it’s just me.. and I don’t know why.. Maybe it’s a yearning left over from my childhood.. but.. I love miniature models like this! I love looking into homes through cleverly unstitched walls, I love examining the little characters and trying to determine what they might be doing for the day and where they’re off to, I love peering down the streets and imagining that I might be strolling there and peering in through shop windows, I love the whole atmosphere that the tiny towns emit and I love all of the tiny little details too – the tufts of grass so cleverly dispersed, the thatching of roofs, the placement of parks, the tiny tools of the tiny little worker men and the minuscule kitchen pots and pans, a stray dog sniffing here, a child flying a kite over there… all of it! I love it! So naturally, as we exited the museum through the gift store I was overwhelmed with excitement to discover that I too could buy a wee model set and build my own tiny village home. I was sold! – And so I purchased a souvenir to take with me that will take some considerable time and patience to complete, but that I cannot wait to see in its final form.
And then, to end our day we sought out the Umeda Sky Building – a beautiful piece of architecture which presides over Osaka city and has an amazing open air observation deck at its very top. Here, with beer in hand, we marvelled at the perfect red roundness of the Japanese sun – exactly like that of the Japanese flag- as it set steadily into the ocean.
Our second day in Osaka was consumed by one activity alone. One big, bad-ass activity. Universal Studios. And man was it impressive in its complete immersiveness and in the number of people that it draws in! – This place was hectic!
I mean, I’ve been to Universal Studios in L.A. I’ve been to Disney Land and Knotts Berry Farm, L.A and the 4 big theme parks of the Gold Coast, Australia too (Wet’n’Wild, Dream World, Sea World and Movie World). And I have loved all of these in the sense of cartoonish magic and fun that they ooze with. But I don’t think I have seen any of these nearly as busy as Universal Studios, Japan (albeit I have never been foolish enough to enter any theme park in the midst of peak season).
And the biggest draw card of this place right now is Hogwarts. Which sits atop a rocky hill overlooking the Harry Potter World segment of the park. So, naturally, in joining the fanatic tides, we spent the first 2 hours of our day waiting in line to see what was within Hogwarts.. and it turned out this was 2 hours Damn well spent! – Hogwarts housed a 4K3D experience which had us strapped in and flying around the grounds of the castle through all kinds of dramatic adventure scenes. We narrowly escaped the attack of a dragon, we flew through the quidditch stadium after the golden snitch, we dodged dementors and dropped off castle tops and were generally flung throughout a world of magic only to land safely back in the corridors of Hogwarts to the cheer of Dumbledore and his students. It was brilliant. The effects were amazing. The length was decent. And when it was time to exit I did so with trembling legs.
And the rest of the day did not disappoint either. We explored jurassic world, took a boat ride with Jaws, were saved by Spider Man, witnessed a 4D Terminator attack, watched a rocky horror-like monster show and were flung through the stars in a space ride. And despite the huge crowds that surged through the park all day, we cleverly skipped queues by joining “single” lines, which allowed us to fill in the stray single seats left in every second carriage of every ride by visitors who turned them down in order to ride with friends. And this was really, really a brilliant discovery. Often we found we were even skipping ahead of groups who had bought VIP passes at an additional cost. We would run through the bannisters that marked out the empty ‘single’ lines, past mainstream lines that stretched and curled for hours. We saved a whole days worth of hours in this way! – A trick I will be looking to try out in every theme park I attend from now on.
And after 11 hours at Universal Studios we called it a day.
We left, starving, to find food and sleep deeply. Exhausted by a day of adrenaline filled play.
In sticking to a tight schedule day three was our last full day in Osaka. And in fact we used this day to travel a little farther afield than the city of Osaka itself. Today we journeyed out to Naoshima Island. An island known for its art.
Unfortunately on this morning we were running a little late and realised only once we had reached the ferry port that would deliver us to the island that most of the art houses would close soon after our arrival.. So we took advantage of our situation to take it slow. We meandered about a few free outdoor exhibits that were designed to blend in with the beautiful natural landscapes that surrounded them and whose meanings and impacts were therefore changed with the seasons.
And we selected just one exhibition building to explore – The Benesse Art Museum. Which was in itself a pretty interesting place to see – set like a great concrete tomb in an island hillside. The museum housed a very selected number of exhibitions including paintings and sculptures and multimedia pieces of modern persuasion that dealt with topics from consumerism to the Japanese constitution that was set after the dropping of the atomic bombs.
There were also smooth stones to lie on that faced you to the sky and a gorgeous lookout where your peripheral vision was blocked by massive concrete walls to present the image ahead of you – out over the sea – as a timeless and static picture. It was a pretty interesting place and some of the installations were quite beautiful. But as with all modern art I am often left wondering how much meaning the original artists actually intended for some of their pieces.. There seems to be at least one pile of dirt or stack of drift wood in every modern art centre that I enter and I refuse to acknowledge this as creative brilliance.
We also spent a fair amount of time just laying in the sun and enjoying a quiet hillside, watching hawks swoop and stalk above us on this cloudless day and sitting on the stoney beach selecting our favourite stones from the shore. It other words it was a day that ended up well spent, despite our lack of schedule. It was a peaceful day on an island that was beautiful in its own right, regardless of human artistic addition.
And to finish off a lazy day we enjoyed cheese, dinner and wine on the banks of Dotonbori river. And tasted the most delicious Angel Food Cake ever!
And then, just like that… it was time to pack our bags again.. the next morning we would head into the autumn beauty of Mount Koya.