Monday, March 19, 2012

Cherry Blossoms in Osaka, Japan

In Japan, cherry blossoms are more than just a mark of a new season. They are as deeply part of the national identity as Mt. Fuji, but to really understand the connection that the Japanese have to these blossoms requires seeing it in person in Japan. In my case, I visited in 2009 and found out for myself, completely on accident, how wonderful the Japanese sakura season is.

When I purchased my tickets to Osaka, I hadn't thought about timing the visit at all. I simply wanted to see Kyoto and the Kansai region and found a tremendously inexpensive fare that made it possible ($437 roundtrip). My friend and I arrived at night in Osaka and it wasn't until the next morning that we realized that the cherry trees were in bloom when came out between the skyscrapers and onto the grounds of Osaka Castle. We had obviously arrived just after the peak bloom, but there were plenty of trees left full of blossoms and when the wind blew the sight was like pink snow on a warm breeze. It's very easy to see how the Japanese fall in love with the sight generation after generation and have integrated it into their landscapes and identityover the centuries.

Osaka is a wonderful place to visit. It's a blue collar town with a great baseball team (The Hanshin Tigers: Win or lose Tigers Pride!) and a fantastic food culture. Osaka is actually the epicenter for food culture in Japan partially because of it's blue collar heritage: Merchants in Japan were at the bottom of the traditional caste system in the 1800s because money was considered to be corrupted or dirty. However, while successful merchants had plenty of money they were not allowed to flaunt their wealth directly or own form land. Instead, they showed status and wealthy by spending on art, food, and non-obvious luxuries like silk linings to otherwise mute clothing. As a result, Osaka's food scene flourished with the patronage of wealthy merchants. The canal district, Dōtonbori, is still a flourishing restaurant and entertainment district that offers something for everyone: There are street vendors serving up takoyaki, walk up booths with snow crabs, open charcoal grills for do it grilled meat, and a wide range of restaurants for any price range.

From Osaka, it's easy enough to get to Kyoto, Himeji, and the rest of Japan via bullet train. Next time, we'll take a look at the last blossoms at Himeji Castle, one of the last authentic ancient castles of Japan (most other castles like the one in Osaka are reconstruction). After the break, more photos from my trip to Osaka!

Dōtonbori is located in the heart of the city and is the place to go for all of your lesuire needs. This area is best visited at night when the signs are lit up and when the locals are out in force. You'll find all of the distractions of an entertainment district here, albeit with a Japanese twist. Restaurants come any way you like, from potentially deadly fugu specialists all the way down to hamburgers from McDonald's. While casinos aren't allowed with traditional games, there are plenty of amazingly loud pachinko parlors around to satisfy your gambling needs. The trick is that while they do not offer direct payouts, one of the prizes you can select can be sold at a stand nearby for cash (which makes it technically legal gambling in Japan). Karaoke,  kushiyaki, sushi, and the even the infamous Japanese "love hotels" are available here among many other options.

There's a lot more to Osaka than just the castle and the entertainment district, and as mentioned one of thefunnest things you can do while you're visiting is to go see a baseball game. The Hanshin Tigers have a rabid fan base that make the game fun no matter who they are playing. As you walk towards the stadium, you'll see people selling balloons. Buy one! You'll need it for their 7th inning "balloon attack", which involves releasing thousands of screeching balloons at the end of their theme song.

Their mascots, To-Lucky and Lucky are pretty entertaining game day and make for some very cute merchandise. If you're looking for an overload on Japanese media, you can learn how to dance along with them at the start of the game over on the official website here. Since I visited, they have also added a third mascot, Lucky's younger brother, into the mix.

Osaka is fantastic and I'm looking forward to visiting again, but next stop is Himeji Castle and the Kyoto for this series of posts and sakura season!

1 comment:

  1. Nice pictures!!! Especially cherry blossom related....