Saturday, November 8, 2014

3 Weeks in Japan: Part 2 - Osaka and Nara

By Mike Daikubara in Osaka and Nara, Japan

Osaka is roughly 500km west of Tokyo and it's a pleasant 2-1/2 hours Bullet train ride. This time I was still so jet lagged that I slept through the entire train from Tokyo without having an opportunity to eat my 'Bento box' lunch on the train! bummer.

It's been a long time since I visited my wife's parents home in Osaka and I was really looking forward to it. Every time we visit, they take us out to their favorite 'Kushikastu' restaurant near their home. Kushikatstu is a deep fried skewer - basically anything on a skewer with breading that is deep fried. Osaka is well known for lots of inexpensive but really good food and they definitely brought these Kushikastu to an art form!

We sat at the counter at this restaurant and ordered the seasonal 'Omakase' - basically the chef's special of about 16 skewers. 1 at a time the chef prepared and placed the kushikatu on a plate divided up into 4 sections and it was up to you to dip them into the 4 corresponding sauces for the optimal taste. A dream like experience and taste, I was able to eat and sketch at the same time in the beginning then gave up since I had to focus on eating!

Ingredients from the Top:
- Mastutake Mushroom with Sudachi
- Beef
- Shrimp paste
- Takenoko Bamboo shoot
-  Large Shrimp
- Clam
+ 10 more unsketched skewers..

Next day I headed out to a place I wanted to go sketch for a very long time - Tsutenkaku.
Almost all natives know of or have heard of the famous land-mark tower in Osaka.
This place is quite surreal with tons of people eating kushikatsu and drinking 8AM in the morning!
This scene below is probably the most famous view of the Tsutenkaku tower in the background looking through the busy restaurant district. Up front is also the famous blow fish sign and a sculpture of Biliken - A god of happiness that everyone in Osaka seems to love and in this district alone I saw a good dozen or so of this sculpture.

Another view or Tsutenkaku from right underneath.
The store in the back is a very famous Kushikastu restaurant with a sculpture of the owner holding 2 skewers in hand which is quite comical! It was morning yet there was a long line to get into the restaurant.

I watched the construction site in fascination as the concrete trucks came one at a time to dump fresh concrete which was then piped all the way up to the 5th floor. I watched about 5-6 trucks come and go and everything was so well orchestrated and went so smooth.
oh, I ended up being able to see Tsutenkaku tower in the right hand background too.

At home I watched my mother in-law play online Mahjong game.
She occasionally teaches Mahjong to friends and is really good!
In this sketch she's a little upset that she lost.
Next morning my wife and I took a trip out to Nara - a 45 minute train ride.
Nara for most people are known for 'Daibustu' (Great Buddha sculpture) and the deer's that roam around the park.

We went straight to the Great Buddha at Todai-Ji and was it massive! - considered to be the world's largest bronze statue of the Buddha. This was a special day and I can't remember what the occasion was but this place was packed with tourists from all over the country and from the world.

Koumoku-Ten and Tamon-Ten sculptures by the sides of Buddha. Quite large too but looked small in comparison to Buddha.

Everywhere you looked, there was wild deer roaming around the Nara city. They were all wanting the special 'Shika Senbei' snacks that were especially made for deers that were sold throughout the city.
Most of them were quite tame, but there were signs reminding people that these were actually wild animals. I loved the icons showing what they can do!

Most of them had their horns cut off. I found out that 3 days earlier, there was an yearly horn cutting ceremony that Nara has been doing ever since the 1600's! I heard that they do this to prevent accidents right before the deers go into mating season. I did see 1 deer with a massive horn though. He just quietly sat there as tons of tourists took photos of him.

At Todai-ji there was a new museum that had opened up and I was really excited to check it out.
I purchased tickets, and just as I was about to enter the exhibition was this sign:

From the top:
- Turn off your cell phones
- No Photography/ Video
- No Pen light/ Laser pointing devices
- No Sketching (!!!)

Wow!, I've never seen a sign this explicit stating that sketching was not allowed!
You were allowed to take notes (writing), but sketching was not allowing!
All displays were behind a glass panel so it couldn't be about ink/paint or anything...
I was quite upset and ended up seeing the entire exhibition in just a few minutes.

Additional Thoughts:
As I spent couple of weeks in Japan, there were couple of things I noticed about sketching. 
- Sketching as a hobby seems to be gaining popular especially with the retired people and the elderly which is a good thing.
- I saw a number of sketching groups (usually a dozen or so people) sitting and clustered in 1 location spreading out equipment.
- Large groups of people clustered and sitting in 1 location can stop the flow of the traffic of people especially in a busy tourist location in the small spaces in Japan.
- I can now see why this museum would have a 'No Sketching' sign to prevent disruption in the flow of people but I think it should have been more like "No sitting" to prevent this.
- I personally believe sketching while standing with all equipment in the pocket/bag does not disturb anyone and the majority of the time this is how I sketch in busy areas too.

It was quickly starting to get dark and I had time for maybe 1 or 2 more before it got completely dark.
Kasuga Taisha is another very famous shrine in Nara build in 768 AD.
Here's the entrance gate.

Climbing up to the top of stairs, they sold Fortunes rolled up and held in the mouth of a small wooden and Porcelain deers. My wife bought the wooden one and I purchased the porcelain one. We both got 'Chukichi' - which isn't excellent but it's not a bad fortune either. 

Back in Osaka, I went to go sketch the 'Glico' sign with a person raising 2 hands and 1 feet.
This is another famous landmark that every Japanese native knows about - except at this moment they're in the middle of constructing a new sign and therefore have put up this temporary poster backdrop with a photo of Ayase Haruka taking the same pose. She's a very popular actress.
As I sketched, lots of events were going around me:
- tons of tourists were taking photos with the same pose with the sign in the background.
- a homeless person continued to pretend to be talking with someone on a cellphone for about 30 minutes.
- a number of high school boys were taking videos of them performing the 'Gangnam style' dance with the sign in the background.
- A boat tour (the yellow boat on the left) came every 15 minutes or so and would push a remote control button which would make the giant red octopus (in the middle of the sketch) move and sing a song that went "Takoyaki~ Takoyaki~ ". This song stuck to my head.

A block from the Glico Sign.
I wanted to capture the bustling streets of Dotonbori.
There was this giant octopus and once again every few minutes would start singing a song.
Osaka is quite well known for 'Takoyaki' and this store was part restaurant and part museum showcasing the history of Takoyaki.

Kuidaore Taro electric sculpture - another landmark of Osaka.
He kept on pounding on his drums (well not really since the sound was digital and not from hitting the actual drums)

We had a nice afternoon featuring authentic Japanese snack combo which was a really nice way to relax.

to be continued.....

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