Thursday, 6 December 2012

Oosaka-jou

Professional shots are prettier, but mine are more personal and won't get me sued.

Life abroad teaches some people as much about themselves as it does about their host country. They find new interests, discover an inner strength and independence they never knew they had, and finally realise what it is that they really want to do with their life.

I, meanwhile, have been learning what an exclusionary asshole I can be. The other dorm-dwellers tend to travel in packs; I am an ordinarily solitary adventurer and in no mood to entertain tag-alongs. In the last three months I have lied, misdirected and outright hidden information, all to keep the white scourge out of public events. I'm pretty good at it, but it's pathetically easy to foil, even by accident. That's how three of the most annoying girls in the house ended up coming on the English Club's trip to Oosaka-jou.

How would I feel if the roles were reversed? In fact, they would be, if I were in Korea right now, not to mention that English Club actually wanted the girls there. I felt unworthy and penitent. Then they actually arrived, and I immediately stopped. They yelled on the train, drew unnecessary attention to themselves, required an inordinate amount of explanation to accomplish simple tasks, annoyed me, and ran around saying individual words of Japanese they happen to know and thinking that doing so was fucking hilarious (this is one of my least favourite Japanese behaviours, tied with “thinking you're speaking fluent Japanese with an edge of self-satisfaction in your voice, while making no goddamned sense whatsoever.”) I spent most of the day avoiding them.

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Oosaka-jou is a strange mixture of memories for me, starting with my first visit to Japan way back in 2001. Being a little kid at the time, I got put up with some Japanese families during the boring parts, and one of them took me there from Uji by bullet train. My first host family, my first shinkansen ride, and my first real exposure to Japan. Years later, during my high school exchange, I was with a group riding back from an Oosaka excursion, seated with an intriguing, dark, 19-year-old Jgirl who pointed it out as we went past. Night was just setting in and it was all lit up and beautiful. Not long after she became my first girlfriend.

And in any case, it was also the first Important Japanese Thing that I ever went to see, so when you put all of this together I feel like it is, in some small way, mine.

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The grounds themselves are open, relaxing and lend themselves well to exploration, and we saw joggers, old people taking a stroll, a Chinese tour group and even a few young couples.


To what era of history do you suppose this pipe dates back?
I leaped atop a partition and literally almost pitched myself over the edge. This is what would have awaited me.
Like all historical sites of a certain age, Oosaka-jou has been razed and rebuilt a number of times, so that I always end up a little confused as to how much of what I'm looking at is legit and how much is just show. Maybe it doesn't matter in the end; maybe Theseus's ship is still the ship that won the war even if you set it on fire and rebuild it from scratch. I certainly know that when we crossed the bridge and walked through the main gate, I saw horses shuffling around and waved to the sentries welcoming me back from a successful sortie.
I'd like to attend this university. Oh, wait, this is Oosaka-jou.
I guess they had cannon stationed here at some point. They've obviously moved it, though. I mean where the hell's the firing lane supposed to be? The crew wouldn't even be able to see over the lip of their own wall.
I had quite a lot of fun examining the design of the castle and its various layers, especially the ramp leading up to the main doorway, which would require an attacking force to wind its way around and up while being assailed from above at all angles. Once inside, it's...pretty clear that the place has been refurbished since the Sengoku period. The gift shop, industrial lighting, marble foyer, and elevator kind of give it away. Per official recommendations, we started at the top and worked our way down. The eighth floor was mostly a viewing platform, and my but I do love city views. Takenoko and I could have stayed up there for hours.




Love this juxtaposition. It's the only block of greenspace in a sea of concrete and glass.
The seventh floor showed scenes from the story of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Oosaka-jou. If I hadn't been with people I probably would have sat myself down and learned all I could. Toyotomi, along with Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, was one of the Big Three in Japanese history. Each successively contributed to unifying the country during its outrageously destructive civil war period, after which followed the Edo Jidai, which comprised 300 years of peace and culture. Toyotomi was the guy who finally realised Nobunaga's ambition, afterwards constructing the castle to serve as the seat of his power and military strength. He was eventually overthrown by Tokugawa, who destroyed the castle and then rebuilt it, which seems terribly inefficient. Ultimately when the Tokugawa bakufu was itself overthrown in 1868, the monarchy restored and the Meiji Jidai slashed open, the fortress was once again obliterated, before the Mayor had it restored in 1928, only to see it used as an Arsenal and blown to bits in World War II. The current iteration was completed in 1997, but you'll probably never remember all these dates, the important thing is damn but she's been rebuilt a lot. Used to have another tower, though.
Surprised this could even be captured, but I guess light is light.
Two floors down (suspiciously, there is no sixth floor) we have little plastic men engaged in a fight to the death. We also acquired some commemorative stamps. Yuutarou then pulled out a small book of them, which he had collected from points of interest all over Japan.



Beneath that is two storeys of ancient artefacts, mostly weapons. No photographs allowed, understandably, which is too bad because some of the stuff is really cool. The full suits of armour were especially impressive, in my opinion. I'd like to have one made so that I could wear it to special events, or around the house, or whatever. There is some consolation in that for 300 yen you can try on a kabuto and a jacket and have your picture taken, which the pamphlet claims is “extremely popular.” Nobody in our group tried it, but we did watch a few other people embarrass themselves.

Good times having been had, our fearless leader, an Oosakajin, figured it only made sense to hit up Nanba for some takoyaki. Though my plan is to live in Oosaka at the earliest opportunity, I have unfortunately long waged a battle with takoyaki, its local specialty. I'm fine with the “weirdness,” I don't even mind the taste, but the fact is it takes about a hundred chews per swallow. It'd be easier to eat a bicycle tire. Also, we got to see the Glico man. If Oosaka-jou is the official Treasure of Oosaka, the Glico man is probably its unofficial one. So I was glad to cross that one off my list.
Nanba.
At night he lights up.

The girls then shopped for 90-odd hours. While Takenoko, Yuutarou and I waited for them and their handlers, Yuutarou pointed out his favourite clothing store, a decent bar, and the best street to find a prostitute. Sadly, they managed not to get lost on their way back. They'd been ragging at my patience all day and at this point even completely innocent comments like “this is way better than Sanjou!” are annoying the tits out of me because no shit, welcome to a regular-sized city, I mean, Jesus, grab a brain.

I will now end on the most trivial note possible, just so I can get this here out of the way. Have you ever seen this? You probably have. You go to a restaurant and there's a stove in the middle of your table. They bring you the stuff and you cook it to your liking, or sometimes they make parts of it for you, as you watch. It's pretty common at yakisoba and okonomiyaki places, and if you put octopus legs on them they writhe around as though still alive. Most people don't even notice, I find it disturbing. The uneaten bits get scraped into a cavity underneath, and I pity the person whose job it is to clean it.







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