Monday, October 14, 2019

Special Weekly Update: Osaka & Tokyo

Weekly Update 2019-38: Mexico-born producer Macross 82-99 fuels the soundtrack for the first of my two weeks in Japan as I examine the little details and pass the time on trains listening to the Lore podcast. Get ready for a ton of Japan trip photos.

At Teamlab Borderless. My dream: the room was completely empty!

Music: Macross 82-99
To follow a theme, I felt I needed a soundtrack for exploring Japan. Upon opening Spotify I realized I already had one (circa April 2018) with lots of bubblegum city pop and future disco to propel me through the cities of Japan on every kind of transportation imaginable. May I present one of my original favourite future disco artists: Macross 82-99. The Mexico City-born producer has been pumping out Japanese club jams with samples from Sailor Moon and other anime classics. He has been called one of the first Future Funk artists, characterized by his love of 80s "city pop" vibes.

Basically, it's all my favourite parts of disco, synth, anime and high-energy happiness in the form of music. This is an instant mood spike as soon as you hit play.

I have arrived in Japan! After 20 hours of air travel, I was so happy to stand on real ground again. I arrived in Osaka around 6:30pm as the sun was setting. The neon lights of Dotonbori and downtown lit up the nighttime streets with a warm, friendly glow as we ate our way through Takoyaki, Okonomiyaki and Kushikatsu (my new favourite).

Sakura mochi in Kuromon Market

Kushikatsu! good.

We spent two nights in Osaka (mostly just savouring the delicious food). Our time in Osaka was shorter than I anticipated - after a day wandering through markets and shopping, we had to leave early the next morning to make our way to Mt. Fuji. I'm glad I have one more half-day in Osaka before I leave to go home at the end of my trip.

We had a one-night stay at an onsen at the base of Mt. Fuji, which was lovely. It was a really nice old-school way to relax and take a nice, hot bath with a view of the mountain (if it wasn't so cloudy).

Huge dinner! This was slightly overwhelming.

Time for a hot bath to soothe my full tummy.

You can see the top of Mt. Fuji...if it isn't cloudy. Which it always is.

Breakfast was also huge.

One of the must-sees of all the tourist traps around the mountain is the Music Forest Museum. An enchanting European-style castle sits nestled by the side of lake Kawaguchiko, complete with a centuries-old collection of music boxes, auto-playing instruments, princess dresses, a rose garden, and so much more. I loved how everything was Halloween themed for this time of year.

The horse gets a spooky cape at this time of year.

And all the little cutesy European statues get witches' hats and pumpkin bags :)

I found the composer with the witch's hat and won three postcards!

From there, we traveled further east to Tokyo for our next major stop. We're staying on the cutest little street in Toshima City, only a few minutes walk from Otsuka Station. The location seemed a little far out of the city centre, but I now know the magic of a well-run and funded rail system in a city. If Toronto ever dreams of being able to support the population it expects in the next ten years, we're going to need more subway lines for sure.

Into Shinjuku for a night tour!

Peach flavour Taiyaki :)

Obligatory selfie with the 2019 Rubgy World Cup Mascots

The Ghibli Museum was an absolute dream, each room was a wonder to walk through and see original cells and artwork from many of the films I hold dear. I do wish that (1) they allowed photography and (2) there was a bit more English content. I mean, don't get me wrong, I recognize that I'm in a foreign country and don't expect anyone to bend over backwards for me, but Studio Ghibli puts out subtitles and dubs for most, if not all of their worldwide-hit movies. I didn't think it would be asking too much to expect a little English direction (especially subtitles on the 100% Japanese showing of their exclusive short film) but it was still cool.

A miniature model of Miyazaki's studio (I snuck this photo - don't tell anyone)

Beautiful stained-glass windows 
(more beautiful from the inside but I didn't want to break any more rules)

The little things...

Dust Sprites from Spirited Away

A doorstop(?) from Porco Rosso

After the museum, we found a really cute little neighbourhood and got some excellent shaved ice desserts (kakigori) thanks to Kantaro: the Sweet Tooth Salaryman. This was when I learned that it is currently grape season in Japan. This boded quite well with me as I freakin' love grape-flavoured things, and it all tasted waaaaay too good.

Apparently there are special types of grapes (just like every other food in Japan) that cost upwards of $130CAD a pound.

Kakigoriiiiii. So, so good. Best $15CAD I ever spent.

This was the day of the Holiday for the Aged

A sticker shop I am now obsessed with

This area had Taiko drumming!!!

Teamlab Borderless was amazing, as I expected. It totally met my expectations, and I was happy to have gone in as early in the day as I did. They actually let people in way ahead of their posted opening time (10:00am), which I realized was definitely on purpose. There were already huge standby lines around the block, even in the absolute pissing rain. I arrived at 9:30am, and was let right in. Once inside, there weren't any lines for any individual rooms yet and I was able to get some great photos alone (especially in the Crystal room).

I found a secret iPad that lets you control the light diodes in the room. 
Behold my rainbow effect!

As I was leaving, I wanted to go back and visit the Floating Nest once more, but there was now a 30-minute wait where there had previously been none! Good thing I got there so early.

Big shoutout to Sasha and Wahaj for booking it across a financial district with me to find the Ghibli Clock on the second floor facade of a nondescript building. More random things in Tokyo:

The Ghibli Clock (separate from the Museum mentioned above - in a financial district).

Nakagin Capsule Tower

Alice on Wednesday - Alice in Wonderland themed Cafe!

My drink - painting the roses red

I can't believe how fast this trip is going by, we are leaving Tokyo tomorrow for Kyoto. I had originally planned to check out Yoro Park, a really cool experience park outside of Gifu - but because of the Holiday for the Aged (totally a real thing!) it's unexpectedly closed.

So instead, we'll spend a bit more time in Tokyo before grabbing the Shinkansen to Kyoto. I can't believe it's only four hours by train but eight hours by car?! What a backwards, magical place Japan is.

Kyoto is the spiritual capital of Japan, so I'm hoping to visit some shrines and just make a very serene time of it. I'm also super excited to stay at a bike hostel - complete with included bike rentals! Goodbye, amazing public transit system and hello, amazing biking infrastructure!

After that, one more day in Osaka to do some last minute shopping and a stay in a Capsule Hotel to round things out.

Random Thought: Little Details
In a sort of follow-up from my last random thought, I had been musing over what I had been told about Japanese culture and spending the last week deciding how close the reality actually was to my preconceived notions.

People in Japan certainly are polite and friendly, though the language barrier does prevent me from knowing how sincere it all really is. I learned on a walking tour that the word for "no" is rarely used in daily speaking of Japanese, with people preferring to use passive phrases like "let me get back to you" or "that would be difficult to do" instead of refusing something flat out.

That said, there are cultural expectations that I simply adore and wish for Canada to take a page out of Japan's book. Public transit is no joke, subway lines connecting within cities and rail lines connecting between cities all over the country. What a truly amazing thing to be able to travel around one's own home country, taking in all the sights to see, using a precise, cheap and reliable train system to go everywhere? Now, I realize that Canada is much bigger than Japan but I can dare to dream that I could take public transit all the way to a territory or two one day...and even then have it be faster than going by car! Such was the case for the Shinkansen between Osaka and Tokyo - 4 hours by public transit and 8 hours by car.

There is something underrated about punctuality in Canada, that I think Japan has figured out. While it is existentially "uncool" to be a slave to the clock and some tasks simply require an open-ended timeline, I have always been a fan of committing to predetermined schedules. Whether it comes to public transit, how long you'll wait in line for an attraction, or even how long until your sushi will come streaming down the conveyor belt and onto your plate, Japan takes its time seriously. In this way I think I should have been born there.

Even beyond that, many organizations work hard in Japan to remove the difficult little details of life. AirBnB rooms always come with extra amenities that you may not find here, such as laundry soap and microwaves, there are vending machines on every corner (sometimes filled with items that we would find unconventional in Canada), and even Google Maps tells you which train car to board the subway so that you can exit faster from your arrival station. Toronto does have this feature, but it's contained within a third-party app called Efficient TTC that the real TTC has no plans to implement within its own bloated affiliated list of transit apps.

The only thing that Canada may be ahead on here is our 2012 removal of pennies from our hard currency. I was left with so many 1-yen coins on some days that I had to work quite hard to spend them - and vending machines often don't accept them either! Come on Japan, get with the times and throw your 1-yen coins in the ocean (or melt them all into a cool modern building or something).

Inspiration: Lore Podcast
It is not often that I listen to podcasts, and even rarer that I blog about them, but I have found one that I actually enjoy (bringing my total up to 3). Aaron Mahnke and his team of researchers bring us a show that's very creepy and just perfect for the slide into fall (which of course brings Halloween). Throughout his ~60 minute biweekly episodes, Mahnke narrates true-life scary stories. Lore exposes the darker side of history, exploring the creatures, people, and places of our wildest nightmares.

The episodes span throughout time from as far back as human history can go, up to the present day. Of course you may already know that I can't stand conversational podcasts, opting for the more fact-based or single-person storytelling experience (both of which are featured in this podcast). The eerie music from Chad Lawson completes the mood, making for a sort of digitized version of the campfire story experience.

I appreciate the level of detail that Mahnke and his team reveal, from the outfits and scenery of the style of the setting of the stories, to their speculations about the way the characters may have been feeling or their reasons for reacting the way they did. Plus, it's just some damn-good storytelling.

I noted that I may have finally found a good opportunity in my life to make time for podcasts - on long journeys. Plane and train rides made for good moments to look out at the scenery and sink into a good scary story. As I happened to listen to an episode about Japanese Feudalism on the train between Tokyo and Kyoto, it dawned on me again that the stories are true. This is what makes them so magnetic - sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.

Check out Lore on whatever Podcast player you enjoy...and whatever you do...stay away from its Amazon Prime televised offspring. It's nowhere near as good as the podcast format.

No comments:

Post a Comment