Sunday, May 6, 2018

Golden Week

Golden Week — the string of back-to-back national holidays — is almost over. We spent it in Osaka, mostly doing nothing in particular. I'm returning to Okinawa today, while Ritsuko stays in Osaka for another week.

I've taken a lot of pictures as usual, but you're mostly not going to see them in this post. It takes weeks for me to get around to prepare digital images, and this time around it'll be even longer. I brought my Pentax 67 and challenged myself to use only the 45/4 lens (about equivalent to 24 mm on a 35mm camera). It was a lot of fun and I hardly used the digital camera at all. But it will be some time before I will get around to develop and scan the film.

Instead I will post a mix of images from this and earlier visits to Osaka. I've been really bad about doing this lately, and I have a lot of pictures from February, from the New Year and even from last summer. If a picture seems surprisingly wintery you now know why.

That is the largest USB port I've ever seen.

Golden Week is the main travel holiday in Japan, alongside with New Year. Fortunately, people mostly travel to Okinawa for holidays, rather than away from it, so it's fairly easy to get an airplane seat to Osaka at the start, and back to Okinawa at the end. Osaka itself is crammed to the rafters with travellers, however. The multi-year boom in South-Asian tourists shows not sign of stopping, and Golden Week adds trainloads of domestic tourists. Everywhere is busy.

Unfortunately, the tourist influx is turning some areas into tourist traps. Shinsaibashi shopping street used to be a pretty good mix of small shops, restaurants and a couple of large department stores. But the southern part of Shinsaibashi is turning into a desert of back-to-back souvenir shops and drug stores. Chinese tourists especially love buying medicines and make-up here, because it's tax-free and possibly because the merchandise is guaranteed to not be fake. But that change, and the hordes of suitcase-wielding tourists clogging the streets, have chased away most local shoppers.

The Kuromon market is even worse. It used to be a food market catering to restaurants early in the morning and locals in the afternoon. But local people I know (my wife included) have all given up on shopping there, and many of the wholesalers have moved out altogether (they've mostly moved to Nishi-ku). With a few exceptions, what's left is hordes of tourists and stalls mostly selling snacks and fast food.

One trend among Chinese tourists: Come her with an old, half-broken suitcase with your stuff. Buy a brand new set of luggage for all your tax-free shopping, then throw away your old bag somewhere. Can leave it on the street, throw into somebody else's garbage or whatever - never mind that it's illegal and may cost someone money to dispose of your stuff. Make sure to throw away any cardboard boxes you don't need as well. It will become somebody else's problem.

People I know here are for the most part tolerant and open-minded. But the behaviour of the Chinese travellers could tax the patience of a saint. They are not winning hearts or making friends to say the least.

People are no doubt making good money selling aspirin, moisturiser and grilled-things-on-a-stick to travellers. But when the original stores and the locals disappear, so do the very things that made these places — Kuromon market especially — attractive to tourists in the first place. And when the tourists inevitably tire of the commerce and abandon these areas, we'll be left with a desolate shutter street. I'm really afraid that Shinsaibashi and Kuromon will turn into grisly object lessons on the folly of chasing short-term profits rather than planning for the long-term.

Umeda, Osaka.

I spent most of my time just walking. I'd wander from Shinsaibashi up small side streets up to east Umeda where I visit the Junkudo bookstore, amble through central Umeda and have lunch, then walk down south again by early evening. It feels great, but I realized I'm seriously out of shape. I could easily walk all day with a heavy camera bag before moving to Okinawa; but after a year with a car I now have to sit down and catch my breath every hour. Not good, not good at all. I need to find some way to fit a bit of daily exercise into my life.

When you're in Osaka this is perfectly normal. She could be on her way to a masquerade or to the office. It's hard to be sure.

As you know, Ritsuko took her driving license this winter. She really enjoys driving — so much, in fact, that we rented a car for a day and drove to Kobe. Well, she drove; I didn't get to touch the steering wheel. Which is fine by me, as I rather sit in the passenger seat and play with my phone and look at the view.

Most Indian restaurants in Japan are north-Indian or Nepalese. Madras Kitchen in Kobe is a south-Indian restaurant, and it is very good. It's one of the Indian places we alternate between whenever we visit Kobe. Here a Dosa with a selection of curry toppings.

It's not hideously expensive (8000 yen in all for a day) but it's also not very fast. Oh, driving to Kobe is faster than taking the train, but with searching for a parking spot for half an hour, then walking to your destination it's really faster to just take the local train. That wasn't the point for us of course. Ritsuko got her driving fix and we got to see parts of Hyogo we wouldn't normally visit.

Pedestrians and bicyclists in Osaka seem to view traffic regulations as quaint traditions you can follow or not as you will. But overall it's actually easier to drive in Osaka than in Okinawa. The streets are fairly wide and straight, and people are far better drivers. Okinawa drivers tend to ignore stop signs and red lights; cut in front and weave uselessly through traffic; drive _really_ slow or very fast; break and accelerate strongly and suddenly without warning (looking at you Y-plate cars) and just generally drive poorly. Osaka traffic is much better behaved.

Henrietta is a bar and ice cream parlour in Tsuruhashi. It's run by Benjamin, the guy on the left, and it's become one of our favourite places for a bar night out. Me on the right, and a lovely couple that used to run a bar in Shinsaibashi in the center. It's a really fun, relaxed water hole; I can recommend it.

Ice cream, by the way? Yes, absolutely. On weekends it's open in the afternoon as well, and they have a selection of very good ice creams sourced from a small maker in Kobe. Do try the Pistachio; it's absolutely delicious.

We spent a lot of time eating and drinking well of course. A couple of relatives invited us over for tetchiri, or fugu hot pot. I'd only had fugu sashimi once many years ago, so this was a first for me. You order a fugu from the fishmonger and they prepare it for you. It really uses all of the fish: the most tender flesh became sashimi, while the rest went into the hot pot with the bones. The skin is thinly sliced and vinegared and served as an appetizer. Even the fins are used: dried and roasted, then steeped in hot sake for flavour. Excellent.

Umeda Sky Building

We're going back to Osaka together again in August; I will at least try to process my current images before then.

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