Been fighting off a chest cold for a couple of days, so wasn’t so sure how I’d feel today. Spoke with Marco in the morning and he’d had a night of insomnia and decided to sleep in for a bit. I was tempted to do the same, but forced myself out into the world and had a delightful day on my own.
Headed to Osaka Castle on the subway, foolishly neglecting to bring my guide book. But between a vague memory of its location and a subway map, I made it there no problem. And I must say, it was lovely. The trees are awash in their fall colors and provided a rather stunning setting for the eight-story castle tower. There were also bunches of chrysanthemums all about, this being chrysanthemum-viewing season and all.
As I neared the tower, I saw a couple of groups of school children running about in their uniforms. One group came rushing over the moment they laid eyes on me, all shouting, “Hello!” while one of them explained that they are sixth-grade students and would like to interview me to practice their English. They asked my name, where I was from and quizzed me on my familiarity with photographs of Japanese celebrities. They wrapped things up with a hand-written thank-you note and some origami they’d made, then had me pose for a photo with them while their teacher snapped away.
This was repeated twice more (though the quizzes were different: one was on animated characters, the other on sports). Anyway, they were charming and brave – I got the impression that most of them would’ve rather been seeing the dentist than taking to some weird gaijin, but they all toughed it out admirably.
The tower itself was rather fascinating. A lovely view from the top and then artifacts from the times of Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who united Japan under his single rule. One of my favorites was a large four panel screen that displayed the various banners of the scores of generals who fought under Hideyoshi. With the highly stylized symbolism and simple forms used in each banner, the screen would be right at home hanging on the walls of MoMA. It was really lovely…
Headed out wondering what to eat, as I was starving. Despite the unbelievable number of restaurants lining every street, finding somewhere to eat for a non-Japanese speaker can be challenging. But lo and behold, right outside the castle entrance was a ramen stand. Nothing fancy, I figured it’d be adequate. Wow – it was delicious… And went a long way to curing whatever it is that’s ailing me.
So I headed off, my bushy mustache redolent of ramen – which was actually a a rather pleasant thing… Though I was a bit greasy and concerned I might’ve had noodles still present in my thatch- a quick trip to the john proved otherwise. Though I still haven’t really figured out what the deal is here with not providing napkins. I bought a trinket at the castle which was wrapped, bagged in paper than put into a plastic sack. But restaurants seldom provide napkins – and if they do, they are very much akin to a single-ply square of toilet paper… I keep forgetting to purchase some hankies to keep on hand for emergencies – something especially likely with my current facial hair configuration.
In fact, speaking of napkins, when I stopped for a green tea soft ice cream after lunch (by the way: soft ice cream and handlebar mustaches are an extremely ill-advised combination, particularly in public), I asked the lady who assisted me for a napkin. She obliged with the usual wisp of paper – but also with a look that seemed to imply I’d asked for a cone filled with dog shit.
Anyway, on to the Osaka History Museum. As with many museums here, one is encouraged to start on the top floor and work one’s way down. So, I rode up to the 10th floor and started poking around. The English signage was rather minimal, but the archeological pieces were fascinating. I rounded the corner and was inside a large darkened room, surrounded by mannequins wearing traditional dress of various courtiers from the time of the Early Naniwa Palace, along with video screens showing a computer-animated reproduction of a ceremony at the palace. I was like, “OK, this is kinda cool” – and then I gasped. The video ended and what I’d thought was a wall was revealed to be a huge series of panoramic windows, their shutters rising magically and flooding the gallery with light. I was now overlooking the exact spot where the Naniwa Palace had stood, which remains not only a huge open space, but the locations of the palace’s support beams are still clearly visible. It was a truly breath-taking exhibit…
Poked about the remaining floors which included many intricate scale models of the palace and other buildings; plus a section on 20th century Osaka that had some great old black-and-white home movies from before WWII. Subway back to the hotel, beers and rice balls in hand. And now for a nap before dinner…