Tuesday, 21 September 2010

First Taste of Kyoto

After a busy first month in Osaka we are finally beginning to find the time to explore the wider region. We have been told that one of the must see places is Kyoto, as it provides some authentic Japanese experiences with it’s numerous temples and shrines. So on the Monday holiday (respect for the elderly day), we join the many citizens of Osaka who board the local train for the forty-minute trip. Upon arrival the differences from Osaka are not particularly evident (although a little more low-rise), but it is not too long before we are wandering through the tiny lanes and even passing quite a few citizens dressed in traditional kimono and hakama. We particularly enjoy looking at the art & craft galleries and purchase our first piece of Japanese artwork, which is a 120 year-old woodcut print. After a traditional Japanese lunch, we make our way to the Kiyomizu Temple that stands magnificently in the foothills close to the city as it has done since 798. It is crowded, but still very calm as people sip and wash with the sacred waters then respectfully touch the statue of Budda. Jules buys a temple book and begins the popular tradition of having it signed by the monks at every temple you visit…the calligraphy is a work of art in itself. Clearly Kyoto has much to offer and it won’t be too long until we return to sample its many other attractions.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Ode to the Vending Machine

As you walk around the streets of Osaka you are forever faced with temptation. The temptation takes the form of countless drink vending machines that seem to be dotted on every street corner and in the most obscure locations. They are usually filled with all manner of beverages, including a wide variety of iced teas and coffees, various brands of water, soft drinks and even beer in some cases. On hot days, these machines dispense delightfully icy cold drinks, which are always very refreshing. Next to the machines are usually small portable plastic bins (that are regularly emptied) so bottles can be neatly placed after consumption ready for recycling. The amazing thing about these machines is that they often stand in the most isolated locations in the hope of tempting the occasional passer by to part with around 150 yen (approx. AU$2.00) to relieve their thirst. They are always meticulously maintained and fully stocked, but more significantly, they appear to remain untampered. In most places in the world (including Australia) machines such as these would be an easy target for vandals or petty criminals looking for some small change or a few bottles of drink. They would be open to attack just because they can. Yet here they remain a small but significant testament to the nature of Japanese society. The honesty and respectfulness for a simple service such as this is so refreshing and reminiscent of an era that has long passed most countries. As the long hot summer continues here in Osaka, Jules and I will continue to enjoy the humble drink vending machine, wherever it may be!

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Osaka Food Safari

It is hard to believe that we have been here in Osaka for three weeks as we are only just beginning to catch our breath. The first few weeks have been filled with the nuts and bolts of creating a new life here. Plenty of paperwork to be organised, things to be bought, delivered and installed in our new apartment. To compound things, most days have been sweltering with temperatures averaging around 38 degrees, mixed with incredibly high humidity. Even by Japanese standards, it has been a hot summer and it’s not over yet! While I have now started school, Jules is beginning to explore the city itself. Every night she tells me all of her new discoveries and revelations. As a true epicurean, the search for food ingredients is high on her list of priorities and finding her favourites has been a challenge. As most bottled and canned products are in Japanese, many still remain a complete mystery, while the hunt for essential herbs and spices continues. There is plenty of trial and error, but as each day passes Jules seems to find something she seeks. Gradually the pantry grows, so once she masters our tiny free-standing oven (whose instructions we can’t read) we will be eating gourmet style once again! In the meanwhile we indulge in the best of Japanese food with several fine meals from the endless selection of restaurants. This has resulted in several trips to downtown Osaka, which is around 30 minutes from our apartment. It is quite a remarkable experience and very different from our more suburban existence. After emerging from the train station you are faced with a labyrinth of arcades lined with shops and restaurants that extend over a number of levels. When you finally surface at ground level it is a visual explosion of high-rise, signs, sounds and people. It has been claimed that director Ridley Scott used Osaka as inspiration for the sci-fi classic ‘Blade Runner’, and I can see why, with its mass of illuminated signs and chaotic junction of overhead cabling, it seems to have evolved rather than been designed. However at nightfall, there is an energy that is quite unique and it seems that everyone is out to eat, drink and party. The Japanese really know how to enjoy themselves and it’s an opportunity to reveal the more out going side of their character. That is until around midnight at least. At that time, throngs of people are back on the streets making their way for the last of the trains that will return them safely to their homes. Naturally, we follow the tide of people and make our way back to our somewhat more sedate lifestyle in Japanese suburbia until next time our stomach’s start to rumble.