Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Day 8 - Osaka / Otaue Festival (Saturday)

We started the day with some alternatives to fill up our morning before attending the Otaue Shinji Matsuri which was scheduled from 1 to 3PM. My wife decided to visit the Kuromon Ichiba Market (Nipponbashi district), one of those covered shopping streets for pedestrians where she wanted to photograph seafood and whatever else they had to sell there. Again, one of those things that would not be a good match for me or our daughter. So, I considered the Museum of Oriental Ceramics but thought it would be boring for my daughter. Instead we went to the Hello Kitty store near Shinsaibashi subway station. Ok, not necessarily a great Osaka attraction but those parents out there with young daughters will agree with me that from time to time you need to satisfy their urges... Unfortunately we got there too early (the store opens at 11AM), a major disappointment. Plan B? Damn, didn't have one.

We then went to the Umeda Sky Building which was supposed to provide an excellent view of the city from the floating garden observatory. So we took the Midosuji subway line to Umeda. It is a major station as it connects with Osaka station. When we got out to the ground level to find where we were, my daughter spotted the big ferris wheel that is sitting on top of the Hankyu Entertainment Park (HEP Five). Well, forget about the Umeda Sky Building. We had to go ride on the ferris wheel. Even that area was still closed and only opened at 11AM (I found that kind of late but who am I to discuss their working hours...).

After taking a good view of the city from various angles, it was already time to meet my wife at the Hankai tramway station as we did not want to miss the beginning of the festival. The Hankai company has two tramway lines in that area. The Uemachi line which stopped at Sumiyoshikoen and the Hankai line which stopped at Sumiyoshi Taisha where the event actually was taking place. The first one departed from Tennoji while the latter departed from Dobutsuenmae/Minami-Kasumicho (they are not technically connected but they are right in front of each other). We took the latter and when we got there we found my wife asking for help apparently with no success.

The Otaue Shinji festival
We got to the grounds of the Sumiyoshi temple way ahead of schedule and had the chance to study the festival area before setting camp. There were actually some premium seats being sold at 1000 Yen which gave front view of the little stage set-up for the more formal ceremony part of the event. We skipped those and went to the opposite end of the grounds where there were a lot of visitors/photographers already positioned. (coincidentally that area was for free!) The Otaue Shinji is supposed to mean rice planting and symbolizes the wish for a good harvest (which in Japan is very important since they eat a lot, and I do mean a lot, of rice). My wife took lots of picture of the ceremony and posted some in her blog. It started with a cow being pulled for two "victory laps" in the track surrounding the paddy field (Japan traditionally uses the flooded technique to grow rice). It was funny to see the cow balking a few times during those laps. After that, monks, children in costumes, planters (?), a gentleman dressed as a samurai and others went into a procession around the same track and finally the rice planting ritual began. They basically had to cover the whole paddy with seedlings. Then there some more rituals and ceremonies taking place at the "center" stage to which we did not have a good view.
Well, after almost two hours for the first time during the trip I heard my wife say that she was tired of taking pictures. Of course, standing in the sun does not help. My daughter kept herself busy taking pictures with our backup camera.
I was tired myself of holding the camcorder, the event was not very upbeat like others we have seen in TV shows, so we all decided we had seen enough.

Since my wife talked wonders about the Kuromon Ichiba market, we went back there and bought some different types of tempura and headed to shitennoji. When we got off from the subway station we saw a very funny (for us) scene. A Mercedes-Benz got involved in an accident and climbed a 1 meter median and stayed like that. I hope I can post a picture later.

Apart from the historical importance of shitennoji, being the oldest temple in Japan (founded in 593), we did not find it particularly exciting. Without any disrespect, we sat down in a bench in front of the main entrance and ate our tempuras there. It was a good way to meditate while re-energizing (feed you body, mind and spirit,as the saying goes).

A few things caught my attention while we were there:
-Lots of people use the temple grounds to walk their dogs.
-Saw a little girl strolling with a couple of grandpas (my assumption, of course). At one point, one of the grandpas gave her a couple of coins to buy a soda from a vending machine. She grabbed the can and started to shake it like there was no tomorrow and I was thinking to myself "This smells disaster". She was not able to open the can by herself so she handed the can to grandpa and I am thinking "it is going to explode in his face". He opened it... and nothing happened. Days later I found out that she chose a new drink launched by Coke in Japan called Fanta Furufuru Shaker (orange in this case). It seems to have a jelly element inside so you are supposed to shake the jelly so that you can actually drink the content. The little girl knew better...
-There was a medium water concrete tank within the grounds that held the most amount of turtles (or possibly terrapins) per square inch I have ever seen (other than preservation areas where they protect recently hatched turtles).

After returning to our hotel, we stopped at a drugstore to buy some emergency items for my wife who had some blisters in her feet. We actually didn't recognize the drugstore at first since it looked more like a dollar store with a bunch of trinkets being displayed right outside of the store. With that taken care of, we set our sails to the Hard Rock Cafe. Yep, cheesy, nothing to do with Japan but over the years we developed this tradition to stop by the HRC to collect their shot glasses. The food was as expected, they had an in-house DJ with decent gear but the service... Oh Lord. It was horrible. We sat down and no waiter/ress came to take our order for 10 min. I had to complain to the hostess. When the food came, the drinks had not arrived yet (it was the only place that served a diet coke. Our perception was that Japanese are not obese people even though there is lots of fried food in their diet). Then someone who seemed like a manager or a supervisor came to apologize and mentioned that they would not charge for the service. Well, from all the restaurants that we ate in Japan, that was the first place that had a service charge. So much for service. But I can attest that it was the only black spot in all customer service we got in Japan. They really do a good job trying to please the customer. Anyway, no one is perfect... Next day: Nara.

Forgot to mention: Even though the Toyoko-Inn did not charge for my daughter (which was good), they did charge 100 Yen for an extra towel (per night), which under the circumstances was a bargain...

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