A short passage through Osaka, the second largest city in Japan. With his offbeat spirit and his energy, Osaka is revealed in the sequel to the series “Landing in Tokyo”, a journey to the heart of a mysterious Japan, divided between modernity and ancestral culture.
hissing sound is heard. Security gates blink red and an alarm sounds. In the loudspeakers, a female voice sings an incomprehensible message. The hissing sound is buzzing, then turns into a low growl. All around us, people rush to safety gates, lined up one behind the other and luggage in hand. The red lights continue to flash. The next moment, two bright spots appear at the end of the platform hiding a strange shape – long and elongated – in the dark. Arrived at our level, the singular and astonishing lines reveal themselves and denote all the imagination of the creators of one of the most famous icons of Japan. The famous Shinkansen enters Hiroshima station, in all elegance.
In the calm, everyone enters the futuristic wagon. Two seats on the left, three on the right. The first impression is that of being on a plane. We sit in the spacious wagon – enough to leave the suitcase in front of the legs once seated – and especially of an incomparable cleanliness. Cleanliness is a near-obsession in Japan. Shinkansen is no exception to the rule. The maintenance crew only has seven minutes to fully clean the train at each station stop. One thing that seems even more incredible is the average Shinkansen delay over one year of operation: less than twelve seconds in 2014.
Clean lines, aerodynamic design with its elongated snout, the Shinkansen – literally “new interurban lines” – looks more like the old American space shuttles than a simple train. To wonder which one appeared first. Beside him, the French floret seems almost overweight. The atypical form of the Shinkansen is that the two trains do not evolve on the same ground. The high-speed lines in Japan are dotted with tunnels, and the elongated shape of the Shinkansen can significantly reduce the “boom tunnels” – when the air has no way to escape as the train enters the tunnel. His French cousin rolls mostly in the countryside and therefore do not need this elongated shape. The Shinkansen alone represents a whole facet of Japan that of modernity and advanced technology. The idyllic postcard is reached when the snowy summit of Mount Fuji appears in the background of the Shinkansen.
The humming of the train begins and it leaves Hiroshima Station in the direction of Osaka, our terminus. Pretty soon, we fall in the arms of Morpheus. Only the quick snack cart and cool drinks can wake us up from time to time. The controller enters the wagon, leans forward slightly and greets the passengers. Strange enough for someone who has never been to Japan. This is another aspect of Japanese culture, that of respect and irreproachable service. A sense of service is so strong in Japan that it would become almost sick. Before going out, this one greets us again.
The different landscapes of the Japanese countryside parade through the window of the train like a movie. In the distance there appear here and there fields of golden rice, forests in the colours of autumn, towns and villages, immensity of greenery. Daylight illuminates lakes and rivers. The film gradually turns into a kaleidoscope. All these landscapes scroll continuously without stopping. The film is racing when the train reaches cruising speed. Trees and houses are nothing more than nets of colour. Dreams then take over.
Osaka the “sulphurous”
We wake up in Osaka, Japan‘s second megalopolis, one and a half hours (and twelve seconds?) After the Shinkansen‘s departure from Hiroshima Station. The city of Osaka does not always appear in the course of tourists during their stay in Japan. The majority stays only one day at most and prefers its nearest neighbour, Kyoto – the former imperial capital. The “big hill” is said to have a sulphurous reputation. Osaka does not lack attractions. He breathes in the city a very different atmosphere than his rival Tokyo. The people of Osaka seem less formalised, less under the influence of the overwhelming Japanese culture and society – or have they managed to create a variant that better fits the “rebel” spirit of the city. Unfortunately, we will not be able to verify this for ourselves, since we will spend only one evening there, like the majority of tourists.
Surprisingly, for once we have a head start on our schedule. So we decide to go to lose ourselves in one of the most touristy areas of the city, the Shinsekai district. This district is recognisable among all, as it has one of the highest observation points in Osaka: the Tsutenkaku Tower. This one looks like a well-known tower in Paris. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Tsutenkaku tower was built just like the Eiffel Tower. The Shinsekai District is full of restaurants where you have to taste the wonderful Okonomiyaki (different from Hiroshima), Takoyaki (octopus balls), Yakiniku & Horumon (Japanese BBQ) and other culinary delights typical of Japan. Osaka region. The district is touristy, but we have the impression of being in the Saint-Germain de Paris. Like what the people of Osaka have not only copied the Eiffel Tower.
Walk to Shitennoji temple
The afternoon is full. We are leaving the tourist areas, state-of-the-art towers and the incredible Panasonic Exhibition centre for a return to the past. The sun is at its highest. It’s hot in October in Osaka. On the road to Shitennoji Temple, we are surprised to see a group of girls appear, all in school uniform. We hesitate. Either we are completely lost, as usual, or we are on the right path and all these schoolgirls come from the temple. The second idea will be good.
Shitennoji Temple is unique as it is one of the oldest temples in Japan. It was founded in 593 by Prince Shotoku to support the introduction of Buddhism in Japan. The entrance to Shitennoji Temple is made by a magnificent stone Torii and consists of three main buildings: the kodo pavilion, the kondô pavilion and the five-storey pagoda. Unfortunately, the little information about this temple is felt and it is undergoing a complete renovation. We nevertheless take the opportunity to take a little tour and discover the daily life of people who come to pray here. Among these people are young schoolgirls, coming into the temple to seek advice for studies and passed their exams, no doubt. Also, some elderly people are walking in the temple, calmly.
Silence and tranquillity fill this place. Far from the tourist circuits, Shitennoji Temple is a wonderful place to relax in a city where everything is often fast, too fast. An oasis of calm in the middle of the urban hubbub.
Instead of taking the subway to downtown Osaka, we decided to lose ourselves once again in the neighbourhoods of Shitennoji Temple. We discover beautiful little temples scattered throughout the city. We will never know their name or where they are. And this part of mystery gives the city of Osaka an irresistible charm. It is time for us to join the civilisation and especially to treat ourselves to a Japanese barbecue with melting meat on the grill, accompanied by small shrimps and a swarm of vegetables. A wonder.
Even though we have captured only a small part of the soul of the city of Osaka, what we are sure of, even after just one day, is that Osaka‘s reputation as the culinary capital of Japan, she is perfectly accurate.
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