The Kansai Episode: In The Valley of Jo

Every day, I look up to the sky, optimistic about what tomorrow will bring.

Try as I might, I just couldn’t enjoy myself as much as I’d have liked to. From the offset, my travel partner turned out to be quite the toxic presence. Throughout the trip, he’d mutter, or rather, chant to himself, “Never again, never again… I’ll never suffer like this ever again… I must stay in a proper hotel, I must have my own room, I must fly direct…” I wasn’t sure if he was blaming himself, or blaming me. Regardless, I suppose he wanted me to hear it because he made no attempt to hide his displeasure at how much he was “suffering”. I try to ignore it, but if he’s not talking about some sob story that played out back home that even when told from his perspective, is quite clearly his fault but he refuses to see it, or this – day in, day out. I was stuck in a position I just couldn’t get out of – I couldn’t raise my voice or risk wrecking everybody’s mood, and my attempts to be the listening ear and offer advice are dismissed as if I were a child. I remain patient, but I was hurt – disappointed that this person, a friend I thought I knew I could count on to be a good travel partner, be such a negative presence.

Every night, I’d listen to Greeeen’s The Tears I Can’t Show You while praying for  the strength for patience.

Osaka’s a city of eccentricities. It’s been dubbed the “nation’s kitchen” for its street food and more importantly, its role as a trading centre for rice and other food commodities. The city’s called the “anti-capital” – commuters in Osaka stand the right instead of on the left like everywhere else in Japan. Osakans are loud and brazen, and insist on speaking Kansai-ben, even if no one else really understands it. They make no pretensions about where their avant-garde fashion’s from, appropriately calling it “Ameri-kura”. Even though it appears to be overshadowed by Tokyo as well as other major cities in East Asia, Osaka is Japan’s third largest economic centre, and the biggest part of the Keihanshin (Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe) conurbation – Japan’s 2nd largest metropolitan area, and in a 2005 study by PricewaterhouseCoopers, the seventh largest economy in the world behind Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris and London. Despite the Keihanshin area’s 18 million population, Osaka city proper itself only accounts for 2.9 million in part, perhaps due to the fact that it’s the eighth most expensive city in the world. Thanks to well-connected infrastructure, the population during the daytime surges at least 141%. The city is noticeably crowded during the day, but teeters off as the hour of the last train approaches.

Titus had already been here for two days. As agreed to prior, he visited Universal Studios Japan, and some downtown districts of Osaka that I decided to forgo sightseeing. Guided by the Osaka Subway’s 2-Day Osaka Unlimited Pass, we begin sightseeing the “views” of Osaka, albeit unintentionally.

View On Top

For me, the sightseeing of Osaka kicked off to a breath-taking, autumnal start. Down a difficult path I was in, no doubt about it, but nobody could take away from me my first sights of trees in full raking bloom. The hues of browns, reds, oranges and yellows were simply stunning, and they seemed more so under the contrast of the deep blue sky on the grounds of Osaka-jo, or Osaka Castle. Having been near completely destroyed, not by American bombings, but civil riots in the 1920s, the current grounds was rebuilt and restored to its former glory (aesthetically) as a museum complete with elevators. While the tease of the Imperial Palace at the capital discusses newer wounds, Osaka-jo drives at older ones. The city never held the title of nation’s capital for very long, but it was the first – playing a critical role as the site of the reunification of Japan. Undoubtedly, the tides for isolation and World War were sown with this move three centuries before they conspired. Alas, those events seem pre-written.

Taking in the views from the observation level, level 8, I dawned on the geographical reality of the city real quick. Protected on three sides by high mountains, I could see why it made the perfect capital. At the same time, they’d trapped the searing heat and humidity, and compounded by the sea, definitely made for unbearable summers. I didn’t want to be here at all in the summer. But for now, the city, ocean, mountains and autumnal leaves made for a really pretty sight. We take advantage of what would turn out to be a rather rare clear day and full autumn bloom with strolls by the castle ground’s exuberant gardens.

We even manage a lie down on the dew filled plains – a beautiful day if you wanted to describe the moment.

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