Monday, March 29, 2010
At Osaka castle I met my friend who works in Osaka, Takashi, and we climbed through the Cherry Blossom gate and up to the keep. We sat down under a yet-unblooming-cherry with our backs against the cyclopian stones and drank what was left of the sake from Fushimi. Takashi was speaking in a heavy Kansai accent. He is from Kyoto, but the standard Kansai accent is closer to Osaka dialect. It seemed fitting at the moment. We left the castle and went to a ramen shop; I had arrived in Osaka, and it had been a long walk.
Ideally, I wouldn't have been in any pain at this point because I would have been walking at an easy pace and distance each day. But honestly, at a normal pace and distance each day, 45 miles would easily take three days, and realistically, I only had the weekend off. I should have had the presence of mind to be satisfied with going less than the fantasy distance- Kyoto to Osaka. Next time I'll be more realistic.
I ate some cheap delicious gyoza on the Tokuan shopping street and then followed one shopping street to another well into Osaka. The canals might be ignored, but the old islands still retain much of their historic urban character.
However, as I approached Osaka castle it was getting dark and the old lanes gave way to wider streets and industrial buildings which then gave way to large factories and huge "garden city" apartment buildings that seemed to take forever to bypass. My legs had been getting a little tired since I entered Osaka, and now my knee was in real pain. The canals, which were bigger and even more antiseptic now, seemed to be everywhere. I could not see the castle passed the high rises and I was fairly disoriented and in some pain. I felt like I was just a small human being in big uninviting world of metal, plastic, and concrete. Ironically, at convenience stores I could access local maps, and this is how I eventually found my way to Osaka castle.
I entered Osaka City at Tokuan and, by a large canal, I encountered a large mural of a dragonfly entitled "December Summer." Dragonflies may represent an ephemeral world of pleasure. I wonder if the title refers to a summer with no dragonflies, like in December. Perhaps the fences everywhere finally disconnected life by the rivers? Or maybe the dragonfly is intended to remind us in December of the beauty of the river in summer, the beauty that it must have had at some point in its history. Osaka, the "City of water," is truly a city of canals. In the Edo period it was called the "city of 800 bridges." Perhaps the dragonfly reminds us of how beautiful a city of canals could be if it was willing to remember that it has canals, and not hide them behind high plastic barriers, green fences, or under huge highways.
I continued going towards Osaka on a street by an old canal. As usual, the canal was disconnected from streets, houses, shrines, and general human activities. One exception to this was a section of canal where there were two waterlogged old rowboats- evidence that at some point the canal was human accessible. In another spot, a huge shrine tree spread its canopy far over the canal. This made the canal in this section feel softer and more inviting. For a stretch, the canal was lined by a long grassy berm with cherry trees, although the cherry tree area was fenced off from human use. Luckily a man and his dog had scaled the fence and were enjoying the off-limits path.
I entered Kadoma, city of the satsuki flower. I learned it was the city of the satsuki by looking at the beautiful manhole covers. In Kadoma I followed sinuous old shopping streets that linked many sections of old houses.
I found a funky little shop selling hand carved wooden things, so I went inside. I don't think the man was really expecting customers. He had a menu for coffee written on a piece of paper, but he gave me complimentary coffee when I explained my journey, I tried to refuse politely several times, but finally gave in. The old man was originally from Nagano and enjoys hiking in the mountains; he showed me some old pictures. After he retired, he began wood working. I found a few utensils I liked, but since he offered to give them to me for free, I went ahead and bought a pair of chopsticks and a fork at half price.
Cardinal rule to walking the old roads: follow the old roads... even if they seem to be going the wrong way. In downtown Neyagawa City, I felt like I was walking away from Osaka, but one old shopping street lead to another, and I walked along many narrow, old beautiful shopping streets through much of the City. I had no map of this section, but I knew I was going in the right direction as long as the huge Yodo river was to the northwest and the mountains were to the southeast.
I walked right through a nationalism rally in downtown Neyagawa City and came to a nice river near the main shopping area. There was a path by the river, but it was disconnected from the street or the shopping areas. I would encounter this division again and again along the rivers in Osaka. If the two were linked, then perhaps people could enjoy the atmosphere of both, twice as much. Occasionally I encountered a "walking course" which sometimes even had a history lesson written on a little sign. These paths were lined by nice, although monotonous, trees, and I passed many walkers or joggers. I call them walkers, not "people walking," because their goal seemed to be physical exercise and not the living of ordinary life.