Monday, March 29, 2010

Osaka City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (28)

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.

Osaka City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (27)

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.

Osaka City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (26)

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.

Kadoma City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (25)

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.

Kadoma City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (24)

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.

Neyagawa City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (23)

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.

Neyagawa City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (22)

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.

Neyagawa City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (21)

Near Korien station in southern Hirakata city, a few old shopping street buildings, with their first level shops and second level living spaces are overshadowed by a massive new high rise. I bought some artisanal rice crackers for lunch.

Neyagawa City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (20)

After Kari went home, I ventured into the twisted lanes of southern Hirakata and northern Neyagawa City. One of my English students is from this area. His grandfather owned a small farm here. He produced just enough food to feed his family. In his grandfather's time, that was quite common. I followed a few old shopping streets and then winded my way old country houses in the hills. It appears that former square rice fields are mostly converted into high density track housing, leaving the old hillside country houses and villages mostly intact. Occasionally, strips of farmland are left, and they are tended by old people.

At small pond in a public park, big signs prohibiting fishing were accompanied by two old men fishing.

Hirakata City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (19)

At Hirakata Park, Kari decided to go home. We had been discussing crazy walks and crazy walkers. There are people who walk for 48 hours straight for an obscure charity. They train for a long time and I guess they feel good when they walk for 48 hours. Although it might be fun to occasionally engage in team masochism, we felt that this walk from Kyoto to Osaka was primarily not about pushing ourselves too far passed our limits. Just by walking, We learned our limits and here Kari learned hers.

However, the walk was about more important things that physical limits. If we had aimed to simply push our bodies, then we could have walked the whole way on Route 1, or even done the whole trip on a treadmill. Rather, with each step we were taking part in a human project to awaken an ancient trail through the unification of the mind, body, and spirit: the mind- by taking an interesting and stimulating journey- the body - by eating local foods and creating safer roads for all kinds of people - and perhaps the spirit - through encounter. In the human form, by walking, we aimed to bring all of those ideas into one meeting. It follows then that the human body and mind have certain needs that need to be respected. In fact, ideally, this walk would be one that is not difficult or out of the ordinary at all. It should be ultra-ordinary and ultra-everyday. It should be healing. To walk, we dare to go where many have gone before.

Hirakata City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (18)

Downtown Hirakata was lively on Sunday morning. Here, the old existing sections of the Kyokaido, the old walking path we had been more or less following from Kyoto, was undergoing a revival. All the way from Hirakata station to Hirakata Park station, the street was one long arts and crafts fair.

The facades of old houses became galleries for artists. Parking lots where old houses had been demolished were used as room for arts and crafts booths. The street was filled with walkers.

Hirakata City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (17)

Finally, we climbed up into the suburbs of Hirakata City: passing through the suburbs of Kuzuha and then Makino. The architecture of Hirakata is closer to Osaka style than Kyoto: shop awnings are brightly colored blues and reds, and the blacks and browns of Kyoto have almost entirely given way to a bricollage of various international styles jammed together. We looked for an internet cafe to crash in, and finally found one back on Route 1. The building was elevated above the garage. I imagine most of the customers were automobile travelers. The price to stay for 9 hours was fairly high, nearly 2000 yen in total, although the accomodations were average: a small cubicle with a flat cushion, a computer, free drinks, and no shower. I have stayed in similar internet cafes in Shibuya and Shinjuku for only about 900 yen for 8 hours.

Yawata City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (16)

We cut off from the highway and entered the twisted lanes of the Yawata countryside. It was dark at this point, and the situation was looking a little worrisome. Rising above the fields some indetermined distance away is a massive "transport" factory. It's long parade of bright white lights made the fields seem even more dark.

Yawata City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (15)

Leaving Yodo was difficult, we had to venture out onto a system of larger highways in order to cross the Yodo river and the Kizu river to enter Yawata. The sun was going down, and the from the big highway bridge the Yodo river seemed a bit pathetic. Sure, it was a big river, but someone, maybe the government had gone and cut down all the big trees by the river side. The stumps could still be seen. Why? I have no idea, but it turned what could have been a lush place into a mud and concrete desert. We crossed the Kizu river on Route 1. Route 1 looks like AnyHighway USA: it is wide and lined with giant parking lots and fastfood joints. I imagine there are big box stores too, but we didn't waste much time walking Route 1.

Fushimi City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (13)

The roadside shrines anchor little sections of the road that would otherwise appear the same. History and perhaps tragedy has added a touch of diversity to the street, bringing care and fresh flowers to the roadside.

Fushimi City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (12)

We passed some old sake factories on Old Senbon on the outskirts of Fushimi and eventually bought Fushimi sake at a little shop.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (11)

At times, we took the bike path along the Kamo River instead of Old Senbon. The bike-path provided nice views of the river, although the size of the perspectives gave the feeling of slow going. Bikes occasionally wizzed by. Kari and I argued about whether bike paths were good ideas. In the US bike paths are becoming common, and many people see them as entertainment or even perhaps as an alternative to cars. However, I believe that a bike path is usually not conducive to normal life because a bike path is usually built with bike and not pedestrian entertainment in mind. They are usually long, straight, and remote from shops. This bike path was probably safer than this stretch of Old Senbon because cars sometimes zipped around the curves on the narrow old street. By dividing the bike path and the car street, it gives free reign to cars drive without care, and it separates pedestrians and bicyclists from the joys of the houses and shops close by. In the picture below, one old lady is trying to take her bike out on Old Senbon but she has to be very careful because of the car traffic. This way, the bike path seems to actually alienate local users.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (10)

The tea garden has great stones, ponds, and a fantastic pine that resembles clouds. We drank tea in the tea house. A family also came in with us. The garden, although a delicate place, is family friendly.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (9)

The camellias had fallen on the moss.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (8)

Jonangu, the "palace below the walls," was a blooming walled paradise amid car sales lots, fastfood joints, and highways. Its emblem appears to be a shrine for two suns and a moon? There are small shrines within the main shrine that resemble the architecture of the small roadside shrines. The plum blossoms were in full bloom and we spent a long time lingering under the boughs. Each plant in the gardens is accompanied by a plaque naming the plant and provided what appears to be a Heian period poem about the plant.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (7)

The people friendly Old Senbon street passes under the Meishin expressway, a totally inaccessible road that resembles a warp tube.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (6)

We came to a beautiful little temple in a curve in the road. The water coming from the spout is marked "drinkable."

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (5)

We bought tofu at a roadside tofu shop. Nearly all of Old Senbon is like on long "shotengai" (shopping heaven street), which is the Japanese equivalent of an old main street with mom and pop stores. We noticed that there were a lot of children playing streets like this, and the kids usually greeted us when we went by. It was like a neighborhood street, not a highway.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (4)

There are small roadside shrines all along the old roads. Each usually houses a stone or a statue, a flower vase or two, and a small bell to ring to pay respect. By the time I took this picture I had already paid my respects at 3 other little roadside shrines. Surely, there are many reasons a roadside shrine might exist, but one reason might be an untimely death on the location.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (3)

As we walked down Old Senbon street we passed a man watering his plants in front of his house. Little streetside gardens like his are common place all along Old Senbon. The man's house is over 80 years old. When we told him our plan, he happily provided a map of his neighborhood, free tickets to drink mattcha tea at Jonangu Shrine, and information about Old Senbon. The Shogun used to use this road, he said. He claimed that the path was enjoyable until Yodo, but after that "there is nothing." He suggested that we go slowly and take our time.

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (2)

I met my friend Kari at Kyoto station, then we randomly encountered a Ferrari show at Toji temple. The broad temple grounds are famously used for the Kobo-san antique market each month on the 21st. It looks like it is also occasionally used for car shows and general parking. Toji is so ancient and so obviously pedestrian oriented that cars are only toys here! In the picture, notice the lady dressed in pirate(?) gear. Perhaps she is part of the revolutionary subculture of "lolita" fashion where women design and piece together their own clothes.

The first of the cherries were in bloom by the Toji pagoda. It's height equals the height of the soil in northern Kyoto city at the Senbon Kitaoji intersection.

This map details southern Kyoto from the end of the Edo period around 150 years ago:

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Kyoto City Streets (街道): Kyoto to Osaka (1)

One day, I decided to go looking for the old road from Kyoto to Osaka. Living in the city, I usually walk everywhere, discovering legends, interesting people, and tasty treats along the way. Why not walk from Kyoto to Osaka? People used to do it all the time. The "city street" (街道)was once the busiest route to Osaka. I decided to do it in one weekend. The plan: walk on the easiest, most interesting paths available- the old city streets.

I passed through the Shimabara Great Gate at around 9am on Saturday. I hopped onto the old road right out my front door.