2 Days, 2 Creatures from the deep
atmospheric horizon. all images in this post by J - click for flickr view
The clouds were so low that even as we were already a minute or two from the runway it remained the same pale grey outside the window. Stare hard enough and the world will turn into a flat sheet of paper. Then emerging from the clouds, the runway suddenly appeared and we were there - the Kansai International Airport. But how different it was when we were above the clouds - day broke - the sun burnt through the atmosphere in a line. And it was almost possible to imagine how the world began.
We got off the plane by 6.30am. But it was not until almost 9 when we reached our hotel in central Osaka, the Namba area. There was no rush. We were lost a little figuring out the train to Namba as J struggled to recover from the claustrophobia of the last 7 hours and to recover some memory of his university Japanese. And when we got to Namba (by bus instead), we were a little lost figuring out the various maps to get to the hotel.
Being lost in a world that was not your usual was good. And since check in at the hotel wasn't till 3pm, what was there to do for 2 people eager to be lost in some other world? The Osaka Aquarium, of course.
2 jellyfish in their own world
There is much to marvel at the Osaka Aquarium. The giant rays, giant arowanas and giant whale shark just inches from your face, the surreal display of giant deep sea crabs, and amps' favourite (normal-sizes will do) jellyfish. They in their own world and us, protected from their watery world by inches of acrylic, using our human frameworks to understand theirs - here, a fish who looks like a grumpy old man, there another fish looking like the harassed salaryman. But the sense of marvel was obvious not only among the hordes of school children and giggly teenagers, but also the adults. If there was something about the Japanese, it was their ability to marvel - to "ooh", "aah" and "kawaii-nei" at things we so often take for granted.
The Aquarium is right by the harbour, and the walk from the Osakako subway station is a pleasant one. Beside the Aquarium is the Suntory Museum (which was having a special exhibition on Toulouse-Lautrec and another on Japanese outsider art), designed by Japanese architect Tandao Ando.
2 posers taking a break in the neon world
The other colourful watery world in Osaka is that of the Dotomburi district. Like aquarium tanks in darkness, the neon lights and giant automated mascots on the buildings compete for attention. Running parallel to the Tomburi canal, the district or series of arcades comprises restaurants, street tako-pachi stalls, bars, theatres, pachinko/game parlors, karaokes, boutiques and sex shops. And those very creatues we saw in the aquarium were not only magnified and replicated above shop entrances, they were cooked and eaten, and seemed almost instantly reincarnated as the folks milling around Dotomburi iteself - tourists, salarymen, OLs, students or young women decked up with fake lashes and high boots (some with suited old men), young men hawking for the parlors and looking out for girls they could match to potential jobs, and homeless folks.
2 daydreamers re-learning how to daydream
And if Osaka was too crass and loud an introduction, then its genteel half Kyoto beckoned the next day. Those quaint cobble-stone lanes with expensive inns and restaurants, endless shrines and temples (ditto churches for Europe I guess!), the lovely Kodaiji grounds where you could wander through a bamboo growth and a 17th century Japanese woman's patronage of craftsmen in memory of her husband, and finally of course - Gion.
At Gion, tourists treat Geisha sightings as paparazzi would rock stars. These white-faced women would emerge for seconds from the low wooden houses onto the one-laned street where a taxi awaited; and in those few seconds, the streets were alight with camera flashes going off. They don't smile. They certainly don't make any eye contact with these lower beings. Perhaps kept in their own world by the white paste on their faces, the Geishas and tourists could have been in parallel universes or some 300-year time warp, if not for the Toyotas they enter.
2 geishas in the floating world
I don't know if J and I are like creatures entering or emerging from the deep - whichever, our day/night visions are still not quite attuned and the rhythmns of our island world are still being slowed down for this holiday. But right now I've got too much beer, tako-pachi (we had 26 just between the 2 of us yesterday!), ramen and some amazing pancake thing in me to ponder this.