Monday, November 20, 2017

The Osaka Museum of History can turn a museo-phobe into a museophile!

Beautiful and creative exhibits are the order of the day 

As far as I'm concerned, this history museum's exhibit designers
have created veritable works of art that are interesting to boot!

The attention to detail for even 1/20th scale 
miniature models is truly something to behold

Ever since I was a kid, I've loved visiting (good) museums.  So it's actually rather ironic that neither of my parents are keen museum goers, with my mother deciding against venturing into a museum despite just being a few meters away from its entrance on more than one occasion -- and even opting to have a nap outside of one while I spent a couple of hours checking out its exhibits

Imagine my surprise, then, when, upon asking her to name the top five attractions we had visited on our most recent Japan trip together, she actually put two museological establishments on her list; with one of them being the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum (which I told her was a "must visit" when we went to the first city ever to have an atom bomb dropped onto it) and the other being the Osaka Museum of History (which, if truth be told, I only decided to go to on this visit after it rained heavily for much of the final full day of the trip)!

Housed in a modern, multi-storey building whose upper floors offer up birds'-eye views of Osaka Castle (located just across the street), the Osaka Museum of History's exhibits cover the period in Osaka's history that predates the establishment of a permanent imperial capital at Nara (710-794), when the Naniwa Palace was the residence of choice of the reigning Emperor (and before Osaka came to be known by that particular name), all the way to the 20th century.  

While there are artifacts on display from those ancient as well as later times, it became apparent early on during our tour of the museum that this institution has seen fit to augment their exhibition with very detailed dioramas, colorful, large-scale reconstructions and atmospheric audio to help history come so much more alive.  As an example: a good part of "The Ancient Period Floor" of the museum is taken up by a partial reconstruction of the Daigokuden (Main Hall) of the Naniwa Palace, complete with multiple vermillion-painted pillars 70 centimeter in diameter and life-size mannequins, all of them with distinct faces and dressed in elaborate period court attire.  

And on the "Modern and Contemporary Period Floor", there are reconstructions of Late Taisho and Early Show Period homes, shops (ranging from a humble grocer to a store selling fashionable clothes) and the advertisement-festooned facade of a grand kabuki theater that are really impressive in terms of their detail.  Nonetheless, it's the floor covering the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period whose exhibits I found enchanting and even downright amazing; with scale models and dioramas that I look upon as works of art in their own right but actually also communicate so much about life then in that which was dubbed "the Water City".    

As if all that weren't already impressive enough, each of the museum's floors containing permanent exhibitions have audio-visual sections, many of them cleverly worked into dioramas and interactive displays.  Still, it is highly recommended that visitors rent the audio sets available near the entrance to the museum as they really do provide a lot of supplemental information that's actually really interesting and often makes one appreciate further some of the little but cool (and even humorous!) touches that the exhibit designers have added to many of their immaculately crafted displays.

All told, my mother and I ended up spending over three hours at the Osaka Museum of History.  And I can't think of a higher tribute for this commendable museological establishment than to state in no uncertain terms that both this avowed museophile and her supposedly museo-phobe mother both enjoyed our visit to it tremendously! ;b

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Delights in store for Funatomo at Funassyiland Osaka!

Funassyi mania at Funassyiland Osaka!

Your eyes do not deceive you -- the Funassyiland Osaka 
stock included Funassyi butt-shaped handbags... ;D

And yes, there's a post box at the store which 
can be used to send the Pear postcards and such :)

After visiting Todaiji -- and running the Nara deer gauntlet -- earlier in the day, I decided to pay a pilgrimage to the temple of kawaii that is Funassyiland Osaka Umeda (henceforth referred to as Funassyiland Osaka for short!).  Located within a Kiddy Land (like the Tokyo Funassyiland that was the first of the Funassyilands that I visited), it's the smallest of the three Funassyilands I've been to thus far (with the flagship Funassyiland in Funassyi's hometown of Funabashi being expectedly the largest of the lot).   

Still, it wasn't as though there was a dearth of merchandise at Funassyiland Osaka to catch the eye of this Funatomo (fan of Funassyi).  And, in fact, I ended up not only needing to wander the aisles for several minutes to take it all in but also deciding that more than one visit was required for me to narrow down what I wanted to purchase at the store cum shrine to the Pear (Fairy) with "fun" and "ass" in its name!

Even before I set foot in Funassyiland Osaka though, I knew that I absolutely wanted a 2018 desktop calendar since the 2017 desktop calendar has consistently brought smiles to my face since the beginning of the year and viewings of the "making of" videos for the 2018 desktop calendar have got me cackling with laughter at the Pear's imaginative attempts to impersonate historic personalities as diverse as Murasaki Shikibu (the Heian period author of The Tale of Genji), Commodore Matthew Perry and Ludwig von Beethoven!  So it was with much relief as well as happiness that I found that the 2018 calendars were already on sale on my visit.

Of course, the 2018 desktop calendar was far from the only Funassyi item I came away from my visits to Funassyiland Osaka with.  And, actually, Funassyiland Osaka wasn't the only place where I came by items bearing the Pear's visage; with their also being some available at the very cool Tokyu Hands (think Funassyi-themed stationery such as pens and file folders, and also gachapon putitto) and various souvenir shops, including over on Miyajima and in Hiroshima (in the form of Funassyi-themed key chains, charms and handkerchiefs)! 

Still, for dedicated Funatomo, the fact of the matter is that it's well nigh unthinkable to not visit a Funassyiland if you're in a city with one of those stores.  Because, if nothing else, you definitely have proof when you're in one of them that there are plenty of other people around who share your passion for the hyper-energetic Pear with a big heart along with jumping ability! :)   

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Oh dear re the deer of (and deer mania at) Nara!

The official mascot of Nara, 
Sento-kun... and Puppet Ponyo ;D

Graphic warning sign in deer-infested Nara Park

 A deceptively serene landscape photograph, 
considering that there's a deer in it... ;S

As vivid as my memories of visiting Todaiji were my encountering the deer at Nara Park when I visited the ancient city of Nara back in the fall of 1982.  Back then, I was innocent enough to buy some of those deer crackers sold by vendors; whereupon I got damn near assaulted by a bunch of persistent deer -- none of whom I recall having had the manners to bow to me the way that the deer of Nara are famously able to do.

Expecting to come across though soon after arriving in the city, the way that I had quickly and easily encountered deer seconds after getting out of the ferry terminal at Miyajima, I was initially disappointed that the only "deer" spottings I made were of such as a statue of Sento-kun (the antlered mascot of Nara that Last Week Tonight host John Oliver famously described as looking like the result of "Andre Agassi f**king a reindeer!) at the train station, deer sculptures that were part of an outdoor art exhibition and a deer-themed Daruma doll in a shop window.  

But while the deer in Nara do seem to be restricted to a more specific area than over on Miyajima, it's also true enough that once my mother and I got near to Nara Park, we saw a far greater density of deer there than we saw on Miyajima as a whole. 

In addition, it really was noticeably the case that the deer at Nara look generally bigger as well as older than the bulk of those that we caught sight of in Miyajima -- and also were far more aggressive in their pursuit of things edible.  In particular, I pity those tourists fooled into buying deer crackers because once the deer discovered that someone was in possession of those, they'd surround the hapless human and effectively hound them into giving those precious edible discs up!

Put another way: hearing individuals screaming while running away from a gaggle of deer is a very common thing in Nara Park and its environs (including the outer sections of Todaiji)!  Even more embarassing must be what those folks tasked with cleaning up a not insubstantial amount of deer poop daily have to do in full view of other people (along with the supposedly divine deer)!

And yes, those deer will go after folks who are not in possession of deer crackers too.  As an example, while standing around waiting for my mother (who had wandered off to another section of Todaiji) at one point, I felt someone nudging me, only to discover upon turning and looking that it was -- but of course -- a deer rather than a fellow human doing so.  And it was only after scurrying about in a wide circle that I managed to get that deer away from me -- or, rather, get it to decide that someone else was an easier "mark" than me! ;S

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Daibutsuden and more at Nara's Todaiji (Photo-essay)

On my very first visit to Japan back in 1982, I spent a few hours in the ancient city of Nara.  If my memory serves me right, the only temple my party visited there was Todaiji and the only part of the very large Buddhist temple that we were in was its very big Daibutsuden (Great Buddha Hall) which actually is the largest wooden structure in the world.

Considering that Nara is home to a number of other historic monuments which are along the UNESCO World Heritage list along with Todaiji, I perhaps should have checked some of them out on my second visit to that which was the capital of Japan from 710 to 784.  Instead, this time with my mother in tow, I couldn't resist returning to Todaiji -- though, in mitigation, I also did explore more sections of this great temple complex on this second visit than the earlier one, including ones which are far less crowded and way more peaceful than the Daibutsuden...    

The largest wooden structure in the world is one very large building...
... and the 15 meter tall gilt bronze Buddha housed within 
the Daibutsuden is the largest of its kind in the world

but opted against trying to accomplish the same feat in 2017! :)
Upon going up these stone steps, you'll feel like you're in
another world rather than just another part of Todaiji
The area around the temple's Nigatsudo is vastly less crowded
and substantially more peaceful than that around the Daibutsuden
Puppet Ponyo near the top of the steps to the Nigatsudo :)
 Click on the above photo for clear evidence that there's so much 
more to Todaiji than just the Daibutsuden, however great it is
And my favorite part of Todaiji might actually be the inside of
the Hokkedo or Sangatsudo (where photography is not allowed)!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Admiring Okayama's Korakuen in rain and sunshine

It was raining early on during my mother's 
and my visit to Okayama's Korakuen
Happily though, the rain stopped and blue sky appeared 
while we were still at this charming stroll garden
And we were also there when clouds, sun and water
combined to create magical scenes like this :)
The afternon that I went to Shukkeian, it was on my own as my mother was tired out from her exertions earlier that day and had retired to our hotel in Hiroshima to rest before venturing out in the evening for dinner at Sushi Tei.  Afterwards, when I showed her the photos I had taken at that restored stroll garden, she had expressed her regret that she hadn't gone there with me.

Still, rather than take my mother to Shukkeian, I decided to take her to a larger and justifiably more famous garden -- one considered to be among the Three Great Gardens of Japan (along with Kanazawa's Kenroku-en and Mito's Kairakuen).  As a matter of fact, when I visited Okayama's Korakuen a few years back, I actually had told myself that it'd be a good place to bring her on one of our Japan trips.
Consequently, I didn't let a little bit of rain stand in my way of doing so.  And a good thing too since, like Takamatsu's Ritsurin Koen, whatever precipitation that fell during a visit to it didn't detract all that much from one's being able to admire the beauty on view in that expansive, ingeniously-designed and well-maintained garden.  Also, as it turned out, it stopped raining midway through our Korakuen visit.  Not only that but the clouds parted sufficiently to reveal patches of sparkling blue sky for part of our visit and then also combined with the sun to produce magical scenes that truly were a sight to behold!
Commissioned in 1687 by a daimyo, Korakuen was completed only in 1700 and made regularly accessible to the public from 1884.  Like Shukkeian, it was damaged by bombing during the Second World War but beautifully restored after peace was declared; in the case of Korakuen, thanks in no small part to extensive and detailed records of the original designs having been passed down from generation to generation over centuries. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A meal at Takotsubo made memorable by the company as well as food!

It became quickly apparent upon sitting at the counter of Takotsubo
that our meal there would be far from average... 
We're talking, after all, of a place whose tsukemono moriawase
(assorted pickles) side dish looks like a work of art!
 More than enough in front of me 
to make me very happy :)
All too soon, it was time to say farewell to Hiroshima, a city whose fantastic food makes it so that I definitely want to go back there before too long.  Before heading east on the shinkansen though, my mother and I made time and room for lunch at Takotsubo, a one Michelin star restaurant which I got to know about thanks to Paul's Travel Pics.

All the information I had read about Takotsubo had led me to believe that it only opened for lunch at 12noon.  But on the day that my mother and I went there, the restaurant looked open for business at around 11.30am and already had a few clients installed at its counter when I finally perked up the courage to go in there at 11.45am.
Probably we had arrived so early, there was room in the 13-seat restaurant for my mother and myself.  Having set my heart on the koiwashi (sardines) sashimi set lunch that Paul had raved about, I was disappointed to find that -- like with the oysters -- I had arrived too early in the year for them.  (It didn't help that the early part of this October had been unseasonably hot; something that also may have accounted for a surprising number of area residents looking quite a bit more tanned or darker skinned than I expect of Japanese folks who are neither natives of Okinawa nor Kyushu!)
Happily though, my second choice option of uni meshi (cooked sea urchin rice) was available -- and, from what I gathered when glancing at what other diners were eating, a very popular option along with anago meshi (which I will forever associate with Ueno!).  More than incidentally, one reason why I was happy about this was because Takotsubo doesn't have an English menu and its staff don't seem to know any English (which is why it also was a good thing that I know enough Japanese to at least order specific dishes and such as glasses of draft beer!).
Thanks to Paul's blog post, I had a pretty good idea of what to expect in terms of the food I'd be having at this restaurant which has been in operation since 1927.  Suffice to state here that everything was stellar, from the flavorful yasai-no-nimono (slow-simmered vegetables and tofu) we were served first all the way to the colorful and wonderfully crunchy tsukemono moriawase (assorted pickles) side dish, the umami-rich miso soup (with clams) and the piece de resistance that was the seaweed topped uni-meshi.         

Adding to the overall experience were the restaurant customers we found ourselves seated in between.  To my left was a middle-aged man who had a bunch of toys (including miniature rubber duckies and Fuchico Puttito) that he posed next to his food and then took photos of (and yes, I couldn't resist showing him Puppet Ponyo though I did not take any photos of her at Takotsubo)!  Meanwhile, to my mother's right sat two matronly women who, after overhearing our conversation and realizing that we were not Japanese, started chatting to us in English, telling us, among other things that they reckoned this was the "number one" restaurant in Hiroshima!
Incidentally, my mother remarked later that she noticed that those two women -- and the young man seated to their right -- had been drinking tea rather than beer with their meal.  After a few days in Japan, she was realizing how unusual this actually is since women as well as men really do seem to love their tipple in the land of sake -- and especially beer, it seems (rather than nihonshu, actually)! ;b   

Friday, November 10, 2017

Two Buddhist temples and a Shinto shrine in Onomichi with charm to spare!

Tenneji's Pagoda is hard to miss despite it now being 
just 3 storeys high rather than the 5 it originally was
This shot of Ushitora Jinja late in the day got 
a friend of mine thinking of Spirited Away ;b
For my part, nearby Myosenji felt 
even more magical to me! :)

There is an official walking route through Onomichi known as The Temple Walk that takes visitors to all 25 of the temple-filled port town's temples.  As someone who suffered from temple fatigue midway through her visit to Kyoto, I wasn't about to go along that path.  So I had only planned on visiting Onomichi's most famous temple, Senkoji.  But I ended up passing (near) by a couple of other Buddhist temples and one Shinto shrine on my way down from Mount Senkoji which looked interesting enough for me to want to spend a few minutes checking out.
First up was a three-storey wooden pagoda in the center of a graveyard which turned out to be part of Tenneji, a Buddhist temple whose main hall and compound was further downhill.  There was a deserted feeling to the place but even while there was no one I could talk to or get an information leaflet from, I discovered a helpful device in its grounds which dispensed audio information about the place in Japanese, English, Korean and Mandarin (which, more than incidentally, I'd have appreciated coming across at the more celebrated Sensoji!).
Next up was Ushitora Jinja, a Shinto shrine located close to the lower station of the Mt. Senkoji Ropeway and protected from the danger of a passenger cabin or such falling onto it by large netting having been set up over the section of its compound which were directly under the path of the ropeway!  Unlike Buddhist temples, it doesn't seem to have a closing time and its grounds seem to be one that students and workmen happily cut through on their way home or such.  
All in all, I found it quite amusing that while it seemed to have an air of mystery for foreigners, this over 1,100-year-old shrine seemed like an everyday, even if favored, spot for the locals.  And it really did add to its charm for me that when I visited Ushitora Jinja, I found myself passing through a stone torii with two matrons sitting on each side of it and happily chatting (gossiping?) away!
Similarly, I loved that when I was in the grounds of nearby Myosenji, I not only spotted a beautiful striped cat but also a little hut that I can easily believe was that cat's abode.  Something that I also appreciated is that its colorful main hall was still accessible and that there was a worshipper in there so focused on doing her business that I honestly don't think she noticed or realized that, for a few moments, there was someone else in that space besides her!
In retrospect, I do regret a bit that I hadn't actually gone out of my way to check out a few more of Onomichi's temples.  Among other things, I appreciate that, in contrast to many of those at, say, Kyoto and Kamakura (even the less famous ones), none of them charged admission fees.  This not only speaks to the cheapskate part of me but, in all honesty, it also is a clear indicator that they are much less tourist attractions and more actual places of worship still; which, ironically, makes them more appealing for and to this not particularly religious traveller!