What does Japan sound like?

 

What does Japan (or at least Osaka) sound like?

Well, in July anywhere in close proximity to trees it sounds like this (short video below).

 

 

The cricket-y sound you hear on the video is created by cicada, which in Japan are known as semi. You may agree with me that the noise is so loud that you can barely hear your own thoughts! It’s not only the noise that semi makes that can disturb your day but my Japanese friends have warned me not to walk under trees in which semi are chirping – you’ll get peed on!

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This is not the best photo of a semi, given that the insect in my photo is dead but it’s the only photo I’ve got. Sorry.

 

 

 

Tall, taller, tallest

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The view from Harukas, Osaka

Many people (excluding the ones with a fear of heights) like visiting tall buildings, so much so that different cities/countries/companies seem to be having an everlasting race for the sky to see which city/country/company has the tallest building on the planet. Due to this, the reign of a given ‘tallest’ building only lasts for a short number of years, until the time when it is no longer possible to build taller buildings. Or maybe that day will never come?

You see, I recall a recent dinner table conversation with some male acquaintances (none of whom were structural engineers, architects or bricklayers – and neither am I). Somehow the conversation got onto the topic of tall buildings in the world: Burj Khalifa in Dubai, Tokyo Skytree, Shanghai Tower, Taipei 101 and Harukas in Osaka.

Going off on one, there is also of course Trump Tower. My 8-year old son asked the other day why there is a building called ‘fart tower’. It took all my willpower to resist telling him that it was because there was an asshole at the top of it.

The men agreed that there was no limit as to how high big objects could be erected until it is no longer feasible to reach higher altitudes. I joined their conversation and said that it is likely that there is a limit, not only from a financial point of view (I mean, how expensive would it be to add an extra floor to a 10 km tall building rather than an extra floor of a shorter building) but also that due to the earth being round, which in my non-structural engineer’s mind says that there must be a point when the earth’s surface would no longer provide a structurally sound foundation for a ridiculously tall building (I based my assertion on my knowledge of building towers of wooden blocks with my children – the taller the tower the bigger the base). Maybe this was a stupid thing to say, but in my opinion not any more stupid than talking about the possibility of having infinitely high buildings. They nevertheless laughed and said that only a woman could point that kind of an argument out. I, in turn, wanted to point out that only men with certain issues would spend time comparing the size of erect things.

I have since talked to my husband because I was so furious about the mansplaining that took place around that dinner table. He isn’t a structural engineer, architect or bricklayer either but he agreed that finance was one of the biggest limits to building an indefinitely tall building. He also added (1) problems with elevators/transportation from the bottom to the top of the building (2) wind and (3) materials. In addition he pointed out that of course there is a limit because at some point you would theoretically hit the moon/sun/other object.

Tall buildings are obviously a popular tourist attraction and a great place for a marriage proposal, wedding venue or a party. What a spectacular place to propose to your partner – not only for the view, but also for the convenience. If the answer is not what you were hoping for you can always threaten to jump off the building because you think your life no longer has any meaning (or alternatively you can threaten to throw them off the building) – only kidding! Please don’t go jumping or throwing people off of buildings even if they don’t want to marry you (or respect your passion for spectacular erections).

In any case, Japan has many tall buildings, the tallest of which is Tokyo Skytree, a tower that stands a whopping 634m tall. See photo below.

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Tokyo Skytree

 

Here in Osaka, we have the tallest (300m) inhabited building in Japan, Harukas.

 

It’s one of our favourite places to visit in Osaka, partly because

  • the view is stunning, even though Osaka is not exactly the prettiest of cities, see photos above and below
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Harukas, Osaka

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The view from Harukas, Osaka

  • on a weekday it is not particularly busy and so you can just sit there for hours and relax

 

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  • the café at the top of the building sells delicious pineapple ice cream (and wine) – perfect for relaxation
  • the toilets at the top with glass walls that will allow you to take an interesting mirror selfie for your Facebook page (unless your reflection in the mirror resembles a chipmunk, like mine does below, in which case you might want to refrain from posting the photo on Facebook).

 

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  • the light display in the lift is beautiful – it makes you feel like you are on a journey to somewhere lovely (maybe somewhere far away from the depressing post-Brexit reality) (see the video below)

 

 

I suppose the only negative is that when you get to the bottom, you realise that you are not in a beautiful world where everyone is intelligent and loving, but that you are in a huge department store and you need to try to find you way back to the tube.

If you are ever in Osaka (and if you don’t suffer from a fear of heights) you should visit Harukas, that is of course unless by that time there is already a taller building, maybe one that reaches the sun.

Cherry blossom, day and night

 

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The end of March and the beginning of April is the cherry blossom (i.e. sakura) season in Osaka. It’s the time of the year when it’s easy to have a chat with strangers (or awkward acquaintances), namely about the voluptuous cherry trees – a topic that is on everyone’s lips, and which can be covered with very limited vocabulary. Perfect for a sluggish Japanese learner, like me.

During this season, tourists from all over the world flock to Japan to see the sakura. They infiltrate all the main touristy sakura spots in Osaka (and elsewhere in Japan) for a period of a couple of weeks.

But cherry trees are everywhere in Osaka (and Japan), not just in well-known parks and big Castle grounds. Cherry trees decorate train lines, school yards, supermarket car parks, industrial sites and flyovers, i.e. hardly the most picturesque of places, although one week a year, cherry blossom adds some glamour to these places (see photos below).

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Underneath a flyover

 

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Baseball field

 

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School yard

 

If you don’t want to compete with thousands of other cherry blossom fans and their tripods or iPhones, the above locations would be a safe bet for a non-crowded sakura viewing spot.

I don’t usually choose to share our cherry blossom viewing experience with 10,000 other people at Sakuranomiya (one of the most famous cherry blossom places in Osaka). Then again, I wouldn’t really settle with admiring the trees at a supermarket car park either.

But yesterday morning I felt brave and thought that I would take the kids and go for a quick walk around Osaka Castle, which is one of the most popular places in Osaka for cherry blossom viewing. But when we got to the tube station and saw the huge groups of tourists, we returned home, got our picnic blanket, board games, books, toys and some little snacks like chocolate, mandarins, and nuts to take with us to a nearby Kouzo Gu shrine, which is slightly off the beaten track, but beautiful nevertheless.

When we got there, we took some photos of the sakura (see below) and thought we’d sit down for half an hour to admire the trees, have our snacks, play a game or two of top trumps and/or read a book.

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But we struggled to find a space to sit in, partly because it was quite busy and partly because I didn’t know what the etiquette was. For instance, can one just go and sit down anywhere or are some areas off limits. And the blue plastic sheets on the ground? – are they there for one to go and sit on them, or are they the Japanese equivalent to a German’s towel on a poolside sun lounger in Rhodes?

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We played it safe and eventually sat down in a small gap between a big group of people and a small plastic Micky Mouse patterned sheet, on which there was a piece of paper that said something in Japanese.

We got our picnic quilt and our snacks out and sat down, but annoyingly, every so often we got a waft of something unpleasant. Hold on!! Was it some drunken cherry blossom viewers earlier smelly deposit that was covered by the Micky Mouse sheet and the note was warning cherry blossom viewers not to sit there unless they wanted to experience the sakura with an aroma somewhat less attractive than the cherry blossoms!? No wonder no-one had chosen to sit in that spot. I felt like everyone was looking at us because us foreign idiots had chosen to sit next to a pile of poo.

Because I didn’t want to come across as not knowing what I was doing, I thought we should just sit there for 15 minutes, eat our snacks and then escape the stench and unfamiliar cultural conventions by heading home.

But while we were sitting there, one person from the big group next to us walked over and gave us a plastic container with 10 chicken wings, two jumbo rice crackers in between which was a fried egg, barbeque sauce and mayonnaise (typical Japanese outdoor food), bags of sweets for the kids and a can of beer for me. They probably thought that our cherry blossom viewing grub of mandarins and chocolate was embarrassingly puny and they  wanted to correct the situation. I tried to protest and explain that we’ve already eaten, but the group wouldn’t have it. We sheepishly returned the favour and gave them a half eaten (Finnish) chocolate bar as a token of our appreciation.

Having unwittingly acquired all that food meant that we couldn’t escape the stinky situation quite as quickly as I wanted.

But then an elderly couple walked over and removed the Micky Mouse sheet to reveal…well, nothing but the ground. There was no poo on the ground next to us (the stench must have been dog poo in the green area behind us) and it dawned on me that the old couple had reserved a picnic spot with their sheet like Germans would do in Rhodes. The reason why no-one sat where we were sitting was not because of poo, but because no-one else had dared to park their picnic blanket on the Micky Mouse sheet’s owners’ turf! And the reason why we got some funny looks was because the people around us where shocked by the cheek of us calmly taking over some poor elderly couple’s cherry viewing spot.

Of course, being Japanese, no-one said anything but they probably came up with a few carefully selected names in their mind for the foreigners who didn’t respect the picnic sheet tactic. At that point, we could but pretend that we were oblivious to the cultural faux pas that we had just committed and carry on eating our chicken wings.

The elderly couple squeezed their picnic blanket next to ours. It was so close that it appeared as if we were part of their group. Even some of their friends who arrived and saw us exclaimed something along the lines of ‘Hey, international cherry blossom viewing!’ only to realize that yes, we were ‘international’ but not viewing the blossoms with them.

Anyway, we stayed for another hour or so nibbling on the food, having a little chat with the big group and a few other cherry blossom viewers and then headed home with contact details of some new friends. I assume had we stayed for a little longer, we would have made friends even with the, eventually merry, Micky Mouse group.

In cherry viewing style, many of the groups probably stayed under the cherry trees until the evening or even until the night, drinking, eating, chatting and enjoying the cherry blossoms in the moonlight.

Before we left, I took some photos of the sakura in the night-time. The quality is poor but I hope you nevertheless manage to get a feel for the absolutely amazing beauty cherry trees create, day and night.

 

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Japanese Christmas is all about KFC and Christmas lights

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There seem to be two main things (in addition to Santa Claus and presents) that the Japanese associate with Christmas. These are KFC (yes, Kentucky Fried Chicken, the fast food chain) and Christmas lights.

Apparently due to a highly successful marketing campaign in the 1970s, a typical Christmas eve/ Christmas day meal in Japan is a chicken bucket from KFC. For a Westerner like me, who practically never goes to KFC, this Japanese tradition is just bizarre. To be honest, I am glad that we will (again) spend Christmas in England so that we do not need to adopt this unappetising peculiarity of Japan in the name of cultural assimilation.

However, similarly to the pro-Christmas-Roast-writer of this blog, the Japanese love their extravagant Christmas light displays/shows, often provided by the council or local businesses (free of charge!). There are currently, I believe, around 20 of these around Osaka and so far we’ve seen three of them.

So that you can also experience a little snippet of Osaka’s Christmas lights, I recorded a clip of a light show that they are currently showing in Nakanoshima park in Osaka city centre. We went there last night and I really enjoyed it with its multiple themes ranging from Japanese theatre to underwater scenes and amusement parks. I hope you’ll enjoy it too. I also hope that you won’t mind the clip ending somewhat unexpectedly. This can be explained by the fact that my visits to the gym to build my biceps and other upper body muscles have recently been minimal. When you combine that with five minutes of holding a mobile phone up video recording a light show with a huge handbag (if you are a mother of a diabetic child you know what I mean) hanging off one’s bicep… After about three minutes I felt like, instead of a handbag, there was a grand piano hanging of my arm.

In any case, I hope the clip below will get you into the Christmas spirit regardless of whether you watch it with a bucket of KFC or not.