osaka castle sakura


From a letter to my sister (10 April, 2005)
All the cherry trees are in bloom here which means that it’s ohanami season, or cherry-blossom viewing season. I took the train into Osaka city on Saturday to go to Osaka-jo (Osaka castle), which is one of the most popular places for cherry blossom viewing. It was a really beautiful day and I think there must have been at least 50,000 people wandering around the Osaka castle area. Osaka castle (which has been rebuilt) is one of Japan’s most famous castles and it’s one of the historical and cultural centers of Osaka. It’s surrounded by moats and entered by walking across bridges that lead through immense stone fortifications. The donjon, the main tower, is at the peak of a large hill and you have to climb through several levels to get there. There are lines of cherry trees at every level, and they’re all in bloom right now, looking like snow.
I got a chance to see an incredible juggler (the name “juggler” doesn’t really do him justice) who was able to balance a teapot on a stick that he held in his mouth, then toss it in the air (using only the stick and his mouth) so that it spun around twice and then landed back on the stick again. Oh — and he also juggled flaming torches while standing on a board that was balanced on a cylinder while he spun one of those hollow frisbees on another leg. It was pretty fantastic. The other nice thing about festivals in Japan is that, unlike most festivals in the U.S., the food at the food stalls is generally outstanding (greasy, salty, and bad for you, true — but outstanding, nevertheless). I spend the whole day walking around, taking photographs, etc. And then hopped back on the train to Toyonaka-shi, where I live.So, Osaka city has about 2.8 million people, but it’s surrounded by several smaller cities that are also loaded with people. Toyonaka-shi, where I live (“shi” pretty much means ‘city’) has a population of about 400,000, just by itself. That’s about half the size of San Francisco, population-wise, though Toyonaka doesn’t have any large skyscrapers. The Kansai region — Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, and Kobe — has around 14 million people, more than the greater L.A. area, though only 5 million more than the New York area. People are so polite and conscious of other people, though, that even when you’re in the middle of thousands and thousands of people, or packed onto a jammed train, you never get that sense of crowd anger, or weirdness, or anxiety that you seem to get back in the States. For example, even when GG Transit buses aren’t full, there’s always someone who’s angry, or anxious, or just generally crapping the whole thing up. But so far I haven’t seen that kind of anger once — not even with thousands of people jostling one another.The only downside of living here so far is that there are a ton of fluorescent lights here — probably because of power concerns. And not those nice new ones either — the dreary greenish ones that make you look like meat that’s a bit out of date. In fact, I have to get some proper lamps for my bedroom and for my office so I don’t have to put up with it anymore.


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