Osaka in New York Times ニューヨークタイムズ記事: 大阪

For better or worse, Osaka was featured in the New York Times this week, on Thursday. For better because any positive publicity for Osaka is good for tourism. For worse because the article, “36 Hours in Osaka, Japan” by Ingrid K. Williams, sends the wrong message: ESCAPE from real Osaka when you go.

What Williams missed is, real Osaka is about the people who live there and give meaning to its attractions, modern, but especially those old and traditional. Telling by her article, Williams hardly got off the beaten path. She writes next to nothing of the people, and this is disappointing. Osakans are generally warm, talkative, and welcoming. They are the kind of people who would prefer to walk you to a destination than show you where it is on one of those cheap, inadequate tourist maps.

Where does Williams want her readers to go? On a Ferris wheel–ESCAPE; to a Western-style whiskey bar with room for six customers–ESCAPE; to an art museum designed by a Westerner–ESCAPE; to isolated rooftop parks–ESCAPE; to a dark sea aquarium and observatory tower in the night sky–ESCAPE, ESCAPE; to modern hotels that feel like British country manors–ESCAPE…

Granted, these things can be found in Osaka, and they have their good points, but this is NOT what Osaka is about. Osaka is about its PEOPLE, and about the places THEY like to frequent. The only thing that saves Williams article from being a total flop, is her mentioning a few things that are more representative of modern times in this great aquapolis: takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and the Hanshin Tigers. These are no-brainers though.

Where should one really try to go in Osaka? A few good rules of thumb: modern does not mean better; don’t trust tour guides from Tokyo — and perhaps most guidebooks for that. Go where Osakans like to go. Kyôbashi, Shin-Sekai, Tenjinbashi-suji shôtengai (Japan’s longest covered shopping arcade), Tennôji, Tsuruhashi, not to mention many other working class neighborhoods (shitamachi), are fabulous. Some of these places also have modern department stores and shopping malls, if that’s your thing. Enjoy areas under or around train tracks/stations, and don’t be afraid to venture out to places that are a little darker, if dirtier. You’ll be surprised  by how friendly people are, how many can speak English, or will otherwise try their best at forming sentences in a second language.

Of course, I always recommend traditional theater such as bunraku and kabuki (English earphone guides usually available), and Takarazuka — all-women’s revue — is also great. The much-more earthy taishû engeki is fun, and I have to recommend rakugo, though this is not as accessible to those who can’t speak Japanese.

Finally, when you get a chance to take in the real Osaka, you will soon discover people ready to show kindness accompanied by friendly smiles and warm laughter. Just don’t forget to return the warmth and say, dômo, ôkini! (“thanks a lot” in the local dialect).

New York Times article: 36 Hours in Osaka, Japan


My Brother Loves Japan’s Plums 我が弟梅好き

Yesterday Philip and I went to Osaka Castle Park to enjoy the beautiful and fragrant plum tree orchard, which is now in full bloom. So far he has enjoyed trying new foods, riding trains, and exploring supermarkets, but he seems to have loved the plums trees in full bloom more than anything. He was thoroughly impressed and took many pictures.

Today we will go watch day one of the Osaka Grand Sumô tournament.

We will also be thinking of all the victims and families affected by the 3/11/2011 Tôhoku Megaquake and subsequent tsunamis and nuclear disasters. Today marks one year since the tragedies, but there are still many people displaced, and affected areas are still in the process of recovering. Please consider making even a small contribution to relief organizations such as the Japanese Red Cross (link on side bar →).

Ushiro Kamikiri and Sumô 後ろ紙切りと相撲

Here’s a post just in time for the Osaka Grand Sumô Tournament, which will get underway on March 11.

In a recent post, I mentioned the yose art kamikiri (artistic paper cutting, an iromono act) and I thought it was no longer performed in the Kansai area. Well, browsing Twitter last night, I found a Kamigata hanashika who performs kamikiri, though with an interesting twist. Hayashiya Emimaru (Somemaru’s #9 deshi) does kamikiri, but he does it backwards! I guess this makes sense for somebody known for doing backflips on stage… (By the way, Emimaru also plays ukulele, the right way.)

Take a look below at the Tweets and pictures (all property of Hayashiya Emimaru).




林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 10:44pm February 25


At Baruto’s appreciation dinner. I was invited as a guest, to perform ushiro kamikiri. Sitting next to Kôriyama, Baruto has a huge smile on his face (Jeez, you can’t see his face!)(LOL).

林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 11:11pm February 25
At Baruto’s appreciation dinner ②. I too was appreciated–a little too much–by a liquored-up older man. Once I got past that, I did kamikiri. Some of the guests watching said, “There’s a pro for you, making an old man like that part of the act.” *It wasn’t me using him! (LOL) Anyway, this is a fun memory.

林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 11:17pm February 25


With the sumô pro Kôriyama. A gentle-tempered powerhouse. This sumô wrestler is also powerful at drinking.

林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 11:28pm February 25


The sumô pro Baruto. He is a very open-hearted and cheerful sumô wrestler. He is an ôzeki [wrestler of the second-highest rank].

Matt Shores @KRakugoMe, 12:25am February 27

@emimaru_rakugo 笑丸さん、おはようございます。本当に楽しそうな仕事ですね。実は、僕の弟は少し把瑠都関に似ているかも… 相撲は無理ですけどね。逆紙切りてすごいですね。着物の方は大丈夫でしょうか。(^ー^)ノでは、おつかれさまでした。

Good morning, Emimaru. This looks like a really fun job. My brother kind of looks like Baruto… No way he could do sumô though. Wow, reverse kamikiri, impressive!  I wonder, is your kimono still in one piece? (^ー^)ノNice work!

林家笑丸 @emimaru_rakugo, 2:12am February 27

@KRakugoMe 着物は大丈夫でしたよー。気さくなお相撲さんとセレブなお客さんと、そこになぜか混じっていたやかましい酔っ払いのおじさんのハプニングストレスのおかげで、とても刺激的な一日でした(笑)。

Ye〜sss! My kimono was fine. Thanks to the time with friendly sumô wrestlers and celebrity guests, mixed with the stress from the run-in with the loud, drunk man,  it proved to be a very stimulating day (LOL).

Osaka Shitennôji Doyadoya 大阪四天王寺どやどや


If you have some free time and happen to be in Osaka, I recommend checking out the Tennôji area. Though the neighborhood  on the immediate south side of Tennôji station has been undergoing a major upgrade (mostly new shopping centers) over the past several years, the stretches north and west of the station still offer some of Osaka’s finest shitamachi (working-class neighborhood) flavor. I absolutely love the people, food, and air here. To me it feels like “real Osaka,” if there is such a thing.

Tennôji is also home to the historic temple Shitennôji, which is dated to the year 593, when Prince Shôtoku, the first great patron of Buddhism in Japan, is believed to have had it constructed. This is also where Tennôji gets its name. Obviously the structures standing in the complex today are not the originals, but it is still a wonderful temple, for ages a favorite religious and entertainment destination.

20120114-184318.jpgI visited the temple today to see for my first time Osaka Shitennôji Doyadoya. According to the City of Osaka website,  Shushôe takes place at the Rokujidô (Pavilion of the Sixth Hour) from New Year’s Day until January 14. During is a period when the entire clergy holds services to pray for peace in the realm and bountiful harvests of the five grains. On the final day, services are held for the Ox god (Goôhô) and paper amulets bearing this seal are sent fluttering from the rafters of the pavilion. A tradition of scrambling to catch these began ages ago and continues to this day. This particular festival is referred to as Doyadoya.

Written in the Edo period, the Settsu meisho zue states, “Shushôe takes place from New Year’s Day to the hour of the Rooster on the fourteenth day…” Doyadoya used to begin at the hour of the Rooster (6:00PM) and amulets bearing the seal of Ox god where released between around 8:00 to 9:00PM, but the time has since been moved to 2:30PM or so, to prevent disorder. Students from the following schools are regular participants: Seiryû Gakuen, Shitennôji Habikio Junior High and High Schools, and Izumi Chairudo Kindergarten.

This is a gallant event in that participants come unclothed to jostle for the hundreds of Ox god talismans sent down from above. Today these are tied to willow branches and taken home, but in years past these branches were believed to ward off pests if planted in rice paddies.  The word Doyadoya is thought to come from a common expression referring to the crowds that noisily flocked (doyadoya to) to the Rokujidô in hopes of winning a talismans bearing the seal of the Ox god.

Especially entertaining are the the teachers, also clad in loincloths, who lead the high-adrenalin exercises through megaphones and hurl water on the young men. The students cry out in the winter cold while the crowd roars with laughter, and perhaps a few sympathetic groans.

It was a great time, and I am glad I went.


Since I am on the subject, I also have to mention that Shitennôji, being such an important place in Osaka religious and cultural history, is also the setting of a number of Kamigata rakugo stories. Tennôji mairi (Pilgrimage to [Shi]Tennôji) has to be the best known of these. In this rakugo it is the middle of higan, vernal equinoctial week. A man gets his friend (Jinbei) to join him on a pilgrimage to Shitennôji, saying he wants to have a service held and sound the requiem bell for his recently departed, beloved dog Kuro. Soon, they pass through the fabled stone gateway, and, on Jinbei’s lead, the two proceed on a whirlwind tour through the temple precincts. They come to any number of shops and show-tents (misemono goya), giving listeners a great illustration of the lively place Shitennôji used to be.

What with all the enthusiastic participants and eager crowd, whistles shrilling in unison with manly chants, quality entertainment in an old temple-school tradition, not to mention a crowd of preparatory school and cell phone company representatives stationed outside the temple gate waiting to sweep up students and their families on their way out, I felt momentarily what Shitennôji must have been like in ages past, what a lively place it still is.












How To Say Nagoya 名古屋の言い方

Yesterday, I had the following conversation with my friend from Tokyo (a University of Tokyo teacher):

MATT: The Chûnichi Dragons are from Nagoya, right?

FRIEND: Yeah. But it’s Nagoya.

MATT: Yeah. Nagoya.

FRIEND: No, the accent is Nagoya.

MATT: But, I live in Osaka, so…

FRIEND: Yeah, but, I think people from Osaka also pronounce it Nagoya.

MATT: Really? But, I recently took a trip to Nagoya with Somemaru, and I was saying Nagoya this and Nagoya that, and he didn’t say a thing. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure he was saying Nagoya too.

FRIEND: Maybe Somemaru is just a nice guy and wasn’t correcting you. But, I’m not from Osaka, so I don’t really know. But, I think it’s Nagoya.

MATT: Strange.

FRIEND: Huh? Me?

MATT: No, it’s just that, I’ve come all this way thinking it’s Nagoya, and saying Nagoya…

FRIEND: But, yeah…

MATT: This is really getting to me. I’m going to ask Somemaru tomorrow.

FRIEND: Come on, I don’t think you have to take it that far…

And, fast-forward to today; I asked Somemaru how to say Nagoya. No, actually, I wrote “Nagoya” on a piece of paper and asked him to read it. Sure enough, it was NAgoya. Somemaru had one thing to say: “You might want to apologize to your friend.”

(Deep bow, forehead to the ground) I’M SO SORRY!

Here’s what I learned today: 1) Nagoya is pronounced Nagoya; 2) Don’t debate matters with University of Tokyo teachers; 3) It’s NOT okay to assume my “foreign accent” is Osaka dialect.