Dec 17, 2016

Travelogue - Osaka

"Okini", said the clerk who issued us the tickets & subway card at Kansai airport. I had to google what it meant afterwards. It means 'Thank You' in Osakan dialect , but not so commonly used by the young generation apparently.. They prefer 'Arigatou'  ( Thank You ) and 'Domo Arigatou' ( Thanks a lot ) . Little did we know that we were set to hear these phrases an innumerable number of times  accompanied by bowing as a mark of respect..   That's Japanese society for you. Extremely polite, welcoming & helpful. Couple of days later, a gentleman who was rushing to his office, went extra-mile to help us locate a hotel that we were looking for. He even accompanied us right to the entrance of the hotel.

Okini was perhaps an early indicator for us towards another thing as well. Japanese society is rapidly aging. Due to strong work ethic , career focus & extra-mile loyalty towards the companies that they work for, lesser number of marriages happen and less number of couples have kids. It was conspicuous everywhere. There were very few babies / toddlers everywhere. Ourselves  touring with a three year old kid hence received smiles & attention at many places.

Look whom I found in Japan - Dori & Nemo
Osaka has got a really large aquarium ( called Kaiyukan ) . Being an ancient trading port, marine life & eco system is seeped into Osakan culture. Kaiyukan is a large & well maintained place. Perhaps one of the best I've seen so far. Well documented with elaborate explanations on different parts of marine life.

Japanese Meal - Part of 'Kaiseki' ( An elaborate set of meal )
 We had apprehensions about how would the Japanese food would be. Having tried Sushi once before, I wasn't really a big fan of that.. But have to say that if you are a Non-Vegetarian & likes spicy food, you would find the Japanese food to be quite OK.  They have rice along with all meals. And they have a 'curry' - which is quite similar to the Indian curries, but made out of beef / pork / chicken etc. They have a high proportion of leaf based dishes & less of fruits.  Some researchers say that this kind of healthy meal with the Domo Arigatou bow & lots of walking keep them healthy & fit..  Indeed, even if you a city dweller, transferring from one subway line to another in a major station could involve walking of about a Kilometer .
Artificial Penguin Habitat in Kaiyukan

To feel the pulse of Osaka, you need to take a walk into their shopping streets - Dotonbari & Shinsaibashi - Suji .. You get a feel of Chinatown in various south east asian cities, but more pricey & of remarkable quality.

Yen is a high denomination-based currency. Yet, prices tend to be quoted upto the lowest unit. i.e, it is not uncommon to hear prices like 3281 yen for a T-shirt.  Being from India, prices to be quoted like that is uncommon.. It could be like 3200 rupee or 3300 rupee , but very rarely any random number between 100's.  Perhaps this has got something to do with the deflationary spiral that Japan had gone through. People tend to value even a single yen.  And money is treated with a lot of respect. If you are paying at a shop or hotel, you are expected to place the cash / card into a tray & then the cashier takes it.

Osaka has Universal Studio as well. Though did not cover that.  We used Osaka as a base to cover Hiroshima , Kyoto & Nara . I hope to return here some day to see the Osaka castle area during Cherry Blossom . There is an interesting architectural structure in Nishi Umeda, Osaka - Two skyscrapers connected by an escalator at the top. Constructing this  kind of a building in a seismically active country requires some serious skill.

Osaka ( or in general, Japan  ) is a unique experience for people coming from west. First Asian country to industrialize. Comparable to US & Europe in technology & engineering. Amazing trains & public transport systems. A unique cultural experience with many nuances, Japan has much to offer to a traveler.

Other interesting aspects about Japanese society that I came across in this trip either as part of observation or conversation.
A) Why Japanese tend to wear surgical masks ? Another perspective
B)  Why yen is a safe haven ?
C ) Why Japan lost its electronics crown ?

Dec 9, 2016

Travelogue - Hiroshima

"Till she was about 10 years old, she grew up like just another girl. She was strong & was a  member of athletic team in her school. In 1954, she developed swellings in her neck , ears and upon being admitted to hospital, was diagnosed with Leukemia and was given maximum of one year to live..  It was in hospital that she learned about the legend of folding a thousand origami cranes to have a wish fulfilled.. She completed 1000, but her wish to live further was not fulfilled. She died in 1955, when she was 12"  --  Remarked our guide Nobu (a native of Hiroshima) in an emotional, yet composed tone,  as she detailed the poignant story of Sadako Sasaki, a survivor of Atom bomb who went on to die later due to the effects of radiation she suffered when she was barely two years old

Sadako's Origami Cranes

Hiroshima Atom bomb dome seen through
the peace memorial & flame

Immortalized by a monument dedicated to her next to the Hiroshima memorial peace park and decorated with Origami cranes, this is a place that can tell you in the most impactful way, the effects of nuclear weapons on humanity.   Her story is detailed in a famous book as well

An illustration depicting the immediate state of survivors 

The infamous 'human shadow'. A person standing near a building during bombing apparently melted away leaving a shadow of his body on the building which was otherwise whitened due to bombing

The most famous landmark is the Atomic bomb dome, a building that miraculously survived the bombings.

The peace museum is perhaps at the heart of the pacifist doctrine that has been a part of Japanese Politics after the war.  It details various tales of survivors, people who perished and the tale of destruction & radiation effects that has impacted the city ever since.

I asked Nobu, 'Whats taught in Japanese schools about Japan's role in war' . She told it is taught not in a straightforward way. Japanese attacks are portrayed as attacks on military installations, while the US bombings were taught as attack on civilians.. She also told that in this age of internet, it has become easy for people to access information. But there is no right or wrong answer about these events in Japan. Indeed Obama also stopped short of apologizing for this act on civilians.

Hiroshima , city of seven rivers has come a long way from that fateful day in 1945.  City has hosted Asian games in 1994, hosted a number of world leaders, the latest being Barrack Obama this year.  Hiroshima is the headquarters of Mazda motor corporation as well. Unlike the other major Japanese cities, Hiroshima does not have a subway system. Nobu attributed that to the fact that city is in a river delta & it is not suitable to build subways because of the watery nature of soil.  A few tram coaches which survived the bombing is still being run today as a memorial

After Obama's visit this year, Shenzo Abe, the Japanese PM is set to visit Pearl Harbour later this year. It is indeed a remarkable gesture aimed at reconciling differences over a troubled past.

Hiroshima is a place which can remove even traces of extremism or war mongering from a human soul.. Indeed 6th Aug 1945 was a day when humanity stood still.
Hiroshima trip was my first experience with 'Shinkansen' (Bullet Train ) as well. 330 KM from Osaka to Hiroshima was done in about 80 minutes. Have to say that, it is indeed an engineering marvel.