Over a long period of time covering 2013, I stopped posting here, and just put photos up for a smaller contingent of friends and family on Facebook. Eventually, I got tired of the site’s lossy image re-sizing and photo ownership policy, and wanted to share things with more people (I keep my FB profile private).
I saw and photographed some cool stuff in 2013, so it would be a shame not to put it up here.
From reading my posts, you may have gathered Nara Prefecture is a place where a lot has happened, the traditional heartland of Japan.
The city of Kashihara, on the other hand, is a very modern invention. An unremarkable semi-rural suburb of Osaka on the south end of the Nara plains, it was created by merger in the 1950s from older towns. The area, however, has a significance in Japanese history that goes back thousands of years.
For one, this is the place where the Age of Gods ended and Japan was founded.
Well…in the annals of mythology, that is.
The 8th century CE creation myths Kojiki and Nihon Shoki, the two earliest known pieces of Japanese writing, tell of a man named Kamu Yamato Iwarebiko no Mikoto (people had very long names in early ancient Japan). He was a mortal man born of the gods in the 8th century BCE, the direct heir to the sun goddess Amaterasu. He sailed with his people from southern Kyushu to find a new home, made landfall in the Kinki area, and conquered it. With this he became Japan’s first emperor. This marked the end of the Age of Gods and dawn of the Age of Men. He was posthumously named Jinmu, the name by which he is known nowadays.
This all was very important to the 19th century Meiji government, who were promulgating a Shintoist nation-state centered around the emperor. They established February 11th, the supposed date of Jinmu’s ascension as a major national holiday celebrating the foundation of Japan, and built Kashihara Shrine to enshrine him in 1890, at the base of Mt. Unebi where Jinmu is said to have died.
With its connection to the mythos of the imperial state, the holiday was abolished after World War II. It was reinstated in 1966 as Foundation Day, only with vastly reduced significance, festivities, and overt political-religious tones. Nowadays, it’s mostly only hard-right nationalist groups who make a big deal about tying Kashihara, Jinmu, and Foundation Day together.
Of course, Jinmu’s very existence is unproven, and the account of his life is pure myth. Even if he actually existed and was a seminal leader of his people, calling him the first emperor would be a bit of a stretch, since the ancient conception of a chief or ruler of the Yamato tribe was undoubtedly very different from even the 8th-century CE concept of an Emperor of Japan, let alone the 19th-century interpretation.
Certain elements of the myth do ring true however, such as the likely migration of the Yamato clan from Kyushu, and the vital significance of the Nara region as the foundational cradle of the imperial state.
This early imperial state was semi-nomadic, with the emperor’s palace and thus the center of power burned down and moved around Yamato every time the emperor died, or omens and signs suggested it was time to change location.
When the Japanese state transitioned to a more Chinese-inspired administrative model in the 7th century, their first attempt at a fixed capital city wasn’t Kyoto or even Nara. It was here in Kashihara. Of course it wasn’t called that yet.
Fujiwara-kyo was the great capital city only briefly, however. A series of fires and illnesses was blamed on a vengeful spirit, and the site was completely abandoned for Heijo-kyo (Nara) in 710. Archaeological excavations still continue at the site, as its largely incomplete history is slowly filled in.
Think about it, though. If it weren’t for one angry ghost, Kashihara might have been the grand city, and Kyoto might have been a big grassy plain.
A thousand years later, Kashihara became significant in a rather different way. It was the site of Imai, a wealthy town of traders and merchants that served as a hub for traffic on the inland highways of Nara.
As foot and horse traffic through Nara lost its importance for the Japanese economy after the Meiji era, Imai faded from the scene. Perhaps because it was no longer significant, it was never developed or razed. Now the entire former town is a cultural property, a rectangle-shaped historic district on the east side of central Kashihara.
A few people still actually live and ply their trades there, though I’m sure there are lots of rules and regulations that come with historic preservation.
As you might now, I have an interest in cities, where they came from, how they are, and where they’re going. That being said, I have a small interest in high-rise construction as well. I thought somehow Osaka had no room left to grow, but it turns out the pace of construction of buildings over 100 meters has been roughly doubling each decade since the 1960s. In many parts of the city there’s literally a new building going up on every block.
So I present to you Osaka’s largest undergoing high-rise projects!
First up is the largest, the Abenobashi Terminal Tower.
Japan has a sort of train culture you just don’t see in America. A major urban train station isn’t just a place you have to go to get somewhere else- it’s a destination, full of department stores, restaurants, marketplaces, hotels, even office property. They have an urbanizing influence on their neighborhoods, as more developments tend to cluster around the station. The Abenobashi Tower certainly shows Japanese train culture isn’t going away- a gigantic addition to the multi-line Tennoji Station in south Osaka. With 62 floors and 300 meters, it will be Japan’s tallest high-rise skyscraper on completion, as well as Japan’s first true “supertall”, as defined as a building over 300 meters. It will contain retail of all sorts, office space, and a hotel (slated to be Mariott last I heard).
It replaces a much smaller department store owned by one of the train companies, built around the early 1970s. Part of the building appears to be left connected to the new tower, though.
When I first arrived here, the tower was literally a big pit of dirt. At the start of February the site looked like this:
Over the next month accelerated at an unbelievable pace.
The south end of Osaka has rather few high-rises, as compared to further north. This area in particular is one of the poorer, if not the poorest, in the city, hit rather hard by the 1990s economic fall. This tower could be a sign of a reverse in fortune for the neighborhood, and definitely a symbol of Osaka’s recovery as a city.
Next up is the Nakanoshima Festival Tower. Nakanoshima is a unique geographic feature of central Osaka, a long, narrow spit of an island in the middle of the river that flows past the castle. It’s long been the site for government buildings and offices, but in the past decade it’s undergone a radical transformation, with skyscraper after skyscraper filling the island. The Festival Tower is only the latest, a 39 story, 200 meter predominantly office building rising on the site of a squat office built at the turn of the 1960s. It’s due to be complete by October 2012.
Construction has proceeded gradually until the last month, when the pace has accelerated.
And then we have a rather ambitious project that will really change the cityscape- four skyscrapers going up simultaneously as part of one very large development that seems to be called Osaka Grand Front, containing offices, retail of all sorts, and residence in a pretty big expansion of the city. Four towers, all around 150-180 meters tall, and ranging from 30 to 50 stories. Just north of the downtown district of Umeda is a vast freightyard. In the past, it was even larger, but recently the peripheral parts of the complex, especially the small freight and truck yards, have been taken over by high-rises. Grand Front in particular takes over a large eastern slice of the freight area that seems to have been a trailer truck depot back in the 1980s. It was cleared years ago, but it remained unclear to me what they were doing with the land until one day in early May I wandered by and saw this:
All I can say now is, it sure is exciting to live in a city with this much energy and change. Who says the Chinese are the only ones who can build stuff?
Yes, I’m gonna keep calling Osaka Aquapolis.
Time for another foray into video! What should befall me one night, as I wandered my neighborhood in search of cheap grub, but the sound of festival drumming.
A boat parade down the Dotonbori canal- the one Colonel Sanders took a dive into back in the 1980s. The rowboats above were just the vanguard. After traveling up and down the canal a few times, the rowers turned back upstream to the Okawa river. A procession of much larger boats followed, each taken out by a local business around the canal area, and each featuring live music in a cacophony of styles. There were boats with traditional drummers, old-timey jazz, ancient imperial court music (complete with dance and period costume), and even a boat with a DJ spinning breakbeats, celebrating their Aquapolitan-ness.
Yes, there is real fire on that boat.
The parade was real short but fantastic while it lasted. I kinda forgot I was hungry for a while.
Time for more about my city. Why? Because I’ve got some pictures I want to show!
Osaka is the only Japanese city besides Tokyo with extensive high-rise construction. Even Nagoya, Japan’s “third city” and “Center Capital,” with nearly Osaka’s population, stays much lower to the ground. Japanese cities simply don’t build high so much as they build close. Perhaps it’s the extra cost of quake-proofing and insuring those sorts of buildings. Maybe the way city planning or real estate parcelling works is different. Maybe people just don’t care as much about prominent architecture here, and so squat nondescript buildings that fit better into a matrix get put down, instead of vast monuments.
Thus, the Osaka city view is pretty unique in the country.
The other thing is, a lot of these buildings are new. My pictures are full of towers that weren’t there a decade ago. Hell, there are some major buildings that didn’t exist when I was a student here years ago. And there’s so much new construction. In some neighborhoods, there’s something going up literally every city block. They’re building something to the south of me that’s going to be Japan’s tallest high-rise when it’s completed. There are other significant projects rising fast on an ambitious timetable.
Osaka has had a reputation as a city in decline, losing population and power since the 1960s, and many people I’ve talked to about the present and future of Osaka took a rather glum outlook. I’ve discovered people here tend to overestimate their troubles. The city’s population is growing now for the first time in about forty years, and I hesitate to mention it, but the continuing specter of power shortage in Tokyo Metro is making Osaka an attractive place for business. The omnipresent construction projects, in a city I didn’t really think had any more room for big buildings, is further evidence that Osaka is allllll right.
I feel as if I’ve arrived just in time to witness a renaissance of sorts.
As a postscript of sorts, the old epithet for Osaka was “水の都”, mizu no miyako, which I might translate as “city of waters.” I found it amusing to see a translated area map for English-speaking visitors in Nanba, which creatively decided the best translation was “Aquapolis.”
I think I’ll start calling Osaka that more often.
The Japanese have a word, go-busata, that neatly describes the failure of one to keep up correspondence with another. Of this, I am guilty. But at least I have a nice excuse. My plans for visiting good friends in Tokyo fell through two weeks ago. My friend back in America cancelled her flight, rather than fly into Narita during a period of unstable electricity. My Gunma friend thought she might come to Osaka, but decided not to, again because the threat of rolling blackouts made it hard to tell if she could return on time for work if she left.
The electrical troubles, though, stabilized, and so a week ago she finally came over, laying eyes on Kansai for the first time in two years or so, since we were students. A friend and associate of hers from Maebashi just happened to be in the area, so we joined forces. And so we went on a tour of Keihanshin. In Osaka, we visited the ancient religious sites of Sumiyoshi and Shitennoji, then hung around Dotonbori for food and karaoke. In Kobe, we explored the streets, strolled Chinatown, and sat down for some fine Kobe steak. Then we went to Kyoto, visiting old temples in the northeast and buying traditional goods in the markets.
I didn’t really take any pictures, partially because I’ve already uploaded pictures of these places, but mostly because I just wanted to enjoy the time without being perpetually distracted by trying to capture everything in JPEGs.
Sorry. I’ll make up for it.
My friend is back in Maebashi now and we’re all back to work, but now comes the news that my friend from Pennsylvania is flying to Osaka for two weeks in April-May. That’s pretty friggin’ sweet.
So I’ve decided I should make this blargh a little more personal, as opposed to just a photolog. That way, it doesn’t lay dormant for so damned long.
Anyway, I work nights. Tuesdays, I work alone, so I get to play shopkeep, and open the place up, keep track of the money, and say things like, “Bombs? You want it? It’s yours, my friend.”
OK, so that last part not so much.
I had Abbey Road playing all night as background music, but now all I can think of is, “Listen Elton John, I’m sick of you, so I’m quitting the Beatles!” http://www.albinoblacksheep.com/flash/shavecut
Ahh, on an unrelated note, an apartment isn’t a home without some Scotch. I’ve got a bottle of Laphroaig and Talisker- at cut-rate prices compared to America. They say Osaka is the second most expensive city to live in, after Tokyo, but I’m not so sure.
Tomorrow morning, or rather later today, I head out to Nagoya on my first real vacation within Japan. I’ll come back with craptons of photographic evidence.
Durandal, uhh I mean…
For those of you playing at home-
Here are some more random pictures of Osaka, taken during various sojourns.
Okay, I have a serious problem with not updating this thing regularly. I’ve never been the blogging type, and sometimes there’s so much I want to do besides typing and uploading. I’ll try harder.
Roll back your memories to a month ago, kind reader.
In the second week of the new year, after the holiday season had ended and I was settling into daily life, I emerged one day from my apartment to discover quite a crowd outside.
Turned out it was a three-day holiday for Ebisu, god of things like good fortune, business, profit, and fishing. The alley was lined with stall after stall of old-timey carnival games and food- everything from Indian curry, to ramen hamburgers, to roast pig offal (it’s an Osaka thing…)
I spend some of my down time getting to better know my city. Now you can too!
Major Japanese cities love towers, and this is Osaka’s, a few minutes south of my house. In the 1910s, this area was a theme park, and the tower was the centerpiece. The park closed in the ’20s, but the tower remained until a fire damaged it in 1943.
The wreck was scrapped for war materiel- ironically, a casualty of Japan’s war campaign rather than the massive American bombing which came later. Rebuilt in 1956, it endures as an old-timey symbol of south side Osaka.
Billiken- what an odd story. I saw this figure all over the busy marketplaces of the south side, but the name suggested an origin more American than Japanese. Perhaps related to an American player for the Hanshin Tigers, I thought.
What I discovered was that it was a figurine that debuted in America in 1908 as a briefly popular collector’s item and idol of fortune. When Osaka’s aforementioned theme park opened up, a big statue of this guy was a centerpiece. Billiken had vanished from the American consciousness by the 1950s, but at the same time he became more emblematic in Osaka.
Now he has almost become a god of commerce and fortune in the south side, like the more traditional figures Daikoku-Ten or Ebisu.
Somehow, some way, traces of the old city sometimes emerge between the concrete.
SECRET NAZI STORE! Well, not so secret. They’re almost right next to my apartment building, and they sell pots and pans. I’m pretty sure they’re not Nazis. Remember, a version of the swastika is a commonly recognized symbol of Buddhism over here.
To obtain my new visa, I had to travel to the Osaka Immigration Office. Unlike the consulates and other government buildings in Osaka, Immigration isn’t actually in the midst of the city. It’s out on an artificial island in the harbour.
Why is it there? It seems rather antiquated to put the immigration center in the harbour these days, as if most people entered Osaka by ship. Maybe it’s to make it harder to get to…
On this island, there is very little. It must be a rather new bit of reclaimed land, as the Google Earth images are a little older and show an even emptier place. Grassy lots awaiting development, apartment blocks…oh yeah, and the third tallest skyscraper in Japan.
I am also terribly sorry I haven’t posted in ages. There are a lot of reasons- I’ve become really busy now that I’m a working resident of Japan, and my daily life has also become a little more prosaic. Work, eat, pay bills, buy toilet paper, etc.
But now that my life has stabilized a bit, you might hear more from me.