Osaka, Japan

June 24, 2009

I had just accorded Japan omnipresent status. The Land of the Rising Sun may well have been the Land of the Setting Sun as well. Japan bookended the day!

Osaka Castle at Twilight

It was a dramatic sunset. A tinge of orange, a swathe of pink, and splashes of yellow set the sky aflame. The cinematic combination of castles and colors was as dreamy as Akira Kurosawa’s Dreams. Osaka-jo (Osaka Castle) and its shachihoko, that ubiquitous roof design of a fish with a dragon head, cast a mystical silhouette against the psychedelic sky.

Sunset and Turret: Osaka Castle

A vision of heaven had unfurled and displayed its resplendence. Or was it just a visual display of photochemical air pollution typical of urban summers? No matter, I was so inspired I could’ve scribbled down a haiku, but I didn’t have time to type in verses on my cellphone, only a moment to capture the evanescent light show with my camera.

The castle had already closed for the day when we arrived. My host explained that the present structure was a complete reproduction of the original – it was even refurbished with elevators inside! I had just visited Himeji Castle that morning, and I didn’t think modern trappings could hold a candle to Himeji-jo’s Edo-era splendor.

Its stone walls were magnificent. The inner moat, bordered by a granite stone wall, made an interesting study of contrasts with the steel-and-glass skyscrapers surrounding the castle. The stone wall seemed to obstinately resist the encroaching development – to no avail. Osaka was no Kyoto. Stone and moat were no match to advancing modernization here, hence the castle elevators.

The Old and the New: Osaka Castle Park
Moat around Osaka Castle

Just past the Sakuramon Daimon – the front gate – was an immense block of stone, the largest in Osaka-jo, called Tako-ishi or Octopus Stone, one of the few extant structures from the 15th century within the castle grounds. The name was derived from the scorch marks from its burning during a civil war in the 1860s still noticeable today.

Octopus Stone in Osaka Castle
Osaka Castle on my Head

On the other side of town, the sunset view of the urban landscape was likewise spectacular atop Tsutenkaku (Osaka Tower) but eerily so. The vivid reds and pinks looming over the concrete jungle was a scene straight out of the apocalyptic animated film Akira.

Tsukenkaku at Twilight
Crimson Sky over Osaka

Japan could be the Land of the Setting Sun in another sense. Given a plummeting birth rate, the elderly demographic had steadily increased, the highest in the world. A stroll in Osaka Castle Park showed the statistic. Scores of middle-aged men and the elderly were taking in this oasis of tranquility and the soft light of the late afternoon. The time and place was a visual haiku: Zen in simplicity, poignant in beauty, brief in existence.

Osaka Castle Park
The Stroller: Osaka Castle Park

A verse by Bashō, the famous haiku master, encapsulated the scene’s emotional undercurrent perfectly, succinctly.

Swallow in the dusk…

spare my little

buzzing friends

Among the flowers.

Matsuo Bashō
Pigeon at Osaka Castle Park

I wanted to linger in this peaceful park in the middle of Osaka, but I had to say sayonara in the fading twilight.