The Land of the Setting Sun

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 Matsuo Basho, the famous haiku master, encapsulated the scene’s emotional undercurrent perfectly, succinctly.

Swallow in the dusk…

spare my little

buzzing friends

Among the flowers.

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.


34 thoughts on “The Land of the Setting Sun”

  1. Ajota,

    You are not only a great writer you are a fantastic photographer as well! I really love reading your blog. I don’t want to miss anything.

  2. Splendid in every sense of the word!

    The tone of this entry is very retreating… i felt the good bye in each and every line…

    I’m truly fascinated by the chronological sequence of this series… need i say more? Words will not suffice the beauty of the Japan series entry… and the rest of this blog.

    We should see this copyrighted in a few years time, this is an intellectual property, your AJness!

    Mwah! Outstanding work!

    1. Zainess, you got the dominant impression in this piece! Oh yes, I do have the copyright (upper right, just under my gravatar). Hope to see you back here, Zainess….

  3. hang on to your hat coz I ‘m pretty sure , there’ll be more heartwarming tales and stories ~~
    cUmmin’ (hahahahaha) only here at BJ with A J !! yipeeeyyyy!!!

    NO g’byes….

  4. Hello

    I was glad because you enjoyed Japan.

    Your photographs are beautiful.

    I was able to watch Japan from a different viewpoint by your blog.
    Thank you.

    1. Thanks, too, for your kind words. I had a blast in Japan! When people ask me what Japan is like, I could only manage an adverb: SUPER-DUPER! 🙂

  5.… that was a nice adventure and lovely photos… i really like Japan… especially their literature… haikus and tankas are both amazing verses from Japan and i really love to write ’em… thanks for the wonderful reads…^^


    1. I heart haiku too – succinct and sweet. You should visit Japan, if you haven’t yet. It could inspire you more to create verses. Keep up the poetry-writing, Kelvin! Thanks for dropping in.

  6. Panalo ang pose sa stained stone 🙂 (BTW is your visit to Japan the most expensive trip you have had so far or was it when you went to Beijing? I’m thinking of including Japan in our next holiday but I think it’s quite expensive to stay there compared to other countries)

    1. Don’t let Japan’s pricey rep deter you. Yes, it was my most expensive trip, but only because the other countries I visited were really dirt cheap (including China).

      BUT (that’s a big but) Japan is not as prohibitively expensive as it is accused to be. If you can do away with taking cabs, eating Western food, taking shinkansen (bullet train), staying at chain hotels (you can stay in what they call ryokan, a traditional hostel; a business hotel is also a good alternative)…it’s quite affordable.

      I’m the worst cheapskate in the world, though, so I crashed at friends’ houses in Tokyo and Shiga (near Kyoto) so I didn’t pay for accommodations. 🙂

  7. Keep publishing your little gems online AJ! I love reading them. Japan is a beautiful country. Can still remember Osaka Castle as one of those most impressive places to visit.

    1. Well, I’d have to credit Basho for the poetry in this post! His haiku perfectly captured my state of mind in that setting. Now that’s a real artist!

    1. Isn’t it “this guy”, not “the sky”? Anyway I like the rest of it: “Many miles, many roads I have traveled. Falling down on the way. Many hearts, many years have unraveled. Leading up to today….”

  8. AJ, when I read this, nothing conjures up my head but my travel to Osaka in 2009. I love the city and yes, Osaka Castle is one great castle where history was made for me. My first time to get into a castle, literally and figuratively. My first time to go in with a Swiss friend. My first time to don on a Samurai attire with matching Samurai sword and our first time to look funny in our Samurai acting like Samurai jackass hahaha.

    I love, as usual, the prose and the photos you took AJ.

    1. That’s cool, Doc! Too bad I missed going inside the castle. I would’ve worn that samurai costume too. Oh, I can just imagine the poses, haha!

  9. feels like you have a japanese-blood.. when the japanese are making some conversation, they always starts in describing the environment, the weather, then the feelings.. I like how you make this post. Arigatou gazaimasu for sharing this to us 🙂

    1. Whoa – never thought of it that way. But I like your observation. I also look Japanese, especially with a cap on. 🙂 Thanks for taking time to read my posts, Blair!

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