Lake Biwa (琵琶湖) is the biggest freshwater lake in Japan. It is in Shiga prefecture, not too far from Kyoto. Having grown up around the great lakes, when I hear “largest lake,” I imagine something pretty big. When you stand on the shore of any of the great lakes (Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, or Ontario), you can’t see the opposite shore. The lakes are enormous. Even the smallest of them, Lake Erie, would talk about 11 hours to drive around. (According to Google Maps. I looked up Buffalo, NY to Toledo, OH to Detroit, MI to Buffalo, NY and Google told me it would take 10 hours and 59 minutes.)
But looking at Lake Biwa last month, I was disappointed to see that even Japan’s largest lake is not large enough for the opposite shore to remain unseen. And a similar search on Google Maps told me that it would talk only 4 hours and 15 mins to drive around the lake, even though the drive around Lake Erie was mostly on highways and much of the drive around Lake Biwa was on local roads (with much lower speed limits).
Still, despite my disappointment about the size of the lake, it was very beautiful. I took these pictures about an hour after sunrise.
See that shore in the distance?
Built-up shore of Lake Biwa
The sky and water seems to fade into one color.
It seems that no trip to Osaka is complete without stopping by Dotonbori and taking a picture of the Glico running man sign. The Glico running man may be the most recognizable symbol of Osaka. Dotonbori is an area famous for food in a city famous for food. Osaka is a port city and various delicacies of the sea are easy to find in Dotonbori. Whether you want sushi, octopus balls or crab, you can find it in Dotonbori.
The Glico Running Man has been at Dotonbori since 1935. Glico is an Osaka based company that makes sweets, so eating their products will probably not help you cross the finish triumphantly like the man on the sign.
Doesn't the running man look somehow larger in this reflection? I wonder why.
The Kani Doraku Crab has been above this crab restaurant since 1960. He is 6 and a half meters long and his arms move.
This giant hand is coming out of the wall to grab a piece of maguro, tuna. This is not mechanized and does not move.
This demon is above a store front that sells takoyaki, octopus balls.
The first World’s Fair to be held in Asia was the 1970 World Expo (日本万国博覧会) in Osaka, Japan. The controversial symbol of the 1970 World Expo is the 65m tall Tower of the Sun (太陽の塔), which vistors to the World Expo Commemorative Park can still see the tower. I read in the Lonely Planet that many people thinks it looks like it was made by a child. It was actually designed by Japanese artist Taro Okamoto and he was 59 years old when the Tower was completed. The easiest way to get to the park is via the Osaka monorail.
We first see the Tower of the Sun peeking out over the monorail tracks from across the highway.
2 of the tower's 3 faces are on the front. The top face is called the "Golden mask (黄金の顔)" and the bottom face is called ”The Face of the Sun(太陽の顔)”
The back of the Tower has the third face, "The Black Sun(黒い太陽の顔)"
Reflection of the Tower of the Sun on the windows of the monorail station.
Here are a couple more pictures from Osaka, most are from shopping over the New Years holiday, so it’s basically a continuation of my previous post.
I saw a lot of young girls rocking the pair look (ペアルック pe-ah, ru-ku. That's Japanese-made English for wearing matching outfits). But I also saw these matching dogs sitting together in a bike basket.
More matchy- matchy clothes. These are Lolita style dresses for sale at a costume store. The clothes at this store were actually pretty cheap but also pretty poor in quality.
Frosted Flakes tankini? Sounds Grrrrrrrreat! If you look closely you can see a Pez bikini in the background.
Very few places were open just after New Years in Osaka, but there were some stores open. My friends and I wanted to go somewhere or do something, so our only option was to shop!
Sign announcing the sale.
It seems like fur is really in right now. I wonder how much of it is real fur and how much is imitation fur.
More fur, and leopard print! But if the point of fur is to stay warm, then this outfit is a massive failure.
There's fur on the boots too. For the cheap cheap price of 6,520 yen (about 70 USD)! (Is that cheap? I dunno. I think they could be cheaper.) I like the squirrel sitting next to those boots.
Fur's in for men's fashion too.
There were many girls with megaphones entice people into their stores by promoting their store's sale. Look at the eyelashes.
Another girl with a megaphone trying to get people to shop in her store. Check out those eyelashes and that bow! This girl actually asked me to take her picture.
I remember getting my ears pierced. Everyone had told me stories of the big metal gun like thing that felt cold against your cheek as your ear got ripped apart. But when I went into Claires that sunny summer afternoon, they had used a relatively small, white plastic gun to mutilate my ear. And it hadn’t been that painful. (The pain came later.)
It seems that know piercing one’s ears has gotten even simpler and the device you need to make a hole in your ear, even smaller. In Osaka, I found these DIY ear piercing kits. They’re slightly smaller than an ear and come with birthstone earrings pre-inserted. All you need to do is clean your ear and prick a hole. Cost:￥1,470 or about $15 per piercing. So about $30 to get one in each ear.
DIY ear piecring kit for sale in Osaka.
After visiting the Silver Pavilion on snowy New Year’s Eve, we headed across town to the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji (金閣寺).
The Golden Pavilion lives up to its name and is actually golden, unlike the silver pavilion. But, the Golden Pavilion is not an original. The first time I visited the pavilion, I marveled at the spectacular temple covered in gold leaf. Then I read the book Temple of the Golden Pavilion by Yukio Mishima, which is a fictional retelling of true events. In 1950, a monk burned down the Golden Pavilion. The current temple is a reconstruction dating from 1955. It’s still a great place to visit, but I was rather disappointed to find out it wasn’t original. I felt like I’d been lied to.
The Golden Pavilion seen from across the reflective pond. It wasn't very reflective with all the snow.
There so many people there that we could barely move. Here you can see everyone trying to get the same picture. Maybe we should just have one person take a picture and then share it with everyone.
At New Years, it is tradition to go to a shrine to pray for the new year. Many people flood into shrines at midnight and for the next few days, major shrines are packed with people.
So, while staying in Osaka around New Years, my friends and I decided to go to Kyoto for a day. It’s only about half an hour train ride away from Osaka. very close. We figured if we went the day before the new year, we would beat the crowds. We were also planning to visit temples, not shrines. (Temples are Buddhist. Shrines are Shinto. )
But we failed in our attempt to beat the crowds. Everywhere we went was packed with people. Even though it wasn’t the traditional time or place to visit, it was still a time when most people had vacation from work and there were tons of people taking the opportunity to travel. Also, unlike Osaka, which had relatively warm weather, Kyoto was cold and snowy. We got caught in a snowstorm there. In this post, I have pictures from the first temple we visited, ginkakuji, the silver pavilion (銀閣寺). I visited this temple before a couple years ago in the springtime. You can see those pictures here.
Crowds on the walk to the silver pavilion
Reflection of the pavilion and crowds in a window.
Usually you can walk through many paths that go through the beautiful garden, but most of the paths were closed because of the snow.
The silver pavilion with a blanket of snow.Why is it called the silver pavilion? It is said that they originally had plans to cover the exterior in silver leaf. (Emulating the Golden Pavilion, which is covered in gold leaf. ) But although the never did, the name stuck.
Bamboo covered in snow.
My friend made a snow bunny! And then she found some berries for the creepy red eyes. Pretty well done, right? As soon as she put it down, tourists were stopping to take pictures of it.
I spent New Years in Osaka. Osaka is usually considered Japan’s 2nd largest city with 2.6 million people. Actually, the city that comes 2nd in terms of population is Yokohama, with 3.6 million people. But Yokohama is basically an extension of Tokyo, so if you look at the Tokyo metropolis as one entity, then the Osaka metropolis would be number 2. However, there is another way to calculate population that does place Osaka second. If you look at the number of people who are in Osaka by day, the city surges to 3.7 million. People commute in from bedroom suburbs and nearby cities such as Kobe. So, during the day, Osaka is bigger than Yokohama.
Osaka has a really different feel from Tokyo. Tokyo is the capital and the center of big business, but Osaka is more of a center of industry. It originally was built up as a city of merchants, so it was never high class. Osaka culture is all about food. And there is a lot of good food in Osaka. Osaka is often referred to as the nation’s kitchen (天下の台所). Some of the famous food of Osaka include Takoyaki (octopus balls), Okonomiyaki (lit. made as you like it, sometimes called a Japanese pancake, but also sometimes compared to pizza), and sushi.
While I was able to eat some good food in Osaka, I wasn’t able to do much sightseeing. In Japan, Christmas is a great time to travel because everything is still open, but New Years is another story. Almost everything was closed from December 30th through January 3rd. One place that was open was the Umeda Sky Building, which has an observation deck that offers a great view of the city. We went up there after dark and I took these pictures.
- Osaka at Night
Another view of Osaka
Bridges in Osaka. Osaka is a port city. It sits on the sea and has many rivers running through it. That's what made it so perfect for becoming a major center for trade.
More of Osaka. Can you see the red oval just to the right of the center of the picture? That's a ferris wheel on top of a shopping mall.
Nara is an ancient capital of Japan. Located near Kyoto, it was the location of the capital of Japan from 710 – 784. And during that time, the palace was Heijo palace. That was 1300 years ago and now Nara thinks they might be able to make a buck by getting tourists to come pay to see it! So, to entice visitors o come to the palace and celebrate a bit of Japanese history, they’ve made a mascot.
His name is Sento-kun and he has antlers! Nara is famous for deer, but how did he get antlers? Did he steal them? Did he have to kill a deer to get them?
The antlers on Sento-kun. 'kun' is often added on the end of a younger boy's name.