This past weekend I ventured to Osaka. Not an uncommon event as I live rather close to it. Since moving out here I go to Osaka about once a month. Yet this trip had purpose. The Tenjin Matsuri, one of the big three, was held at the Tenman Shrine. The parade is supposed to be one of the best in all Japan. And I love me a good parade. Despite my intentions, I missed the parade. Misdirection from a large flow of people plus misinformation about when the parade was from my hotel put me at the wrong side of the shrine when the time came. Oh well, just more reason to go again next year.
The trip wasn’t a total loss. Nick and his friend Derek came down to Osaka for their summer break. Tara, Kana and Shogo came for Saturday as well. Erin and Dave from training made it up for Sunday. In each group there was one form of fun to be had or another. We did our fair share of shopping, window and actual. Perusing Osaka for its intricacies is always fun, and the festival was of course on our agenda. There were several goals for the weekend, with the exception of the parade, were all achieved.
After the parade itself our main goal was to keep cool in the intense heat of an Osakan summer. This is large part of why I didn’t seek out the parade more actively: it was just too hot. While the humidity passed for the most part at the end of June, Osaka still feels like a furnace. What shocked me most is the heat at night. Out in the countryside, once the sunsets the temperature cools. Osaka keeps the same heat all day. Must be all the concrete, neon and cars.
To keep cool we kept ourselves watered during the day and imbibed at night. For as often as I travel to Osaka I don’t know the night scene as well as I would like to. We set out to discover knew watering holes, and discover we did. We found a Suntory whiskey bar named Old Bar, fitting as the median age was fifty. We followed with a girl’s bar named Hide and Seek, somewhere I entered only for the name and stayed in out of curiosity. The prices didn’t justify staying longer. Traveling to America-mura led us to a Junk Jack, a pirate themed bar where all the drinks are priced three hundred and thirty yen. Forthse reasons this bar has a special place in my heart. We finished with a karaoke bar called Turning Point, where all the patrons were as sociably drunk as we were. Did I mention this was all in one night? We returned around 3am.
Saturday morning was a special treat, the lack of sleep not including. The friend of a friend gave me tickets to the National Bunraku Theater, and so I was able to see my first buraku show. Bunraku is a Japanese puppetry, something beautiful and intricate. The puppets and set pieces are as beautifully crafted as the stories. The narrator sings the story, accompanied by a shamisen, and in the case of one piece we saw, a chorus of narrators and shamisen ring in the story in chorus. Quite a sight to behold. Earphones with English translations were provided, but the translator merely stated what was going to happen before it happened in a dull tone. Quite the disappointing contrast.
The festival itself was hot, crowded and a lot of fun. People in special festival garb, yukata and jimbei all around. At night they lit the lanterns around the shrine (done only for festivals,) played taiko and performed the dragon dance. Along the side streets were stalls with festival foods, toys and games for the children. Topping it all of was a large fireworks display at sunset.
There’s something about the energy at a festival I’ll always love; one I love moreso when it’s not obscenely hot. This is just more reason I need to go to more festivals, and I plan to do just that. I have my vacation coming up, and Dana’s coming around soon. Should be a good a time as any to go festival hunting. More stories and photos soon…