Monday, 19 March 2018

A hiatus in Osaka

'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step' 

'A journey of a thousand miles begins with putting off the first step as long as possible' 
Ellie Bennett

Having flown from the other side of the world, and knowing that our two days in Hong Kong were likely to be hectic, we had already booked accommodation for two days in Osaka to recover before starting our walk but we are so tired that we decide to extend our stay a further two nights to make sure we are fully rested for our long walk around Shikoku.

We are staying in Boarding House, Osaka a hostel in the Tennoji area, south of central Osaka. The proprietor here is friendly; when we brought our bicycles with us in 2013 he was incredibly helpful, letting us assemble and disassemble the bikes in his premises and storing our large cycle bags and other items for three months while we went cycling round Shikoku for no charge at all.

As soon as we are all checked in we head to the local supermarket in search of some lovely Japanese food.

Mick is in his favourite supermarket

20% off

Half Price!
A short walk from the hostel is Shitenno-ji, the temple which gave the area its name. Shi means 'four' and Tenno means king; Shitenno-ji is the temple of four heavenly kings. Originally constructed in the year 593 at the request of Prince Shōtoku, this was one of the earliest Buddhist temples in Japan. On the way we visit Koshindo Temple, where there is a shrine to the three wise monkeys.

at Koshindo Temple

Choganji Temple


5 Storey Pagoda

Lanterns at Shitenno-ji

Despite visiting Osaka several times now, I've never been to Nara, famed as Japan's first permanent capital city and known for its historical buildings. It is also only 35 minutes away from Tennoji by train so we decide to spend a day here. The journey goes smoothly (of course it does, this is Japan!!). We make our way first to the magnificent Todaji Temple. The main building here, the Daibutsuden, is the largest wooden building in the world and stepping through the enormous gateway, flanked on either side by Nio or  Kongo-rikishi, guardians of the temple, I feel very small. The Daibutsuden houses a bronze Buddha seated on huge lotus petals. The statue is a full 15 metres high. On either side and almost as large, are two Bodhisattvas. They are utterly stunning.

At the back of the hall is a wooden pillar with a hole in the base. Apparently, if you can squeeze through the hole you will be granted enlightenment in the next life. A queue of children and a few sporting adults wait to try it. The children slide easily through the hole, the adults have more trouble and many of them give up without really trying. One Western woman with a rather large backside steps up amid gasps and murmurs from the onlookers who clearly doubt whether she will make it through. It takes a few tugs from her partner but she manages it and smiles triumphantly at the crowd.
'Fancy a go?' asks Mick. 'After all you used to be a caver, you should be able to do it'.
'What about you?' I countered.
'Oh I've done it before,' he says breezily, adding 'mind you that was 15 years ago.'
I crouch down and look at the small hole. I could probably do it but the thought of getting stuck in there with all these onlookers doesn't appeal.  'I will do it at the end of my walk,' I say. 'I will be much thinner then. Hopefully'.

No problem for small children...
We spend the rest of the day wandering around the many temples and shrines which are scattered through Nara Park, keeping a wary eye on the deer. We had a bad experience with deer on the island of Miyajima once  - having left our lunch on the handlebars of our bicycles we returned to find the deer had eaten the lot - food, packaging, wooden chopsticks -everything. All that was left was a tell-tale sliver of plastic stuck to the side of the deer's face. Mick had not been happy. The deer here at Nara looked better fed however and there were lots of vendors selling biscuits for them. Our brochure claimed that 'the deer in this park are so polite that they bow to you when they ask you for Shika Senbei' (deer crackers). Hmm, I didn't see much bowing going on when I saw a dozen of them chasing a woman across the park for their Shika Senbei!

We visit Kasuga Taisha Shinto shrine, which we learn is the shrine responsible for the deer being in the park in the first place. According to the legend, when the shrine was founded, a god from Kashima Shrine came to Nara riding on a white deer and since then they have been protected as divine messengers.

Kasuga Taisha shrine

The path up to the shrine is lined with thousands of stone lanterns and the shrine itself is bedecked with hundreds more brass ones. The lanterns are lit twice a year for festivals which must be a pretty time consuming job in itself.

Lanterns on the path to Kasuga Taisha shrine
Nara deserves more than the day we were able to spare it and I hope we will be able to return after our walk on Shikoku.

No visit to Osaka would be complete without visiting our favourite little bar (izakaya) in Tennoji. Hidden behind the neon lights and the shopfronts near the station is a network of narrow backstreets, a little bit of old Tennoji. As usual we cannot find the place we are looking for and wander up and down the narrow streets. Just when we are about to give up and assume it has closed, we find we are standing outside it. A glass door slides open to reveal a narrow room crammed with people stood shoulder to shoulder at the counter. We are gratified to discover that the owner, a diminutive woman who rules the place with a rod of iron, remembers us. 'Two years ago?' she asks.
'Four' we reply, and she shakes her head disbelievingly. How time flies!

Hidden backstreets in Tennoji

Our favourite bar
We shuffle in and take our places at a small space at the bar. The owner clearly remembers that our Japanese is poor and brings a picture menu. This time Mick is not tempted by the Hell Tofu, tofu laced with chilli, after which he suffered greatly the last time we were here.

Hell Tofu

Remove waste products it most certainly did. Perhaps we should go for 'a chicken strangled in the morning' instead.

Every now and again more people arrive and our host yells at her customers to move up and we all obediently shuffle down the bar. It is impossible not to talk to your neighbour in a place like this and we have an enjoyable evening chatting to some of the locals despite our limited Japanese.

But now our four days rest have come to an end and there's no delaying it any further. Tomorrow morning, Tuesday 20th March, we catch the bus to Shikoku and start our walk around the island. And it has started raining.

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