Osaka

Beautiful Tree Blossoms at Osaka Castle

Cherry Blossom viewing season doesn’t last for long, with each area holding about two weeks of full flowers. Last week the Toyama trees were in full bloom (and still are in some areas) making me cross my fingers that we would be lucky to catch Osaka’s season. Osaka Castle Park is reportedly home to almost 5000 cherry trees, which at their peek would turn the entire area into a sea of soft pink and white petals. It turns out this weekend was the tail end of the season, with most trees still holding on to some blossoms but mostly having grown their green leaves for the summer.
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Then ten minute walk up to the castle turned into an hour when we passed through a large area of plum trees with a mix of big purple flowers, some still as buds. I’ve never seen anything like them, and although they aren’t the famous Cherry Blossoms, I found them just as pretty.
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My last visit to Osaka Castle was in the middle of winter, meaning the park and castle were fairly deserted. This time it was in it’s full spring boom, and it was really nice to see colour in the trees and to people watch a little. Just outside the entrance to the castle was a cherry tree full in bloom, attracting a lot of photos and prayers tied to the branches.
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Andreas Gursky Exhibition in Osaka

The first day in Osaka I went to the National Museum of Art, Osaka to catch an Andreas Gursky exhibition, a German photographer known for his hyper-realistic photographs. His work is usually large scale, capturing large areas and scenes with minute detail. It was a rare opportunity to see such a huge amount (51 photographs from 1980 to 2012!) of one artist’s career, and particuarily exciting since Gursky himself was part of the selection process.

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National Museum of Art, Osaka

The exhibition pamphlet

The exhibition pamphlet

Throughout the exhibition, there are a few ideas from Gursky’s work that seem to stick out: consumerism, crowded and empty spaces, reality; and visual characteristics like saturated colours, minute details, as well as unique composition.

Gurksy focuses a lot on “modern” life, creating images of large housing complexes, office buildings, and many images of various stock exchanges around the world. One of his earlier images Tokyo, Stock Exchange, 1990, captures a frenzied environment. I liked looking at all the different people in the scene- some moving so fast they are complete blurs of white, others still and quiet. It’s a photograph that makes you think about photography as a mechanism- and how this environment is transformed into a still image.

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Tokyo, Stock Exchange, 1990

With the development of digital processing, Gursky began creating images that used a wider field of view and with minute detail. Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994 shows an office building from a high angle, giving a glimpse into the actions of those inside while still keeping them separated.

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Hong Kong, Shanghai Bank, 1994

What I find interesting about Gurksy’s work is the composition of his images. It seems he uses photography to create images- not photography to capture an image that exists. In this sense he acknowledges that there really is no reality in the visual world- only what we see and perceive.

In Frankfurt, 2007, the scene is one that we can accept as real- technically everything looks correct, yet the glossiness of the surfaces and the stillness of the environment makes this look entirely false. It’s almost too perfect.

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Frankfurt, 2007

One of my most fascinating photographs was the photograph taken of Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm, 1950. This was a) the only image of another artist’s work and b) the only image of grainy quality- practically pixelated. My mind just churned trying to process the image of a painting I have seen in person in a grainy photograph surrounded by the hyper-realistic images.

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Untitled VI, 1997

Then, some of his works are truly visually stunning leaving me in awe, like this image of a massive water tank in Gifu Prefecture.

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Kamiokande, 2007

When I was leaving there were books on sale with images of every photograph featured in the exhibition. Flipping through, I noticed that while the photographs were beautiful on paper, there was something very important about seeing them in person. Their full size lets you see tiny details, and their large size swallows you up letting you get lost on the photograph.

The exhibition ends on May 11. National Museum of Art, Osaka: website

Sumo Wrestling in Osaka

Sumo is perhaps one of the most well-known images of Japanese culture. And yet, Sumo is also one of the most misunderstood and ill-communicated aspects about Japan, as it seems to be treated rather comically by Western media. Not being much of a sports fan, my expectations were more of a “let’s see this interesting event” rather than focus on the sport itself. Five minutes there, and I realized how wrong I was.

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Seeing Sumo wrestlers in person makes you appreciate how powerful their bodies are- not just because of their size but how much speed and flexibility they posses. The stakes and anticipation for these events are high, because they’re so quick! Most of the matches lasted under 10 seconds, which were moments of pure energy and adrenaline from the crowd. There’s also a certain element of danger, as there were a few times when either one wrestler or both would fall off of the raised platform and land below.

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There were also clearly some crowd favourites, with some wrestlers receiving enormous cheers as their names were announced. We realized that most of the favourites were from Osaka, raising some city-pride from those in the audience. One wrestler had a group of fans in the crowd who had dressed as cheerleaders and would chant and spell out words with their pompoms. This drew a lot of attention and applause from the crowd.

Below you can see one of the final matches that was quite longer than most!

Meanderings at the Osaka Castle

The great thing about sight-seeing on a rainy day is that you can wander with ease. It also means you get wet, but we didn’t mind too much. Here are a few pictures from our visit to the Osaka Castle. As one the most recognizable castles in Japan, it’s height and elaborate ornaments are pretty impressive. And like everywhere in Japan, the surrounding area of walls, gardens, and water made for a peaceful walk. My favourite part was the stones on the surrounding wall. They sat beautifully together like bricks, but with wear and tear in the edges and cracks.

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The Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan

A great part about traveling in Japan is the high proximity of traveling opportunities, especially in the Kansai area where Kyoto, Osaka, Nara, and Kobe are all within an hour train ride of each other. Taking full advantage of this happy grouping, we headed over to Osaka to explore the informally considered “best aquarium in Japan”.

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The unique aspect of Osaka’s Aquarium is it’s design concept. The building is centred around an emormous tank, reaching about 5 stories high. Starting at the top, the floor slopes and spirals around around the tank until it reaches the bottom. This gives visitors a chance to see some sea creatures multiple times and at multiple angles as well as meeting some new ones at different depths.

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Aside from the central tank, different species are housed on the surrounding walls as well as in specialized rooms.

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The most exciting (or terrifying) room features a large shallow tank that allows visitors to reach in and touch a variety of rays and fish. It looked like the sight of a situational experiment, because all the adults stayed on the outside of the room, shooting each other awkward grins and chuckling nervously as their children stuck their hands without fear into the water.

Next to the aquarium is an enormous Ferris wheel that provides a pretty great view of Osaka and it’s port.

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