Frozen moments from the infinity that is time


Osaka Streets

My week in Osaka was punctuated by a number of day trips by Shinkansen, thus limiting my opportunity to get to know Japan’s third largest city. However, my immediate impression of Osaka was that of a city that does its own thing – an impression that was reinforced during my stay. Being so close to Kyoto it is impossible not to compare the cities and the contrast is clear. Where Kyoto is cultural; Osaka is commercial. Where Kyoto is refined; Osaka is brash. I am not saying one city is better than the other – that is a judgment for each individual to make, but they are different.

Similarly there are differences with Tokyo in that Osaka seems less fashion conscious and more easy going. Sometimes this manifests by appearing a bit rougher, but what is most noticeable is that the city worships food, hence its reputation as the “nation’s kitchen”. Restaurants, cafes and bars abound and all seemed to have customers. Does this mean Osaka’s homes are empty in the evenings?

Most of the photographs in this post were taken around the Dotonbori area, which is always lively after dark and a good place for people watching as well as eating. The gentleman looking contemplatively over the bridge rail (pic 2) brings back a pleasant memory of a conversation. After taking the shot we chatted for a while before he resumed his journey home from work. Such interactions when travelling are always valued for the insights one gains into the place being visited.

Except for the buildings in pic 10 the architecture is predominantly old and one hopes Osaka’s planners will opt to retain the area’s current character rather than yield to demands from developers. Losing the paved alleyways (pic 3), the night market stalls (pic 8), the earthy comfortable bars (pic 7) and the wacky statues (pic 5) would be quite tragic. Cities take a long time to build character and identity and if we are not careful it can be lost in the guise of sterile glass and steel developments.

I had not intended to comment on development until I looked again at the photos and thought about how my city has been wrecked by development and continues to be further wrecked. My apologies if I have caused offence.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)

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On my first or second day in Kyoto I recall observing a young woman diligently photographing all the noren along one of Kyoto’s most popular entertainment streets. At the time I thought it to be a little obsessive, but understandable given their generally attractive appearance. It was not long before I was smitten by the addictive power of noren and started to build my own collection, some of which are shown here, including a number that would also have been photographed by the young woman whose addiction had started earlier.

What are noren? In effect, they are rectangular lengths of fabric similar to curtains and as well as being used at the entry to commercial establishments, they are also used internally to divide spaces. They offer a very Japanese way for (mainly) traditional businesses to display their brand name/logo, which is typically written in kanji. Noren used at the entry to establishments are generally hung at between half to three-quarter length, with the more up-market venues tending towards longer noren. The final shot on this post (pic 15) is a good example of how the noren provides a reasonable measure of privacy to patrons, whilst offering a tantalising glimpse inside for we “mere mortals”.

I found noren to be more widely used in Kyoto, which is not surprising given Kyoto’s emphasis on traditional aspects of Japanese culture. Nevertheless, one also encounters noren within the more traditional areas of greater Tokyo, though I must say I do not recall seeing anyone in Tokyo with a serious noren addiction.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)


Osaka – Dotonbori area

My time in Osaka was regretfully limited, thus I was unable to gain a good feel for the city. Similarly, my photography was also limited to a few subject areas – a limitation I can hopefully address at a future time.

Nevertheless, one forms impressions regardless of the time available and I saw enough to realise that Osaka has a personality quite distinct from that of Tokyo and its close Kansai neighbour Kyoto. By comparison with Kyoto, it presents as louder, grittier and more concerned with the present than the past. Like Tokyo, its importance as a business centre is evident, though the people present as more relaxed and less brand-conscious than in the national capital.

Before visiting Osaka I had read that it was a city obsessed with food and eating – a reputation that is well deserved. Given that Japan generally is a country where food and eating is somewhat of a national hobby, Osaka is the jewel in the crown with all varieties of restaurants and food outlets to please the most dedicated foodies. Unfortunately, I am not a foodie and cannot really add much more to this subject.

Most of the photos posted were taken in and around the Dotonbori area, which really comes alive after dark. Dotonbori is essentially a street that runs alongside the Dotonbori Canal in Osaka’s Namba ward, though the atmosphere extends to the many laneways running off the main street, as well as neighbouring streets. Given its proximity to Namba Station and popular department stores, the area attracts a wide cross-section of the community and is especially popular with the younger generations.

Its quirky feel can be appreciated by the impossible to ignore sculptures outside the Dotonbori Hotel (pic 1) and the robot-like streetlights (pic 15). Being a fan of street art, I was immediately attracted to the Peace on Earth work (pic 2), which, as well as expressing an important sentiment, created an interesting streetscape.

I mentioned proximity to popular department stores, one of which is Takashimaya shown at pic 4 with an army of people apparently exiting the store. This is a little misleading and it should be pointed out that, in accordance with Japanese practice, the very busy Namba Station is located under Takashimaya. Even as a tourist, one quickly comes to appreciate the collocation of stations with key infrastructure and there is a lesson in urban planning to be learned from Japan’s success in this area.

One of the things I came to love about Japan was the colourful signage such as those shown at pics 5 and 6, clearly aimed at appealing to the city’s obsession with food. Just as colourful and appealing are the street food vendors (pics 11 and 12), who are entertaining to watch and it is a shame that we do not yet have a way to capture the aromas of the food to match the images shown. One day perhaps!

During my time in Japan I came to the conclusion that dining is often a private/public experience and I may put together a series of images on this theme at a later stage. For the moment, I offer pics 9 and 10 showing partially obscured vision of diners enjoying their meals. My apologies for eavesdropping, but obsessions come in many forms.

My favourite images are probably those of a typical laneway (pics 7 and 8), with its lovely cobbled path and enticing signage creating a pleasant ambience. By contrast, pics 13 and 14 show sections of the main entertainment area, where the competition for trade is more actively pursued.

Finally, I have included a couple of portraits of a woman shopping (pic 16) and a cigarette seller (pic 17). The woman virtually requested the photograph by stopping and looking straight into the camera and what an interesting subject. Wearing kimono accessorized with a modern handbag and clutching the mandatory mobile phone, she is a great example of how easily Japan accommodates the old with the new.

The cigarette seller is a different story, as I had spotted him previously and had felt some sympathy for a man who gave the appearance of having a tough night. Not wishing to offend him, I sought permission to take his photograph and his disposition changed from that of glum to happy. It seems that being photographed cheered him up and made me feel good too. In fact, pic 17 became my final shot for that day. It’s always nice to end on a high note.

(Please click on any of the following images for an enlarged view.)