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.)


Osaka from 173 metres

Osaka’s Umeda Sky Building is an impressive structure of two towers connected at the top by an open-air circular walkway offering magnificent views of the city and surrounds. The area atop the building is formally described as the Floating Garden Observatory, but is more frequently referred to as simply “173” denoting its height of 173 metres above ground level.

Even though I have visited higher observatories, including the Shanghai World Financial Centre Observatory, which, at 474 metres, is the highest in the world, I found “173” a more enjoyable experience. This is due to its circular design providing 360-degree vantage points and most importantly, the unimpeded views from being in the open-air. Notwithstanding that my visit took place on a cold December day, not having to deal with the barrier of glass windows made it an altogether more pleasurable experience.

I was also fortunate to have visited in late afternoon/early evening, thus providing an opportunity to witness the sunset from a “birds-eye” position. My only regret was not carrying a tripod and having to shoot handheld on high ISO settings, hence the somewhat grainy images. Nevertheless, I am happy to have these images as memories of a most enjoyable interlude and I highly recommend a visit to “173” for those visiting Osaka.

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


Osaka Castle

On flicking through the subjects I have covered in this series of Japanese posts, it became apparent that I had given little attention to Osaka, due mainly to having spent very little time there. However, like many visitors to Osaka, I did visit Osaka Castle – the subject of today’s post.

Now that I reflect a bit more, my experience of Japanese castles is also quite limited, having visited only three, the others being Kyoto and Himeji. Of these, the standout is definitely Himeji ( I do not like to speak negatively about such important and magnificent buildings, but I did find the restrictions on photography imposed at the Kyoto and Osaka Castles to be disappointing, as much of the most interesting subject matter was within the restricted areas. Notwithstanding such restrictions, they are worth visiting.

I travelled to Osaka Castle by train and the walk from the station through municipal parklands builds one’s curiosity through early glimpses and as one gets closer, the scale of the castle and surrounding moat (its first line of defence) is most impressive – if not majestic. Entering through the gates (pic 1), one’s eye is immediately drawn to the magnificence of the dry-stone walls, which are quite captivating in their own right. Once inside the castle grounds, one becomes more aware of the towering edifice that is Osaka Castle (pics 2 to 4). I wish I could include internal shots, but much as I dislike photography restrictions I do respect the right of operators to impose them. Climbing to the highest level is recommended for the views over Osaka (pic 5) and the appreciation that the castle was very strategically positioned from a defensive perspective.

The inclusion of pics 6 to 10 is somewhat of an indulgence, but during my visit I was quite taken by the geometric patterns of the stone walls around the castle. In fact, I distinctly remember comparing the visual impact of the castle walls to more contemporary structures utilising acutely angled aperiodic tiling as a surface treatment. Of course a major difference is that the castle walls relied on manual planning and construction techniques, whereas contemporary structures benefit from the use of sophisticated computer-aided design, fabrication and building techniques. It does, therefore, seem appropriate to conclude with pic 10 “An Artisan’s Mark”, which shows an example of how the stonemasons of the day marked their contribution to the construction of Osaka Castle.

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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.)



It is almost a year since I last posted on this blog. During this time I noted that some bloggers I follow had similarly quiet years and I look forward to again reading your posts when the time is right. Others kept powering on and those I thank for their entertaining posts and inspiration.

This year I want to finish my series on Japan and thought I should start with an iconic subject, hence my choice of kimono – instantly recognisable as Japanese. I have taken a broad approach to my selection of photos by including different types of kimono from the ceremonial to the more lightweight yukata and by showing kimono worn by women of different generations.

Being of the wrong gender and nationality I can only speculate why Japanese women continue to wear kimono and at the risk of being corrected, I suspect that wearing kimono represents a connection to past generations, to Japanese culture and as an affirmation of their nationality. Other reasons might simply be that wearing kimono feels good and is something they like to do.

The opening shots (pics 1 and 2) show two young women engaged in viewing the cherry blossoms and my observation of each was that they were very much “in the moment”. Would wearing western clothing have lessened their experience? Only they would know, but I do know my experience was enhanced by their presence at those locations.

Shichigosan (pic 3) is a Shinto festival where three and seven year old girls in formal dress receive blessings. Unfortunately I arrived late and this is literally the only shot I was able to capture. I see a proud young girl in a splendid kimono posing for a “milestone family album” shot that, in future years, may remind her of a special day in her life. Will this experience encourage her to wear kimono in her later life? Again, only time will tell, but festivals such as Shichigosan provide important opportunities to expose children to their cultural heritage.

The closest I have come to a personal kimono experience is shown at pic 4, where this colourful arrangement occupied a corner of a tatami room at the traditional Japanese house I rented in Hiroshima. Looking at the photo brings back pleasant memories of the stay.

I have included a selection of photos (pics 5 to 8) to show that wearing kimono does not hamper everyday activities such as shopping, with women in several cities shown going about their business. My favourite from this group is the woman doing her Christmas shopping in Dotonbori (pic 5), who encapsulates the Japanese ability to combine the traditional and the contemporary; in this case kimono, modern handbag and cell phone.

One also sees many younger women in kimono, especially during times of celebration such as celebrating the autumn colours (pic 9) or simply enjoying the fantasy of dressing as a geisha for the day (pic 11). I first noticed the elegant woman in pic 12 for the furoshiki she was carrying – a simple square of cloth that can be configured for multiple uses, including carrying goods. Someone else obviously noticed her, but whether wearing kimono or not it would seem that body language tells the story.

I often walked past the teahouse in pic 13 and every time the hostess greeting patrons at the door was smiling. One could not imagine her wearing anything other than kimono. Finally I have chosen to close the post with several photos of a Shinto bride taken at Tokyo’s Meiji Jingu, whose kimono epitomises elegance.

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


Concrete Buildings

Concrete must surely have a claim to being the most important and indispensable building material of modern times. Its ubiquity is, however, not met with universal acclaim, with opinions varying along the spectrum of beautiful to ugly in relation to its contribution to our streetscapes and urban environments.

I will leave individuals to decide where they stand on this subject and perhaps, like me; you find examples of each within your local environments.

Concrete is, however, the common factor between the photos chosen for this post, which grew from my desire to share a few photographs of a rather interesting house in Harajuku (Tokyo). The shots are by no means an attempt to document the range of concrete structures one finds in Japan – they are simply shots of buildings that appealed to me.

The Harajuku Wedge is my name for the building shown by pics 1 to 4. It was a few minutes walk from where I was living and I remember my first view being the angle shown at pic 1, where it looked more like a freestanding wall. As one moves around to behold the view shown at pic 2, the shape changes from a sliver to a wedge and clearly becomes a residence cleverly utilising a small footprint. The dominant use of concrete is further seen from the detail pics (3 and 4), where the use of other materials and plantings soften the raw harshness of the concrete. I never tired of looking at this building on my walks and for me; it serves as a good example of innovative architecture.

The Nagano Cube (pic 5) may lack the visual impact of the Harajuku Wedge, but it begs the question of whether it represents an emerging style in a country where space is always in short supply. Cubes tend to be divisive in architectural terms and are another of those “love or hate” design options. Nevertheless, the style maximises space; would appear to be energy efficient judging from the array of solar panels on the roof; and seemed to blend reasonably well with its neighbours.

A different look altogether is what I called Asakusa Chic (pic 6) where the use of industrial materials, including concrete, have been used to create a residence that integrated nicely with its residential/industrial neighbourhood. I wish I could have seen inside, as I distinctly remember wondering if this may have been the Tokyo equivalent of warehouse conversions. My final Tokyo inclusion is a Ryotei (high class restaurant often involving entertainment by Geisha) in Mukojima (pic 7), an area of Tokyo where older style buildings can be found due to the area being less heavily bombed during World War 2. Whilst the building presents as rather conventional, its style is nevertheless distinctly Japanese and consistent with the generally discreet external appearance of such establishments.

Downtown Osaka (pic 8) was shot from my apartment window and perhaps most clearly shows the ubiquity of concrete, as well as the boxy, space efficient styling. Despite this, I still find the view interesting and to borrow a friend’s observation, the colourful billboards and street advertising found in Asian countries brings life to otherwise bland scenes. The second Osaka image (pic 9) is a building in the Dotonbori area, where the more fluid shapes within the external steel staircase adds an (almost) art deco feel to an otherwise plain concrete structure.

To conclude this little sojourn into the world of concrete, pic 11 was shot at Kyoto’s Garden of Fine Arts. In reality the name is somewhat misleading in that the garden has no plant life, nor does one find works of fine art. Instead one enters an imaginative space where popular works of art have been reproduced within an open-air gallery of concrete, steel and glass, which perhaps will become the subject of a future post.

Is there a moral to this post? Well, to be honest, it started as a simple desire to share shots of a building that caught my eye and held my interest, but morphed into something a little more. As a material, concrete can rightly be described as dull, boring, bland, plain and any other number of similarly uncomplimentary terms. It has, however, become our building block and when used imaginatively has the potential to add interest and beauty to our lives. It reminds me of an old saying that: “a good tradesman never blames his tools”.

(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.)