Wednesday, October 27th:
|Ferris Wheel at Osaka|
The current Imperial Palace (Kokyo) is located on the former site of Edo Castle, a large park area surrounded by moats and massive stone walls in the center of Tokyo, a short walk from Tokyo station. It is the residence of Japan’s imperial family. Edo Castle used to be the seat of the Tokugawa shogun who ruled Japan from 1603 until 1867. In 1868, the shogunate was overthrown, and the country’s capital and imperial residence were moved from Kyoto to Tokyo. Until 1888, when the new Imperial Palace was completed, the emperor resided at Edo Castle, then called Kyujo. The palace was once destroyed during World War II, and rebuilt in the same style, afterwards.
From Koyo Gaien, the large plaza in front of the Imperial Palace, visitors can view the Nijubashi, two bridges that form an entrance to the inner palace grounds. The stone bridge in front is called Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge) for its looks. The bridge in the back was formerly a wooden bridge with two levels, from which the name Nijubashi (Double Bridge) is derived. The palace buildings and inner gardens are not open to the public. Only on January 2 (New Year’s Greeting) and December 23 (Emperor’s Birthday), visitors are able to enter the inner palace grounds and see the members of the imperial family, who make several public appearances on a balcony. Needless to say, we do not see any of the imperial family.
Ichiro suggests we go to a restaurant, which is not far from the train station where we can have lunch. In the meantime, however, I’m running low on cash and ask Ichiro where there might be a post office (and an ATM!). Ichiro thinks for a moment, tells the rest of the group the directions to the restaurant and says to me, “Follow me!” So, off we go. And we go – and go. We walk – and then we walk some more. Finally – after what seems at least two or three miles, we come to the post office and I get my money. When we finally join up with the others, I am famished. I order a small pizza at the restaurant and it really hits the spot.
Another amusing little incident takes place at the restaurant which provides for some comic relief. The place was very crowded with limited seating facilities when we entered. As a result, we were split into two groups and I don’t actually pay much attention to where the other bunch of our party (which includes Verbeck) goes. Later, as we are finishing I see Ichiro (who is at our table) looking around to see if the others might also be finishing. Ichiro is looking to his right but, in the distance over Ichiro’s left shoulder, I spot Verbeck and tell Ichiro that he is looking in the wrong place. Ichiro shoots me one of those “Duh – what in the hell are you talking about?” looks and I then point to where I think Verbeck is. It is then that I realize that I am looking at a wall-to-wall mirror – and the restaurant is only about half as big as I thought. Verbeck and the others are clearly NOT where I think they are. So the joke’s on me and everyone at our table has a good laugh over that one.
After lunch we all walk back to the train station and it is here that Ichiro tells Lil and me that we must say our goodbyes to the group as he will now accompany us to the platform where we will be boarding our train for Osaka. This is always a difficult time for me – I hate saying goodbye. At any rate, after much hugging, shaking hands – and all with tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat – we leave everyone and go retrieve our bags from the lockers. Ichiro takes us right up to the platform of the Shinkansen and we say goodbye to him so that he can then go and rejoin the others.
The train arrives on time (you can literally set your watch by the arrival times of trains and subways in Japan – they are uncannily punctual!) and we go to our assigned seats which Miki has reserved for us long ago. The ride to Osaka is interesting but, since the weather outside is overcast, I am disappointed that we never do get a glimpse of Mount Fuji which I understand is visible from Tokyo on a clear day. The ride to Osaka takes about three hours and, as we pull into Osaka station, there is Mitsue standing on the platform to greet us – and she is positioned at the very door we will be coming out of!
Thursday, October 28th:
We check out of the Umeshin and there is Toshio to greet us promptly at 9:00 a.m. Since we don’t have to catch the train to Kansai until mid-afternoon, we leave our baggage at the hotel and take a taxi to the Osaka Planetarium (Toshio has no doubt looked at my web site and noticed that I am an amateur astronomy buff of sorts!). We arrive at the planetarium and notice right away that it sports a lot of polished steel and looks fairly new. Toshio tells us that it is only a few years old and is one of the five best planetariums in the world. And just as with all the shrines and temples that we have visited, this place is overrun with school children who are obviously on a field trip. We go inside and an attendant shows us a mockup of an early mechanism that was once used to synchronize a telescope’s movement with the rotation of the Earth. We then go into the main auditorium and have a seat amid of sea of Japanese school children. Before the show starts, we exchange many “Hello’s” and “Ohayo, gozaimaus’s!”
The show itself consisted of overhead views of the heavens with superimposed tracings of the various constellations. It was sort of like being in an IMAX theater – only with a wall-to-wall and ceiling to floor view. The narrator spoke in Japanese and even though Lil and I couldn’t follow that, we still were able to watch and understand as he would go from one constellation to the next. Of course there were lots of simulations that we could follow such as black holes, worm holes, super novas, etc. I think things like this are understood in any language. This was definitely an experience that we won’t soon forget.
Toshio then takes us up on the top floor of a tall building to a private club that he belongs to. From here we can see a panoramic view of Osaka – and it is breathtaking. I take several pictures. We then have lunch in a nice little out-of-the-way spot. Lil and I had some plain rice with tempura, shrimp, and vegetables on the side. At one point, Lil asks me to try something on her plate and I do. It is octopus and I find it to be rather neutral in terms of taste and a bit rubbery in consistency.
Even though we don’t have to board our plane until nearly 5:00 p.m., I start looking at my watch and Toshio assures me that we have plenty of time. I still insist that we return to the Umeshin to get our bags and finally, Toshio relents.
So, we get our bags and take a taxi to the train station. We get to Kansai around 3:00 p.m. and we immediately go to the United Airlines departure terminal and get processed in. After we get our bags checked through and receive our boarding passes, Toshio shows us around. I have indicated how impressed I am with the artificial island that the airport is built on and Toshio shows us to an area where we can observe that they are now in the process of building an adjacent island that will accommodate a second runway. I knew this was being considered but had no idea that it was actually underway. I sense that Toshio, personally, is of the belief that all this is not a prudent expenditure in terms of a cost/benefit analysis. However, he is simply being a good host and showing me what I want to see – and for that, I am grateful.
|Inside the Kansai Air Terminal|
We board our plane for home without incident and the trip home actually goes a little quicker than the trip here. We have a tail wind it seems and we get to Chicago almost an hour ahead of schedule. Customs in Chicago goes pretty quickly and finally we find ourselves on the plane for Indianapolis. We get to Indy, claim our bags, and I even manage to find our car in the parking lot pretty quickly – and it starts right up. (I have this double horror that I will not be able to remember where I parked or that I left the lights on earlier and now the battery is dead.) We finally get home about 9:00 p.m. and there is all the mail that has accumulated – right in the middle of our kitchen table. Our cat is meowing that she is hungry…and life goes on. A fitting end to a wonderful two week period that we will cherish forever.