War – What is it Good For?


Absolutely Nothing!

And why am I muttering about war? We visited two very interesting museums today – the Osaka Museum of Human Rights, and the Osaka International Peace Memorial Museum.

Both dealt harshly with man’s inhumanity to man – and both reminded us that we really need to be a little more open in our attitudes towards folks that are different from us..

To get to the Osaka Museum of Human Rights was not an easy task, and the museum itself actually tried hard to make it a challenge to find! This is not a museum for folks who do museums for the highlights. Honestly – we don’t think there were any real highlights here. Human Rights is a tough topic – and not one it’s easy to make light hearted. And they didn’t even try. It’s a serious museum on a very serious subject.

Lack of highlights aside, often a museum is more about what you put into it than what the designers put into it – and such was the case with this one. Once we found the entrance (thank goodness for the Japanese habit of trying to direct visitors.- even if they aren’t asking for directions), we were charged admittance and then instead of an English Audio Guide, they gave us a printed plastic notebook with photographs of different sections of the museum along with English text.

I figured that the audio guide system was broken – I didn’t realize how lucky we were to get the printed guide until we saw two other English language visitors trying to navigate the museum with the audio guides. Our printed guide was much much much more informative.

Also highly informative were the movies – offered with English subtitles if you pressed exactly the right sequence of buttons. We discovered these the hard way – pressing random buttons until we figured out how to get it working.

A museum on Human Rights is unlikely to be uplifting – and so we were not amazed to discover that the topics covered include Mercury Poisonings in Japan, the Japan treatment of Koreans living in Japan, and the Japanese treatment of two of their main indigenous tribes. Not very good sums it up.

Which is pretty interesting since Canadians have been beating up their government about our treatment of the First Nations – at least we now know that we aren’t the first – or probably the last – country to try to get rid of folks that just don’t seem to live the way we think they should.

Other topics covered included Gay Rights, the rights of Disabled Citizens, and the rights of Women. Human Rights is a broad topic, and the museum designers did their level best to hit a lot of different aspects of it.

We can’t recommend this museum to anyone else – I know the Intrepid Traveler and I are more willing than most to put effort into figuring out what the museum designers were trying to accomplish, but we did find this museum very interesting.

The 2nd museum of the day – the ‘Osaka International Peace Memorial Museum’ is very new, very well done – and frankly – very oddly named. It traces the history of Japan, Osaka, and the rest of the world from 1890 to just after WWII ended (say 1948 or so). The first two sections painstakingly attempted to give an historical overview of what Japan was doing during the period leading up to WWII. And the quick answer was trying to conquer as much of Asia as they could. These are the days of the Sino-Japanese war, the invasion of Korea by the Japanese, and the occupation of much of China. Give that – it’s interesting that from the Western point of view – we were ignoring Japan.

Instead we were focusing on what was happening in Germany, Britian and France – with some concern about what Russia was doing. It really wasn’t until Pearl Harbour – which most Americans felt was an uncalled for invasion of US territory that the ‘problem’ of Japan became apparent.

From the Museum’s view point, the events leading up to the American’s bombing of mainland Japan were covered quickly – with most of the museum focusing on what was happening in Osaka particularly, and Japan in general during the bombing.

The two most dramatic sections were devoted to a family home being prepared for a bombing raid, and a simulated bombing raid! This section was noisy, exciting, dramatic, eye-catching – and ultimately horrifying. And it was complete with an under ground home-made bomb shelter that featured bombing alert alarms ringing, fire raging around the shelter, and folks screaming. Not very light hearted.

Pictures of sections of Osaka before and after the fire bombing were displayed as well.

And then there were Pictures of the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan to complete the journey thru time.

War – What is it Good For – Absolutely nothing.

An interesting way to end our visit to Osaka. After we left the museum, we had to walk in a park – just to get our heads back out of the negative think of the day

Back at our castle we have new guests – lovely young ladies from Calgary. Thank goodness we were able to spend a pleasant evening chatting – then head off to bed. Tomorrow we must move on to Nara.

We are hoping for wonderful things in Nara – Osaka has definitely exceeded expectations. Despite the negative aspects of the two hard hitting museums today, we must admit to absolutely loving several of the museums we visited. The Osaka Museum of History was excellent, the Osaka Castle is not to be missed, the Osaka Museum of housing was great, and we had a lovely time at the Aquarium – that’s another must see. And we really enjoyed our stay with Ken & Mark. It was very pleasant, despite being unable to do more than microwave and toast..

Quick update for those who might be wondering – we are still on our budget – running under $25 a day per person for travel, museums and food. And yes – that includes wine.. (or Saki – this being Japan and all). We’ve managed this by becoming very very good at shopping the grocery stores and convenience stores for food for lunch and dinner. We’ve scored Sushi at 200 Yen off, bread on discount because it’s the end of the day (after 4:00 PM apparently), and done some very yummy tasting. I’ve also tasted some things that honestly – I don’t know what they were, I don’t care to know what they were, and I’d be happy if I never tasted them again!

But Bottom line – there’s lots to see and do in Osaka – we would recommend including it on your next trip to Japan. Great Museums, really nifty neighbourhoods to walk around, including one where houses are a door plus about a foot on each side wide. That’s it – but they are long, at least as far as we could see on the inside. I’m guessing these are housing that were put up quickly after the war, and have survived because they are inexpensive for a single person to occupy. And there are some very classy neighbourhoods as well – so something for everyone.

Signing off on a more upbeat note than we started this blog report – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

There’s a a first time for everything – we have a drunk in the house


We pick our lodging so carefully – private room, good location, right (low) price point, common space, a kitchen, non-smoking – I have a check list and I’m very cautious.

And yet – sometimes things just work out oddly.

Tonight was weird.

While doing Air BnB here in Japan and indeed all around the world, we’ve met some lovely fellow travelers and some amazing hosts. Folks from all over Europe – gals from Moscow when we were in St. Petersburg, Australians everywhere we travel, a smattering of Americans, South Koreans, South Africans – you name it, we chat them up!

And tonight’s group seemed lovely. A mother and daughter from Australia, by way of the Philippines – enjoying a long holiday during a school break. The daughter is 14 and a charmer. Smart, cute, and very well spoken. It’s her mom that’s the surprise.

We arrived back at our lodging in Osaka around 6:00 PM – tired and wanting nothing more than a glass of wine and dinner. We were the only folks there – our charming hosts live elsewhere but visit daily – so we toasted our bread, microwaved our pork chop, and opened our bottle of wine. We’d basically finished eating when the other couple arrived home. The daughter made up her own dinner, and the mom announced that she wasn’t hungry – she’d just join us for a moment.

Her conversation was very garbled – and she was telling us a lot more than we wanted to know about her life, including how she felt about her parents – who she hadn’t visited for years.

I thought she was drinking tea. It was in a coffee mug, and we’d been enjoying our tea and hot water. It wasn’t until I walked into the kitchen that I realized she had been drinking her own bottle of wine – and it was 3/4 finished!

Now her confusing and very personal dialogue made a lot more sense. She was drunk. You can’t drink 3/4 of a bottle of wine, weigh maybe 100 lbs and have no food without feeling the effects – and clearly her daughter was used to this.

Her daughter announced about midway thru one of the mother’s rants that she’d heard this before and was going to bed. She got up, washed her dish, and left.

The Intrepid Traveler and I were a bit stuck. Our room is Japanese style – so futons on the floor and no chairs. So we couldn’t really sit and read in our room. The only western chairs in our lovely Air BnB were in the common space, and so was the mom!

We tried to send our new best friend a message telling her we wanted quiet – I started using my iPad, the Intrepid Traveler started editing the pictures on her iphone. But the mom didn’t take the hint. Instead she started on a rant about folks using computers, iPhones and the like when they came to her house to visit.

I’m guessing they were tying to let her know she was going off the deep end like we were – but what can you do.

Eventually – we excused ourselves to go to bed. She continue to rattle around in the common room for a while – before she too went off the bed.

First time for everything… In the morning there was an empty bottle and 1/2 of wine in the trash. I guess her drinking didn’t stop when we left.

There’s a first time for everything..

Signing off – The weirded out Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Smoking in Japan


There seems to be remarkably less cigarette smoking here in Japan than I have seen in other parts of the world – and this is a good thing.

But oddly enough – Japan allows smoking in restaurants – and that really upsets me personally – and the Intrepid Traveller is not all that thrilled either.

Japan definitely does some things right. Smoking (and maybe Vaping which seems curiously absent here) is definitely not allowed on the streets, on the subways, or in museums. If you must smoke, there are barricaded areas labeled ‘smoking permitted’ rather randomly located in public areas. On the street these take the form of wired or fenced or glassed in areas where smokers can huddle to imbibe. They aren’t covered – and there are no seats – so they aren’t generally particularly welcoming, but at least they are provided.

We also haven’t seen much smoking in cars – quite a relief from the smoke filled autos of North America. It happens of course – but it’s not close to the normal thing.

But there is one major problem. Smoking is allowed in Restaurants, and I’m guessing bars as well. This has proven to be a huge problem for us, because we like to get a spot of tea in the afternoons – and every time we’ve tried to do this – we’ve been smoked out.

The worst was yesterday. We were wiped out – and just wanted to sit and relax for a few moments. We were near the wonderful Osaka Museum of Housing, which is in a very commercial part of the city – so no park land in evidence. Our choice was between MacDonalds and a ‘Coffee Shop’.

Foolishly – I picked the Coffee Shop. We sat down, ordered tea and a delicious if weird thing called a fruit parfait – and then realized that the gal seated behind us was a chain smoker – there for the long haul. During our 20 minutes or so she smoked 3 or 4 cigarettes, entertained 2 different groups of friends, and generally made our life miserable between her chain smoking and hacking cough.

Wonder if they were related.

And she wasn’t alone. In the tiny space of this 10 table coffee shop – 3 other tables hosted smokers as well. We walked out stinking of cigarette smoke, and determined to make a better choice next time.

Signing off to wash the cigarette stink off our hands – the Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler

Osaka Castle and the Museum of History – Must See Sights in Osaka


Our research had showed us that there were lots of interesting things to do in Osaka – and our first task was to decided what to do on what days. As seniors – shopping wasn’t on the list, and we were pretty Shrine’d, Garden’d and Temple’s out after Kyoto. It’s a good think that Osaka is best known for it’s museums, eh? (After the bars and nightlife – but that’s for other travellers – we are museum buffs!)

The list of must see museums here was long and intriguing, but two major Art Museums were closed during our entire visit. Something about having to put in new exhibits. But that left lots of other choices – and we made a list, considered closing days to avoid, and limiting ourselves to just 2 a day. At our speed, more stops would never happen.

Bottom line – Sunday our plan was to hit the two biggest hits in Osaka – the not to be ignored Osaka Castle, and the outstanding Osaka Museum of History nearby. Then Monday, when most museums are closed, we decided to go for the Largest Aquarium in Japan, Tuesday would be the Science Museum and the Museum of Housing, and then on Wednesday we’d do the serious stuff – the Osaka Museum of Human Rights, and the Osaka International Peace Memorial.

Nice solid planning – always an excellent way to start.

After spending some time deciphering the subway map, and deciding if the 600 Yen all day pass was a good investment (it wasn’t) – we headed out for the Osaka Museum of History.

This museum is huge, excellent, informative, has an English Language Guide, and was completely enchanting. I’d rate it an absolute must see.

For kids there were stamp desks positioned around the museum, the idea being to keep the kids interested by keeping them searching for specific items and being rewarded with the appropriate stamp. And this so worked! We were entranced to see how keen even the youngest were to get their books properly stamped.

The first floor of the museum is actually the 10th floor of this huge modern building. It is devoted to a full sized recreation of the oldest Ceremonial Hall in Japan – dating from around 800 AD. The space is very dark, filled with mannequins dressed in traditional robes, and with a movie projected on the dark screens. Then the movie ends, and the windows are automatically opened to reveal the view of Osaka. And right below us is the actual location of the Ceremonial Hall – identified only in 1959 and saved by community action from development. So stunning.

The route spirals downward from floor to floor – past full sized street views of Osaka, animated by a Noh character that moves from screen to screen, explaining as he goes what you should be looking for. Many of the images are 3D cut-outs of scenes from Art of the time period portrayed, other images were intensely accurate scale miniatures with amazing detail. Cats and Kids chasing rats (apparently this was reported in visitor notes from the time), housewives putting out wash on roof terraces designed for the purpose, Imperial messengers on important business, shopkeepers selling their wares – the stunning detail is definitely a characteristic of Japanese model building, and it was bewitching.

The bottom floor of the museum is a full scale replica of Osaka shortly before WWII, and was offering a free ‘wear a Kimono’ event that day. So we dressed up – and gleefully took pictures of ourselves looking lovely.

Once out of the History Museum, we headed over to the Osaka Castle – and were immediately plunged into mob central. Where the Museum of History had a pleasant vibe, the Osaka Castle is a must see on everyone’s agenda – and it was crowded. We had to wait our turn to see each section of the exhibits, and this was a problem because it entailed a great deal of standing and waiting.

Old knees aren’t fond of standing and waiting.

But the exhibits themselves were utterly fascinating. They tell, in intense detail, the history of the original builder of Osaka Castle – and the 2nd great unifier of Japan – Toyotomi Hideyoshi of the Osaka Castle, and of his fights with the man most consider the primary Shogun of Japan – Tokugawa Ieyasu. One entire floor is devoted to a detailed analysis of the famous Screen Painting – The Summer Battle of Osaka Castle. If you are interested in the Edo Era, or find information about the Shogunate period from 1600 to 1868, this is the place.

We are not incredibly interested in this period, but the intensity of the displays made it impossible to ignore them. I’d rate Osaka Castle a Must See.

We dragged ourselves out of the castle, overwhelmed and completely exhausted – and a long subway ride from home. To make matters worse – while the streets were deserted, the subway was packed! Rush hour in Osaka – oh that’s perfect timing.

But we managed to not get lost, and still stay friends. Dinner, a quick chat with our fellow travellers, and bed. Tomorrow is bound to be another long long day.

Signing off to dream of Samurai Soldiers – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler.

Moving on – we hit Osaka


I admit to being emotionally hard hit by leaving Kyoto. I definitely didn’t want to go – and yet we had to move on. I shall miss our lovely lodgings, the wonderful kitchen and common area, the ease of getting around, and the sheer abundance of Shrines and Temples to admire.

But all good things have an end – it’s the way of the universe – so move on we did.

Our trip from Kyoto to Osaka was about the price of a long subway ride – and just about as easy to organize. These cities are really sister cities, and it’s hard to say from the train where one ends, and the other begins. All of which means that we were in Osaka before we really had a chance to say we’d been travelling.

But while Osaka may be only minutes away from Kyoto – it’s a world away in feel! This isn’t our cozy upscale residential neighbourhood with it’s lovely grocery shops, fancy and not so fancy restaurants, and ladies out cleaning their door steps. This is a working class place – and it shows.

Our new lodgings are a shared ‘home’ – literally one room wide, and 4 stories tall with a super narrow, super steep staircase running thru the center.

There is a common kitchen, a common ‘bath’ room for bathing and showering, and two toilets for 3 bedrooms. In many ways, it closely resembles our lodgings in Tokyo in that our hosts do not actually live here. However, unlike our host in Tokyo who frankly ignored us during the 9 days we stayed in her place, Ken and Mark have gone over the top to make us feel welcome.

Our adventure here started upon arriving at Exit 3 of the Hanazoncho Station. We’d gotten delayed leaving Kyoto- more traffic then we’d thought there would be, we’d missed the earlier train, and then we’d gotten turned around on the Osaka Subway. All of which meant that our 12:00 estimated time of arrival became more like 1:00 PM.

This would not have been an issue, except that again I had no internet. So I had no way to let Mark (who was patiently waiting for us outside of exit 3) know that we’d been delayed. Every time I thought I got a WIFI signal – I’d madly try to email him – and I’d check for messages from him. But were our messages getting thru? I couldn’t tell for sure!

Finally I received one that said – use the WIFI at MacDonalds. So when we finally got to exit 3 – we left the station and found the MacDonalds. Unfortunately, my iphone and their internet security features didn’t jib – I couldn’t get on line! Panic.

I decide to leave the Intrepid Traveler to watch our suitcases in MacDonalds, while I left to search the surrounding area. Up and down staircases, in and out of the subway station – I could find neither hide nor hair of a single gentleman looking like he was looking for 2 lost tourists. And since we were the only Westerners in sight – I know if Mark were here – he’d spot us.

What to do?

What to do?

Looking above street level, I spotted a sign for ‘World Gym’. Hmm, wouldn’t a gym offer WIFI? I climb the narrow staircase (is this a pattern in Osaka?) and sure enough – there’s a gym – looks and smells like gyms everywhere. So I put on my best lost lady look, and a big smile – and beg for WIFI. The kind young clerk immediately understands what I’m gesturing about – but he doesn’t know the password. Two very quick phone calls later – and his friend must have told him to look on the wall of the gym. Sure enough – there’s a sign – in English – with the password!

Success! I reach Mark, he comes to find us – and we’re in our new digs.

What follows then is a first for us. Mark gives us a detailed and incredibly rule oriented tour of his place. We are not allowed to cook, but we can microwave and toast. We can use the fridge, but we must label everything ‘Nara’ – our room name. Our room is a Japanese style space on the third floor, so we must make our own futon beds. The front door has 2 locks – we must turn them the right ways. Windows must be shut when we leave, AC must be off, lights must be off.

After the house rules have been shared, Mark becomes much friendlier. We chat for over 2 hours on a host of different topics, including the new Emperor and the future of his dynasty. Mark spent several years in London studying and his English is impeccable. Clearly being a host is his retirement job – and he takes it seriously.

We decide to shop for a cheap dinner from the nearby grocery store – forgetting that this is a working class neighbourhood and like most working class areas – the grocery stores are more focused on cheap rather than good food. The options aren’t wonderful.

We do try a Takoyaki – a very traditional and very well known Osaka delicacy. It’s done in a dry fried cooking manner on a specially shaped grill. The balls are puffy, made from octopus bits and flour, and served topped with mayonnaise and Bonita flakes. I ate two and thought that’s enough of that, but the Intrepid traveler is made of sterner stuff and finished the portion!

So back to Ken & Mark’s for dinner and bed. Tomorrow is another day!

Signing off – The Soup Lady and the Intrepid Traveler