|Date: July 15th - July 17th
Last Saturday Karen, four friends and myself went to Osaka for a Coldplay concert. It's fair to say the anticipation gauge was through the roof. I hadn't been to a "real" concert for maybe two years or more, a crime I know, and knowing that I would be seeing my second favourite band play live that very day.... Well let's just say nappies were in order!
Our means of transport to Osaka was the wonderful Nozomi Shinkansen (super express train). If I was to have written a list of top 10 things to do in Japan before I left from NZ a year ago, riding the Shinkansen would probably have broken into the top 5. Riding on a train at 300km is just the best idea, ever! I can happily report that the train did not disappoint. It got us from Hakata (Fukuoka) to central Osaka in 2:28 minutes; trust me, that's fast. The ride was very smooth and quiet, and because it accelerates so gradually the only way you really know how fast you are going is when you look out to see glimpses of small towns as you thunder past them at the speed the earth revolves.
Our first day in Osaka was pretty much; eat, dump bags at the hotel, and get our asses to the gig. In between this I did find the time to meet up with Byrie and his friend Amy who were in Osaka for the concert too. With the group seemingly expanding by the hour we headed to the venue to secure our place in the queue. What a bloody waste of time that was!
To tell the truth I don't think I have ever been inside, waiting for a concert to start, with as much annoyance and anger bottled up inside as I experienced in Osaka. However, all was forgotten as soon as the Beatles 'Tomorrow never knows ' track kicked in as an intro song, signaling the band would be on stage very soon.
You see, what happened was, after arriving at the venue nice and early to ensure we got a decent spot near the front we found that there were many different queues and some of us were separated depending on a code on our ticket (A1, B1, C1... etc). While most of us randomly ended up in the D1 queue, even though we got our tickets separately, some of our group had to queue alone. So, feeling a little confused we thought little of it as we continued to be stoked with our place near the front of our queue, and count down the time till doors opened and we would find our friends. However, our faces quickly turned from anticipation, to confusion, to shock, to confusion, and finally to anger and annoyance, as we realised people were being let in, section by section. It quickly became apparent to us that where we were standing meant the D1 section would be let in near last! Oh the travesty! After watching hordes of people be let in before us based on their ticket code and number, Karen and I decided to make a break for it even though our ticket group hadn't been called yet. Spice world! We got in. Once inside though, we quickly realised what was happeneing. The whole venue had been gated off into sections and we had no choice but to stand in the corresponding section to our ticket, D1, second section from the back in the middle. Gutted. Still, because we 'jumped the gun' a little and got in before the rest of our group we managed to secure a spot at the front of our 'sheep-pen'.
It didn't take long, though, before we were over it as we realised things could be worse, we could not be at the gig all together, or even worse than that, we could be like those people who pretend not to like coldplay (you know who you are!).
Before too long the lights we're killed and all that was left were 12 or so yellow lights casting full beams down onto a stage full of instruments. We were left awaiting the arrival of the band on stage for a good ten minutes while we got to listen to some chemical brother, Beatles and other top bands.
And then... nothing...the lights were killed and the place was cast into darkness... five long seconds passed until the first sounds of 'Square One' (the opening track off X&Y) punched the air, while at the exact same moment an enormous screen behind the band came to life to show a bright white digit clock counting down. In front of the clock the band and instruments were cast as pitch-black shadows moving about the stage playing the intro to the song until the timer hit zero and this time started counting up. Once it hit 60 the band hit in with the chorus to a mesmerizing display of colourful lights that came from all parts of the stage and screen.
Hit after hit were performed over the next hour and a half and the show was a real spectacle. It turns out the 'sheep-pen' we were forced to stand in was a perfect spot and none of us would have moved if given the chance. We were looking at the band from the center and got to enjoy the whole lighting show while the music quality was probably at its peak around us.
The set list was:
1.Square One 2.Politik 3.Yellow 4.Speed of Sound 5.God put a smile upon your face 6.What if 7.Don't Panic 8.White Shadows 9.The Scientist 10.Till kingdom come 11.Trouble 12.Clocks 13.Talk (Encore) 14.Swallowed in the Sea 15.In My Place 16.Fix You
My stand out three songs they performed were Politik, In My Place and Fix You. During yellow about 20 massive yellow weather balloons were released from the back of the auditorium and hit forward to the stage. Once there Chris (cause we're on first name basis now) demonstrated, by slashing one with his guitar, that the balloons were intended to be popped, and as soon as they were they released a mass of golden glitter. 'Clocks' had a great end to it with the band getting faster and faster while the lights got more and more crazy, until the point when it should have been impossible to get faster... but they did... and then they stopped. The final song was Fix you, which climaxed with all four band members singing intensely while majestically playing their instruments. Live music at its peak. Premier League.
Once the concert was over and we were convinced the band were serious about not coming back on stage (the lights going on, coupled with the Beatles 'Goodnight', were some pretty good hints...) we made our way outside to find our friends. As a massive group we made our slow way to the Dotombori district, in the center of town, for some dinner (the gig started at 6 and so was finished by 8.30). Before finding a restaurant we checked out the famous "bladerunner" nightscape from the Ebisu-bashi bridge. Japan really knows how to make massive neon signs and drain the earth's power supply like no one else. But, f**k it looked cool. You can't help stand there and think "wow!"
One of the real perks about visiting big cities is getting to eat non-Japanese cuisine. This time out we went for some Thai food, which was a load of fun for Karen and I, as we hadn't eaten Thai since we were in Thailand over six months ago. I even got to introduce Byrie and Tan to the wonderfulness of Chang beer, though the Chang beer in Japan was weaker than in Thailand?! Once everyone had sufficiently filled their bellies, and with the restaurant about to close, we made a break for it out into the craziness that is the Osaka night life.
To be honest it wasn't as busy as I had imagined it would be, but, "not busy" by Japanese standards is still a pumping night anywhere else that I know of. We hit up the first Karaoke bar we could find and preceded to murder a number of Coldplay hits, still clearly on a high from the concert. Once our hour and a half had flown by we attempted the impossible in Japan and went looking for a bar/club. I say it's impossible because without local knowledge finding a bar is so damn difficult. Most places are down back alleys or up on weird floors. You often have to see a sign outside, amongst the 50 other signs per building, all screaming for attention, and basically try to work out if it sounds like a "cool bar" using nothing but a name as a means. We got very lucky and randomly walked past a western bar called Zerro. It was pretty dead but we decided that was a good thing as we could all easily fit inside and just chill out. The music was decent too, pumping out solid House tracks, so that brought a smile to my face.
Eventually though, Karen and I decided to call it a night as we had lots planned for the next morning and day. We parted ways with the group and then said our goodbyes to Byrie. It was to be the last time we would see Byrie until we were back in NZ next. It's been really nice keeping in contact with him and getting to know him better by seeing him on three occasions over the past year. I really look forward to catching up over a beer in Welly's and meeting his girl friend Sian.
A short sleep later and Karen and I were dragging ourselves up and out into the morning heat. We navigated the subway with ease and soon were swarming in on the Osaka Aquarium, Kaiyukan, with eagerness. My Lonely Planet guide had advised us wisely to arrive at the aquarium at opening time to avoid massive queues. We arrived at opening time but still had to wait for 15 minutes! Turns out the aquarium is a very popular attraction indeed. Osaka aquarium contains the largest aquarium tank in the world. Within the tank is their star attraction, a massive 12m Whale shark! We took our time, fighting through the crowds of pushing people and screaming kids, looking at the many interesting "exhibits". Before long we met up with Nick and Kate and spent the rest of our time there wondering round as a terrifying "pack of gaijin" as opposed to a scary "gaijin couple".
The best animals we saw were the king penguins (Karen's favourite), a playful sea otter, a huge manta ray, massive Japanese deep sea crabs, and of course the incredible whale shark. While we could easily have spent hours and hours gazing upon the water creatures in awe we had other places to be, and a massive queue behind us, so after a couple of hours we made our way back outside into the "fresh" air to find the Suntory Museum for the next thing on our 'to-do-list'. Upon exiting we realized that, while a 15-minute wait to get in had been draining, it was nothing on the queue that now lined up. I estimate it would have taken people a good 1hr-1.5hrs to get in. F**k that!
Next on the "to-do list" was a session at the IMAX cinema located within the Suntory Museum next door to the aquarium. It was my first IMAX experience and I thoroughly enjoyed it. We watched 'Walking on the Moon - 3D', which while, as Nick said, it was more of a NASA promotional video, and lacked the scientific/documentary style we were after, it was nevertheless a load of fun to watch in 3D on a massive screen. I can't wait for my next IMAX adventure.
To round out a very fun afternoon with Nick and Kate, and with the time running down till they had to leave to get to the airport for their flight back to Saga, we all went on the enormous, 112m-high, Giant Ferris Wheel. Again, I got to experience something new, having never been on a Ferris Wheel before. And what a way to do it with the Osaka Ferris Wheel being one of the biggest in the world. The views it offered from on to where amazing and I can only imagine how special they would be at nighttime. Next time we are in town we will definitely make a night trip to ride the Wheel.
After the 'high' of the Ferris Wheel we were brought back to earth with the 'low' of having to say bye to Nick and more so to Kate. Kate is returning to NZ and so we had to say our goodbyes until we see her in Jan for our wedding. We are really going to miss hanging out with Nick and Kate. They are such a sweet couple. However, it's not all sad news as Nick will be staying on for another year so I'm sure there will be plenty more tales to tell involving him.
Once Nick and Kate had left, Karen and I headed back over to the Suntory Museum to check out their currently showing art exhibit. Oh, and what a fitting exhibit too! They were showing 'Snoopy Life Design: happiness is the 55th Anniversay'. Haha... I got to take my snoopy to see a snoopy exhibit! Brilliant. The whole thing was much better than we had imagined with most of the displays being a lot of fun to look at. There were many massive models of snoopy that had been decorated in weird and wacky ways. While I'm not going to pretend that visiting art galleries is something Karen and I did on a regular basis back in Welly's, it is still something we occasionally did and something we miss being able to do down in Takeo.
After a great educational, yet fun filled day, we took our tired legs back to Shinsaibashi where our hotel was and had a little nap before going out for a group dinner. We eventually settled for an Italian place that way over charged us for stupid things. For example there was a sit down charge of $5, which we weren't told about till we got our bill, and everyone had to order a drink before we could get glasses of water! Not too bad, but when they charge $5 for a regular size glass of coke you've really got to start asking questions! Still the pizza was good and the salad eatable.
All of us were really keen on a late night movie but soon found that late night movies don't exist in Japan, even in a massive city like Osaka! We were left with little option but to hit up a SEGA amusement arcade but Karen and I soon got bored and sick of wasting money and so headed back for some much needed sleep.
Monday was a public holiday, Marine Day, throughout all of Japan. It was quite fitting, I thought, that on Marine Day we should get so much rain. Anyway, Karen and I were up and checked out early and soon buying umbrellas at the nearest convenience store before dumping our bags in lockers and grabbing the subway to Osaka-jo (Osaka castle). Osaka-jo is one of Japans most famous Castles and has a huge amount of history behind it (it was originally built in 1583). While the torrential rain was a little on the draining side, in a way we were grateful to the downpour as it kept the crowds away on what had the potential to be a very busy public holiday at the Castle. The castle and its surrounding grounds were very beautiful and I can only imagine how amazing they would look in spring with the cherry blossom or in autumn with the colourful leaves.
After an excitement filled lunch at the ever-missed Subway we met up with our friends and made our way down the immensely busy shopping arcade of Shinsaibashi towards Dotombori. Using the LP I led everyone to a tiny temple, Hozen-ji, hidden down a narrow alley. The temple is built around a moss-covered Fudo-myoo statue, which was very beautiful and enchanted looking. It was a vast contrast of the surrounding entertainment district.
Karen and I spent the remainder of our last afternoon in Osaka wondering the streets of Amerika-Mura, with Jamie, doing our first bit of shopping, or should I say 'window-shopping', as we didn't actually buy anything. Jamie on the hand randomly decided to shell out and bought himself a mac-book laptop from the ultra-cool apple store. Amerika-Mura (America Village) is a small area of little streets filled with trendy shops and restaurants. It's where the lonely planet recommended visiting for an interesting afternoon of people watching, and after a couple of hours there I can definitely see why.
With money running dry, fatigue setting in, and stomachs aching to be fed we made our way to Shin-Osaka to eat dinner and await our Shinkansen back to the mainland of Kyushu. We did a little shopping to make sure we had the required omiyage for schools and friends (everytime you go away in this country your meant to bring back gifts as a way of sort of saying sorry for leaving the office!). Usually one buys something edible that is famous from the region you are visiting. However, I decided to part with this tradition and took back packets of Haribo gummi bear sweets that I loved as a kid in England.
The shinkansen ride home was, once again, super fast and fun, with it once more peaking at 300 clicks. Before we knew it we had changed trains and were crawling along on the "express" train from Fukuoka to Takeo. Then it was time to say our goodnights to everyone, and anther trip well done.
And for as much fun as we have when we get to go away to various places, and believe me we had an absolute blast this time, there's always something nice about walking into our apartment. We have it set out just the way we like it. We think it has a nice cozy feel to it. It's strange but after a year in this country it really is home now, home for the two of us.