Asia blog 22

27 July, Japan – ‘All Over The Place – Asia’

We arrived here in Osaka on Monday just in time for the last day of the third biggest festival in Japan, the Tejin Festival. It was a real treat taking part in an event that we didn’t actually have to film. We stood by the river, flanked with stalls selling seafood and gifts, watching boats of Shinto worshippers deliver portable shrines, which are then paraded through the streets to the large shrine up the road, the name of which escapes me (hey, I wasn’t working, don’t judge me). The crowds of Japanese revellers were typically quiet and respectful of each other in a way that European people en masse just aren’t, and despite numerous beer stalls and bars being open not a scrap of litter appeared to have been dropped and the streets were virtually empty once things wrapped up around midnight. As we made our way back to our hotel you would never have know that the residents of this city had just been having a massive party about an hour ago.

My co-presenter for this week, Cel Spellman, arrived the next day on a flight via Finland. It’s great to have him back on ‘All Over The Place’ as he’s been a big part of the series over the years, but wasn’t able to do any of our European filming. We spent our day off exploring Osaka’s hipster area and incredible covered shopping arcade street that stretches on for blocks and blocks. Never seen anything quite like it, it must be at least a mile long, probably more. It’s funny how the lack of a familiar alphabet and unfamiliar products means you can stand outside a shop for several seconds before you actually work out what it’s selling.

Couldn’t carry on pretending we were on holiday anymore though, although our first stop this morning was Osaka’s main tourist destination – Osaka Castle. Built towards the end of the 16th century it was destroyed during a war in 1615, rebuilt, and then promptly burnt to the ground after it was struck by lightning. They then built a replica in the 1930s… which was partially blown up by the Americans in the Second World War. It hasn’t been the luckiest of buildings, and now no one will insure it! It’s very impressive though, with a huge moat around it. It’s basically a giant pagoda and has great 360 degree views of the city.

Outside the castle the sound of cicadas in the trees was deafening. This is the week they’ve chosen to come out of the ground after 2 years down there and try and mate. I’d heard them around Asia before, but these ones are deafening. I had my fingers in my ears at one point. Once we were in the air conditioned concrete confines of the castle all we could here was the murmur of the streams of tourists milling around us, and we cracked on filming a little exploration around the place. By the time we left the queues were huge.

After a stop off for a lunch of Ramen noodles (turns out we all love Ramen noodles) we arrived in Dotonbori, an area of town famed for its food – so much so that the street is lined with huge and garish recreations of it above the restaurant doors. Giant (sometimes moving) crabs and other seafood, as well as chef’s faces and the odd mythical creature, compete to draw punters in. Cel and I interviewed some locals and then there was a bit of waiting around while dusk settled so that we could appreciate how crazy the place looks at night.

We embarked on a four course meal round the area, sampling gyoza, fried octopus balls, ramen noodles (pretending we hadn’t just eaten them for lunch!) and then ducked out of having to eat any blowfish. After all, people die every year eating that stuff and I’ve got some things I’d like to do over the next few decades. And in one of those decades I very much intend to come back to Japan. It’s an awesome place.

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