Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Watching the Rivers Flow

For two months this winter, I subbed a biweekly yoga class in Osaka. This gave me the perfect opportunity to get to know that city better. Osaka has always been a merchant city, with it's wealth built on the goods flowing in and out along its many rivers. A river walk would be the place to start....

One very rainy afternoon, I decided to follow the Ogawa from where I'd left it at Tenmabashi. Nearly the entire waterfront was under construction and off limits. Most of Nakanoshima was closed to pedestrians as well. I followed instead the alleys running between the water and the large warehouses with their open-mawed garage doors. Considering the weather, this was hardly inspiring. The wall between the river and I grew higher until it cut off my view entirely, and I found myself surrounded by dull grey on all four sides. I went over one street, finding that the faces of the warehouses were even uglier than their backsides. A major disappointment, this. Until recently, I'd always thought Osaka to be perhaps the worst-looking of any city I'd ever seen, but this was based mainly on the ride from the airport into Namba. Unfortunately, this walk was helping to reconfirm my original belief. I carried on though, deeper and deeper through the industrial rain, into a landscape that was almost a parody of a Tom Waits song: Old Dogs and Warehouses.

I finally arrived at the end, and circled back to the Aquarium nearby. Inside I found relief from the rain, in the form of a cafe du Monde coffee and beignet. Ironically, the real highlight was found on the walk back, crossing under the river toward Nishikujo Station. There was a 60s sci-fi film feel here, with the long stairs spiraling around the elevator shaft, and the single bulb lighting up a bored looking guard standing in the middle of the long, narrow, tiled hall.

I had much better luck a month later in walking the Yodogawa. I returned to where Miki and I had peeled off our Kumano Kodo course (same link as above). The riverbed was flat and wide here, and nearly covered in water due to recent rain. I wandered an hour under bridges crossed by trains moving quickly in and out of Umeda, before feeling the need to attend to my stomach. I climbed over a bank and walked into Juso's seedy bar area. A van with a CO2 sticker was parked on a quite street, its driver sitting behind the wheel, creating a different sort of energy in reading a porn mag, I walked below the Love Hotels and Cabarets before finding a place doing Chinese food. Had an interesting physics lesson here, finding that wet soles won't grip on a floor perpetually coated in grease.

Back on the river, to watch a waterskiier go past. The grass of parks gave way to higher reeds, partially hiding the homeless dwellings down here. In following the north bank of the Yodo, I had a fine view of the towers and skyline of Umeda stretching along the water. Osaka's not the most beautiful of cities, but parts of that view certainly impress. Should the city choose to light up those towers with colored neon, it might actually approach the beauty of the waterfront skylines of San Diego or Miami at night. Once beyond the last trainline, I found I was also past the last homeless tents. There was little out here but graffiti and rocks and weeds. Somebody had built a small cairn out of some of the larger rocks, hollowed them out and apparently used it for a fire. The tide was gently lapping, lapping, proving that I was getting closer to the sea. As I was moving steadily west, toward a ridiculously high bridge, the square shapes of trucks moving across silhouetted from behind. Beyond the bridge were the larger shapes of huge freighters and ferries heading out to sea, fading in color as they neared distant Awajijima, curling away to the south. The rocks finally dropped away and nothing but dirt remained. Above it was a long narrow concrete wall, which I walked along, thinking all the while of that Iwai film, "Picnic." The ground started to drop further and further away on the left, and it eventually become too dangerous to continue. I jumped down and looked over at the hellish tangle of the industrial sites on the other side of the river, with their fantastic arachnoidal shapes. Above them stood a pair of towers, with rounded blue caps looking like minarets. Finally, I reached the end, Off to the right was the higher Rokko chain of mountains that define the well-groomed backside of Kobe. I lingered a while, then turn away from the water. I dropped down to a road running along a line of warehouses, the air tasting metallic. This eventually led to a long park which I followed, thinking half heartedly about hitching. But I had some trees over me, there was a bit of green. Besides, a walk ain't complete until you walk back....

On the turntable: Akiyoshi Toshiko, "Four Seasons"

On the nighttable: Zeami, "The Flowering Spirit"

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