Parking garages and orderly light shows

Trip Start Oct 21, 2006
Trip End Mar 21, 2008

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Flag of Japan  ,
Sunday, December 10, 2006

Our Osaka video can be found in the Contents page (entry #1).  To see which videos are available, click on 'more thumbnails' towards the top of the entry.
Here are some neat Japanese ideas we have noticed:
1. The revolving parking garage.  You drive your car into a tiny covered forecourt, park it on a big revolving disk and get out.  The disk then turns your car around and slides it away into the innards of the building.  Then, with a mechanism combining a CD-changer and a ten-pin bowling pin-remover, your car is lifted off the ground and shuffled around within the garage.  It sits there, along with the other cars, until your return, at which time the attendant pushes a button, your car is located - like picking a record on a jukebox - and deposited at your feet.  Brilliant!
2.  Elevators that don't move until someone approaches.  These might exist elsewhere but I haven't seen them and they are a nifty power-saver.
3. Wind-powered highway lights.  These are little round disks (about the diameter of a grapefruit) perched on little poles along the side of the highway.  The wind created by the cars and trucks that speed by spins the disk, thereby powering a little light to guide the night-time driver.
When we finally wake up at about 10am, exhausted from all our recent eating, a big western-style breakfast of eggs, sausages and hash browns is waiting for us.  We catch the train into town to visit Osaka-Jo, an old-style castle from the good old days of feudal warlords, shoguns and samurais.  It dates back to the 1200s or something and has several floors of history and exhibits, mostly dedicated to this one guy, whose name escapes me, who was a famous soldier and hero back in the day.  Most of it is mundane stuff such as documents that bore his signature and details of his day-to-day eating habits.
Speaking of eating, we take lunch at a popular downtown restaurant that specialises in okonomoyaki, the local Osaka dish, which your own personal chef fries up at your table.  Okonomoyaki is known as 'Japanese pizza' but it's really more like an omelette containing cabbage, eggs, flour and meat, topped with some brown sauce and mayonnaise.  It tastes better than it sounds.
Osaka really is chaotic.  Eveywhere you turn, you bump into another little Japanese person.  For such polite, respectful people, they never say 'excuse me' and bumping one's way through a crowd is quite normal, like human pinballs.  We bounce around the major shopping area, a crazy futuristic neon-fest with 3D billboards and flashing lights at every turn.  It is mainly young people around here, the girls with their mini-skirts, leather boots and 'Hello Kitty' handbags and the boys with their designer jeans and rebellious raggedy hairdos. 
There is a strange phenomenon in Japan called Pachinko.  Pachinko arcades are everywhere, recognisable by the enormous signs outside and the incredible noise inside.  Pachinko is a gambling game, very similar to the slot machines you find at casinos, only it requires a tiny degree of skill.  For 100yen you get a bunch of little metal balls that you shoot, via a spring-loaded ramp, up into the machine.  The balls bounce around a series of pins and 99% of them disappear down the drains at the bottom.  The other one in a hundred will somehow drop into the centre hole.  This lights up the screen, the dials roll around and, if you get three of the same thing on the screen, you win something.  It seems to me, after trying it once, like a real mug's game given the impossible odds, but the locals apparently believe that there is some skill in terms of how hard you pull the lever that increases your chances.  Whatever the story, these places are always packed solid with gloomy-faced Japanese puffing away steadily on cigarettes and the din from the rows of noisy machines is relentless.  The busy main street feels like an oasis of calm by comparison.
Besides okonomoyaki, the other Osaka delicacy is takoyaki - deep-fried octopus balls.  (Just to clarify, by 'balls' I am referring to the shape of the item, not the part of the octopus that is used to create it.)  One particular stall has supposedly the best takoyaki in town and there is a suitably big line.  Unfortunately it is not the most delicious taste I've ever tried - rather slippery and leathery in texture and gooey in taste. 
We fight our way on and off another train to Kobe, a nearby city.  Every year, Kobe has a big festival of lights around Christmas time so we, along with 900,000 other people, decide to check it out.  Having gazillions of people descending on this one small area would be a bit chaotic so the local police or whoever erected a long series of fenced-off roads to herd people through in an orderly fashion.  The procession from the train station to the lights themselves takes a good 45 minutes at a very slow walk.  The lights themselves aren't exactly mind-blowing, although I'm sure they use an impressive amount of electricity.  It basically consists of a covered pedestrian arcade, the ceiling of which has been illuminated in a kind of cathedral shape.  You walk underneath this series of lights, then there's another light-thing at the end, where the organised walkway ends and the massive scrum of people is bottlenecked.
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