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Osaka Insider Guidebook Coming Soon!

October 20, 2011 10 comments

Despite the fact that I’ve been living and writing in Fukuoka since early 2011, I have also been working on a thorough Osaka Prefecture guidebook for sightseers and foreign residents, titled Osaka Insider: A Travel Guide for Osaka Prefecture. It will cover Osaka City and the surrounding prefecture in detail, giving you information you can’t find anywhere else on interesting things to see and do. I have visited each destination personally and engaged in a massive amount of research to ensure that you can see the best Osaka has to offer, and the guidebook’s rating system for each destination helps travelers determine where to go first. There will also be detailed information for visitors coming to Japan for the first time, ramen and okonomiyaki restaurant guides, walking maps for the historical and retro buildings of the Kitahama/Yodoyabashi/Nakanoshima area, a few short essays and more!

I have added a new page to this site where you can access online maps for every destination and restaurant listed in the guide. This is meant to be used in conjunction with the printed guidebook when it is published, but you can browse it now to get an idea of what the guidebook will contain.

Look for Osaka Insider: A Travel Guide for Osaka Prefecture in late 2011 or early 2012!

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The Meaning of Travel

August 17, 2010 7 comments

I’m not sure how or when I became a travel addict. Certainly there is an allure in going to new places, encountering unpredictable situations, and seeing unfamiliar things, but understanding where that feeling comes from takes a bit more thinking. Here’s what I came up with.

To start with, I think the opportunity to escape from daily worries is a major reason. Whether we know it or not, every day is filled with anxiety about trifling things that needn’t be worried about in the first place. As I pore over documents every day, wracking my brain for new ad copy, elegant translations and smoother rewrites, I become physically and mentally exhausted. After work I worry about what I need to do, what I haven’t done, what can’t be done but should be done. The amount of things to do in a day is simply overwhelming. However, the moment I step foot on the train or bus bound for my next destination, all of that is forgotten. Whether it be a day- or a week-long excursion, the time is my time, and I can think about things like the future, my humanity, the world around me, and the little things that often go unnoticed–things I don’t have time to consider most days. The lack of small worries lets me finally see the world clearly.

Next, there’s one of the most basic concepts in travel: movement. I truly believe that movement, both literally and figuratively, is freedom. I always bring along books to read on my train trips, but in the end only about five pages or so ever get read, because I just stare out the window at the things whooshing by, at scenery familiar and new. Just the ability to move, whether it be at a screaming shinkansen speed or rickety wanman clunker-train crawl (see photo), is exhilarating. It’s no coincidence that we say life is “at a standstill” when things seem to be stagnating and unchanging; movement, whether it  toward something or just movement’s sake, is liberating.

Movement also means we are going to new places, seeing new things. But why is that important? Because encountering new situations, people, and ideas helps us grow, especially when we don’t have the burden of everyday worries weighing us down, hindering our clear thinking. I have never gone on a trip and come back as the same person: whether it be to a small or large degree, I have always changed and grown through travel. My view of the world becomes different, and my perspective becomes wider yet more refined. Occasionally traveling alone only enhances these aspects further.

Onomichi

So get out there and explore, see everything you can while there is still time. Enjoy not only the destination, but the journey to get there. Appreciate small things, and don’t plan every day meticulously. Go somewhere nobody would ever think of taking a trip to, stay somewhere—a run-down hostel, a capsule hotel, a sleeping bag under the stars—you wouldn’t normally stay. Take every type of trip you can, at any chance you get, and you will not only experience more of the world, but will become a  happier person with a richer set of experiences.

A free mind, movement, growth, and new experiences. That’s the meaning of travel.

The Ramen Guide is Online!

June 24, 2010 4 comments

Yes, I know it’s been awhile. Osaka Insider has been swamped. But since you were all so patient, I have decided to debut my Ramen Guide a bit earlier than planned. The Ramen Guide is a new, permanent page on this site (you can see it in the menu bar above and to the right), featuring Osaka Insider’s recommended ramen in Osaka. As always, my advice is based on experience and research–I have personally eaten at all of the ramen shops listed. I have kept the list moderate because, let’s be realistic, how many bowls of ramen can one person really eat? And because I never get tired of trying new things and seeing new places, you can be sure new shops will make the list as I discover them.

Take a look at the new guide now!

Umeda Kita Yard Redevelopment Project

April 21, 2010 6 comments
Firstly, I would like to thank all my readers and fellow bloggers for supporting Osaka Insider. This is officially my 50th post, and while Osaka Insider is a still a new face on the Internet, the increasing readership and lovely comments have encouraged me to keep going. Thank you!

Construction started in March 2010 in Umeda’s Kita Yard (北ヤード), an area located directly next to JR Osaka Station that has been used as a freight terminal throughout its history until now. The area has always been an eyesore in the upscale district, and the redevelopment of this area will essentially “complete” the Umeda area. According to the development project’s website, phase one is scheduled to be complete in March 2013. According to various sources, the entire redevelopment will be complete between 2020 and 2025.

Phase one consists of a series of buildings forming a district known as the “Knowledge-Capital” (inappropriate hyphen placement is their English, not mine). It will supposedly be a multi-purpose commercial-residential-research district, focusing on an international gathering of minds combined with cutting-edge technology. Cutting through all the flowery descriptions, the reality will be a mixed office-shopping-residential district, along with facilities for conferences, conventions, research, and knowledge-workers. There will also be green space modeled after Osaka’s current overarching development theme, the “city of water.”

The above is my summary of what the planners envision, but now I’d like to share my personal thoughts. The Kita Yard is a giant eyesore in Umeda, especially when going to the Umeda Sky Building or Yodobashi Camera, and it also acts as an unwelcome reminder of Osaka’s dirty, industrial past. The land in question is probably the most expensive property in Osaka, and I have high hopes that they will redevelop it in such a way as to add more originality and fun to the Umeda district.

I think the idea of a “Knowledge-Capital” will flop, and the new area will essentially be an expansion of Umeda as a shopping district, with new and extremely expensive housing added in. About a third of the area is dedicated to housing and hotel space, another third to offices, and another third to commercial facilities with a smattering of “Knowledge-Capital” commercial zoning. Throughout Japan’s modern urban development history, there have been many attempts to make technology-based districts or districts revolving around vague concepts such as knowledge or internationalization, and all of them have simply turned into upscale commercial districts in the end–I have almost no doubt that this time will be no different.

In other words, this new part of Umeda will simply be an expansion of the current upscale shopping and central business district. What is needed is some originality, something to make Umeda stand out. This cannot be accomplished by simply throwing in a few department stores, overpriced restaurants and brand-name department stores for gold-diggers and himo. Umeda is a fun place, but it has always felt a bit like a Kansai version of Tokyo’s Shinjuku rather than something uniquely Osakan, as places like Namba, Tsuruhashi and Shin-Sekai are.

Furthermore, areas in the central city north of Osaka Castle Park and Utusbo Park are severely lacking in quality parks and pleasant green space (I’m not counting the drab Yodogawa riverfront), so quality parks and open areas rather than a few sad-looking shrubs are sorely needed in Umeda. These would likely raise property values in the area even further (which must be of some interest to developers there). Osaka has some of the most well-planned parks I’ve encountered in Japan, and a new one in Umeda would be a definite plus for residents.

Finally, this development plan coincides with transportation network expansion projects, namely by JR and the Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau (public operator of subways and buses in Osaka). JR has long been considering a namboku (“north-south”–name TBD) line going underground from a new Kita-Osaka Station in Umeda, through to the existing JR Namba Station and continuing from there on current tracks to Tennoji Station. This would not only provide an alternative route for regular trains and tokkyu special express trains going north-south (they currently use the loop line), it would provide an alternative route for JR freight traffic, as well as new public transportation along Naniwa-suji (boulevard). Osaka City is considering extending its Yotsubashi Line to connect with Kita-Umeda and continue north through Juso to Shin-Osaka Station (where the shinkansen stops). Although they are still in the discussion phases, these moves could greatly improve the Osaka City and Kansai area rail networks and improve ease of movement around the city.

I have mostly commented on phase one of the plan, because that is the only one where details are clear. Only time will tell what the new Umeda will look like, but I have very high expectations that the positive direction Osaka city planning has taken will continue to pick up momentum with this project.

Take a look at the development project’s website if you are interested in learning more.

Photos by Wikimedia Commons.