By the season

I’ve been quiet for the past few weeks because we have been traveling in Japan, where the seasons are noted and celebrated in daily life and the food people eat.

It was spring when we arrived in Japan and that means one thing, even to non-Japanese, it was cherry-blossom time (in Japanese, sakura).

Sakura, (cherry blossom) at the Kouzu Shrine, Osaka, Japan
Sakura, (cherry blossom) at the Kouzu Shrine, Osaka, Japan

On our first morning, following breakfast in a local coffee shop, we found that we were just across the road from the Kuromon Market. Oh for something of this quality in Canberra.

In the Kuromon market,  in just one of the seafood aisles, near Dotombori, Osaka.
In the local market, in the seafood aisles, near Dotombori, Osaka.

A morning walk down the stalls took us past tempting displays of seafood,

A large tuna was attracting plenty of browsers to this shop.
A large tuna was attracting plenty of browsers to this shop.

and other displays that we were rather less enthusiastic about.

Show some respect, the potentially deadly fugu fish.
Show some respect, the potentially deadly fugu fish.

This led us to the fruit and vegetable section of the market. It turned out that strawberries were in season. It is not unusual to see stalls in Japanese markets that have such large displays of a single item of produce in season.

A stall of strawberries. At the front are boxes of 'white' strawberries.
A stall of strawberries. At the front are boxes of ‘white’ strawberries.

The more expensive fruit was individually wrapped.

Individual strawberries. Asking price, roughly $A3 each! Not to mention the recently introduced, additional 8% sales tax
Individual strawberries. Asking price, roughly $A3 each!

To celebrate the spring season there were also stalls selling sakura mochi, a pink-tinted rice ball around a centre of red-bean paste and wrapped in a pickled cherry leaf.

Sakura mochi, riceball, Osaka.
Sakura mochi, riceball, Osaka.

They made for a tasty mid-morning snack while we travelled by train into the countryside, looking for cherry blossom as we went

Sakura seen from the train.
Sakura seen from the train.

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Random Garden Visit – Namba Parks, Osaka

As we in currently in holiday mode I thought I would take you on a virtual visit to a garden some time ago, in a country far, far away. Today’s destination is Namba Parks Garden in Osaka.

Namba Parks is a complex of shops and gardens in Osaka, located next to the Nankai Namba station, where the train from Osaka Airport arrives,  which is how I came to find it. Directly above the station is the hotel where we stayed on our first night in Osaka.

Looking out from our hotel window the next morning I was struck by the view, not just the ‘far as the eye can see’ city of Osaka itself, but the more immediate sight of a dramatic vertical building next to a rhythmical curving complex of gardens.

Namba

This was my introduction to Namba Parks and what a fantastic way to see the gardens as you could get an idea of both the overall design as well as the vertical depth of the complex which ranges over 9 levels/floors. From up here you could even get a hint at the paving which echoed the curving walls of the gardens.

Namba1

I spent some time trying to draw the gardens, an exercise which showed me that the interest in the design lies in the complex curves, repeated in the paving and in banded colours details in the walls. The levels stacked one on top of the other, move forward and retreat, the curtains of vegetation confounding any attempt to grasp the design in one pass of the eye.

Vertigo warning For an even more gut wrenching view here is the designers ‘aerial’ image taken from the Namba Parks Tower (yes you are looking down the building’s outside wall (immediate foreground).

Namba_2_canyon_aerial-sept09

Image courtesy http://www.jerde.com/media/images/experiential/namba%202%20canyon%20aerial-se…

On the street level the view is even more luxuriant.

Groundlevel

Unfortunately the shopping hours in Japan meant that our ability to explore the gardens fully was completely frustrated. The complex doesn’t actually open until quite late in the morning (about 10.00 am and we had another train to catch), so we could only check out the ground level and look longingly up at those stairs where the rope stops would-be early morning interlopers.

Gardeners

Here the gardeners are busily working on the new plantings. As in so many areas of Japanese culture the seasons are a major concern and the Namba Gardens plantings are changed regularly to dramatise this effect. A free ‘Flower Walks’ brochure summarises the seasonal plantings for visitors. At ground level there were ‘quaint’ plant-filled barrows (not I suspect a feature of the original designer),

Barrows

along with more elegant planters filled with pink lillies.

Lillies

Also on the ground level were a series of posters whose sensitive water-colour designs were lessened by their rather banal declaration that we should “Enjoy a place filled with gentle feelings and happy smiles. Come share our fun and happiness and watch your dreams grow.”

MountainGroundWater

Well maybe next time.

The Namba Parks complex, completed in 2003, was designed by US designer Jon Jerde.