I’m planning a trip to Osaka, Japan this February. I’ve got the tickets and accommodation booked and I have been doing so much reading up on Osaka, that I feel like I’m almost there already!
Yes, I’m experiencing that foremost emotion of travel - the excitement that wells up in the soon-to-be traveller, the imaginings of all that the fore coming trip promises to be, the impulsion to pack the bags and head there immediately - I’m talking about the anticipation of travel.
For most of us, travelling overseas for holiday is something done on a well-earned break. It is a departure from the norm, a getaway from the usual drone of the daily grind. It is time to rest and relax, to indulge and have fun. It is a grand time to look forward to.
Which is why so much is invested on an upcoming trip, especially so when you’re travelling free and easy and planning your own itinerary. Not only do you have the holiday experiences to look forward to when you finally arrive at the destination, you’ll also have to choose your own activities and plan your own schedule. This research and planning stage serves as an appetizer that titillates the travel palate and arouses the wanderlust curiosity, all conspiring to cook up a frenzy of excitement, heralding the upcoming trip. And the correlation is direct; the more research and planning done for the trip, in the other words, the more time and effort invested to ante-trip, the greater become your expectations of the trip and the more intense your anticipation of it.
Fortified with information culled from travellers’ tales, the internet, books, magazines and TV travelogues, my impressions of Osaka were building up bit by bit, and my expectations brimming to a hilt.
This will be my first time visiting Osaka and third time to Japan, the first two times being Tokyo. I’ve read that one way for travellers to prime their expectations of Osaka is to take note that the city is often referred to as the anti-capital. Osaka is everything that Tokyo isn’t and most importantly, Osaka isn’t another Tokyo.
For starters, Tokyo is located in the Kanto region, while Osaka is further west, in the heart of the Kansai region. Osakans speak a different Japanese from Tokyoites, expressing themselves more succinctly in the Kansai dialect of Osaka-ben. Tokyo is historically the seat of the political and military power in Japan, while Osaka has traditionally been the centre of commerce and city of merchants. The Osakan way of greeting best sums up their mercantile roots. Instead of the usual “Konni-chiwa” (hello), Osakans acknowledge each other with “Mokari-makka?” which translates to, “Are you earning any money?” to which you would reply “Bochi Bochi Denna”, which means “A little here and there”. And while Tokyoites prefer to be politely politically correct and reserved, Osakans are known to be louder, straight forward and more forthcoming. The difference even stretches to the way they ride the escalators, with Tokyoites keeping to their left while Osakans stick to their right.
Much has been written about Osaka’s kuidaore culture. There is a popular Japanese saying that goes: Tokyo people ruin themselves by overspending on footwear (hakidaore), Kyoto people on clothing (kidaore), while Osaka people on food (kuidaore).”
To be honest, when I first came across this saying, my eyes lit up. Being quite a glutton myself, I am ecstatic with the promise of Osaka turning out to be a food obsessed city. I imagine meeting and dining among kindred souls who would share my boundless love for food with fondness.
I further trawl the net for specific food recommendations, to take note of the not-to-be-missed delights that I must savour when I am finally there. My searches throw up a melange of cheap eats and snacks, – Takoyaki, griddled octopus balls. “Not to be missed”, hails one finding; “experience frying your own Japanese-styled pancake with an Okonomiyaki meal”, enthuses another – lunch recommendations, - the guidebooks list Oshizushi, compressed box-sushi unique to Osaka; Kitsune Udon, fat noodles served simply with sheets of sweet beancurd – and dinners to splurge on – “savour the fugu (blowfish) feast at Zuboraya” opines a food critic; “you must visit my top recommendation, Kani Doraku and have the succulent crabs” a blogger suggests. My eyes shine, my lips glisten and I find myself subconsciously licking my lips, working up an appetite just collating the list of food items.
City sensory overload
Combing through the images and photographs of Osaka, I gather what are some of the more iconic images of Osaka. The usual suspects of the city’s tourist attractions turned up in pictures of the Osaka Castle, Universal Studios, Kaiyukan Aquarium and the ilk.
But strangely, it seems Osaka may be best represented by images of colourful neon signage and over-the-top, 3 dimensional displays of mechanical fibreglass creatures. Recurring photographs of the Neon-lit running Glico Man billboard in foodie heaven, Dotonbori and that of a gigantic mechanical crab overhead a restaurant made the most indelible impression. That countless photographers see fit to capture the images of eatery signages, testify to the food haven reputation of Osaka. Photographs of not just mechanical crabs, but sprawling fibreglass dragons, octopuses and blowfish lanterns, all sitting pretty above the eateries they are representing, jostle for space in the gallery of Osaka images.
It is also said that Osaka is best appreciated after dusk. Once the sun sets, the grey metropolis with its nondescript concrete skyscrapers springs into life with its vibrant displays of colourful neon signs. Osaka also seems beloved for its night spectacle of neon light displays. The Glico Running Man is just one of the more favoured and enduring display. It seems apt that many travellers have photographed the Running Man for keepsake. From everything I have read, heard and seen of Osaka (short of being physically there, of course), this metropolis seems to be populated with loud, hard-partying denizens and is a place of frenetic, kinetic energy – a city that can possibly be justifiably represented by an over-the-top display of a glaringly-lit man in motion.
The mundane takes on an Osakan twist
From the day I started planning for the trip, each day is heralded as another day closer to departure date. As the days count by, with the anticipation of the trip ever-present in my subconscious, I find myself appreciating the everyday things in a new light. Any information, experience or event remotely related to Osaka or even Japan, suddenly seem pertinent. General knowledge and otherwise objective information suddenly seem highly apropos. Current affairs news about the warmer climes bringing about shorter winters and thus earlier blooming of Ume, Plum Blossoms bring unbridled cheer. I rejoice in the news and gleefully add on the possibility of Ume-viewing to my To-Do list.
Through my planning and waiting for the fore coming trip, it seems I have already took off on the departure flight and am onboard my travel – albeit an anticipatory travel.
* The above was written way back in Jan 2007, when I fancied the notion of trying out for travel writing. However, never got round to submitting the above nor post it anywhere. So here it is now. In Anticipation of Travel, as inspired by a chapter in "The Art of Travel", a great book for travel enthusiasts by the way.