Weekend Trip To Osaka

Last weekend, I took a weekend trip outwest to the city of Osaka — which
many compare to be quite the opposite of Tokyo. We spent most of Saturday traveling and sight-seeing while Sunday was spent primarily at Universal Studios Japan (USJ). There are some pictures included in this post but the vast majority are uploaded to the gallery page here.

Flying domestically within Japan for the first time was a very smooth albeit a different experience. The lack of extreme (or any) form of ID checking was a bit unnerving but it did make for quick boarding onto the airplane for both of our flights. The Japanese are a very trusting people and can be a bit of sticklers for following procedures from forming an orderly line for everything to not crossing the street when the traffic light is red. It is a far cry from New York and was definitely an adjustment.

During the flight, the locals clearly hold Mount Fuji in high regard as the flight crew made an announcement as we were flying over Mount Fuji and got everyone to look out our windows to a magnificent view. Truly a sight to see and I can’t wait to climb that come summer time! Anyone wanna join me?

Upon landing at Kensai International Airport, my eyes lit up as one of the first things you see is a Pokemon Store! Those who know me well know that played a big role in my childhood so naturally I had to go there and get myself a souvenir.

I still need to write a post on public transportation here and will go into more details about this later but in March 2013, nearly all of the major public transportation systems became compatible with each other giving travelers from across the country a much simpler way to moving around. That certainly made our lives easier as we were able to move around the city without needing to get new metro cards.

The places that I visited included the Osaka Castle, the Osaka Museum of History as well as the Umeda Sky Building.

The Osaka Castle Museum offers a detailed history and historical artifacts over the course of 7 floors. There are nearly 10,000 artifacts in the building that vividly depict a very war-torn era for Japan. It includes “armor and weapons such as swords, folding screens illustrating the wars and battles, gorgeous furnishings and goods in makie style lacquer, and portraits and letters written by Hideyoshi Toyotomi and other war lords” from that time period. There is also a great display of miniature figures on the 5th floor show that depicts the Summer War of Osaka (1615).

The mission statement of the Osaka Museum of History which says that “Artifacts and remains gain meaning through its relationship with people. We aim to put them in context with the society and culture of the past, which would help viewers find clues for understanding the present and the future” really holds true to its meaning as you travel through the museum. The museum gallery is broken up into 4 floors that breaks up the different ‘Ages’ of Osaka from Naniwa Palace (~7th Century) to Hongan-ji Temple (15th Century) and finishes up with a more modern Osaka.

The total cost for visiting the two previously mentioned museums is only ¥900 ($7.50 USD) if you purchase tickets for both places together which is a pretty good deal for what you get to see. They are located pretty close to each other and you even get a good panoramic view from the top of each building.

While those two places were a nice plus, the main ‘attraction’ I wanted to see while visiting Osaka was the Umeda Sky Building. At 173 meters high, the building has a unique form where two skyscrapers are joined at their top floors through a huge atrium and a sky walk that gives visitors a breath of fresh air and a 360 degree panoramic view of the city. A panoramic picture I took from the sky deck can be found in the Japan gallery page mentioned at the top of the post.

That covers most of what we did on Saturday and then on Sunday, our trip led us to Universal Studios Japan.

Initially, just buying the tickets to this place took us much longer than I had expected. The English version of their website is for ‘informational’ purposes only so you need to purchase through the Japanese site. That was not a lot of fun. We did figure out how to buy our tickets and Fast Pass but it must have taken nearly an hour and brought on unnecessary stress before the trip even began.

It rained on and off for most of the day we were there but I think that helped keep some of the crowd at home. It was not as busy as I expected it to be and there were and the setup was pretty similar to the one back in Orlando. The main difference being that almost everything was spoken in Japanese — including the commentary during most of the rides.

I should mention that the Harry Potter area of the park was nightmare — people wise. There were waiting lines that spanned over 200 minutes meaning people who didn’t have a Fast Pass spent nearly 4 hours for a ride that lasts last than 10 minutes. That is some dedication.

There were additional attractions like Spider Man, Terminator, and Jurassic Park which provided a different atmosphere but lets face it, I was there mainly for Harry Potter. Between the ride through Hogwarts Castle, Ollivanders Wand show, the Acapella group, and Butterbeer — it was well worth it.

Before I finish, I just want to say that I don’t know where we would be without the good people who created Google Maps walking directions. There were times on this trip (and back in Tokyo) where Google Maps has given us walking directions through some of the most random narrow streets and back alleys to get us to and from our housing and around the city — I still don’t understand how Google knows that those pathways even exist. Unbelievable.

Google Maps + Live Video?

It was only a matter of time before someone combined the likes of Google Maps with live video to provide a greater perspective of what is going on in our communities. There was always a concern on what this might to do privacy in public areas as well as the privacy of the individuals just walking or driving around in those areas.

Well the video below shows how computer scientists at Georgia Institute of Technology combining all those aspects and concerns with cameras around the city and their augmented version of Google Earth animates all these. They include sports scenes, traffic flows, the march of pedestrians and weather in addition to masking identities of people and vehicles for statistical purposes.

For a better perspective and a more in-depth look at the new innovation, check out: Live Video Makes Google Earth Cities Bustle.

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