Saturday, January 2, 2016


July 4, 2014.  Running is one of those things I do to help me regain balance and discipline my focus.  If tempering a sword out of the kiln hardens the blade, running conditions the body physically and trains the mind to take things in stride.  In some ways its also like travelling somewhere far for days.  It gives you time alone and allows you to be introspective without looking like you’re hashing things up in your brain.  It heightens my senses and helps me see and feel detail through vulnerable sensitivity.  It’s almost Japanese but I’m sure running is universal.  I brought my runners in hopes of starting each day with runs across the cities we’d be visiting.  It would be the best way, I thought, to see parts of the nearby districts that were not on the tourist maps.  Getting myself vulnerable through running would allow familiarity of the place to drive in deeper.  It was what I needed, to be able to tap into this sensitivity deep enough to help me feel what they call in urban design jargon as “the spirit of a place.”  To ‘feel a place’ through this kind of magic is a tool every urban designer should hone. 

I was soon back at the hotel after a quick 10K run.  The cold morning air still chilled my spine as I stood infront of the elevator.  After a short stretch and a hot shower, I headed down for breakfast.  Time felt slower when not chasing pavement.  Short relaxing conversations over breakfast with colleagues and professors felt warm and pleasant in contrast to the cold and shin-splinting pace of my very early morning.  There wasn’t any apparent immediate hurry.  There was even time for a quick hop upstairs for ‘#no.2’ just before everyone headed out.  I got back to the hotel lobby, however, and found everyone waiting for me.  Time ran faster all of a sudden.  I counted heads.  Yes, I was indeed last.  It felt as awkward as the first time I was late and my apologies felt even more embarrassing.

We walked along the linear park that meandered with the dark blue Osaka River threading out from the city and into the sea.  The walk, already a familiar path to me from the morning run, took us to a small jetty.  We took the “Aqua Bus”, a frog looking boat, and headed up river towards Osakajo Pier (Osaka Castle Port).  The wide linear parks on both banks and the river itself formed a natural feature, clean and vibrant amidst the city sprawling with progressive high-rise urban development.  The entire scenery as seen from the ferry showed the wide-open berth between built-form and the natural feature of the river. The complementary co-existence in one simple setting was enviable.   The composition was perfect.  There was blue from the river, white from the clouds, and green from the park.  The gradual rise of structures allowed the horizons to stretch clean of buildings.   The view of the sky and the clouds was wide and unobstructed.  Though we weren’t able to visit the park at night I could imagine the moon’s sharp reflection over the river on a breezy walk under a starless sky.  In a country with four seasons the design was four times impressive.

The ferry took us towards Osaka Castle, one of Japan’s most treasured architectural relics.  The castle rested on a land area of nearly 60,000 square meters.  It was completed in 1597 under Daimyo Toyotomi Hideyoshi of the Sengoku period but was reconstructed several times thereafter brought about by damage during different feudal wars.  A huge fire consumed and leveled the main tower.[1] Much of it has been carefully restored allowing it to stand tall again, visible from within Osaka’s business district.  The 5-storey high wonder of wood, stone, and now also of concrete currently functioned as a museum housing old Japanese artifacts such as old samurai armors, katanas, naginatas, and other archaic weapons of war.  Walls were covered in framed paintings of battles fought during the different times of feudal Japan.   Though the museum depicted a brutal image of an old nation soaked in battles and gore, it similarly showcased the intricate patterns of design evident in swords, armors and war masks.  I could almost feel the spirit of a people obsessed with the fullest realization of discipline and fine detailed craftsmanship just by staring at all the artifacts on display.

 Before leaving for another district, we viewed Osaka City from the top most level of the castle.  We stood there and admired the view of the city that would be home for a few days.  What was more striking than what we saw though was the way the vantage point imparted a feeling of power over a huge domain.  We were high above the entire city.  None seemed higher than where we were.  It gave a feeling of control and supreme rule over a vast land.  I could imagine the power the castle had in holding the people where they were during the feudal era.  The castle, though already a museum, stood tall over the city and hasn’t lost its place as a central icon providing the people not only a clear waypoint but also a strong reminder of who they were and who they serve, an identity somewhat lost, lacking or maybe diluted when I think about the current day Philippines. 

We trudged through the modern districts of Osaka City later in the afternoon.  I focused my attention on the way people move about.  I was able to observe a well-developed intricate neurological web of networks that worked well within the city.  The hierarchy of movement was extensive and efficient.  A clear view of the JR train station, the elevated highways and feeder roads, and the pedestrian movement on foot and bicycles became even more visible when we rode the HEP Five Ferris wheel.  The bright red gigantic sky-ride stood 106 meters on its highest point from the street level and provided a good bird’s eye view of the city in daily motion.[2]  There was a definable experience of a seamless interconnection between pedestrian and vehicular movement.  Stopping points were thronged with activity and visual stimuli.  Places of coming and going, nodes and junctions were all in themselves points of interest that evoked a feeling of place rather than a transitory avenue void of character and indifference.

“These (anthropological) places have at least three characteristics in common.  They want to be – people want them to be – places of identity, of relations and of history.  The layout of the house, the rules of residence, the zoning of the village, placement of altars, configuration of public open spaces, land distribution, correspond for every individual to a system of possibilities, prescriptions, and interdicts whose content is both spatial and social.  To be born is to be born in a place, to be ‘assigned a residence’. – Marc Auge, “Non-Places: Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity”, trans. John Howe (London:  Verso, 1995), 52-53.

Osaka warmed up to me fast.  In just a day of waddling trough it, I felt a piece of me break.  I knew the days would come fast.

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