The Heart of Kansai
Home base during my two weeks in Japan was Osaka, Japan's first (temporary) capitol, located in the Kansai prefecture. Osaka is well-known for its down to earth, talkative people and its Okonamiyaki. Osaka is also home to a great museum, the Osaka Museum of Ethnology.
Although none of the original structure remains, the people of Osaka cherish their little palace. It is sorrounded by sky scrapers in a quiet little palace park with a plum garden.
Young and old alike come to the palace garden to relax and take a break from the other 2.7 million people in Osaka.
Most of those can be found in the entertainment and shopping districts, of course. With its little canals, Osaka (deliberately) recalls an Italian city. A recent city publicity campaign titles Osaka as "Japan's Venice".
However, when the clock strikes 10, life slowly fades from the streets to the small bars and clubs of the city. The young Americanized shopping and lifestyle crowd vanishes.
As the consumers recede, the less fortunate business men set up their temporary habitat. The box homes are built quite elaborately every night. Many of these men (I've never seen a woman) were doing comparatively well before they lost their jobs during the recession.
Sleeping on the street is not a problem in Japan though. I have never felt so safe as on Japanese streets, at day or night. Crime appears(!) to be completely absent. People hardly lock their bicycles or worry about items unintentionally left somewhere. They will still be around when the owner comes back. The moderate climate in Osaka supports the street sleepers, and card board is supposedly very warming.
Kyoto, another one of Japan's former capitols is a little smaller than Osaka and is home to the traditional side of Japan. It is literally covered with shrines and temples, another old palace...
... and "Japanese" Gardens. Arashiyama is part of the Kyoto prefecture.
Actress Scarlet Johannsson hopped these stones for the movie "Lost in Translation", lost in the traditional, calm and quiet atmosphere of Kyoto.
However, even in Kyoto you will feel the pulse of a thriving economy as soon as you leave the religious sites.