Sunday, May 23—Osaka
As Advertised: Following breakfast, which will be served in your hotel, you will embark on a fascinating tour of the city including the Osaka Castle, noted for its magnificence and the immense stones used in its construction. The castle, towering over the city, stands on a stone rampart. Many relics of the Toyotomi who built the castle originally, and Old Osaka are exhibited inside. Continue on to the Shitenno-ji Temple, established by Prince Shotoku. Most of the temple buildings, however, were rebuilt after World War II. It is impressive to see the temple buildings of the Nandai-mon Gate, the Chu-mon Gate, the five-storied pagoda, the kon-do Hall, and the Kon-do Lecture Hall in this expansive compound. For those Rotarians registered for the Paul Harris Fellows Luncheon, our motor coach will drop you off at the convention center in time to attend the luncheon. All others will be returned to your hotel to relax or walk around prior to this afternoon’s Opening Ceremonies. Each year they are even more exciting! Following the opening ceremonies, the now famous Hamden Rotary Welcome Cocktail Reception will take place from 7PM to 9PM at ANA Hotel Osaka: Manyounoma Banquet Room.
Sunrise came early, and we were up at 5 a.m., not that it did us much good. Although our tour was to depart promptly at 8:15 a.m., the Windows on the World restaurant at the top of the hotel did not open till 7:30 (and the other restaurants even later), so we were pretty hungry by the time we got to breakfast. Luckily, the restaurant offered a stupefying buffet of both Japanese and Western dishes, and we partook avidly. It was unfortunate that we had to rush through our meal, since this was our only opportunity to eat in this elegant restaurant with its breathtaking view, but as it was we made it to the bus with only moments to spare (and to reproving looks from our tour escorts).
Our JNTB guide, Hiroko Matsunobu, had good, fairly fluent English, but a heavy accent, making it difficult to understand her, especially if we were too far away (which I was most of the time), and frustration with my balky digital camera distracted me from much of her explanation of the Shitennoji Temple (luckily Barney was able to fill me in later). Glenn, who had spent the night in Dad’s room, accompanied us on the tour before returning to Yokohama, and I daresay his commentary was helpful for those close enough to hear him.
We had much too short a stay at both Shitennoji and Osaka Castle, but even so, there was certainly no time to “relax or walk around” when we returned to the hotel. Although we had our basic convention credentials, I had hoped to get to the convention site that afternoon to pick up our “goodie bags,” the tickets I’d ordered for a Host Organization–sponsored event, and tickets to the Host Hospitality Night. By the time we returned to the hotel, however, the last shuttle was leaving for “RRH/OICC” (an abbreviation we became very familiar with: the convention venues at the Osaka International Convention Center and adjacent Rihga Royal Hotel); subsequent shuttles would go directly to the Osaka Dome for the Opening Ceremonies, scheduled to begin at 3:15. We could have taken that shuttle, taken care of our business at the Convention Center, and gone on to the Dome, but I wanted to change clothes and freshen up before going to the Opening Ceremonies. We also hadn’t had lunch.
Glenn scouted out the restaurants in the hotel complex (which, like so many buildings in Japan, included a subterranean shopping plaza) and found that we could all (12 of us) be seated at the semicircular counter in Madonna Okonomiyake [sic]. Okonomiyaki is an Osaka specialty sometimes known as “Osaka pancake” or, more recently, “Osaka pizza.” We referred to it as “fried coleslaw,” as that was what it resembled, and I later learned that shredded cabbage is in fact the primary ingredient. Part of the enjoyment of the dish, I gather, is to cook it yourself on the griddle that forms a major portion of the table or counter, but we were content to watch it being prepared by the two proficient chefs who were apparently doing the cooking for the entire restaurant (including the patrons seated at tables). Even though we were not the ones “slaving over a hot stove,” we were by no means far removed from the heat, which was not exactly welcome after a morning spent mostly outside in the sultry Osaka weather.
Tom pronounced the okonomiyaki the best dish he’d ever eaten and devoured his large portion and about half of mine. Barney and I had made the mistake of ignoring Glenn’s recommendation against getting natto (fermented soybean paste) as one of the ingredients, and ours were pretty nasty (and in any case it was hard to be hungry after the huge breakfast we’d had).
After lunch we separated for further freshening up, and by the time we had regrouped and caught a shuttle to the Osaka Dome, we arrived just as the program was due to start. Our party got separated, and Barney and I found ourselves on our own. The stadium was already mostly filled, but we kept wandering until we ended up with great seats, where we settled down to wait as periodic announcements were made that the beginning of the Opening Ceremonies was being delayed because many Rotarians were still making their way to the stadium—the first of many occasions when the 45,595 Rotarians and guests from 112 countries strained the capacity of the transportation arrangements. Eventually, the crowd filled virtually every seat.
Finally the program began, and we endured two and a half hours of bafflement and tedium, broken by occasional moments of excitement. The Host Organization Committee had chosen to showcase some of Japan’s traditional performing arts, along with the best of its modern musicians. The program opened with a performance by “Kongoryu, a Noh theater group that incorporates elements of dance, drama, music, and poetry.” My feeling about Noh is that it is the equivalent of grand opera—an art form that everyone “cultured” has to profess to admire but that most people don’t really want to experience. Since we had not purchased the radio receivers that would have allowed us to hear English translations of the Japanese portions of the program, this was even more of a mystery to us.
Other program events were addresses (some in Japanese, some in English) by Dr. Genshitsu Sen, the Convention Committee chair, Osaka Prefecture Governor Fusae Ohta, Osaka Mayor Junichi Seki, and of course Rotary International President Jonathan B. Majiyagbe; and the inspiringly interminable presentation of the flags of the 166 Rotary countries. The entertainment feature spotlighted two acclaimed Japanese opera stars—soprano Shinobu Sato and tenor Taro Ichihara. The operatic arias were obviously the final straw for a lot of convention-goers, and the pace of the mass exodus that had already begun was stepped up. Barney and I were embarrassed by the rudeness of these attendees but relieved to see that most of them appeared to be Japanese.
We stayed to the bitter end and therefore were among the relatively few who got to enjoy a rousing performance by Brazilian, African, and Japanese percussion artists (drummers). We later learned that none of the rest of our party had stayed till the end. They were seated so far to one side that they couldn’t even see the stage except on a large video screen above their seats, but they could certainly have improved their seats later when the crowd began to disperse.
We left about 6:15 to catch a shuttle to the RRH/OICC and then walk several blocks to catch another shuttle to the ANA Hotel (we later learned we could have gotten a shuttle direct from the Dome to the hotel). The “cocktail” reception served only wine and beer (and some sake brought in by one of the local Rotary clubs), but there was a lavish spread of Japanese and Western hors d’oeuvres. We met and spent a good bit of time with a couple from Lubbock, Texas, who had taken the Classic Japan tour before the convention, about which they were very enthusiastic.
Having gotten a map and directions from the ANA concierge, we walked back to the Hilton. I called for an iron and ironing board and received a slightly different but equally unsatisfactory pair, ironed clothes, and turned in about 10:30 p.m.