13 Feb 2023, Osaka – It happened again, for the countless time and it makes Kame-chan and me want to yowl. On a social media platform, a Japan “expert” told me that Japan is filled with (used) panty vending machines. I asked, as usual, the address of the machine they visited. Of course, what followed was admission that, no, they had not seen one in person nor even a picture of one and had not ever even been to Japan. It is true, at least one did exist in the dark side alleys of Tokyo’s Akihabara, about 10 or 15 years ago, but the laws are too strict now.
Kame-chan wanted to set the record straight the last time we went out camping with his solar-powered, bike-driven RV. On the way to camping we cruised around Osaka looking for some of the more unusual vending machines. We saw umbrella vending machines in the business center of Umeda, manga-based toys dispensed in plastic bubble capsules by gumball machine-type vending machines called Gashapon (see photo caption) along the manga shops and maid cafes in trendy Namba area and cigarette and alcohol machines in the seedy Nishinari district’s back streets. But no panties.
Watching me pedal the bike was making Kame-chan hungry so food vending machines caught his eye as we headed out of town towards his favorite campground. There are some surprising foods found in vending machines. Soda machines, featuring normal soda and ice teas as well as hot coffee and milk tea cans, are ubiquitous in Japan but there are some unusual items, too. Many of the soda machines carry hot soup cans.
Need a midnight fix of Ramen soup? There are machines for that. If it is 2 A.M and your backyard BBQ is out of steak? Sure we have that too. If it is 5 A.M. and you awake with a craving for Chinese-style rice buns filled with meat and veggies? We got you covered. Kame-chan was tempted by the steak.
Perhaps the oddest thing we discovered on our quest was a Ponzu sauce vending machine. Ponzu is a thick vinegar-based sauce with the flavor of the citrus fruit Yuzu, reminscient of a small grapefruit. Tsuruhashi ward in Osaka is famous for its Yakiniku (BBQ steak) restaurants but had long held an iconic puffer fish restaurant. The restaurant is gone but its signature sauce lives on, perhaps only in this lone vending machine.
After checking the stock, which included a spicy variety which I favored and a premium version, Kame-chan chose a bottle of the plain ponzu sauce for 750 yen ($5.70) and we were off to them camping site. I did not have puffer fish, since I do not feel confident preparing such a potentially lethal cuisine, but I did bring steak for me and salmon parts for Kame-chan. I fired up my portable grill and used the Ponzu sauce as steak marinade sauce. Kame-chan had fish and I made some with and without the sauce.
The sauce was mild with those fruity citrus tones and I can see it would go better with fish. Kame-chan was not a fan. He thought the sauce was too salty and went for the plain fish without sauce.
There is no accounting for taste in cats and there are no used panty vending machines in Japan.
Jokata Kaiseki as a woodblock printing artist who seemed to be a loner in the Shin Hanga（新版画）art movement, which took place in the first half of the 20th century in Japan and was meant to revive the then declined woodblock printing genre, famously known as ukiyo-e, the pictures of the floating world.
While most artists involved in Shin Hanga had been chaperoned by professional publishers, Jokata Kaiseki had single handedly self-published a series of woodblock prints, titled Twenty-five Views of Mount Fuji, from 1929 to 1931. He was also not associated with anyone active in the woodblock printing scene. Indeed, very little is known about this artist except that he was born in 1882 in Okayama, had lived in Kyoto and Tokyo, and returned to Okayama during the war years. But for many woodblock print collectors, a significant portion of pleasure in collecting prints comes precisely from discovering an outstanding print linked to an obscure name – the ecstasy of discovery.
We do not know what circumstances compelled Jokata to create and self publish this series of woodblock prints known as Twenty-five Views of Mount Fuji. Whatever it was, we have sufficient grounds to believe Jokata was an artist of firm resolution and endowed with strong executive capabilities. To produce a body of 25 designs of woodblock prints of high quality is an intimidatingly challenging project, artistically, technically and financially, especially when he himself had to function both as the artist and the publisher.
Twenty-five Views of Mount Fuji by Jokata Kaiseki well embodies the then thriving Shin Hanga style which incorporates western artistic expression, yet is grounded in traditional ukiyo-e subjects and woodblock printing techniques. Prints from this woodblock series are highly detailed, meticulously executed and have a painting-like quality. This woodblock printing technique of light embossing is widely used, especially on Mount Fuji.
Words inevitably cannot adequately convey the full power and beauty of visual arts, so we will let these woodblock prints speak for themselves and for the obscure artist Jokata Kaiseki.
*To avoid copyright issues, only 12 prints from personal collection are displayed here.
A shimosoga Plum Orchard and Mount Fuji/Original Woodblock Print (Personal Collection)
Guide to Modern Japanese Woodblock Prints: 1900-1975, Helen Merritt, University of Hawaii Press, 1992
Seven Masters: 20th Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection, Andreas Marks, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, 2015
Ding Ding is Chinese and currently living Berlin. She works in an investment consultancy business and in her spare time is an avid explorer of Japanese literature, cinema, arts and history. She may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
In Japan, there are many public parks in the cities and towns where you can go for a stroll, exercise, socialize and relax. Many have a variety of facilities for sports, children’s playscapes, public swimming pools and more.
Another common feature is BBQ areas, some supplying everything you need even the food while others offer the BBQ pits for the D.I.Y. crowd to bring in their own feast. While tents tend to spring up on the park lawns on any nice day, many of the parks have designated day camping facilities
Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park https://www.tsurumi-ryokuchi.jp/ ,situated between the Northeast of Osaka and Moriguchi Cities, is one of Osaka’s hidden gems. It covers over 300 acres, about half the size of New York City’s Central Park, and offers a lake, botanical gardens, a variety of recreational facilities and kilometers of trails. It is also known for Sakuya Konohana Kan, one of Japan’s largest greenhouses.
A surprising feature of this park is a campground featuring 10-place centered on a BBQ area and best of all, it is free. While some campgrounds are budget, most charge 2,000 and up.
I was bouncing off the wall with cabin fever because of Covid restrictions and I was eager to test out a new tent under actual conditions before taking it on longer cycling trips. During a week of rainy weather, I went directly to the office that manages the camping and BBQ and there was no problem booking an open spot. They even offered registration forms in English.
People often go to enjoy a bit or exercise or relaxation in a park, but it is an unusual experience to sleep in one. Thankfully, there was a break in the rain while I set up the tent. Even with the rain there were a few other campers who were not driven inside by the soggy weather and the happy sounds of children echoed around the crackling fire.
For being within the city limits of Osaka, the park became amazingly quiet. It is even protected from the traffic noise. By 21:00, the barbeque feasts were complete and kids were getting ready to climb into sleeping bags, exhausted from the day of playing in the park.
This was an evening that kindly granted us a break in the heavens to see the full moon rise. I was able to leave my tent and wander among the many people using the park even at night. Like most Japanese parks, it is open 24 hours a day. The Moon did not disappoint.
The residents of the campsite beside me also marveled at the moonrise. They were an Osaka single mother and her daughter seeking an escape before the summer holiday ended. The mother said that due to Covid restrictions, they did not get much of a chance to travel this summer so she wanted to do something special. The chance to be in a park, distanced from all the crowds of the city was a nice experience. She said it was better than going to a theme park during the ongoing emergency. Her pre-teen daughter rolled her eyes but remained silent.
The clouds soon enveloped the sky and blotting the Moon so I retreated to my tent. A park security vehicle, blue light rotating on top, did make its rounds a few times during the night. A cat yowled its disappointment at the lack of BBQ leftovers since nobody had used the two BBQ areas adjacent to the camps. I had some food in my pack that the kitty appreciated and so it was quiet for the night, as the rain began.
I woke before the dawn in darkness and the rain had ceased. I was pleased to find my tent had weathered the storm quite well and my sleeping bag was dry. I quickly grabbed my camera. Life would soon be stirring in the park.
The predawn golden hour was beckoning me and I wandered beyond the park to find a morning coffee. With another stormy day on the way, the morning sunrise was stunning. But this breathtaking view was short-lived, returning to leaden-grey overcast within minutes.
The morning summoned people and wildlife alike to congregate in the park. This was a weekday so there were many joggers taking their dogs for a run before work. It struck me how friendly and full of life the morning was.
Even on a cloudy morning the beauty of the park was overwhelming. The gardens in the park have a variety making some flora in season year-round.
The day was starting and a storm was threatening, so I returned to my tent and packed up my campsite. I made sure to carefully gather my my gear and to pack out the trash.
The campsite beside me was coming to life. Mother and daughter busily preparing breakfast. I asked the shy child if she had fun. She hesitated. Her mother answered for her. “Yes, she had alot of fun.” The daughter? She did not say otherwise.
It certainly was a memorable experience. It was nice to take advantage of this park that is just a few kilometers from Osaka station and a stop on the Nagahori Tsurumi Ryokuchi subway line.
Free campsites & Cheap campsites information in Japan – A listing of select free or low-cost campsites, mostly provided by local municipalities. https://camp.tabinchuya.com/en.html
Convention and Tourism Bureaus for cities or regions will often have listings of interesting tourism sites including campgrounds and day camping sites provided supported by the towns or local businesses.
Camping is still not a large industry in Japan so when searching for campgrounds assure that overnight camping is allowed and what facilities are offered.
Reserve ahead. Japan campgrounds, even if they have a vacancy, often will not rent spaces on the same day. Unplanned wandering is not advised. Make your plan and reservations well in advance.