While tourists seek
out the hustle and bustle of Namba markets, the historic sites at Osaka Castle
or day trips braving the crowds to see the deer in Nara, they overlook the
natural and cultural wonders that exist in-between. From anywhere in Osaka, you
can look eastward and see an inviting ridgeline centered on the 642-meter-tall
Mount Ikoma which divides Nara and Osaka.
It is worthy simply as a nice day hike with the family or friends but it has added treasures. On top of Mount Ikoma, the summit holds the Ikoma Sanjo Amusement Park that was built in 1929. The park rides are really only for young kids, but since the park entry is free, it is a great place to stroll about and the park has had a recent face lift that did not destroy its historic charm. There is also a cat and dog petting zoo that claims to house various furry friends from around the world. Hours are seasonal so it is best to call ahead.
If climbing up those 600 meters does not sound fun, there is another bonus. Just a short walk from the Ikoma Station of the Chou-line metro and Kintetsu railway is a cable car to the summit and amusement park. The Kintetsu Ikoma Cable Car, opened in 1928, is the oldest commercial cable car line in Japan running from Toriimae station up the mountain to Ikoma Sanjo. Some of the cars retain a classic look while some have been tailored to look like a dog or cat for the younger park guests. Kids will often ask the conductor to make the animals “talk” so as the dog and cat cable cars cross each other the cat calls out “nyao nyao” and the dog responds “won won.” After passing through the Ikoma hillside community and up to Hosan-ji, you must transfer to reach the top.
Long before the temple was built, Mt
Ikoma was already venerated by the local people. It became a training site for
Buddhist monks as early as 665. The temple, dating back to the Edo Period, is
dedicated to Kangiten. This god is usually depicted as an elephant figure
similar to the Hindu Ganesha, and is known for wisdom, joy and prosperity which
made Kangiten popular amongst merchants and entertainers.
Small pilgrimages from Osaka or Nara brought worshipers here,
so there developed a hillside village and a variety of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and
guesthouses along the slopes that have been serving religious pilgrims and
visitors ever since. However, unlike some crowded tourist sites, the shops are
low key and there are no tour buses discharging throngs of temple visitors. On
most days you will only meet a few other climbers, many taking a rest over a
cup of coffee or a meal.
Climbing through the community, the lanes are very narrow and
steep and even become a staircase in places. There are some traditional
buildings maintaining echoes of historical architecture and the view of the
Osaka cityscape is impressive. Soon you rise above the last outpost of
civilization alongside the Hozanji station of the cable car line.
Ascending to the temple, there is a
broad stairway but there are also winding forest paths which lead to the temple
grounds. There are some unique features here. While the dark
wooden framed structures with white stucco walls and grey ceramic kawara-tiled
roofs are of typical Japanese temple construction, the altar and prayer
halls are constructed from brown wooden walls with bark roofs which are
indicative of Shinto shrines. A seated Buddha commands an alcove in the cliff
behind the main hall. There is an outlook over the valley as well.
A trail rising up behind the main hall
leads through the peaceful forests on its winding way up to the summit. It is a
steep climb through thick groves of bamboo or tall cedars with the silence only
broken by bird calls and the cheerful murmurs of mountain springs tumbling down
If you ascend the trail you will pass
many smaller shrines and there are many statues of Jizo and other Buddhist
figures. Jizo are usually stone-carved statues of a bodhisattva that is a
spirit protecting known for travelers so they are often located at pilgrimage
destinations and boundaries, both physical and spiritual. These figures are
also often depicted with children or even holding an infant because they are
seen as protectors of children, especially the spirits of those children who
passed away young. You will see hats, gloves or bibs on many of the Jizo. Women
make these clothes, often carefully knitted, as religious devotion however
several of the Jizo here are wearing a sweater or hat, from a departed child,
placed with care by grieving parents. There are offerings not only of fruits
but also of children’s’ beloved toys.
On September 23 each year, the hillside
and village is filled with worshipers, revelers and vendors celebrating the
Ikoma Shoten Equinox Lantern Ceremony. A vast array of lanterns and candles
adorn the mountain steps and paths lighting the autumn night in celebration.
By Richard Trombly (with additional reporting by Jude Jiang)
A History of the futon
simple, practical element in many futuristic furniture designs, the futon has
become a common part of Scandanavian or Danish designs but this simple mattress
was not created in Northern Europe. To find the ancient origin of these thin
yet comfortable mattresses, one needs to look back long before the 1943
founding of Ikea and a continent away.
“Hitting the hay”
We spend almost one-third of our lives sleeping, yet we rarely consider the way in which we sleep. For much of the modern world, sleep means going to our own private bedroom and reclining on a raised bed with some sort of spring-frame and thick mattress. These beds, and the bedroom itself, are rarely used during the remainder of the day. This is not how people slept or lived during much of human history.
earliest bedding discovered, consisting of compacted layers of sedges and
grasses, dates back 77,000 years. Through much of human history people have
slept on bundles of straw or other dried plants. For example, in Ancient Egypt
bedding was piles of palm leaves. It may seem strange to modern social
standards that ancient people often shared the same fire and shelter with
extended tribal or clan members and had little privacy. They hunted, worked and
ate together and even shared their bedding. They usually slept in a common hall
on the floor except, perhaps, for their leader who might have a private
of the earliest raised beds can be found among the artifacts of the Egyptian
pharaohs and nobles. Ancient Roman Empire elites also had beds and bed chambers
but the commoners still slept on the floors. In Asia, beds could be seen as
early as 220 in China’s Wei Jin South and North period when Buddhist influences
brought raised furniture to the elite class.
The Japanese word futon 布団 originated from the Chinese characters pu tuan 蒲团 literally meaning a bundle of cattails. These cushions are still commonly used on the tatami floor mats, woven bamboo mats lining the entire floor of a room, found in many Japanese homes. The Japanese futon is not like the thicker, often foldable European counterpart. It is a system rather than the mattress itself. A futon typically is a thin padded mattress, called a shikibuton 敷布団, a quilt, called a kakebuton 掛け布団, and a bean-filled pillow,called amakura 枕.
Futons emerged from the abundance of cotton woven cloth that
became available during the Edo period in the mid-1600s. First was the Yogi, an
oversized sleeping garment shaped like a kimono but often large enough for two
to share and were often given as a wedding gift. In essence, Yogi are more like
a camping sleeping bag more than a piece of sleepwear. The futon emerged soon
The words mattress and mat both came into English from the Arabic matrah which means something thrown down. But there was an earlier culture of the mattresses in China. Mattresses are mentioned in the Li Ji 禮記 known as Book of Rites, a part of The Five Classics of Confucianism, a collection of rituals written during the Former Han Dynasty (206 BCE-8 CE.) It states that when more than five people gather in a room, the most senior person deserves to have a separate mattress. In fact, the word for leader or chairman,Zhuxi 主席 , literally translates as main mattress even as chairman refers to one who holds a position of honor but originally sitting in a chair, itself, was honorific since most sat upon benches or the floor.
Now these mattresses were not thick like those on modern bed frames and were not even soft. The Chinese pu tuan, though more refined than a mere bundle of reeds, were actually large mats woven from cattail, reeds, bamboo or other coarse materials. A finer layer of softer grasses might be used on top. They were shared and were used for much more than sleeping since there were few other pieces of furniture. The mattress was also where much daily life happened.
Dating far back into the ancient past, there were elaborate dwellings with heated floor systems, such as the Korean ondol 온돌,huoqiang 火墙in China and the hypocast in Rome. Many more modest homes across the North of Asia were developed around a kang 炕, a stove or oven combined with a raised platform that, topped with a mattress becomes an all-purpose place for sitting, entertaining and sleeping. These kang beds are still a common feature in northern China. Japanese Kotatsu こたつ are like a more portable version of a kang. It is simply a low table with a brazier or electric heater underneath and a quilt over the top to retain the heat for those sitting around the table.
rooms, cluttered lives
As technology and societies advanced, a growing merchant class could own their own homes, were eager to show their status and readily adopted the styles of the wealthier classes, including furniture. Adopting chimneys allowed for heating of individual rooms. With these advances, bedrooms, and the exclusive privacy they entail, became commonplace. The multi-functional mattress moved from the center of daily life to become a mere bed topper mostly used during the night and shared only by couples.
The main benefit of the bed is that of being raised above cold drafts but it was also an expression of wealth and class. With the bed and a growing sense of privacy, a greater need for space becomes prevalent.Once the mattress moved into the bedroom, there also became a need for chairs and tables and separate living rooms, studies and dining rooms and more furniture to outfit them. Long-term homeowners with stable careers can collect furniture and fill their homes with treasured items but moving a household then can become a hectic process.
As the world population grows and becomes increasingly urbanized and costs of housing increase, smaller apartments drive a need to reconsider how we make use of space. According to Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism, about 45 percent of Japanese people are living in residences with less than 20 sq. m per person.
In Japan, modern design aesthetics are about creating a feeling of emptiness. This is not unlike the essential Nordic design philosophy of simplicity which is based upon the Bauhaus movement of the early 1900s. The Japanese largely retained simplicity in their interior design by virtue of the futon culture.
The sense of space is much different when there is no need
for beds, tables, chairs and other furniture to permanently occupy the floor.
Upon waking, futons are rolled and stowed and cushions can be used along with
low portable tables to turn the sleeping area into a dining room or work and
Reflecting the economic and environmental need for smaller
apartments and the contrary desire for more space, designers are creating more
co-living spaces where private rooms are small and efficient, yet many areas
are shared spaces for cooking, relaxing, work, play, and recreation. These
co-living spaces are not aimed only at the economically challenged but appeal
to a growing number of youth that want to be flexible to travel or change
careers and are reluctant to be shackled by the responsibility of owning cars
or buying homes.
In this way, the transformable and multipurpose furniture
like many Nordic futon designs are an answer to saving space with sofas and
chairs that become beds and storage spaces or have foldout tables. Ingenious
and stylish foldaway beds are also a trend for those with a taste for furniture
to accommodate ever-shrinking spaces.
Another solution is to forgo the consumption and clutter of unnecessary furniture, to simplify and adopt tatami and futon living. Sleeping and living on floor mattresses is what humans have done for 70,000 years and it may be the way of the future.
Breaking a bond
By Jude Jiang
Before chairs or beds existed, mattresses were nearly the only pieces of furniture and they were used for a wide variety of purposes and were at the center of life. On mattresses, people ate, did business, drank, huddled for warmth, loved, slept and studied. In China, the mattress also carried a deeper meaning portrayed in an ancient Chinese tale.
Towards the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty, the empire had
become vastly corrupted by greedy ministers and traitors. Two scholars, Guan
Ning and Hua Xin, studied at the same garden while living a simple countryside
life. As long-time friends, they shared one single mattress during the course
of their studies. They often discussed matters of philosophy and the state of
the empire but differed in their view of wealth and power.
One day, a procession of nobles passed by their studio with a
loud racket of carts and horses. Hua Xin started from his mattress, went to the
window and looked onto the bustling street with gleeful admiration of the
gentry passing there.
Guan Ning was no fan of the noble class. Disgusted with his companion, he cut the mattress into halves, vowing this act both symbolized the rift in their values as well as the breaking of their friendship. In that era, the mattress reflected a bonding, relationship or social status. In the modern time, we fill our homes with a variety of furniture pieces. Joining in a meal at the family table is a gesture of social bonding. Sharing a bed is an agreement of values and trust in relationship. The bed has become more personal and private than the traditional mattress.
Osaka, 13 October 2019 – I was strolling through Nishinari Ward near DoubutsenMae (the zoo area), my neighborhood in Osaka, tonight enjoying the autumn scent encroaching into the air mixed with the rich smells coming from the many small restaurants in the close-packed store fronts. Admittedly, this is the low budget end of town despite being just blocks from the tallest building in Japan and the brand malls and boutiques of the prosperous Tennoji area, it is home to a notorious area of prostitution and dubious karaoke bars where 100 yen (USD $1) gets you one song and a bar maiden to be your audience, as well as homeless elderly folks camped under the eaves of a warehouse across from the Shin Imamiya railway station. So amidst the din of mealtime conversation spilling from these restaurants and the alcohol-fueled warbling rising out of these KTV, I came across and incredible, yet very common, find. It was a concert hall of about 12 square meters with a jamming guitar playing acoustic solo and heart-felt lyrics being belted out in a rich voice, gravelly with too many cigarettes and lost hopes. The lyrics of “Life During Wartime” by The Talking Heads came to mind.
“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, This ain’t no fooling around This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B., I ain’t got time for that now.”
Osaka actually does have time for that, though, I thought. It really runs at a different pace than other places, especially compared to fast-paced Shanghai, where I have spend most of my past two decades, or Tokyo. As the second-largest city in the island nation, it is the very antithesis of the capital. There is very little outdoor advertising here because people here are hard to market to. They seem to have little use for status symbols of consumerism. And there is an underground culture and art movement here that is quiet yet pervasive.
A concert hall? Not really, but it is a music cafe called EARTH that barely functions as a business. It is a gathering point for the proprietor, Daichi Terakawa’s friends, for music makers, and perhaps a dozen music lovers at a time. But that does not matter, because it is a place to perform. Here, art matters. It reminded me of that club CBGB in the Bowery, a rather impoverished area of New York City, or at least it was back in the day that bands like The Talking Heads,The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Police, and other bands got a chance to be heard in an ever-narrowing music industry.
I am not saying that this bar is going to launch stars like Hilly Kristol did, but CBGB was created for performance, not for fame. This hole-in-the-wall is just that, a performance space. It is a place free of the studio-perfect meter and pitch and recorded perfection that destroys the very sense of the concert experience today, as most bands perform to a pre-canned music track and just do a stage performance, perfectly choreographed to death of any art.
It is so much more rewarding to see an earnest artist perform an imperfect and beautifully raw and flawed performance in a venue like this, or the famed Iron Horse performance space in the old stomping grounds of my youth in the western end of Massachusetts. The experience to see bands in a venue where you are one of less than 100 people packed into a venue is priceless. The performance there is genuine and the energy of the performers is powerful.
Osaka is rich with this sort of art sensibility. Currently the city ward is in the midst of the Shin Imamiya Festival featuring traditional folk drama in non-traditional venues, concerts on the street, and even Rakugo, (literally “fallen words”), but it means a “sit-down” comedian, performing folk comic routines dressed in traditional attire. Osaka just hosted a citywide vibrant month-long celebration of this art that pushes the edge with the Fringe Festival https://osakafringe.com/home-english/. Venues across the city and even parks held a wide variety or concerts, stage plays and performance art but the energy and feel of this underground art culture is there year-round.