ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Osaka and Kobe

Day 9 – CHURCH OF LIGHT, Osaka (大阪市), Japan

If there was one architect that redefined Japanese architecture during the 1990s it would be Tadao Ando. And if there was one project that best exemplified the essence of Ando’s architecture it would be Ibaraki Kasugaoka Church, or the Church of Light. Located 25km northeast of Osaka, Ando’s Church of Light is a pilgrim destination in the world of architects and designers. The precise use of natural light, minimalist layout, smooth pour in-situ concrete walls, modular spatial proportions, and zenist interplay of void and solid converges into an architectural masterpiece with a volume no bigger than a small house.

The Church of Light opens only on specific days of the week, usually on Sunday but sometimes also Wednesday and Saturday.  Visiting the church requires advanced reservation online. It was about 20 minutes of train ride from Osaka Station to Ibaraki, a residential neighborhood in the outskirt of Osaka. From Ibaraki station, it was another short local bus ride to reach the closest bus stop to the Church of Light.  It was a peaceful Sunday when we visited, we found our way to the main entrance of the church complex, which was consisted of the Church of Light and the Sunday School, a latter addition to the complex also designed by Ando. We registered with the staff at the reception of the Sunday School, and was then led into the famous Church of Light. Once inside, we had all the time we needed to examine the architecture, take photos, and take in the spiritual atmosphere.

We stayed at the church for over an hour, until it was time for us to return to Osaka Tennoji Station, where we would take the Haruka Express for the Kansai Airport. Nine days of Osaka, Kobe, and the spiritual Kumano Kodo gave us a refreshing spring break, with joyful memories from the splendid cherry blossoms, spiritual scenery, fantastic seafood, to poetic architecture.

DSC_1137Osaka Station, with its recently added canopy.

01We got off the local bus at the community park at Ibaraki, where the Church of Light was just around the corner.

02The church complex with the Sunday School on the left and Church of Light on the right, both designed by Tadao Ando.

03Entrance pathway to the church.

04Slit windows and architectural concrete are the common design language in Ando’s works.

05Interior of the Sunday School.

06Overall interior view of the Church of Light.

07The iconic slit opening of cruciform in the Church of Light.

08The large pipe organ at the back of the church.

09Indirect natural light is introduced into the space through an opening that is created by a slant wall at a 15 degree angle.

10Side view of the cruciform opening at the altar.

11Glazed wall meeting concrete wall at the church entrance.

12The curved vestibule connecting the Sunday School and Church of Light.

13A small outdoor gathering space between the school and the church, occupied by a man in suit playing badminton with a young lady. It was lovely to see how people making use of the space and we were both touched by this scene, for some reasons.

IMG_2407After a thorough visit to the Church of Light and a relaxing stroll in the laid back neighbourhood of Ibaraki, we returned to the Osaka Station. The station was busy and filled with people but somehow everything remained in good order.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka

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DAY 3 – A DAY IN CENTRAL OSAKA, Osaka (大阪市), Japan

Day 3 was our only full day in Osaka (大阪).  Started from our hotel in Shinsaibashi (心斎橋), we explored the nearby neighborhoods on foot, including Dotonbori (道頓堀), Minamisenba (南船場), and Namba (難波). 1Daimaru is a well known Japanese department store.  The store in Shinsaibashi has been the landmark of the area since 1931. The building was designed by American architect William Merell Vories, with a mix of Art Deco and Neo-Gothic style. The food hall at the basement level is particularly a wonder to explore. 2Linking two of the city’s largest shopping districts, Umeda and Namba, is a 600m long covered shopping arcade, Shinsaibashi Suji.  In fact, covered arcades can be found in many cities and towns in Kansai.3Known for its eccentric nightlife and food scene, Dotonbori is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Osaka.  Restaurants, bars, multi-storey billboards and bustling tourist shops lined up along Dotonbori-gawa Canal.  The billboard of an athlete crossing the finishing line for Glico (a popular confectionery company) is one of the most iconic feature of Dotonbori.  4One can find many striking billboards along Dotonbori-gawa Canal, such as this gigantic Ferris wheel.  This Ferris wheel is an eye-catching landmark of a duty-free shop. 5Osaka is a heaven for street food lovers.  Takoyaki (grilled batter with diced octopus filling) is one of the most popular street food among all.  There are always a queue for the make-to-order takoyaki.6 There are many variation to the takoyaki recipes but the main ingredients are egg batter and diced octopus. 7North of Shinsaibashi lies the area of Minamisenba (南船場), a former hotspot for fabric wholesaling.  Since the decline of the fabric business in 1990s, many of the old office buildings and storage facilities had been converted into trendy shops, design studios and new offices.  At the heart of Minamisenba is Organic Building.  Designed by Italian architect Gaetano Pesce in 1993, Organic Building soon became the icon of the area.  It was an early envisioning of a vertical living wall.  The bright red facade is “cladded” with over 80 native plants to Japan.7b Perhaps, we were attracted by the simplicity of the storefront design. We walked into this little restaurant at a street corner in Minamisemb for a bowl of comforting beef udon. The interior decor is elegantly simple with a large wooden communal table and an open kitchen.7aIt is common to find high-carbohydrate set meal on a menu in Osaka such as a combination of udon/ramen and a bowl of rice. 8A beautiful wall painting in Minamisemba. 9One of the most successful renewal projects in Minamisemba is the conversion of the former Association of Agricultural and Forestry into the trendy hub of designers, artists and bookstores.  Many of the old architectural features from the 1930s remains.10At Minamisemba, we walked past a shrine complex called Namba Shrine.  Attracted by the full blossoms of cherry and plum trees, we decided to go in and check out the shrine.   11Plum (ume) blossoms at Namba Shrine.12The cherry blossoms at Namba Shrine was at its peak.13South of the busy Namba Railway Station lies a unique retail complex, the Namba Park.  Designed by American architect Jon Jerde and completed in 2009, the Namba Park shopping and office complex was built at the site of the former Osaka Stadium. The development consists of a 30-storey office tower and a 8-level shopping mall.  The shopping mall is designed as an urban oasis with extensive roof gardens in the midst of a bustling city.  14Much of the roof surfaces of the complex are designed as landscaping and dining terraces.  15The exterior scenic lifts with a glass roof take visitors to each shopping levels, topped with a Surrealist white blob.16The winding outdoor mall of Namba Park resembles a natural canyon with hanging terraces and layers of stones.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


DAY 2 – A DAY IN KOBE, Kobe (神戸市), Japan

Before we headed south to Kumano Kodo, we based ourselves in Osaka.  From Osaka, we were spoiled with options of destinations for day trips.  On our first day we picked Yoshino.  On our second we headed northwest to the capital city of Hyogo Prefecture, Kobe (神戸).  In 1850s the port of Kobe had been opened to the world, and since then, the city had developed into one of Japan’s most cosmopolitan city.  Two decades ago the city experienced one of the most devastating earthquakes in Japan in the 20th century, the Great Hanshin Earthquake.  Thousands lost their lives and uncounted buildings damaged.   Today, except a few spots where the damage was preserved as memorials, much of the damaged neighborhoods in Kobe has been fully restored and rejuvenated. 1JR is probably the most efficient transportation in Japan but may not be the most economical to cover the short distance between Osaka and Kobe.  From the Kansai Airport, we purchased the 1-day Hanshin Tourist Pass for only 500 yen for unlimited rides on Hanshin trains between Osaka and Kobe. 2We arrived at around lunch time. We headed straight to Ishida, a teppanyaki restaurant that we found online near Sannomiya train station for lunch. It was a Sunday afternoon and the small lanes north of Sannomiya were very quiet.  Inside Ishida, however, the scene was quite different, and we were lucky to take the last two seats without reservations. 3We sat along a L-shaped teppanyaki table side by side with other guests.  The chef carefully prepared our beef and the side vegetables on the hot stainless teppanyaki table grill.  We ordered two kinds of steaks:  the Kobe A5 steak and a wagyu ribeye.  Both were top quality but the Kobe steak with its well mixed marble texture had an exceptional buttery flavor. 4After the fine lunch, we headed south to the Motomachi neighborhood near Chinatown.  In the area, a number of old buildings were redeveloped into atmospheric retail complexes of designer boutiques, craft shops, and artist studios. 5We then took a Hanshin train to Iwaya Station for Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art.  The main purpose for the visit is to check out the building designed by architect Tadao Ando. 6Completed in 2002, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art was dominated by Ando’s signature use of architectural concrete. 7Concrete walls, glass halls, spiral feature stair, and thin slab roofs create a solid piece of architecture, in a way echoing the city’s rise from the devastating earthquake of 1995. 8Exterior spaces on various levels of the building roof are used for roof terraces and outdoor art display areas. 9Roof terraces of various sizes and shapes provide interesting experience for visitors. 10A section of the museum exhibit is devoted to the architecture of Tadao Ando.  Architectural models of various scales, including this model of the 4×4 House in Kobe. 11The large overhanging eaves were quite visible when we exited the museum from the side facing the sea. 12Along the seaside promenade, Ando also designed a number of architectural features in the park adjacent to Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art. 13Next time, we will definitely visit the Kobe Earthquake Memorial Museum. The museum was designed to commemorate the devastating earthquake in 1995.  The museum aims to educate the public about disaster prevention and to remember the city’s  loss in the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake. 15Before we caught the evening train back to Osaka, we joined the queue in front of a local butcher, Moriya, for some deep fried snacks. 14It was almost 7:00pm, and the store was about to close. There were that many choices left. We ordered two kinds of croquette and just like the other locals, ate them on the street right in front of the store.

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka


KANSAI JAPAN, 2015

copyright_bluelapisroad_2015kansai_intro Pastel white, pale crimson, moss blue, bright green, and various shades of charcoal filled up our viewfinder like an Impressionist painting capturing the colour palette of the Japanese spring.  It was the second week of April.  We set off to the Kansai region in central Honshu Island of Japan for a 9-day vacation. We spent over half of our time at the southern Kii Peninsula, where the century-old pilgrimage routes now known as the Kumano Kodo crisscrossing the Kii Mountains in the Wakayama Prefecture.  In the midst of cedar groves, river valleys, bamboo forests, rice paddies, and tea farms lays the legendary Hongu Taisha, the spiritual centrepiece in this part of Honshu, and the charming Yunomine, the nation’s oldest onsen town which had been witnessing 18 centuries of the Japanese bathing culture. Apart from Kumano Kodo, we also had our first ever hanami experience at Mount Yoshino, where 30,000 sakura trees dotted over the hills from foot to summit. Tasting seasonal fruit and indulging in the local cuisines, from seafood in Tanabe and Kii Katsuura, onsen kaiseki in the Kii Mountains, beef teppanyaki in Kobe, to street food in Osaka, also heighten the whole travel experience.  The journey is completed with a visit to the timeless masterpiece by architect Tadao Ando. Having a trip started from hiking in the mountains and visiting ancient temples along the way, and ended with some finest contemporary architecture in Japan allows us to appreciate the connections between Japanese minimalist design to the ancient aesthetic and spatial concepts of Shinto shrines and traditional timber houses. copyright_bluelapisroad_2015kansai_map

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Read other posts on 2015 Kansai…
Day 1.0 – Kansai Japan 2015
Day 1.1 – Hanami, Mount Yoshino 
Day 1.2 – Feast under the Shades of Sakura, Mount Yoshiko
Day 2 – A Day in Kobe
Day 3 – A Day in Central Osaka
Day 4 – Tanabe – Prelude of the Kumano Kodo
Day 5.1 – Takijiri to Takahara, Kumano Kodo
Day 5.2 – Takahara to Tsugizakura , Kumano Kodo
Day 5.3 – Minshuku Tsugizakura, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.1 – Tsugizakura to Mikoshi-Toge Pass, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.2 – Mikoshi-Toge Pass to Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 6.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha to Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.1 – Ryokan Adumaya, Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.2 – Yunomine Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.3 – Kumano Hongu Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 7.4 – Wataze Onsen, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.1 – Kumano Nachi Taisha, Kumano Kodo
Day 8.2 – Kii Katsuura, Kumano Kodo
Day 9 – Church of Light, Osaka