Done in a Day: Tower of the Sun and Osaka Expo Park

There are two types of people in the world: people who rush through art museums, and people who linger for hours. I’m part of the former group. While I appreciate art and all the work people put into it, I don’t spend much time looking at one piece. I will look over it for a few seconds, read the plaque, go, “Wow, that’s cool,” then move on. I’m more of a fan of pieces that are performed, somehow, whether that’s through music or something else.

So it shouldn’t have been so surprising that the Tower of the Sun in Osaka Expo Park struck such a chord with me. But more on that later.

Today, let’s talk about a daytrip that will give you plenty of nature and space and, if you time it right, a cool exhibition or two to check out with tasty food. Let’s talk about Osaka Expo Park.

img_20181127_111750Osaka Expo Commemorative Park was the location for the Japan World Expo in 1970. It’s a huge park with plenty of gardens to explore, and a few museums to boot. There are often special events going on. For example, this past December there was a ramen expo and a gyoza expo! It’s open from 9:30 AM-5:00 PM. I arrived at about 11 AM, and had yet to explore the entirety of the park by 5pm when I left. I did, however, get to see a great deal of it. If the weather is nice, definitely plan this as a whole day trip. Here are a couple of photos to show you what you’re in for!img_20181127_112712

This was pretty near the main path in the first picture; to the right of this little stream was a rest house you could buy drinks from vending machines and take it easy under some shelter in.
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This was right by a lovely waterfall. Several people were in the area trying to capture the perfect autumn photo, so we didn’t bother trying to compete. Instead, we settled in with a few other folks who were having picnics and enjoying the scenery. IMG_20181127_141232.jpg

And this area was near the fenced off barbecue-approved area and a kids’ park. You could rent paddleboats, but given that we visited in November, we opted to just sit back and watch.

To enter the park, it costs a paltry sum of 250 yen per person. If you want to check out anything extra, there are additional fees, of course. There are a couple of museums to consider: the National Museum of Ethnology and the Japan Folk Crafts Museum Osaka. If you opt to visit these, I would almost recommend you consider multiple trips to the park. Because if there’s one thing I strongly recommend you check out here beyond nature, it’s that tower that you see when you arrive at the main train station, staring you down with multiple faces.img_20181127_135809

That tower is called the Tower of the Sun, or 太陽の塔 (Taiyou no To). There is a museum inside celebrating the art of a man named Tarō Okamoto, explaining all about the Tower and its’ many hidden treasures. The museum is reservation-only, and you can do so by accessing this website for details in English. Admission is 700 yen per adult, 300 yen per child. You can book your reservation up to 4 months in advance for up to 6 people per group, and I highly, highly recommend you plan on going there at the end of your day, around 4 or 4:30 PM.

When you visit the park, stop by the Tower first thing and show your email to the staff behind the desk. They’ll print physical tickets for you. Please don’t lose these, and keep track of the time your group is meant to go in! If you miss your time slot, you won’t get to go on the tour.

Line up where directed by staff, and make sure to snag a pamphlet in English (or in whatever language you prefer) so you can follow along with what you’re being told. The guides generally only speak Japanese, but you can still enjoy the exhibits inside as they are. That said, the explanations are well worth hearing, so I’d recommend bringing a Japanese-speaking friend if you can.

It’s hard to explain the art within, because the whole trip is very much one giant performance piece. The music, the timing of the exhibits, and the wording the attendants use to describe what you’re looking at all combine to force you wonderfully off-kilter so that you feel funny for hours after experiencing it. While I didn’t consider anything in there scary, there is an ominous feel to the entire tower, so I don’t recommend it for very young children. Let me give you an example of what I mean.

Inside the tower is a tree that winds from the very bottom to the very top, and along each part of it are creatures that represent that period of time on Earth. At one point, you see an entire Brontosaurus (it stretches about 25 meters, head to tail) on the tree, because of course you do. The attendant decided to word its’ introduction thusly: “The Brontosaurus has never been outside.”

Now, what someone would normally say is that the Brontosaurus was constructed entirely within the tower. But the way the attendant worded it gives you an impression of slight dread, that perhaps the Brontosaurus should never be outside because if it is, Bad Things might occur.

At the end of the performance piece, you are in the highest point of the tower humans can go, staring into the towers’ arms. You are then gently herded into a side staircase that is jarringly normal compared to what you have just experienced, and expected to take your time slowly winding back down to the first floor. You’ll be faced with a gift shop, and that’ll be that.

One last thing to consider when visiting this museum is that it is not the most accessible. While there is an elevator and you can use it, the tour generally expects visitors to be able to use several flights of stairs. If you will need the elevator for whatever reason, you should indicate as much when booking your time slot.

Have you been to Osaka Expo Park, or another park similar? What’s an experience with art you’ve had that similarly made you feel like your legs weren’t connected to your body after viewing it? Please let me know, I’d love to hear from you!

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