The Running Man and the River of Pleasure

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June 10th 2019
Published: June 10th 2019
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Perhaps the most well-known sign, at least in Japan if not in all of Asia, is that of the Running Man. It’s actually an advertisement for Glico, a company that makes nutritionally fortified sweets. Its founder realized that glycogen, found in oyster broth, was an energy booster, and added it to sweets with the stated objective of enhancing health through food. He first added it to caramel in 1922, and the logo of the Running Man with his arms raised in victory was born.

The Running Man sign was first put up in 1935. It is 33 meters – over 100 feet – high, and except for when it was destroyed during WWII, it has graced the banks of the Dotonbori River ever since. The sign has been updated and improved over the years, and is now illuminated with LEDs instead of neon. However, the Running Man is not the only over the top advertisement in Dotonburi.

There are a lot of restaurants along the river, and as you’d expect, they advertise their specialties outside the restaurant. This leads to some giant depictions – you can find an enormous crab, a huge plate of gyoza, a giant piece of sushi, and a really big puffer fish. To my disappointment, however, the restaurant advertised by the great big dragon didn’t serve dragon eggs.

However, as cool as this is, the whole Dotonbori area is the epitome of exuberant sensory overload. Today it is food and bars and pachinko parlors, but four hundred years ago it was food, bars, and kabuki theaters (and maybe brothel or two.) And where you have theaters, you have actors, and some actors became very popular. And with popular actors and lots of theaters, you have posters advertising upcoming performances.

Wood block printing was a way to make lots of these posters fairly quickly and relatively inexpensively. Most of the wood block prints we think of as Japanese art are actually posters of Kabuki stars used to drum up excitement, and others were advertisements for upcoming plays.

I had read about the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum, a museum of these wood block prints, which are called ukiyo-e, or images of the floating world, and I had planned on visiting it sometime during my time in Osaka. I like old advertising posters in general, and I when it comes to this type of print there

but no dragon eggs...
is one artist, Hiroshige, that I particularly like. (As a side note, I’m not the only one taken by his work. Vincent Van Gogh copied several of his prints.)

I was wandering around the little side streets around Dotonburi looking for the Hozenji Temple. My really smart phone kept telling me I was right on top of it, but I didn’t see anything that looked like a temple. So, I did what I should have in the first place, and put my phone in my pocket and just enjoyed where I was. And that was when I realized I was standing in front of the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum.

This is one very cool museum. It is a private museum, spread over three floors of what was a private home. It does a very good job of explaining how the prints were made, and some of the history behind particular pieces. On the top floor they have an area where they teach classes I how to make prints like the ones on display.

After I had gone through the exhibit and thanked the owner, I stepped outside and found myself practically right in front of Hozenji Temple.

I think Hozenji might properly be called a shrine rather than a temple. It is very small, but as with most temples, once inside its gates it is very serene. What draws most people here is the statue of Fudo Myo-o, one of the guardians of Buddhism representing discipline and good moral character.

Fudo Myo-o is usually represented looking very stern, but this statue is covered with moss, making it look much friendlier. There is a story that many years ago a lady made a wish here by throwing water over the statue. Her wish came true, and so many other people followed her ritual. The moss-covered statue is now called “Mizukake-Fudo” or “Splashing water Fudo.”

Possibly Useful Information:

* Fun fact: Pocky sticks, the chocolate dipped biscuit stick found in US grocery stores, is made by the Glico company.

* The closest subway station is Namba. Take the B-15 exit, where you exit by NambaHips. This is an architecturally cool building built in a shape reminiscent of an hour glass, and holds several floors of pachinko.

* Admission to the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum is 500 yen, or about US$ 4.50

Additional photos below
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this place served takoyakithis place served takoyaki
this place served takoyaki

Takoyaki is a bit of octopus covered in batter and then fried in a round mold.

12th June 2019

Glad you are back in Japan
You always find things other people don't. Thanks for a new perspective.
12th June 2019

Happy to have you along
One of the advantages to going to the out-of-the-way places is that they are rarely crowded.

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