What do you think of when I say “Osaka?”
Perhaps it’s the delicious takoyaki and okonomiyaki, both as delicious as they are distinctively Osakan in their character. Or maybe you are swayed by the sprawling shopping districts of Shinsaibashi, Namba and Umeda.
Shinsuke Ikegame on Flickr
Or maybe you’re an old-fashioned romantic like me, and you love the prospect of taking in a stunning sunset with your loved one from the high points of the Umeda Sky Building or the recently added Abeno Harukas, Japan’s tallest commercial building.
Chances are kickboxing and tom yum soup aren’t exactly high on your agenda. But these were just 2 of the many features on show at the annual Osaka Thai Festival last week.
Bread Mouth on Flickr
This two day extravaganza goes all the way back to Tokyo in 2001, but has been a regular fixture on the Osaka calendar since 2007, where the event took place in Tennoji Park before finding its way in 2010 to its current home of Osaka Business Park, near Kyobashi.
As was the case last year, this May in Japan has brought with it an early summer. So, we were once again treating to glorious sky-splitting sunshine last Saturday and Sunday as the Festival kicked into high gear.
As in previous years, there was a huge turnout, but unlike in some other countries where such crowds could give way to sometimes chaotic scenes, in such a crowded area the Japanese public at large revert back to that wonderfully charming national stereotype of politeness, patience and courtesy. There was no pushing or shoving no queue jumping and nothing but smiles, despite a crowd which, I would estimate must have run into 5 figures.
Food was, as one would expect, one of the main attractions once again at this year’s Thai Festival and there was something for everyone.
Reuben Bedingfield on Flickr
Thai Green Curry is a long established favourite amongst many fans of good food, but it doesn’t end there.
Whilst the Green Curry is noted for its flavours of coconut, lemon grass and just a hint of coriander, its medium to mild palate makes it easier to stomach for those not accustomed to especially spicy foods.
For those looking for something a bit more challenging to the taste buds, the festival offered red and yellow curries too.
Frank Steiner on Flickr
As one would expect, the red curry is of a more fiery variety. Fortified with plenty of thai red chilli peppers, tomato and herbs, it has a very pleasant spicy, tangy taste with quite a substantial kick as its spicy taste sensation singes the tongue.
yoppy on Flickr
The yellow curry on the other hand, is perhaps more akin to something like an Indian korma, with a sweeter, more subtle aftertaste, decidedly less bitter and invasive than its spicier red and green counterparts.
Of course, as much as I love a good curry, there’s far more to good Thai cuisine than just the various multi-coloured curries.
Noodles, chicken wings, and a variety of delicious, spicy soups meant there was something on show to suit all palettes.
And why not wash down your curry and chicken wings with some ice cold, refreshing beer. As far as Thai beers go, the festival has plenty of options, but in my humble opinion nothing beats an ice cold glass of Singha, Thailand’s national beer.
This light, frothy lager has a hint of honey sweetness and is the perfect complement to some of the Thai Festival’s more fiery culinary concoctions.
If you’re a Chuhai fan, then perhaps you’ll want to try some of the festivals more exotic alcoholic cocktail drinks, made with the likes of coconut, lychee and pineapple. I have to say, after overcoming my initial reluctance, pineapple beer is certainly a taste that could grow on me!
Anyway, that’s enough food talk for now.
Whilst the tasty treasures on offer at the festival are an undoubted plus point, they are hardly the be all and end all. This is supposed to be a cultural experience after all, not an exercise in expanding my waistline!
Bread Mouth on Flickr
Muay Thai Boxing is Thailand’s national sport. Noted for its seemingly excessive brutality when compared with conventional western boxing or Japanese combat sports such as Karate, Judo and Aikido, Muay Thai is something that really has to be seen to be believed. A friend of mine once tried to explain the rules of the sport to me. He noted somewhat jokingly: “Basically, so long as you don’t kick him in the groin or poke him in the eyes, in Muay Thai you can do pretty much anything you want to the opponent!”
He wasn’t joking either.
Despite this obviously being a friendly, demonstration bout between two friends and training buddies, once they got into that ring and completed the obligatory pre-fight dancing ritual, which in itself is quite impressive and draws many comparisons with similar sumo rituals, the fight began in earnest.
Kicks and punches were naturally being fired aplenty, but there were also knees to the face and body, spinning heel kicks, devastating forearm strikes and even elbows.
This, ladies and gentleman is the beautiful brutality of martial arts at its finest.
After 3 intense rounds of what was a very well choreographed simulation, the two men bowed before taking in a deservedly rapturous reception from myself and the rest of the huge crowd of spectators.
Ashley Van Haeften on Flickr
Arts and crafts were given their due too, with dozens of stalls selling everything from wall paintings of Thai depictions of the Buddha, to elaborate, hand-woven dresses and traditional clothes that were as brightly coloured as they were elegantly enchanting.
For those considering paying a visit to Thailand there was also information from both the Thai tourist board and Thai Airlines offering various deals and promotions as well as the chance to actually win a holiday in Thailand.
drburtoni on Flickr
Overall, the Thai Festival was a wonderful day out, which both my Japanese and western friends seemed to enjoy in equal measure, it’s just too bad I have to wait a whole year to sample it once again.