Tuesday, January 04, 2005


Osaka Adventures

So Brian came to visit me on the 29th and I showed him Niihama. That took about 3 hours, and then Ayako and Alison joined us for a big dinner and some karaoke. The next day we met with Alison for lunch and she hooked us up with a map of Osaka and basic travel advice. Now bear in mind that prior to departure I still kinda thought that Jackie was dead and I wasn’t even certain that we were going to meet Alex and Hitomi there. So the map and brief Osaka lecture were greatly appreciated, I felt a bit better about the whole trip.

Then we went out to Saijo to pay a sneak visit to Ayako’s family’s sporting goods store. They have a ton of stuff, I swear it was the contents of like Dick’s or something but packed into a dorm room, Japan is nuts like that. Ayako’s dad sold me the nicest shinai I have ever held, and he gave me like a 20% discount, so that was cool. Afterwards I guess he told Ayako that I am an いい男, which was nice of him. She says she wants to introduce me to her family. Note that going to their sports shop on the sly wasn’t an introduction. But I got a cool sword out of it for 4000 yen, so that was good.

So after that, Brian and I bought some booze and snacks (as per Alison’s ferry advice) and headed to the Osaka ferry. It is an overnight run where we leave Niihama at 840 and make it to Osaka at 5am, and the ferry was like some sort cruise ship which surprised me. I mean yeah I slept on the floor with a bunch of snoring old men but there is a karaoke lounge and a piano lounge (note there was no pianist, the piano seemed to have a radio in it, but hey, it’s the thought that counts), and a sneakily hidden lounge for high paying customers in the front of the boat. Some deductive exploration put me and Brian in the latter with a few packs of beer and some snacks and we just sort of chilled there for a few hours until a few young couples came in and turned on the lights and the TV. By that time though I was pretty tired. We hit the bath before I crashed, and there we met a guy named Koji. I was too worn out to be very sociable, but he and Brian chatted it up for a few hours I guess. That was good, more on that in a bit.

So anyway I crashed and woke up in Osaka and went to take another bath and got my stuff together and when we got off the ferry it was raining, and by the time we left the port district it was snow. No worries.

So we get to the train terminal basically leaving the port district and going to Osaka and stood around like a couple of apes with our tongues lolling out in front of the big computer display automated ticket dispenser machine. Lots of Kanji, it seemed pretty bleak even in spite of all of Alison’s help – when who shows up but Koji-san from the baths the night before. He asks us where we are going and we tell him Umeda as that’s where Alison told us to go first and he said he was going there as well, so we went together. He guided us effortlessly through enough train transfers that I suspected we’d have been fucked without him, and then introduced us to all of the shopping and such around Umeda – which, as it turns out, was all closed because it was still like 830 am and new years eve morning at that. So he took us a restaurant where I had beef curry for breakfast. I was going to pay for him but he beat me to the draw and we were both thrusting bills at the poor kid behind the counter and in the end the kid panicked and took Koji’s money. So he treated. Then he led us back to the Umeda station and we parted company.

Brian, in the meantime, was half hungover and half exhausted and couldn’t really communicate. Koji and I exchanged English and Japanese definitions of “hangover” (二日酔い)and had a few laughs at his expense.

Anyway from there we kind of wandered around a bit and got lost and then got an email from Jackie to my delight because it meant she was alive. She told us where the hotel was and whatnot so we spent an hour or two working our way to it and then another hour finding it. Japanese addresses are vague – they are just not exact, so it is weird. The numbering of buildings and districts, while not quite arbitrary, lacks the regimented structure one might expect from such things, and the result is that even natives often have a hard time giving directions that are more than “Somewhere over there”. So it was fun to find the hotel in the sleet, and I mean that non-ironically I enjoyed it because it was vaguely cold and vaguely miserable but there was a warm place waiting for us as soon as we became clever enough to find it. It just seemed really cosmically fair, though Brian was not amused.

From there, we went to Amerika-mura, which is Japanese for America-town, much like we’d have a Chinatown or Little Italy. Ah, you may think, I wonder what elements of American culture make it into Amerika-mura? What is the functional definition of America as implemented by the Japanese youth culture in one of the busier youth spots in Osaka?
Well, gentle reader (actually, I don’t know where this expression came from. “gentle reader”? I mean come on…and yet it is indeed an expression, if a bit in the way of archaic. So just be gentle so’s no to make a liar of me.), I will tell you. Amerika-mura is basically a grid about 3 blocks in any direction where they are playing really hip music really loud, wearing the most tricked out clothing I’ve seen in Japan, sitting around or shopping in the street, eating everything from McDonald’s to theoretical Mexican Food, etc. In short, it’s a district devoted to chilling out and being cool while looking good. Many of you would absolutely hate it.

After that, it was time to meet up with Jackie and Tricia, so we went back to the Namba district to find them, after some vague confusion, and led them to the hotel. Then the four of us went back to Amerika-mura and searched around for a mythical Mexican restaurant foretold in scripture and Jackie’s drug-addled memory of her last trip to Osaka. Not a single person in Amerika-mura had ever heard of it, so after some debate we settled on…ramen. Bleh. But it was okay, actually, the pork was enormous and the whole set was only 800 yen and there was rice and gyoza and salad.

Salad in Japan, by the way, usually means shredded cabbage with some sort of mayonnaise-based goo on it. You get used to it, then you start to like it.

Anyway, we ate, then Jackie and Tricia went to the hotel for a nap while Brian and I did some shopping in Amerika-mura. We stumbled into some store that had Lupin III hoodies outside, so I was intrigued, and then suddenly Brian is in the back and these huge guys are encouraging him to try on really slick jackets. Nothing in the store had prices on it. When we were both in the back, the entire staff of this store kind of closed in and blocked off all of the exits. I was, quite frankly, a little bit nervous, but Brian was getting sweet talked by the guys trying to sell him clothing (“Are you half Japanese or quarter? Oh, that looks so good on you…”) and didn’t notice anything amiss. I sort of casually pushed past the gorilla closest to me and hovered around the exit until Brian was done. When he opened his wallet to pay, I saw the one guy look in and kinda shake his head at the other ones while saying something really fast. I am gonna assume that it’s because Brian only had like 20,000 on him and was spending half of it on a coat. I swear they were going to jump us. But when that guy waved them off they all kinda looked bored and started milling around again. But maybe I’m paranoid.

Anyway, then we went back to the hotel and I took a nap for a few hours before the evening’s festivities.

Got up at 8, showered, put on my most stylish clothing (which consisted of my Mega Man tee shirt and a black zipper sweatshirt my parents sent me (thanks parents)) and we were off. We went to an Irish pub, where I had nachos for the first time in what seemed like 10 years. Then the heavy drinking commenced, and we were all having a grand old time when the countdown took place.

We met a group of hip locals there, “led” by a really irritating fat kid that could speak some English. He hung with us, bought me a few drinks and wanted to talk about Professional Wrestling and the Backstreet Boys. That was cool, I figure so many people have been nice to me out here I can be nice to this guy. Always someone wants to practice English in the bar they say. He also said that Jackie and Tricia were gorgeous and wanted introductions, but seemed slightly put off when I told him they weren’t 24, young and spry though they may seem.

Anyway afterwards these guys took us to some club where we danced for a while. It was a little too small, a little too crowded, and the music was bad enough that even I thought it was bad, and I am the least critical in our group. Except Brian, who was having such a wonderful time dancing with some tiny girl all night that we left him there when we took off a few hours later. We told him she was probably older than he thought but he didn’t listen.

The next day I called his room to see if he got back and he picked up sounding like death. Apparently she was 27 and he had walked back to the hotel alone. Oh well. I showered and missed the hotel breakfast by about 30 seconds. Oh well. We sat around for a while and then said goodbye to Brian who would go back to Tokyo from there and me and Jackie and Tricia and Alex and Hitomi (we did meet them, they had been with us all night) headed for the subway, where Alex and Hitomi left us and then me and Jackie and Tricia wandered around a bit, discovered a lot of closed shops, and went to the ferry.

We were taking the day ferry back, so 1pm-8pm ish. We played cards and played yahtzee and ate and ate and sang karaoke. Not necessarily in that order or spelling (yatzee?).

Then we got back. Ayako came over, watched a movie, went to bed, bummed around for two days, today is work.

I overslept and was 30 mins late on the first work day of 2005. Everyone smiled when I came in. Ah well.

I am not meant for this life, but I am having a great time in Japan. I just wish I were better to the company, which is my new years resolution. Bad start though. But I have made an effort to be more friendly and have decided not to use AIM at work except on lunch break. For real this time.

Peace and happy new year.

OMG, I love sleeping on floors with snoring old men.
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