2007 Traveling – August 5, OSAKA

At nearly 20 million people, Osaka isn’t an easy case-study when it comes to “drive-by” tourism.

After the long boat ride to Foukoka and refamiliarizing myself with the currency, language and habits of the Japanese, we bought a twenty-thousand yen ($200) railpass to see the entire western half of Japan. Before heading there we spent the night in a Japanese spa, sense neither me nor my traveling companions ever thought it very adventerous to make hotel reservations.

Spending the night in a spa is an experience nobody should miss. First off you get clean as hell, as in rubbing your skin until it turns bright red (which everyone can see cuz, well, it’s a bathhouse). I’m reminded of the Greek gymnasiums, where back in the day training the body was just as important as training the mind, and it was casual to have libraries in gyms and bathhouses. Japanese have that, and it seems like scrubbing and exercising go right along with reading and studying in the spa.

We had to travel through three hours of Japanese countryside on a high-speed bullet train before arriving in Osaka Station Terminal. Osaka is a city surrounded by water, the “water capital” and “food capital” of Japan; Osaka to me was just big as hell. From the Osaka towers you can look in every direction using a telescope, and still the buildings seem to extend indefinately.

Serrendipitously, one member of our group (not saying who) flirted enough with a Japanese girl to get us reliable directions to the hot spots. The first was Osaka castle. The last picture is from the top of the castle we visited, though to get there we had to move through a carnival of festivals and celebrations, losing each other in the mess of rock concerts and cheap beer while the sky was filled with balloons and helicopters.

As a westerner, the castle seemed far more like a medieval fortress than the sustained, subtle architecture I imagined from Dark Ages Japan. In fact, the castle is surrounded by two seperate moats, then built ontop of three gigantic foundations.

Oour tour of the castle was maimed by the lionizing of one of Japan’s greatest unifiers, who also attempted to “genocide out” the Kingdoms of the Korean Penninsula in the sixteenth century: the axe-wielding Toyotomi Hideyoshi. I recall my brother’s girlfriend expressing her nationalistic attitude: “How can they treat him like hero? He is monster!” My response: “Andrew Jackson wasn’t all that great either.”

I barely remember the Osaka nightlife. According to the guide, there are two big spots for nightlife, one that’s “Western orientated” and another that’s authentic Japanese, obviously we went to the “authentic” one.

Here’s what we got: Incredibly talented dart players winning drinks galore while we sat around consuming expensive but miniscule cocktails and watching older Japanese businessmen hitting on the younger boys and girls.

“authenticity” we desired…

Osaka was fun. I can’t begin to encapsulate it within a single blog…It’s big, and there’s lots of water.

Something I learned in Japan the last two times I came: judging by personality, the Japanese are nothing like Koreans. Perhaps this was my own prejudice, thinking they might act alike. But where Koreans are super-shy and self-conscious, Japanese will stare you down and offer conversations at a whim, perhaps because they really don’t care so much about you. Japan’s also far cleaner than Korea, and though it’s people seem far more polite than Koreans (Koreans have spat at my feet, casually), they are also a bit less honest and overtly friendly. This is just my impression from people in Fukouka and Osaka–mostly Osaka. Yet, like Koreans (and probably Americans too), their ostensible pride hits you harder than the stunning lights, the steaming pork ramen and the overly-modern bullet trains.

They also seem to revel in their perversions. Or perhaps perversions is the wrong word, none of them are perverse, in fact, as Erich Fromm would have said, when taboos are absent there is also the absence of shame. Japan is surreal, and free, and conspicuous, when it comes to sexuality. Shameless, one could say. Uninhibited, one could also say.

Even though Osaka is the ninth-biggest city in the world, I was completely unhindered walking the backstreets at 5am. Japan lives up to its reputation. Like Korea it’s strangely safe.

A Map of the water city

City’s website

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