With jet-lag a fogging, nagging irritant – a distant car alarm that won’t shut off or a achy back – we plunge into Osaka for a full day of Japanese. It’s not long before we are utterly confused, slightly lost and mildly tetchy with each other. Aren’t family holidays great?
Fear not loyal reader: writing this piece some 14 hours later all is in Accord.
Back to the morning: a cloudless sky, spring in the air and it’s shorts on. (The latter a treat for the locals.) We make our way to the railway station and board the JR (Japan Railways) Loop train to Osaka Station. If you’ve not been, let me tell you that Osaka is big. Probably bigger than Pershore, likely bigger than Tonbridge Wells. Heck, it might even shade Swindon. Last time they counted, it was pushing 3 million souls. But that’s seeing it as a separate entity. If we’re talking metropolitan areas, it’s NINETEEN MILLION people.
I am mildly disappointed to report the Loop train doesn’t perform roller coaster manoeuvres, it merely encircles Osaka city centre. When I say “city centre”, of course I mean indistinguishable vast jumbled urban sprawl. Aside from occasional architectural gems and some curiously individual structures, it appears the Japanese unflinchingly raze traditional buildings in the name of progress. As such this means nondescript concrete stretches further than the eye can see. There are myriad subway trains to choose from too and – I feel a later blog coming on – a confusing yet well timed railway system. The trains and tracks here are owned by a plethora of companies with tickets often non-transferable. This would be fine if a) we weren’t jet-lagged b) the signage was in a script we could read (let alone understand) c) we knew where we were, where we were going and d) cheers again jet-lag – we knew who we were and what the heck we were doing in Japan in the first place.
Maybe this is painting a picture of disorder? Please desist from such a notion oh reader of blog, there is much order to admire. This not to say they don’t have Civic pride and all that Jazz, because they oh so clearly do. The streets are clean, the railway stations litter free and the Osakans move with purpose. We are treated to many smiles where all who serve us – without exception – are helpful, attentive and polite.
Although the latter trait drops away a bit from the general populous when we make our way into the melee of Dotomburi along with many thousands of other night time gawkers. More of a tide of humanity than “no madam, after you, I insist.” Bits of the area are lit up in a fashion that would embarrass Leicester if not Times Square, other areas harshly illuminated by cold florescent tubes, elsewhere darkened yet nonthreatening , intriguing lanes are teeming with eateries, the occasional shrine and so, so many shops.
We pause for Octopus Balls – who knew? – which are a local Legend.
They are freshly cooked leading to 2nd degree oral burns all round. Some while later we are ushered upstairs in a teeny eatery. Sushi time! We are given pencil, pad and an laminated pictorial guide with English to copy under each picture. I opt for “fatty tuna in seaweed wrap with Welsh onion.” The wasabi catches Mog by surprise and I lament not filming the poor sap as he struggles for breath. British softies take note: not optional here. Wasabi-on-the-side is for Waitrose pretend-sushi. We’re Jap-side now and Osaka is self-referred to as the nation’s kitchen. I have yet to see if fish and chip shop though.]
We stop for supplies in a ubiquitous convenience store. They are super abundant. Once inside, everything is slightly vexing when it comes to food and drink. Apart from maybe beer which I can confidently identify. A 7 Eleven store is positively bursting with unidentifiable chow. Mog & I play “guess the foodstuff” and bring back snacks with varying degree of acceptance. Already sensing that guess-the-foodstuff is going to be an Integra-l part of life here for our trip. With a side order of “does that come hot or cold?” sprinkled with “is it sweet or savoury?” and a portion of “is it raw or cooked?” to go.
Or maybe it’s the jet-lag talking? It’s hard to tell anything just yet.
Or maybe this is what culture-shock feels like?
And we haven’t even mentioned the world’s largest aquarium and world’s largest Ferris wheel: it’s been that kinda day.
PS: World’s largest Ferris wheel at 112.5m? I think not Osaka… Big wheels
PPS: Feel free to read back the above and see if you can spot all the Honda passenger car references. No prizes, just for fun.