4 March 2010
Couldn't sleep past 7 so did a bit of work on the journal. Did some sums and reckoned I could be at Osaka Castle by 9 if I started to get ready. Jumped in the shower which had free shampoo and body wash.
It was raining again, but only spitting. It only counts as rain if you can't evaporate the water off by walking so I borrowed one of the hostel's umbrellas in case it turned into real rain. I think the natives thought that I was mad with an umbrella sticking out of my bag but not using it.
Walked to the station in search of breakfast - coffee and cake! then set off towards Osaka Castle. I had thought that 2 of the tourist maps were adjoining but there turned out to be a rather large gap between them - who knew?
Passed a couple of large shrines and have decided that 10 seconds delay on the camera is not enough time to set up a shot and run into position. Got a couple of good shots and luckily I'm really small in the picture so you can't see my red face and pounding heart from the run over.
I hadn't realised that NHK is on the corner of the castle, so I phone Quantel to get Koichi's number. He's a project manager friend of mine who works for Q and could give me the full tour of the TV station. Unfortunately he's in Tokyo, so I've rearranged something for Saturday when I get back there.
Not long after arriving at Osaka Castle, I got befriended by a Japanese tourist from Tokyo who liked baseball and does Kendo. He showed be the best places to take photos and made sure I went into the castle. He was terribly enthusiastic but spoke no English at all. He repeated the same phrases over and over again and in some cases said them very slowly and by the end of it I think I knew what he was getting at. So it does work!
The castle was recreated and burnt down about 4 times during its life. It is a proper castle with a mote, some land, a dry mote and at the centre a citadel structure which has been recreated to its former glory by donations made by the people of Osaka. There is a museum inside describing the Shogan history of one of the great leaders of Japan. This leader was responsible for joining the feudal lords and unifying Japan. Many of the areas and streets around Osaka (and Tokyo) are named after him and his generals. It is even said he was born under a star.
On the opposite edge of the castle is Peace Osaka a museum devoted to peace and the needlessness of war but it just felt like a massive dig at the Americans - maybe I'm just being cynical. There was some stuff about how awful the Japanese were in the Pacific Basin with the Chinese and a bit about Nazi Germany and Auschwitz, but mostly it was about how the Americans dropped incendiaries bombs on them for 3 years.
Afterwards I sat on the steps and figured out what to do next. A retired gentleman came up to me and asked if he could talk to me. He practices English for 15 minutes a day. We chatted for quite a while. His level of English was pretty poor (still better than my Japanese) but thanks to all those years of having French students to stay with the family when we were kids, I was able to put him at ease even though he was struggling. By the end we were both laughing at the same jokes. He was lovely. I got him to recommend a local noodle bar to eat in. He said we were near the metro and there was a good place there.
In the restaurant I saw a bloke eating something nice so asked him to write what it was using the sketch pad app on my Nokia N900 - that's my next meal sorted!
I had picked my next destination over lunch so entered the metro. The Osaka metro map makes the Tokyo metro map look like the picture of mutual understanding! There was no way I could manage this one - I didn't even know which one was us! I accosted the nearest person but it took him a while to match my tourist map to the metro map. He pressed the buttons on the fare machine and told me how much to put in. There was a bit of a discussion about platform and stuff but I said he could go and I'll sort it out myself.
I had spotted a smart English man who looked like he was a permanent resident. He looked like he was in 2 minds whether to help but luckily he did. It turned out that Richard was from Harrow and he had been working over here for 3 years. Although, it is possible to work in a foreign city and not speak the local lingo he said he knew enough to get by. He later confessed to doing Japanese at Uni and working for a Japanese government body doing translations. Apparently, the Japanese modesty quota had rubbed off on him. Anyway, he and his Japanese colleague were going part of the same way as me and offered their chaperone service. Richard was dressed in the traditional dark suit and had clearly embraced the Japanese lifestyle. Ironically, his Japanese friend was the tear away and was apparently always trying to get Richard to drink more and have more fun. For some reason his Japanese friend thought that English people were fun and couldn't understand what was wrong. We put it down to the female company he kept. We suggests that he get rid of his sensible short haired girlfriend and pick up one of those girls with the long died hair and the knee high leather boots which are all around and start having more fun. I'm only teasing you. It was really nice to meet a real Englishman out here.
My destination was Tenjimbashi-suji a 2.8km shopping corridor. It is about 6m wide and lined with shops. It stretches out in a long dead straight line. I'm 6'4" and I could see almost to the end without any heads in the way. It was kind of a nice feeling and one I had been looking forward to experiencing since I got here.
Walking down the covered street I met Mitzumi a lovely Japanese girl with big round inquisitive eyes. We got chatting because I was eating an apple. I know how it sounds but it was innocent - honestly! While I had the ear of a real local I asked what the slightly raised teamed yellow paving stones that cris-crossed the Japanese streets were for. She pulled out her mobile phone and used it to look up the translation. They are for blind people to follow with their sticks.
Mitzumi and I parted because she was on her way home from work and had to do some shopping of her own. While I had stopped to jot down a few notes about my encounter with her another older Japanese woman came up to me laughing. I was obviously doing something really funny because she could hardly get her words out with all the laughing. She said a few words with a bit of smiling and nodding, then just wandered off. I stayed put and continued with my notes. She had stopped a bit further down the street and then came back still laughing. She walk beside me chatting and laughing away until the end of the street. I think she was getting extra fun from listening to me say the 3 Japanese words I had learnt. I think she was trying to teach me some more, but with all the laughing I wasn't sure what to make of it.
I stopped to jot down a few more note and another (normal looking) couple asked if they could help me. I got moving as I was clearly disrupting the local flow with my unusual behaviour!
After spending another day being mostly lost I think I have figured out the mystery of the maps. It has taken me 5 days of being lost all the time to work it out, so I'm not about to just give away that information. You'll just have to work it out yourselves when you come ;)
Richard had told me that Namba was the place to go for evening entertainment. Namba is a bit like Ginza or Knightsbridge - loads of posh expensive designer shops, restaurants and theatres. I was getting pretty soar from all the walking so stopped at a nice organic coffee shop for a bit of writing and a rest.
Found another indoor shopping corridor which went all the way down to the main shopping precinct in Namba. It opened out in front of an enormous department store called Takayumi similar to the House of Frasier but filled with top brands like Gucci, D&G etc. I stopped in to just have a brief look around but then saw the sign for the loos and just thought why not?
It was almost closing time so I was pretty much the only person there. The place was still full of staff, quite literally every isle had some one on it. So as I walked down the corridor every couple of meters I passed a person on each side. As this is Japan they bowed really low as I passed by and said "Thank you very much" (in Japanese) it was like a Mexican wave of bowing - then I disappeared into the gents! Thank God the shop had officially closed by the time I came out. I'm not sure I could have coped with the embarrassment on the return journey.
By this time it was chucking it down so I was glad I had been lugging the umbrella around all day!
Walked back to the hostel and went back to the restaurant I ate in on the previous night. I showed the chef the sketch the Japanese fellow from the lunch restaurant wrote/draw for me. It turned out to be rice with curry sauce over these battered beef fritters. It was really nice. The waitress came out with with the sauce pan and gave me the rest of the gravy, which felt really homely. Washed down the meal with a beer and went to bed.
Photos on my FaceBook page.