Trip Start Sep 09, 2009
1
5
15
Trip End Oct 21, 2009


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Where I stayed
Lemon House guesthouse

Flag of Japan  , Ōsaka,
Thursday, October 1, 2009

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091010

"Osaka"
by swami_worldtraveler

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PRELUDE:

This blog is LONG! It covers an over two week period filled with LOTS of great experiences (though I've even left many out!). I've broken it up into titled "mini-blogs." Feel free to enjoy reading it in phases, or even skipping to sections that catch your interest. If you read the whole thing you get a prize! Well, at least you get entertained and a little bit enriched, I hope:)

Sections include:

- MOMOKA/GUESTHOUSE/ROOMIES
- TANIGAWA SINICHI
- MAID CAFE
- VISIT WITH YOUTUBE FRIEND (Gin, a.k.a. toytoypiano)
- PUBLIC BATH
- OSAKA CASTLE
- MAHJONG
- DINNER AT OBAACHAN'S (GRANDMA'S)
- MEKA FROM ORLANDO!
- JAPANESE WOMEN LIKE AMERICAN MEN!:)
- FUGU!
- ENGLISH STUDENTS
- STANDING BARS

OK, now read on as you please...

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INTRO:

It's not Tokyo!...

Osakans are proud of their region and hold to their local customs and dialect, or at least so I'm told. Whatever the case, I really dug Osaka. SAIKO! ("the best!" - pronounced like "psycho").

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MOMOKA/GUESTHOUSE/ROOMIES:

Momoka, a kind and beautiful Osakan I met in Costa Rica last year, met me at Namba Station after my Shinkansen bullet train ride from Yokohama. She escorted me to Lemon House guesthouse in the heart of Osaka in Chuo-ku. The place was perfect! Not a hostel, but a short to long-term dormitory with relatively cheap weekly and monthly rates.

There was a small commons area with TV and free internet (albeit SLOW).

My small 10' x 12' room conrtained a cramped bathroom, a mini-kitchen with single-burner stove and fridge, plus two bunkbeds. It was quite "cozy" for the four of us:)

Josh was a Flint, MI guy living in Japan and engaged to a Japanese woman. He'd been in the country for some time supporting himself as an English teacher, but his passion was photography and Japanese history. We enjoyed many nice talks.

Rowan was from Ireland. His disticnt accent and red hair were a definite giveaway. He too was supporting himself as an English teacher.

Lastly, there was the elusive Francesco from Italy. For several days I never saw him. Eventually we met. Slowly I go to know him, but only a bit, as we didn't speak a common language.

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TANIGAWA SINICHI:
(my new friend)

Traditionally, the Japanese family name comes first and the sir name comes last. I started calling him, Tanigawa, and it just stuck. Tani means valley, and kawa (gawa when combined) means river. So, his name means "valley river."

There are a much wider range of names in Japan, as Momoka pointed out to me. I've conjectured this is so because they have no religious figures to name their children after, as in a Christian society where a handful of disciples' names dominate.

Oh, and BTW, Momoka's name means "peach flower."

Anyhow, Tanigawa is a delightful young man in his mid-20's. When I met him at Lemon House he was just a guest, but by the time I left he was the manager!

We met in the commons area. At first, he didn't speak much English, but eventually he came out of his shell. Japanese people can be a bit shy and sometimes a little self-conscious about their abilities. Though certainly not perfect, he could communicate quite well. Japanese school kids take compulsory English classes starting at age 12. His English was MUCH better than my Japanese!

I started helping him with his English, and he helped me with my Japanese, including the difficult ideograph kanji. We enjoyed each other's company and got to know each other better over time.

He was kind, respectful, disciplined, good-natured, and still had an air of innocence about him. I found it endearing. At one point we were talking about girls and he said, "If I had a girlfriend, I would tell her, 'I love you.'," then made an embarrassed face and sound. An innocent, idealistic romantic:)

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MAID CAFE:

Maid Cafe Poco Lv.1 became my regulary daily hang. I saw some "creatively" dressed young Japanese coming and going. I'd recently learned about the subculture of "cosplay" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cosplay). This word is a portmanteau for "costume" plus "roleplay." Adherents identify with a particular anime, manga, or other fictional work, then dress up in the style, often focusing on a particular character. They're generally looked upon like the nerdy Star Trek costume wearing fans in The States - quirky, creative, and very "into" what they do... My kind of people!:)

So, I stepped into the cafe to check it out... then became a regular:)

Yuna, Meruru, An, Mizuki, and Kiki all wore white and pink frilly maid outfits and bows, or cat ears, or whatever in their hair. They were young, cute, and very friendly, plus they seemed to like "The American" (my description, not theirs).

I practiced my Japanese there and impressed them with my origami skills. Each day I would fold a different model and give it as a gift to one of the girls. They had fun guessing what it would be while I made crease after crease, and fold after fold, manipulating the simple square inta a flower, or animal, or whatever. This also, helped build my vocabulary as I'd look up the word for each creation.

Before long it became apparent to me the Maid Cafe was sorta the Hooters of Japan (haha). Pretty female wait staff catering to horny men who like young girls in costume flirting with them. My mind flashed back to the South Park episode where Butters falls for a "Raisin's" waitress who plays him (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raisins_(South_Park)). Whatever the case, I enjoyed my time there.

I'll always remember fondly my time at the Maid Cafe:)

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VISIT WITH YOUTUBE FRIEND
(Gin, a.k.a. toytoypiano)

Some of you may remember my YouTube friend "toytoypiano." He's the delightful Japanese man who loves to do Simon&Garfunkel songs. My favorite was "At the Zoo" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZmSBMX7PKF8) with piano accompaniment by his daughter, toytoykoala.

Well, I actually met him! His real name is Gin ("Geen" with a hard g as in "get"). We enjoyed a fine morning together at a local park. We sang S&G songs and talked about many things. His English was actually pretty good. The Japanese are a very humble people. Many may apologize for their English, then proceed to communicate perfectly well. I wish I had the same proficiency in their language!

Eventually, we exchanged gifts and said our goodbyes. What a special meeting. I wore a big smile for the rest of the day:)
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PUBLIC BATH:

Most westerners have heard of public baths in Japan, but probably have no insight into why they are popular. First, a bath is NOT where you wash yourself. It's a place and a time for relaxation; for rejuvenation. Japanese bathe on a stool to the side of the bath, if they have a tub at all. So, many use a public facility to enjoy a "bath." Others just enjoy a bath out, I figure.

Momoka took me to a local public bath (gender segregated). There are several levels, all the way up to ones offering massages and other services. My time was spent at the simple Shimizuyu bath with a minimal entrance fee of 400 yen (~$4.50). Stool bathing areas lined a couple walls, and several pool types lined the other walls, plus there was a wet and a dry sauna with TV.

There was a hot bath, a cold bath, and a sorta jacuzzi. But the most interesting - and surprising - was the "Pulse Bath." This little one-person bath opened up so I decided to try it. I had no idea what I was getting into (literally)! As my arms approached the walls I felt a strong "tingling" sensation. So stimulating was it that I had to remove my arms from the perimeter.

"What the hell was that!" I said to myself.

Then I saw a sign on the wall. I couldn't understand the kanji and Japanese script, but the illustration was clear... the bath was electrified! Of course, this went against everything I was taught. But there I was, tempting the tingle, moving my arms closer fo the bath walls in a kind of solo game of Chicken. My curiousity satisfied, I exited the bath, never to return!

The other interesting thing about my experience was my sighting of a Yakuza gang member (Japanese MAFIA, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yakuza). His near full-body tatoo was the tell-tale alarm. It covered from his mid-thighs, across his entire back, to his neck and down most of his arms. There was a thin strip of exposed area running down the front of his body. A sword-weilding Samurai emblazoned his back. I looked for his half-severed pinky, but both were intact. I had learned that some members' loyalty is challenged resulting in this show thru self-mutilation. My roommate later confirmed my suspicions.

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OSAKA CASTLE:

No matter where I go in the world, my native friends always insist that I go to some famous museum, church, temple, or otherwise, This time it was Momoka taking me to the Osaka Castle. I understand their pride and interest in sharing an important part of their culture and take it as an opportunity to visit with them and learn a little in the process.

The original Osaka Castle was burned and rebuilt several times. The current structure has the outward appearance of the original, but actually houses a five-story museum (plus three below ground), including a 360 degree observation deck.

The original castle was built in the late 16th century during the short-lived Azuchi-Momoyama period under the direction of the daimyo (territorial lord) Toyotomi Hideyoshi and continued through the Sengoku period and beyond. For more details, go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Osaka_castle.

The funnest part was dressing up as Samurai warriors with Momoka's boyfriend, Chiaki, and hamming it up:)

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MAHJONG:

After Osaka Castle, Momoka, Chiaki, and I played mahjong (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahjong). This is not a particularly Japanese thing, but it is an obsession of Momoka's. As with many things, mahjong is different in Japan.

Although you can play at home, we went to a special parlor. Part of the reason for such a place is to automate the game. A large number of tiles need to be shuffled then double-stacked in four long rows. There's also an automatic dice shaker/roller. In addition to being a time and effort saver, plus a thorough shuffler, the contraption is pretty cool:)

The rules are involved, but my friends taught me the basics and I even managed to win a couple hands:) It's kind of like Gin Rummy. You make pairs, triplets, and runs. The first to combine all their tiles wins the hand. Scoring is based on levels of difficulty (i.e. probability) of the hand (think poker hand ranking).

We had a great time, AND I learned some Japanese in the process:)

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DINNER AT OBAACHAN'S (GRANDMA'S):

A quick train ride from Momoka's and we arrived at her grandma's for a traditional Japanese dinner. Also in attendance were ojiichan (grandfather), plus Momoka's sister Chizu and kawaii (adorable) two year old son, Ryota.

"Oyjamashimasu," I greeted and bowed on entering.

There's no direct translation for this in English. You might wonder why. Well. it's because the word expresses a mindset not present in American Culture. The loose translation is, "Thank you for taking me into your care upon my first visit to your home." So, there's a very strong sense of obligation when hosting a newcomer to one's home and the visitor understands and acknowledges this.

This case illustrates the fact that different languages don't just substitute one word for another, but are more intimately tied to the culture. This is one of the wonderful things about traveling to other lands and studying the language while immersed. I feel very fortunate, indeed.

I place into my hand the origami frog I'd just folded on the train ride, humbly offered it to obaachan, and said, "Tsumaranai mono desu ga." ("It's nothing, really.")

She was quite pleased:) Gift-giving is an integral part of Japanese culture. It's kind of nice, actually:)

Tempura was largely the fare for the evening: shrimp, fish, sweet potatoes, etc. And of course there was rice! In fact, dinner in Japanese is "bangohan" which translates to "evening rice." I weilded my hashi (chopsticks) with skill. The family was duly impressed. I then uttered the famous 17th century Samurai's name, "Musashi Miyamoto" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Musashi_Miyamoto), made a buzzing sound while "flying" my pinched index finger and thumb around, then swiftly snatched it from the air... "HAI-YA!"... and into my mouth. They all laughed.

The food kept coming as grandma toiled away in the kitchen (not to eat till all were done). They continually "invited" me to eat, ensuring that their guest would be well taken care of. The only thing I didn't eat was the salad with what I was pretty sure was raw bacon.

I really liked the nashi, though. This is a delicious fruit, a bit like an over-sized apple with a lighter, less dense inside of a different texture.

"Oyshii:)" I commented, always quick to practice my Japanese. Oh, it means "delicious," if you hadn't figured.

After dinner we retired to the livingroom for a performance by Momoka on the traditional Okinawan "sanshin" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sanshin). It's a simple, three-stringed, picked instrument. She played and sang, then gave me a little lesson and I played around a bit.

Also of interest was the simple, traditional sheet music. The notes run top-to-bottom / right-to-left, but there are no staff lines as in Western notation. Symbols (kanji) appear in equally spaced boxes. A kanji can appear between boxes to indicate a shorter note. For the style of music the notation was quite adequate, apparently.

After a group picture it was time to go, but not before loading Swami san with a big bag of fruit and sweets. Hospitality to the end.

"Come again, anytime," they said (thru translation).

"Oyjamashimashite," I said. (This is the past tense of the phrase I delivered upon arrival.)

I walked off with a big smile:) What a wonderful dinner and evening at grandma's!
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MEKA FROM ORLANDO!:

"My friend 'Meka' lives in Kyoto," Cazzy typed on fb chat. "You should facebook her."

So, I did...

What a connection. Tnx Cazzy. And what a cool girl. She's a very busy musician with her band Origami Girls, but went out of her way to show this hometown boy around. I was very thankful.

On our first visit, Ms. Meka Nism came down to Osaka and took me to a Japanese class taught by her friend and fellow musician, Mina. She is a delightful, free-spirited busker, one of the avant-garde Japanese that steps outside the conformity bubble that envelops much of Japan.

After class, Meka and I tooled around Osaka getting to know each other a bit more. This was quite easy since we are both liberal, open-minded, creative types. She showed me around Amerika Mura (American Village) and introduced me to her friends in the "live house" scene (i.e. clubs for live music).

I hung out with Meka one last time in her neck of the woods, Kyoto. I enjoyed meeting her friend, Kiyomi, and a group of young film students helping her with a "zombie" video to promote her latest album.

Tnx, again, hometown girl, Meka!

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JAPANESE WOMEN LIKE AMERICAN MEN!:)

A guy cold learn to like Japan:)...

It seems that some Japanese women really like American guys. They're attracted to blue eyes, a fit body, soft hair, American culture and language, and being treated like a lady.

I have found that the gender roles are a bit reversed here. One day I was standing at the foot of an escalator, turned around, and noticed three beautiful Japanese women seated in a row, staring and smiling at me. When we made eye contact they said hello and started flirting with me. It was quite the pleasant surprise:)

My friend Momoka was waiting for me at the top of the escalator. As I ascended I smiled and waved goodbye as they continued to eye me and talk among themselves. I wondered what would have happened had I stayed and talked with them. Maybe I will find out another day!...

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FUGU!:

Maybe you've heard of it. Some people have died from eating it! I lived to tell the tale:)...

Takifugu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Takifugu) is known as the puffer fish in English. It is also poisonous!

Momoka took me to a famous fugu restaurant for my first experience. A large 3D puffer fish above the entrance greets its customers. Inside, we sat alongside the Doutonbori canal. Perusing the menu, Momoka recommended a nabe of fresh fugu. "Nabe" is a food preparation method where the food is cooked at the table in a "nabe pot" of boiling water or broth on a burner.

I tossed the clear rice noodles, vegetables, and fugu into the nabe pot per Momoka's instructions. She delighted in the process and enjoyed photo-documenting my experience.

I fished out a piece of cooked fugu with my chopsticks and savored my first bite. I was light and tasty. No toxins invaded my body, though, In fact, nowadays, deaths from fugu are very rare. Its handling and preparation are strictly regulated by the government requiring a special license to offer it.

With another Japanese experience behind me, and still alive, I strolled out the door to enjoy another day on Planet Earth.

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ENGLISH STUDENTS:

Everywhere I go Japanese people are very anxious to practice their English and learn what they can. Whenever they find out I'm a teacher, especially if they're young, their face lights up and they express a great admiration and respect.

I met one young Japanese man, Manabu, on the street corner as I pondered a map.

"Namba Eki doko desu ka," I asked. ("Where is Namba Station"?)

"Do you speak English?" he responded.

For the next hour or so he helped me around finding the Visitor Center and a Japan map while practicing his English and helping me with my Japanese. I treated him to a coffee and we talked some more. He was planning a trip to New York City at year's end and was happy to find a willing converstation partner and teacher. I was happy to spend a little time with a native Japanese speaker. It was a win-win arrangement:)

I met Tetsuya thru the Internation House language/culture exchange message board. He traveled an hour by train and subway to meet me! We spent three hours together working hard to understand each other. He had his dictionary and I had my phrasebook and notepad.

We were both pretty worn out by the end, but very much enjoyed our time together. We have stayed in touch by email. He has dreams of world travel and had expressed great joy in meeting me and high admiration for my brave spirit of travel.

My two longer term students are Tanigawa, whom I wrote about earlier, and another Lemon House resident named Shiotsuki. He's an unassuming Japanese man of 30 years with a converstional level of English and a strong desire to improve. We enjoyed a nice give and take interaction.

When I returned to Lemon House by surprise after a four day excursion, Tanigawa said, "Swami is my teacher."

Shiotsuki interjected, "Swami is MY teacher."

I smiled and mediated with, "I am BOTH of your teacher:)"

I'm liking Japan more and more every day:)

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STANDING BARS:

Several times I have stumbled onto a very cool grouping of very small "standing bars." They are usually tucked away in a hard to find place. Typically, there's a small bar counter with seating for maybe four or six people, and room for maybe a few more to stand. Some might even have a table or two. Each has its own little theme and charm. They are quaint, intimate, and quite often delightful:)

I discovered two in Osaka, quite by accident...

One night I was looking to enjoy some live music. This is a little different in Japan. You don't just walk down the street and hear jamming coming from a bar. In fact, if you are at the right place at the right time you might not even hear it, because it might be going down on the 8th floor! The scene exists, but it's just a bit different.

Anyhow, I saw a sign that read, "Rodriguez Brothers Bar - Live Music, 2F." I made my way up a long sloping spiral walkway. This fed into a small square hallway peppered with little bars on either side. I found Rodriguez Borthers, peeked inside, saw a couple people, and ventured in...

The owner, Shingo Rodriguez, was a good-natured man of Japanese, and yes, you guessed it, Mexican descent! Rodriguez san made a humping motion and explained that his father was a military man who met his mother, then left. I guess humor is a coping mechanism in all cultures!

Although there was no live music that night - nor hardly ever as I learned - my time spent there was enjoyable. Of particular interest was an Iranian I met named "Commie." He had been living in Japan for eighteen years! He had fought in "The War" against Iraq. He offered an interesting perspective on life.

Perhaps the coolest place and experience ocurred in the Amerika Mura district...

Michele and I were wandering around Osaka and happened upon a sign for a bar that caught our attention. We descended a short stairway to basement level, expecting to find a bar. Instead, we found an underground complex of little standing bars! These were distributed around a small square hallway like at Rodriguez's. But this time there was LIVE MUSCI!

We saw an attractive Japanese woman seated playing guitar and singing beautifully. We decided to pop in and check it out.

The bar's theme was 1960's! Low lighting was accentuated by a psychedelic, multi-colored light-projecting ball. The walls were covered with posters of The Doors, Hendrix, and other 60's greats. The general feel was hip and casual. We settled right in:)

"Ni biru onegai shimasu kudasai," I requested.

Shortly, our two beers arrived. The lone man at the bar counter smiled and raised his glass for a "kompai." Everybody at the bar turned out to be very inviting - all five of them (haha), plus the couple running the place. Yes, it was an intimate setting as these places tend to be.

The man behind the bar rearranged the tiny stage area and wedged in an electric keyboard. The guitarist/singer made a brief introduction, then proceded to sing a beautiful song in Japanese.

Michele and I turned to each other with the same expression on our face: "WOW, isn't this great!:)"

No sooner had our entertainer finished, then another woman got behind the piano, again singing in Japanese and captivating our fascination.

It was apparent we had stumbled onto open-mic night.

I turned to Michele and said, "You should see if you can get up and play."

Michele recently has been pursuing a long-time dream to be a piano bar performer. She's been working up a repertoire and waiting for the right opportunity.

I made some gestures and facial expressions to the bartender and before long Michele was up on stage.

I barked, "Ladies and gentlemen, may I present, straight from The United States... MICHELE!"

Amidst encouraging applause, Michele launched into an unrehearsed rendition on Elton John's "Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me."

I snapped away with my trusty Canon PowerShot, capturing her international debut! I joined along and belted out the chorus in support. The "crowd" enjoyed the unexpected performance and gave an appreciative round of applause after the final chord.

Next, the kompai man sitting next to us got up and proceded to a play a few VERY spirited songs on guitar. He was quite good, and his singing, again in Japanese, was filled with emotion.

We finished our second beer and decided to head out into the night. We exchanged pleasantries and made our goodbyes. Looking back as we passed thru the doorway we enjoyed the sight of the entire bar waving and smiling goodbye!:)

WOW, what a night!
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Comments

adelicateflower
adelicateflower on

tonnes of Q's
kompai... their word for 'cheers' right?

I want to hear more from Commie, and his views :~)

Methinks my fav part is dinner at Grandmas, and there is the hospitality mindset here in America, sorry if you don't encounter it so much, come to Shepherdstown!!

How was the bullet train?

and why not-so-much with the live music? have you figured that out yet?

Puffer-fish... are you crazy!?!! Or maybe I'm just not that bold??

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