Journey in Japan Part 24: When Haricot Met Celery
I wake up at 9am and head down to the lobby for my Japanese style breakfast. The food is almost identical to yesterday. Grilled fish of the day is once again salmon. The only change is that my cooked seasonal vegetables today are haricot beans and peppers, mixed in with Nattō. My side salad includes corn on the cob, celery and red onion. I gaze out of the window whilst I struggle with my breakfast, a meal I am not used to eating. Outside it is a scorching hot summer day.
After breakfast, I take the subway from Shin-Osaka Station to Namba Station. I get off the train and head toward the famous Namba Grand Kagetsu Theatre, hoping to catch some Manzai comedy. Osaka actually produces most of the comedians in Japan. Manzai is a type of stand up comedy where two comedians perform a routine together. Even if in Japanese, good Manzai can be very funny to watch because a big part of the show are the timings and actions on stage. Sadly, there is no performance on at the moment.
I check my map and decide to head to a place called ‘Americamura’. I wonder what I will find there.
The streets in Namba are nice. They seem to have settled back into a familiar grid-like pattern. Shops here sell American clothing. Entire shops dedicated to just selling baseball hats or soccer jerseys. Mixed in with the madness are shops selling skate, punk and retro clothing. I enter a bookshop that sells herbal teas and skateboards, and of course, books.
All of the big brands have their own ‘flagship’ stores here. Mixed in with the clothing are some really cheap looking bars, selling really cheap drinks. All of the tourists/shoppers here are Japanese; not an American in sight. I am not quite sure how this place happened. After a few blocks, I see a Tokyu Hands; the store marking for me where America ends and Japan again begins.
I decide to take a break from the heat and take the Tokyu Hands elevator to the fifth floor. The shop describes itself as a ‘Creative Life Store’, and it sells literally everything. On this floor we have party, variety, magician supplies and bicycles. A song from the film Frozen is playing, the Japanese version. I check out some of the cool gadgets, then I check out the prices of bicycles; expensive here.
If you are not particularly interested in shopping, today probably isn’t for you, or me. I head into the Shin-sai-bashi shopping arcade. This is one of Osaka’s oldest and busiest shopping areas, and runs for approximately 600 meters. Every thing you ever wanted is in this arcade.
There is a shop that only sells ‘Hello Kitty’ goods, a shop that goes by the name, ‘Pancakes, Teas, Coffee and Happy’. I have noticed in Osaka, the word ‘happy’ is used an awful lot. SoftBank, a Japanese telecommunications company, have their own robot. It moves around and has a conversation with me about their new products. His name is Pepper.
Also in the shopping arcade there are the usual clothes shops, restaurants, and souvenir shops. I head into my second bookshop of today, Junkudo. I am searching for two specific books. I find one of them, ‘Pinball 1973’, but only the Japanese version. I am trying to get hold of the English version, printed for Japanese people to practice their English skills.
As I leave the bookshop, I see a sign that takes me slightly aback. At the bottom of the escalator there is an advertisement for ‘Meets’, the bar I mentioned a few days ago. It has a price list and some other Japanese text. I take a photograph and add it to my folder of coincidences. Back in the arcade, that same song from the film Frozen is playing.
Next I visit a place called Dotonbori. The pavement here is littered with small restaurants and Pachinko parlors. The restaurants are stacked high, each with brightly coloured signage that becomes illuminated in the evenings. It is the sort of street that I imagine looks just like a scene from Blade Runner at dusk, especially if it is raining.
On the other side of Namba Station are shops selling manga and anime. The area is known as Den Den Town. I see two or three shops exclusively selling Magic the Gathering playing cards. Other shops sell model figurines and electronics. It reminds me of Akihabara, but only on a much smaller scale. Girls dressed as maids stand on street corners trying to lure people into the many maid cafés.
I waste a quick ¥500 in a Sega video game arcade, before heading back to the train station. At the station, I have to walk through even more shops to reach the platform. I take the Koya Line just one stop to Shin-imamiya Station. I go to check out a place called Spa World, but there is a fence around it and it appears it is closed for construction, just my luck.
Instead I head towards a tower in the distance. To get to the tower I have to walk down yet another shopping street.
Unlike the other shopping streets, this one at least has a 103.3 meter tall tower in the middle of it. Tsutenkaku Tower, meaning ‘Tower reaching heaven’. I also admire the Carnival Cutouts; what appears to be a sumo wrestler devouring a skewer of meat, or a rolling-pin. I can’t really tell but my guess would be a skewer, because that is all the restaurants in this area appear to be selling.
I choose a completely empty restaurant. I take a seat wherever I want, and order a Suntory Highball with lemon. I should probably get some commission money from Suntory, the amount of times I have mentioned their whisky and coffee. I order three salmon skewers and three white fish skewers. I snack on complimentary fresh lettuce and sip my Highball as I wait.
The white fish is haddock, the salmon fresh with a light tartare sauce dressing. The skewered meat is already prepared on the counter, all the chef needs to do is cover each fish with flower, egg, and breadcrumbs, then pop each stick into oil to deep fry. This restaurant has all sorts of crazy ideas. The ones that stand out are cheesecake skewers, ice cream skewers, and banana skewers. I would eat fried fish on sticks everyday if it wasn’t for the fact that it would probably kill me. ¥1050 not bad with a drink.
I head back out into the smoldering sunshine. At the end of the shopping street is a zoo. The zoo has a Snow White Clock Tower. The time now is ten to three in the afternoon, so I decide to wait to see if anything happens on the hour. My life is that exciting. Sure enough though at three everything starts moving and singing and dancing, then Snow White comes out of the clock. Not to be missed the Tennōji Zoo.
At Tennōji Station I get on what I think is the Osaka Loop Line. It isn’t. Three stops go by and then everyone gets off. I have no idea where I am, and there are no signs. I get on the train across the platform. It says it is the Rapid Service bound for Nara. Luckily it stops at Tennōji Station. Back where I started I get on the Osaka Loop Line to Osaka. I swap at Osaka and take the train to Shin-Osaka, before deciding that six trains is plenty for one day.
Back at the hotel I read for a while, before sorting through my photographs of the day. I stare at the sign I saw in the bookshop, advertising that same bar. I decide to head out and see if it is open tonight. I walk the ten minutes to the bar, and I am pleased to see it with the shutters up.
I first visited Meets when I was in Osaka, in July 2012. The bar is L-shaped, and has a total of seven seats. That night two years ago was my favorite experience of nightlife in Japan. For such a small place, there were two members of staff working there. A man and a young woman. The young women looked a lot like Jennifer Aniston, and I spent the whole evening talking to her. She didn’t speak one word of English, so we conversed in turn through her smartphone translation application. She would speak in Japanese, I would read the text then reply in English, et cætera.
Anyway, back to today. Only one member of staff is working, a Japanese man called Ken. He is the same guy that was working that night those years ago. I order a Suntory Highball and sit. I am the only customer, a baseball game is playing on the television. At 8.50pm, Ken switches the television channel from baseball to the ending credits of a random show whose name I might never know. On screen for no longer than three seconds is Micaela Braithwaite, the woman I said ‘hello’ to in Fukuoka. I can’t take a photograph fast enough.
The bar I saw advertised in a bookshop today. He changes the channel at that exact moment. Ten seconds later the credits stop and the adverts begin. What are the chances. Sometimes it feels like I am living inside my own memories. “Worked here for six years now,” Ken tells me, chipping in with small talk.
Next a girl, Mana, enters the scene. She is from Taito, the same ward in Tokyo as Asakusa. A million miles from her home, and mine. We drink. Ken writes all of our names in Kanji. We drink. Mana and I talk about Asakusa, although our conversation limited to basic English and basic Japanese. Never a smartphone translation application around when you need one.
At 10pm I finish my final Highball, then say goodbye to Mana and goodbye to Ken. My bill ¥2500 for four singles and a double. “See you in two years,” I tell Ken. Jokes.
After Meets I try to find some food; I haven’t had anything to eat since fish on sticks. The area around Nishinakajimaminamigata Station is littered with touts, neon, and shady massage parlors. I have been craving a curry for perhaps a week. The first restaurant, simply called ‘Indian Restaurant’ boasts 11.30pm last orders. As I approach, the Japanese chef taking in the sign tells me that they are closed.
The second restaurant is owned by a Nepalese family and is open. Inside, I order a bottle of ‘Nepal Ice’, having never tried it before; do what the Nepalese do, and all that. The beer boldly claims to be the ‘coolest beer’. It is pale with a slight bitterness, just like me.
I order the classic vegetable curry, egg rice and garlic naan. The Nepalese waiter speaks English but keeps addressing me in Japanese, by habit. “Poppadom,” he says as he hands me a spicy poppadom.
“Arigatou gozaimasu,” I reply in Japanese, by habit. The poppadom is a little stale but spicy, it will do. Hopefully it isn’t a taste of things to come. The muskiness is drowned out by the spice. The spice is drowned out by the Nepal Ice.
My food arrives, and I order a second bottle of beer. The spice is almost perfect, it could probably be a tiny bit hotter, but I don’t care too much. I pay ¥2350 for two drinks and a really good curry.
Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I check out an Internet Cafe, before saying goodbye to Osaka, and hello to Nagoya by clicking here.