Today I leave Kyoto; but before I do, I head to the roof of Kyoto Station, to the sky garden. It takes nine consecutive escalators to reach the top; a place called ‘Happy Terrace’. Here I can admire the views of Kyoto for free. I get back on the endless escalators and head to the train platform, on the way down I admire the roof.At the platform a helpful member of staff asks me if I need any help. I tell him that I am okay, and thank him. “Where are you going? Osaka?” he enquires. I nod. He points at the train I am waiting for, “This one is faster,” he tells me, as if ticking off in his mind his good deed for the day. I thank him again and return to waiting for my train. I have had this four times this week in Kyoto, staff members or strangers asking me if I need any assistance. I suppose I should be more grateful.
At 12pm I take the JR Kyoto Line to Shin-Osaka. The train takes just 23 minutes and costs ¥560. Osaka is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan, and is the capital of Osaka Prefecture. A little over one seventh of the Japanese population live here, making it the third largest city in Japan by population. I wander around the Osaka area for a while, killing time before I can check-in to my hotel.
Outside Shin-Osaka Station, I see my first real piece of graffiti:
At 2pm I check-in. I am here in Osaka for three nights. I chose this hotel because of a quote on their website: “For warm smiles, fastidious service, and first-class hospitality.” The hotel has a second blatantly inauthentic motto too, “The happiness of our guests is our happiness.” The guy that checks me in hands me a breakfast ticket. Japanese breakfast tomorrow morning. Odd, because I don’t recall paying for any breakfast.
I am staying in Shin-Osaka, which is a one hour walk from Osaka Station, says Google. I decide to take the train to Osaka Station, and walk back to my hotel. I think this will be a nice way to learn the city. I stayed in Shin-Osaka two years ago, and know the area around this station quite well. People in Osaka walk on the left and stand on the right side of the escalator, unlike almost everywhere else in Japan.
The train takes just six minutes, and makes no other stops on the way. It costs ¥160. As I leave the station I see a sign saying that it is illegal to cycle on the pavement. Outside it is cool, maybe 25°C. There is the lightest rain falling, nothing to worry about, no need for an umbrella. At the bottom of the station steps there is an outdoor beach volleyball game taking place. The game is a Japan Volleyball Association match, and is being filmed, most likely being broadcast live on television.
I continue my walk away from the station. To the left of me a huge construction site that spreads for what looks like a good few kilometers. To the right, ‘Grand Front Osaka’. A huge building that describes itself as a ‘New town in a natural environment’. It is effectively a skyscraper full of shops and restaurants. There is a nice artificial river that runs the length of the building; not quite what I would describe as a natural environment. Concrete stepping-stones make the river more exciting.
I continue my walk through the chaotic Osaka roads. I am used to cities where the streets are in a grid-like pattern, always in straight lines, always easy to navigate. Someone has picked up Osaka and given it a good shake, the city and the streets have become a mass tangle of concrete. The roads chaotic, the pavements strangely absent of people. Then it starts to rain, hard. Nothing to worry about, no need for an umbrella.
Since leaving Osaka Station I haven’t seen one convenience store, and I could desperately do with buying an umbrella. At this point a lot of time passes. I spend a good fifteen minutes trying to walk to the bridge that crosses the Yodo River, but for some reason, an endless train platform blocks any access. There is no tunnel beneath, there is no bridge over.
I am soaked and frustrated but eventually find the way to the bridge. The rain seems to be getting heavier with every step, my shoes full of water. It takes me a further ten minutes to cross the Yodo River. I realise that all I have done since this morning is kill time. I get days like this, every now and again. Nothing happens at all.
As I wander along with my wet clothes and my thoughts, I begin to wonder if I will even have anything to write about today. Osaka Day One: Nothing Happens. I can see it now. It is 5pm when I cross the bridge into Juso. I breathe a heavy sigh of relief when in the distance I can make out the green and white lights of a Family Mart. I breathe a second sigh of relief at the sight of some neon. The path somewhat spoilt though by a few bits of rubbish.
I buy an umbrella from Family Mart and an individual banana. Convenience stores seem few and far between here, but at least I can buy just one banana. Osaka feels like a different country, the people here act differently, there is more litter on the streets, less bicycles on the streets, and the people here talk differently too; they have their own special dialect.
Soaking wet, I walk down a street called ‘Happy Street’. I can feel the sign mocking me as I pass. I take a few turns before deciding to take a rest on a bus stop bench. I calculate that I have been walking for a total of two hours now. I check the GPS on my camera, it puts me close to Nishinakajimaminamigata Station. The station is one stop from Shin-Osaka Station, so not much further to go.
Near the station there is a lot of nightlife. My memory begins to flood back as I approach the interlocking streets of restaurants, bars and neon. I decide to see if a bar I have fond memories of is still here. It is called ‘Meets’, and I find it with ease. It is closed today, or closed down for good. I can’t tell. It is still early though. Disappointed, I spot a Seven Eleven and decide to buy a can of 5% Suntory Highball. Seven Eleven is the only shop that I know of that sells the 5% can. The other shops only sell the stronger 7% and 9% cans.
I head back to the hotel, planning on typing up my day. I find that the two computers offered in the hotel lobby have been lost to time. One of the machines runs the Windows 98 operating system. Internet Explorer is the default browser, and naturally it is out of date and spamming me with messages to update it. Password required. I try to download Google Chrome. Password required. I try to write, but the machine is so slow that every letter I type takes about five seconds before it appears on-screen. I give up and go to my room.
Exhausted, I fall asleep before 8pm.
Read the next part of my Journey in Japan, where I travel along an escalator 173 meters in the air that hangs between two skyscrapers, and then hang around Osaka Castle for a much less interesting escalator anecdote by clicking here.