The streets of Tokyo without doubt have their share of overcompensating thousand-yard glarers, shuffling embittered mumblers, perpetual accusing-eyed indignants, pants hitched nipple-high white-socked dimwits. They are, however, an endangered breed who cling insignificantly grimly to their grimness in a well-dressed and balanced sea of citizens at least ostensibly content.
I was, however, down in Osaka today. I was there with a friend from Nagoya, having come up from Tokyo to stay with him last night, making the day trip to western Japan's biggest city together. The trip was for a brief mix of business and pleasure, but, Osaka being Osaka, business got the upper hand.
The pleasure was solely in each other's company: in other words, B.Y.O. In terms of scenery and atmosphere, Osaka makes of by no means effusive Tokyo a capital of bonhomie, charm and esprit. Osakans have their reputation for warmth and lack of pretension. And, sure enough, shop assistants are much more likely to chat, and passers by will give directions readily and with a smile. But acts of individual kindness are powerless beneath the dead weight of parts of the city's general ugliness and ineluctable gloom. The easy manner goes - nicely - so far, and ends in a blank easy parting. Hope for more is lost in the now empty air. Walk back out onto the street with your purchase, or continue on, newly oriented, and the rust, the debris, the caked on grime, the tunelessness, the oil drum, the worn out brittle tat alone all ask you with a grimace what the hell you're looking at. The people: styleless, drab, out of fashion, dressed and decorated with unspun, overspun and tawd. Men approaching a hundred meters down the oily treeless streets: you can already feel the barbed wire tighten. The long sidelong follow throughs of hard-eyed tracksuited couples spinning in surly undertones their suspicion. In balmy Tokyo a sparkle in the eye, a friendly smile in passing, is like a kiss to the proverbial frog. Puffs of white magic really happen. What knee-numbing, sleepless sorcery would it take to similarly transform a hardening Osakan scowl?
The business. A hungover acquaintance in Tsuruhashi with nothing special to say. An old friend in Taisho who greets me wanly, sees me off glumly.
I'm taking an unsatisfying shit in a place called Gryndom Mall, an all but empty shopping space in cheaply built, now bankrupted, Osaka Dome. 'We built this city' in processed synthed cheese echoes in the painted whiteness. It changes to tinny 'Walk Like an Egyptian' as I wipe my arse. We did our deadpan business. It's time to flush and get the hell home.
Osaka City Guide Japan City Guides/Osaka
Saturday, October 22, 2005