Osaka how I love thee, with your throngs of yankii boys and girls, love of eating and drinking, and ability to converse with anyone. A break down of our trip in parts:
Part 1 - Osaka, gangsta style
Y-san, of Yakuza and Hotel Room fame, came to pick us up from our hotel in a tinted-window Lexus and drove us to a nearby spot with reggae and cold beer. The drinking commenced at 6 and didn't let up until around 3 the next morning and that was only because we all lost the ability to accurately aim the rim of a glass at our own mouths. While I wouldn't want to be on the wrong side of a negotiating table from him, Y-san is such a sweetheart as only a cute yakuza with tattoos can be. He kept thanking us for coming down to Osaka to see him and had lunch planned for us the next day.
Part 2 - Osaka, okonomiyaki style
We struggled to get up at noon and headed downstairs, this time to a van with tinted windows and a mad sound system. It was time to see what all the Osaka okonomiyaki fuss is all about. Hello fluffy sweet, sweet heaven. We lazed around our tables for a four-hour lunch while Y-san tried to hit on the waitress, a cute exchange student from China. While I would normally cringe at this kind of thing, I couldn't help but beam at Y-san like a fond younger sister as he kept exclaiming how pretty she was in a totally non-threatening way. He even showed her his full back tattoo, which I think was more the alcohol talking than a regular yakuza. Still, the one thing that surprised me the most was his readiness to discuss his job with us. I'm sure if we had been closer to his in-group it would be completely different, but it was like hanging out with a cool uncle who happens to have a shady job. When we rolled out of there buzzed it was dusk, making it feel like we had just transitioned from one night to the next, skipping those mandatory daytime hours in between.
Part 3 - Osaka, blond style
I ditched the beau and went off for some blond bonding with the fabulous Corinne, who I now really wish lived here in Tokyo. Not being married (with children) I kind of fall outside the foreign wives circle here so there's not a lot of you-have-a-Japanese-partner-too? bonding for me in Tokyo, which made it even more special to hang out with someone who knows the score only too well. Corinne was equal parts lovely and funny, and extremely patient when it came to giving the beau instructions on how to locate us (seriously, why don't Japanese men use GPS or ask for fucking directions?!). Girl, you need to visit Tokyo ASAP!
Part 4 - Osaka, baseball style
I had no idea that when I first wrote about Japanese highschool baseball two years ago that I would find myself there in person this summer, sweating in the stands and contemplating opening my parasol. I saw a few other women with open brellas but couldn't bring myself to do it and so got a lovely diagonal flash of burn from my one shoulder top. Hot.
I have always said that baseball is eight innings too long and to be perfectly honest, if there were no hot dogs or beer, I wouldn't ever step foot inside a stadium. I can see how the highschool baseball tournament here could be exciting to watch - unlike the pros, there are much more mistakes and sudden turning points to the games - but I enjoyed watching the cheering section much more. Each school brings their own cheering squad with matching uniforms, which includes both a marching band and actual cheerleaders with pom poms. At one point in the game, the beau pointed out a student standing at the very back of the cheering squad who was holding a huge school flag pole diagonally, and informed me that this poor schmuck had to do this for the entire game without rest, and that, get this, it was an honor!
I forgot to bring our binoculars, so unfortunately I was not able to hone in when the losing team began furiously scooping up dirt while crying, which is possibly the most riveting parts of the game for me. Highschool baseball is such a quintessential Japanese experience, and you know you're not in Kansas anymore when the teams line up in front of their respective cheering squads and bow before and after the game.
Part 5 - Osaka, night style
After getting lured into a love hotel area by all the pretty lights, we soon found there were no watering holes to be found. Where do these people hydrate after sex? Some more wandering and we found Osaka's Shinjuku ni-chome, and while there was a very interesting lady waiting for customers, any customers it seemed, in front of Bar Chicago, we decided to press on. This became a running joke for the rest of the trip - that we could always count on Bar Chicago to be there if all else failed. Patience wearing thin after entering another area with not much open, we saw this blue neon sign calling us with its siren song from the depths of a dark and narrow alley. I am partial to dark and narrow alleys, so obviously I dragged the beau's ass in there. With an upstairs loft area and 5 seats at the counter, we were soon engaged in raucous conversation with the bartender and the couple next to us. We were practically tripping over each other to experience the locals, and they in turn, seemed equally fascinated by these strange creatures from Tokyo visiting "for fun." I think their Osakan charms made the beau a little too comfortable, because before long we were discussing the whole "curtain/carpet" thing and when I was asked whether mine matched, the beau blurted out, "She doesn't have any!!!" Thanks for that, darling. Discussion on Brazilian waxing ensued...
The following night I was starting to approach the brink of bitchy when we couldn't find a place local enough to drink at, when a young thing approached the beau with a flyer. I of course was sceptical, thinking she was customer fishing for a hostess club, but nonetheless we followed her into a building filled with bars and cabaret clubs. Where we ended up was a typically Japanese nomiya with white leather and gold interior decor happening. With only one looong counter, it used to be a girls' bar, but after the turn in the economy, they made it an everyone's bar. I'm not sure how well that is working out though, as all the customers I saw were male. Not that I can blame them - apart from the male manager, the other bartenders were these super cool Osaka girls. I've never seen Japanese women like girls from Osaka - brash, loud and with a very particular conversation style, I immediately girl crushed on them. If Japan was highschool, the girls from Osaka would be the wild, funny, popular girls that every other student is intimidated by. We spent hours there, talking to the manager and a couple of the female bartenders; I even had the ole standard of beauty conversation with one husky-voiced bartender with a sparkly headband holding back her long caramel curls. As always, it began with praise for my big nose, which is fast becoming competition for my breasts. Why are some women here surprised that foreigners find them exotic and enviable? Granted, I don't necessarily (hello highschool in Vancouver), but you know, people from the sticks of middle America and manga-obsessed Europeans. I am so used to Asians that quite frankly, I am a little surprised every time I look in the mirror and see some white girl staring back.
I think we were a little shocked at the friendliness. The bartenders we encountered immediately begin engaging customers, smoking and drinking along with them to encourage a kind of camaraderie. Not that there aren't friendly bartenders in Tokyo, there are, but there are so many places in Tokyo where you can go for a drink and the bartender says nothing more to you than what is required for taking your order. To put it succinctly, we were smitten.
Also, can I just say for the record that Kinryu ramen is so-ho overrated? Yes, it's cool that you sit on raised tatami platforms to eat but the ramen itself is a major disappointment and the reviews make me think the ravers have never had ramen outside of Osaka.
Osaka has definitely made a play for my heart, and I may never look at Tokyo with quite the same love again. I am already planning how to get down again there for a clandestine meeting. Don't tell Tokyo.