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Osaka blues
"I wish I had been placed in Osaka" is tantamount to saying "I wish I was teaching English anywhere but Japan." Osaka is not Japan. There are some similarities, granted, but they are almost all things you would find somewhere else in Asia if you looked. Chopsticks, noodles, squiggly symbols that make no sense to me, atrocious hair styles and clashing clothing. Osaka, unlike anywhere else in Japan, has a proper live music scene with almost every second person under 35 carrying a guitar case on their back. Osaka has dodgy areas where guys (whose hair is ginger through choice!)sell pirate DVDs on street corners...not exactly the Barras but it's something! Osaka feels like Asia. It doesn't feel like Japan. I could live there happily. But there is no point dwelling on that now. In exactly seven weeks I will be heading to Narita airport bound for home.

So Osaka will have to remain a holiday memory. But at least it will be a good one!

After enduring the back and forth from both our schools as to whether taking three days of paid holiday was a good idea or pretty much proof that Scots are in league with the devil (in fact I'm sure in Alan's school at least two teachers are now in constant hysterics - not the funny kind- as a result of him pointing out to them that their made-up rules didn't apply to him and besides that were feckin ridiculous) , we eventually set off last Wednesday. After a big journey which had us hopping off one train and onto another with only seconds to spare we eventually emerged into the striking sunlight and enveloping heat of Osaka. We staggered around in several chaotic, un-purposeful circles before finding a hotel. However, the hotel had decided that it would open at 4pm so we were forced back out of the shade in search of a beer. Eventually, one beer later, we were in the hotel and the view from the 13th floor was fantastic. We opened the suicide-aiding window and let in a breeze (that most definitely hadn't reached ground level) which billowed the curtains and took the edge off the sunlight's harshness.

That evening was spent on a quest for an Irish pub (the oldest in Japan apparently). When the pub was eventually found it was all but empty and completely devoid of atmosphere. Fortunately the Arctic Monkeys* album and a rather tasty hamburger made up for things! We also found time to go up in a bright red ferris wheel that was perched on the top of a department store.

Thursday was a day of contrasts. First up was a visit to Osaka-jo, the castle. It was big, impressive and stuck in the centre of a nice park so all was well with the world. After contemplation of yet another view of Osaka we worked our way down about eight floors on the inside - decked out museum style with old helmets and tapestries as well as a replica golden tea room. Down on the ground again and a brief meander through some souvenir shops made a can of beer a necessity! We sat looking at a pond with giant goldfish who seemed to be trying to ape evolution and crawl out of the water.

Next was Osaka's Aquarium - Kaiyukan. It was probably the best tenner I've ever spent that didn't involve guitars or Blackalicious. From beginning to end it was thrilling - there was none of that boredom you start to feel after you have seen one multi-coloured fish too many. The first tank you see is tube shaped and you get to walk through the tube with fish swimming over your head. That in itself was almost worth the ten pounds. Next came the otters, the sea otters, the seals, the sea lions, the penguins, all of which you could see on different levels - so both on land and under water. The aquarium was so quiet that we managed to sit beside the dolphin tank for about ten minutes undisturbed. At various moments it felt like the dolphins were the ones looking at us. Then came the giant centre tank whic h had 5,400 tonnes of water in it, oh and a whale shark!We also happened across some giant spider crabs in mid-dual, sea turtles, a lion's mane jellyfish, a giant salamander, a spotted eagle ray and a sun fish! I'd go back this minute if I could!

After the aquarium me and Alan braved the second largest Ferris Wheel in the world (2nd to the London Eye) for yet another Osaka view...this one was at night and gave us a glittering view of Tempozan Harbour Village as well as Osaka's sprawling self. Up in the big wheel I took delight in jumping from one side to the other of our carriage causing Alan to have a mini nervous breakdown! Still I was impressed by how he somehow managed to tell me nicely to stop rather than the expected and more appropriate reaction of screaming obscenities and death threats. That night we made our way to Dotonbori where we saw the legendary original motorised giant crab outside the Kani Doraku restaurant (and several replicas dotted about further down the street). We also saw the less remarkable life sized, moving, costumed drummer (I didn't get it). We ate ramen in the spitting rain at a fantastic outdoor place which had tatami platforms.

The next day was spent fully on recovery from our exertions the day before. We wandered to Amerikamura where I was delighted to see a distinct absence of tourists and virtually no other foreigners. Despite it's name this area is not geared towards gaijin desperate for a MacDonalds (although there is one there if it takes your fancy). Instead, Amerikamura is for young Japanese people to splash out on trendy (if ridiculous)clothing, accessories, music and guitars. It also has a significant number of un-Japanesy pubs, bars, live music venues and clubs (as well as a load of Love Hotels). After a bewildering but engaging wander through clothes and gadget shops that made me feel ancient we stopped at a cafe for a drink. I was delighted that it served Corona and that the front was opened up so we were all but sitting outside. Two Coronas and a chat to a techno DJ later and we were wandering the streets again attempting to find Absinthe (a bar that has copies of Kansai Time Out, the English guide to what's going on). Finding Absinthe and some English magazines for the Kansai area we decided the only appropriate thing to do now was to have a Guinness. Two pints later and we were ready for some dinner and live music.

We headed to Savannah which promised live Jazz and Blues as well as FOOD. The food was great, the Coronas were great, even the jazz was great for as long as it lasted...but then the salsa dancers moved in and it was time for us to go. After a brief sojourn at the Irish pub we stumbled off back to the hotel.

The next day, feeling guilty at our lack of activity (other than drinking and relaxing) we headed to the Human Rights Museum for a dose of real life. After a couple of hours of exhibitions featuring how every single minority group in Japan is/has been treated like shit we were ready to indulge once more in a meal and a drink. We had Thai curry and then went to the Cellar bar for some live music...this consisted of more versions of the Beatles "Yesterday" than could ever be considered healthy. It was fun though. The obligatory Love Hotel stay followed (there is no point to being in Japan unless you visit these, they are remarkable in that every room, in every hotel, in every entertainment district, in every city is different). This one had two tatami rooms, frosted glass with naked ladies on it, two televisions, a massive shower and bath and I stole a yukata.

And that act of crime brings the tale of the Osaka adventure to an end.

*emmm....being exiled in Japan I'd never heard them before...although I had read a lot of stuff that made me sure I'd hate them...but to be honest before I knew who they were (about 6 songs in) I was loving them. They reminded me of Graham Coxon and the Libertines. Maybe I should keep this as my guilty secret...but blogging it seemed like the right thing to do. Sharing my confusion might help!


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