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Shake, Re:Mind Style, and Miracle

July 22, 2009

(Originally Published 16/09/2007)

I really am just a country boy.  I can’t tell you how much I miss trees and grass and feeling earth under my feet.  I’m so tired of concrete and asphalt.  I miss parks, I miss open country, I miss the sounds of the country.  Hirakata-shi is considered ‘inaka’ (country) by Japanese standards.  Hirakata has 300,000 people.  I went to Osaka today and was overwhelmed by the big city.
More...I didn’t start the day on the best of terms.  I woke up with a really bad hangover.  This is not surprising considering that I had about fifteen drinks the night before.  That was the first time I’ve ever been really drunk and it’s the first time I’ve ever had a hangover.  “The solution to pollution is dilution,” as the old saying goes, but I didn’t drink any water.  Oh well, live and learn.  I guess I’ve found my limit now.  I was always disappointed because no matter how much I drink I never really get drunk.  Buzzed, yes, but not drunk.  Well, finally I found out what it feels like.  I went out to an izakaya with some of my old Japanese friends who studied abroad at Pacific last year.  They had just completed their graduation ceremony here at Kansai Gaidai and happened to see me as I was walking to the Language Lab to do some homework.  Figuring it was much more important to hang out with them since they all have jobs and are moving to Tokyo after this, I spent the rest of the evening with them and had a really great time.  I met a really cool guy from Norway and talked with a really nice guy about “the gaijin experience” here in Japan and how in Japan there really isn’t a distinction between “black” and “white” because we’re all just gaijin.  He said he’s never really embraced mainstream African-American culture and was always told in the US, “Why don’t you accept who you are and celebrate it?”  “I am celebrating it,” he said, “it’s just people expect me to act ‘black’.”  Anyway, I stayed out until about 12:00 and got back to the Seminar House about 1:00.  Lee was still up and greeted me when I came in, “Hey!  Long time no see!”  We talked for a bit and then he said, “Wow, I’ve never seen you so happy.  You haven’t stopped grinning since you came in the door.”  So anyway, it was a good evening but that’s why I started today off on the wrong foot.

I won’t go into details about my miserable morning but I joined Willy and his girlfriend Abby and we walked to school to meet our friend Darren.  By this time I knew I wasn’t going to be able to go to Den-Den Town with them because I was supposed to meet my Japanese “older brother” from Pacific at 2:00.  I really like riding the limited express trains.  For one thing, they have seats and you don’t have to stand.  Furthermore, they’re really fast and they stop at fewer stations so it feels like the countryside (well, cityside) is just racing by.  My friends got off at Kitahama to transfer to the subway and I went on one stop further to wait at Yodoyabashi.  I was an hour early so I left the station and decided to explore the neighborhood.  A river runs right by the station and there is a special tour boat that goes up and down the river.  I watched them going by for a couple of minutes and then noticed that there was a lot of activity in the park across the river.  I walked over there and found out there was a Musical Carnival taking place!  I strolled through the booths, feeling how tall I actually am as I easily towered over everyone else, and was surprised to see that most of the booths contained cookware demonstrations and sample foods.  I began to wonder why this was called a musical carnival but finally I found the stage where the music was taking place.  I sat down in the middle of the uncovered seats and quietly sweated and suffered the final ill feelings of my hangover.  It was really cool music but I couldn’t believe the musicians could perform in such sweltering heat.  It’s always so hot here!  Many people had towels around their heads and fans were flapping like crazy.  The first performer was a Chinese woman playing the Gu Zheng (zither).  It was really fun to here her and her music was very similar to what the 12 Girls Band plays.  After that was a pair of Japanese women who sang and played guitar and autoharp and various percussion instruments.  At one point, one of the women pulled out a kazoo!

A little before 2:00 I returned to Yodoyabashi station and sat on the railing by the escalators at the Central Gate waiting for Hisshie.  Unfortunately, there are apparently two central gates at Yodoyabashi station and we were both waiting at separate ones.  I waited until 2:45 and then went to find a phone to call Hisshie.  He didn’t pick up so I decided I’d wait until 3:00 and then leave.  Well, he didn’t show up so I left and started walking down Midosuji towards Namba.  It was sort of a pretty street with tall, quiet metal and glass buildings and leafy trees lining the road.  I think it was the street they ran the recent marathon on for the World Athletic Championships that were being held in Osaka a couple of weeks ago.  Anyway, I found another telephone booth and decided to try Hisshie’s number again just to make sure.  This time it worked and I found out that he had been waiting at the station until 2:30 and then had left and gone on to Umeda.  So, I went back to the station and hopped on the subway to Umeda.  When I got to Umeda station I was overwhelmed by how many people there were.  It turns out that there are twelve different exits from the subway station at Umeda (not to mention there is another train station and another subway station right next door).  I had no idea which exit to take so I just sort of walked and found myself at Exit 5.  I found another phone and called Hisshie again.  These green pay phones eat 10yen coins like they’re coming out of a ten-year famine.  Anyway, I was finally able to meet up with Hisshie and we explored Yodobashi Camera together.  We had originally planned to walk to Osaka Castle and explore but Hisshie didn’t think we had enough time because he needed to meet with someone else in a couple of hours.  Anyway, Yodobashi Camera is what one might call a “SUPER DEPARTMENT STORE”.  (At least, that’s what I’d call it, in all capital letters.)  Two levels of basement and six levels of whatever you can think of (electronics, appliances, bicycles, etc…)  Above that is a floor entirely for confectionary and then a level of restaurants (not food court style, super ritzy restaurant style).  Above that is five more levels of something, I was too overwhelmed to find out.  We looked at cell phones because in a land where everyone has a cell phone and you don’t you feel very disconnected from the world.  Cell phones are a HUGE deal in Japan and when you’ve got all five major cell phone companies lined up right next to each other trying to get your business you see just what amazing packages you can get.  All the companies offered free phones to people who join and start a plan.  These phones do more things then I could fathom and are tiny.  You can get phones with five megapixel digital cameras built in (something I’d really like) and phones with huge, vibrant LCD displays that you can watch television on and all the phones have infrared ports for sending information back and forth with your friends not to mention fold-out keyboards for texting and built in MP3 players.  Remember, these are free phones.  Not only that, the plans that go with them are very reasonable.  The basic plan starts at 1300 yen/month (about $12).  I didn’t see any packages more expensive than 3500 yen/month (about $30).  Unfortunately, I have to get some sort of paper from the local city hall that says they know where I live or something like that.  Apparently a stamped passport with an “alien registration” stamp isn’t good enough.  Oh well, my speaking partner Ryosuke says he’ll help me get set up sometime because getting together will be so much easier if he can just call me.

Anyway, Hisshie and I went to Vie de France under Yodobashi Camera and it was so good!  My friend Jenshin has told me really good things about it and I was so happy to find it.  You already know that I love Japanese bakeries but to call Vie de France “a Japanese bakery” is a tremendous understatement.  I got some sort of fluffy, moist biscuit filled with warm apple pie and covered with a light dusting of powdered sugar and two almond flakes.  I believe it is the most perfect bread I have ever tasted.  Hisshie and I shared some ghost stories and Hisshie told me that he recently competed in a swimming and running event where he swam one-and-a-half kilometers and then ran ten kilometers after that.  After that Hisshie had to leave so we said goodbye and I was still hungry so I went off in search of crepes.  Well, I thought there was a crepe shop in the Yodobashi Camera building but I couldn’t find it so after wandering around for awhile I left the building and struck off in an interesting-looking direction.  Well, it really wasn’t interesting and I found myself quickly getting tired of the sights, sounds, and smells of the big city.  I was back to good health now and realized that it wasn’t just the hangover that was making me sick feeling.  I really don’t like big cities.  The air feels quite unhealthy and I cut right to try to get away from the trains and expressways nearby.  When I first came to Japan, one of the teachers during the orientation lecture got up and said that Japan was going to be much quieter than the countries we had come from.  HA!  Japan is noisy.  It’s not just the pachinko parlours where three hundred machines are screaming for your attention and balls are clattering around and when you walk by the open door you feel as though you are being swept away in a flood of noise.  Whether it is train stations, roads, malls, or arcades (these together combine to make up about 50% of all Japanese cities) it is extremely noisy.  So I was stumbling about trying to find some place less alien where I wasn’t surrounded by exhaust and sewer fumes and honking cars, and I spent about half an hour in a delerium.  I came out of my trance eventually and headed down some random stairs into an underground mall.  Still feeling hungry and desiring crepes, I found the information counter and went up to ask them.  I’m getting really good at saying, “Excuse me, but I’m searching for…” in Japanese.  Anyway, I was quite pleased with myself because I was able to carry on a conversation in Japanese with the girl behind the counter and I understood everything she said (she did most of the talking after I relayed what I was looking for.

“Excuse me, but I’m looking for a crepe shop.”
“A crepe shop?”
“Yes, I want to eat crepes.”
“Oh, that sounds delicious!  Unfortunately, the nearest crepe shop is kind of far away.  It’s in the Hanshin mall, do you know where that is?”
“No, but I don’t mind walking.  Which way do I go to get there?”
She pulled out a map of the mall (and all the nearby malls it connects too) and began to draw me a map.”
“We are here.  Go this way,” (she pointed behind me), “and turn left at the intersection.”
“Mm-hmm…”
“Go straight until you reach a soba and udon shop on the right side.”
“Mm-hmm…”
“Turn left and go up the escalator.”
“Mm-hmm…”
“Turn right and the crepe shop will be on the right side.  It’s called Cocorico.”
“Wow!  Thank you so much.  You’ve really been very helpful.”
“Certainly!”

Woo-hoo!  What a way to boost my confidence.  I know it sounds kind of simple but it felt really good to understand every word and to be able to express myself clearly as well.  I struck off, the tall gaijin in tie-dye, and had no trouble finding the shop.  I had another successful encounter and asked if it was okay if I ate my crepe in the shop behind the little crepe booth.  “Well, it’s a different restaurant so you’ll probably have to order a drink.”  Deciding that this was too much trouble, I walked outside and sat on a small planter underneath an overpass and watched masses of people milling around in front of me.  I’ve been told by other foreigners that it’s rude to eat in public in Japan and while it is true that I haven’t seen very many Japanese people doing it I have seen some.  I asked Hisshie about this and he said not to worry about it and that people don’t eat in public mainly because it’s so crowded and they’re worried about tripping and spilling their food or accidentally touching someone else with their food (which would create a huge ruckus, no doubt).  Well, since I already have my gaijin perimeter set up I’m not really going to worry about walking around and eating.  I struck off again in a different direction and found myself back near Yodobashi Camera.  Several bands had set up on top of the pedestrian overpass and were taking turns playing for the crowds as the trains passed by behind them.  It was really cool.  These street bands are quite the setup here in Japan.  They each have a generator to power their microphones, keyboards, amplifiers, and speakers so they have to play really loud to be heard over the generators and the trains passing behind and the cars passing below.  I listened to a couple of boy bands with really different styles and read the little papers that their friends were passing out about the various venues they would be playing at during the next month.  They all have mini CDs with their debut albums for sale.  Some of them were pretty good.  One of the bands sang a song where they danced around a bit and the guitar player pulled a Jimi Hendrix move while playing a guitar solo with his guitar upside down behind his head.  A drunk Japanese man came rushing up to them and began dancing with the lead singer.  A couple of Japanese boys standing next to me exclaimed, “Hehe!  That old dude’s totally drunk!” and they looked over at me with surprise as I laughed and smiled at them.  The old dude continued to dance around and went back and shook hands with the drummer (causing a minor dilemma for the drummer as he tried to figure out how to keep the beat going and still treat the old man with respect.  The old guy then went over and patted the guitar player on the back and rushed off giggling.  After the boy bands a group of three guys and a girl set up and began playing a mixture of happy hardcore/J-pop/and punk.  It was a very interesting experience.  The girl wore one red-and-black striped sock and one green-and-black striped sock and had the typical young Japanese sense of fashion (frilly skirt, a lopsided hat covered in buttons, and belts just about everywhere).  Once they got going they really pumped and the girl was jumping around and screaming in between cutesy high-pitched J-pop lyrics about love and clouds.  A couple of gaijin came up to me and started talking to me and I had no idea what they were saying.  I replied to them in Japanese and they became very confused too.  I’m sure it was interesting for any Japanese people walking by.  I finally figured out that they were French and they finally figured out that I didn’t speak any French.  We smiled at each other and went on our separate ways.  I finally had listened to all the bands that were performing and so I left and struck out in the direction of the Umeda Sky Building.  I passed a cat that was tied up with a leash to a guitar case spread out on the ground with a small boombox inside.  The cat was sleeping contently, untroubled by the hundreds of feet passing by on either side.  Recently I’ve been noticing more and more stray cats in Japan and they all seem to appear in groups of three or four and skulk around in the weeds and the shadows of alleys.  Anyway, I walked towards the Umeda Sky Building and couldn’t remember where the underground tunnel that connects the JR station to Umeda begins so I attempted to find my way aboveground.  I walked through canyons of suddenly silent skyscrapers.  Every now and then a train would rumble by and I passed a half-naked homeless man sleeping in a pile of bikes and newspapers.  There were no cars and no pedestrians and it was really disturbing how suddenly I found myself in an abandoned neighborhood.  I finally reached the Umeda Sky Building and all of a sudden there was action again.  There was a festival happening to celebrate the Mexican independence day and I found myself surrounded by gaijin.  Everyone was drinking Corona and dancing.  I watched for awhile but I wasn’t really interested so I poked around the underground restaurant area for awhile.  It’s set up like an ancient road from the Tokugawa Era and it feels like you’re walking in the past as you slip through dark narrow halls with cobblestone paths and various thinks like handpumped wells and other antique accents.  That is, it feels that way until you look through the windows of the restaurant and see a waterfall right beyond the windows that is lit up with various colored lights.  I emerged into a garden and walked along the curvy path, looking up through the trees at the escalators connecting the twin towers high above me.  I went back to Vie de France and had a Milk Bread (I don’t know what it is but it’s fluffy and moist and delicious) and a Red Orange Juice (it’s orange juice but it’s red, go figure).  I returned to Yodoyabashi and got on the Limited Express train bound for Hirakata.  After asking a Japanese woman if it was alright if I sat next to her I watched the news on the television and wondered why I’d never noticed that there was tv on the tokkyu (limited express).  Perhaps this was a special car.  While we sat waiting for the train to leave a large group of high-spirited children came down the stairs carrying sports equipment and boarded the express across the platform.

That’s about if for today.  I had some other adventures earlier this week that I’ll post about sometime soon.  I just wanted to mention that among today’s various Engrish I saw a blood donation van with a sign on the back that said, “Look, Blood.”  I find that amusing.

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