Osaka is much nicer than I remember. I regret that I may have fallen prey to the stereotypes of gaudy excess and tacky foods. But within the gravity of the exquisite graf gallery, everything is pleasant and romantic. Although the “Osaka = Chicago” parallel always struck me as forced — basically a way of finding Osaka an American city of its own after Tokyo automatically takes NYC, LA, and DC — the strong stone buildings and patina roofs of the business area around the Tosabori River reminds me of my vague memories of the area of Chicago near the art museum.
Osaka fashion is supposed to be more “individualistic” than Tokyo, but it just seems to be less obsessive and more subdued than what you see in Edo.
Visited a very neighborhood-y sento (public bathhouse) in Fukushima on Sunday night and was worried that perhaps there was going to be some odd resistance to my foreignness — perhaps enforced discretely in an anti-tattoo policy or something. (I do not have a tattoo. Big surprise.) I found myself, however, bathing with four enormously-fat yakuza thugs who sported massive tats of ghost warriors on the entire expanse of their backs. They hogged the baths. I kept clear, but once they went off to the faucets to soap it up (no, they didn’t properly clean themselves before getting into the baths — see, “rules” only apply to us katagi), I finally took to the shared facilities. There was a bath with some kind of mild electric current. Unless you like the sensation of your alarm clock falling into the tub, I do not recommend it. This particular sento’s proud feature was a “Radon steam bath” which I entered for a few minutes and will regret when I die of some terrible cancer in a few weeks time.
Kobe is fantastic. The “Ijinkan” foreigner district up at the top of the mountain is quite nice. There is an outstanding mosque down the hill a bit, and in its orbit, there are three or four import food stores featuring products that I had long assumed could never be smuggled into Japan. At one location, we wanted to buy a ¥100 pack of coriander, a ¥90 pack of fennel seeds, and a ¥80 pack of Juicy Fruit gum, but the store was completely abandoned for at least ten minutes. Finally, an Arab gentleman came in and helped us complete our big purchase of the day. When we left, he too walked down the street, again abandoning the store to fate and patient customers.
Down by the river, there was some kind of festival with food stalls from around the world. Not always accurate, but delicious nonetheless. (My “tacos” contained hot dogs, and my “gyro” sandwich was at least 1/2 french fries).
Under the train tracks from Sannomiya to Kobe Station, there are hundreds of little stores and stalls selling various items. The first two or three of these arcades have streetwear stores, respectable eyeglass vendors, leather shoes for men, pet stores, waffle cafes, etc. As you start hitting Arcade #3, however, things get a little more interesting: stores dedicated to old Famicon games, purveyors of ¥100 yen 邦楽 7″s, booksellers who have accumulated just enough literature in the front to justify the thousands of old pornographic magazines in the back. Arcade #5 & #6 are a descent into the debris of the 20th century — a cruel junkyard parody of commercial endeavor — tired old hags selling broken Betamaxes, ribbon-less typewriters, imperial military garb, grab bags of unloved old vinyl. Some of the last stores in this arcade can be hardly distinguished from the storage facilities of refugee communities, piles of extension cords, soiled and crumpled papers, vibrators piled up to the top. If you want to buy a full-size towel with an image of Iijima Naoko from the early ’90s for ¥240, this is your place.
Nara is always fun. The deer are just so adorable. The female deer very literally bow to you, and the male deer will put you between their antlers in a slightly frightening, yet overall endearing way. Everyone tends to buy the deer senbei thinking that this is the way to deer friendship. Not the case. When you have food in your hands, you are just another mark in their con games. When you go to them sans snacks, you go on an equal level and they respect that. A nice site: a family of deer galloping away, followed by a chihuahua in hot pursuit, followed by a bumbling old Japanese man with a leash, followed by his resigned family in slow paces.
Todaiji is big and all, but we went off the beaten track to check out a kofun which just looked like a chunk of forest that the Kunaicho doesn’t want you digging into.