Saturday, 13 November 2010

I ♡ Osaka

I've already lost count of the number of times made the trip up to Osaka from little Arida. Though Tokyo is bigger (largest city in the world, by some counts), and Kyoto is older and prettier, Osaka has a charm all its own. The city was flattened by Allied bombs sixty-five years ago, so its current incarnation contains little of interest to those seeking the photogenic Japan of ancient shrines and temples, atmospheric samurai haunts, zen rock gardens and the like. Indeed, Osaka seems animated by an entirely different ethos than such places of quiet contemplation - a famous mercantile spirit, loud, lively, and gregarious. It's embodied in the city's stereotypical greeting もうかりまっか? mo kari makka?("How's business?"), and most of all on the busy streets of neighborhoods like Namba and Shinsaibashi (above), where the nasal cries of shopkeepers rises above the hum of the flowing crowd.       

Kushi katsu - Fried meat on a stick a la japonaise 
Osaka's also been known as a food city ever since it was dubbed the "kitchen" of the old empire many hundreds of years ago. Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake made with eggs and cabbage, and tako-yaki, fried octopus balls,  are its most famous dishes - tasty and filling - but I always make a point of visiting one of the city's many ramen joints when I'm in town: 

"Full of Happiness Ramen" with extra pig :)
...twenty tasty minutes later
Last month in Shinsaibashi, I stumbled upon the grand opening of UniQlo's world flagship store. UniQlo, for those those of you who don't live in NYC or don't follow these trends, is Japan's answer to the Gap - (relatively) inexpensive clothing favored by youthful consumers/consumers wishing to look youthful.  The line stretched around a very long city block, but I had to see the interior for myself: 

It was somewhat terrifying.
The wall-to-wall mirrors made the very large crowd seem to stretch to infinity. On the second floor, I saw a large group of middle-aged women attacking a pile of sweaters marked for clearance as the staff looked on helplessly. I stood no chance.  Giving up any hope of finding winter wear, I fled for a crepe shop across the street. 
Nonsensical graffiti -  The Japanese translates as "so what?"
Osaka, then, is mecca of consumption of all types (the neon nightlife will get a post of its own once I get some photos). Like a fair number of recent college graduates, I have a love/hate relationship with capitalism - my Marx-Engels Reader made the trip across the Pacific with me - but I can't deny that I feel the allure of creative destruction when I walk the streets of Namba, that I hear something vital in the merchant's high-pitched cries outside their shops. Watching the crowd stream through Shinsaibashi's broad corridors, I sense a power much greater than myself, as if I stand in the presence of a giant, endless  serpent. And to join that crowd, to feel like a blood cell in one of the city's great arteries, can be exhilarating or infuriating depending on one's state of mind.
But that's enough for my attempts at figurative language. Blood cells don't sit around pondering the vastness of the circulatory system they're a part of. I ♡ Osaka for the same reason that anyone loves a place - because it's been the setting of some very good memories, and promises to give me many more.  


  1. There's definitely something interesting about how consumerism lets us connect with different cultures, you know? Like, if you visit somewhere new, the act of buying something is what marks your travel - either a tourist trinket to say you've "been there" or some "authentic" object that makes you feel like you've really gotten to know a place.
    Although, I feel like you and I are the kind of travelers that connect with places through food.

  2. The idea of souvenirs is to keep a little piece of a place with you, as that one relict of your visitation will bring back floods of memories every time you glance at it. What better way to capture a little bit of a place's magic than to literally take a piece of that place's foundation with you? Yes, I am talking about souvenir rocks, of course.
    A simple pebble, a chip of quartz vein, or even some sand from a beach, and with each look and rub with your hand - bam! You are back in Venezuela, Japan, or Amherst. And whats even better for those with tenuous relationships with consumerism - its free! The gift of erosion. (well, its free unless you get caught snagging pieces in a national park...then there may be all sorts of prison fees).