A Visit to Osaka

Last week yours truly betook himself to the lovely city of Osaka for a day. The following is a list, in no particular order, of various and sundry things the author finds noteworthy vis-a-vis a day trip by bus out of good ol' Tottori.

1. Long-distance highway bus drivers all speak into the microphone in exactly the same way. I am persuaded they must be forced to speak that way during their new employee training course. It's a raspy, unctuous, vaguely reptilian murmur in which scarcely more than half the actual words are intelligible. It might be understandable if they were speaking that way to avoid waking people with unnecessary chatter, but the lights in the cabin are blaring full daylight all night long, so only the most insensitive of passengers would be able to doze anyway.

Incidentally, there was a single annoucement of interest during the return trip--after an unpleasant thud reporting from somewhere beneath the undercarriage. The driver annouced (a full two minutes after it happened) that something had fallen and that he would stop at the next service area to have a look. He didn't mention from where it had fallen. There were no mountains around. The only logical conclusion would have to be that it fell from either the undercarriage itself or from the luggage compartment--and the service area, when we finally did stop, was quite far from the site of impact, so I suspect it would have been much too late to collect whatever it was that we had lost. He did get out of the vehicle and check something. Then he got back in and drove away. We all expected him to give us a little more information in his raspy, unctuous, vaguely reptilian way, but he never did. Was it someone's suitcase? A piece of the engine? A dead body? We will never know.

2. Osaka appears to be quite clean and well-tended. We have an image of Osaka as a rather tough city, where people are more concerned with drinking, swaggering, and getting into fisticuffs than with cleaning, but that doesn't seem to be the case anymore, if it ever actually was. I saw a number of rough characters years ago when I visited last, but this time everyone I came across seemed congenial and content with their lives--and there were many green spaces with lush foliage spilling over walls and all sorts of manicured trees and things of that nature. Granted, there wasn't any unspoilt wilderness anywhere close, which made me miss Tottori, but it seemed quite a nice city, as cities go.

3. In this age of online shopping, cities big and small offer about the same level of disappointment. I refer specifically to lesser-requested consumer goods. My experience in the biggest music store in the city of Osaka is instructive.

A friend who works in Tottori was sent to Russia on business and, knowing my fondness for exotic instruments he brought me back a balalaika. What ho! A balalaika! I thought, and promised him I would learn to play it--as soon as I replaced the dead, rusty strings it came with. I promptly called at the biggest music store in Tottori and asked them to order me some strings, and they said they would look into it. A month went by with no word from them, so I asked again, and this time they told me it was impossible.

Thinking I'd have better luck in one of the cultural centers of the nation, I placed the same query to the staff of a resplendent and well-stocked fortress of instruments in Osaka, and got the same response. The difference was in the speed of the rejection.

Based on this experience, I infer that no one in the entire nation of Japan plays the balalaika--or if they do, they can either read enough Russian to search for and order them online (none of the online shops providing service in English or Japanese offer such exotic things), or they have to physically go to Russia every time their instrument needs new strings. Which could be a drag. Or a delight. I wouldn't know.

All in all, I can heartily recommend everyone a jaunt to Osaka for perhaps a pint of the local brew and a sliver of delicious okonomiyaki, or whatever floats your boat. Just don't expect to find any balalaika strings anywhere.