After living in Tokyo for ten years, our Osaka-born writer Seiji Nakazawa shares some experiences from his hometown he thought were normal but actually weren’t.
Although Japan is mostly considered a homogenous nation, there is a lot of cultural diversity among its regions and cities. And perhaps the starkest difference lies between the major cities of Tokyo and Osaka. Our fashion-savvy and love-lorned reporter Seiji Nakazawa has experienced both of these cultures, having been born and raised in Osaka before living in Tokyo for the past ten years.
During his time in the nation’s capital, Seiji began to notice that some everyday aspects of life in Osaka were completely alien in Tokyo. So, as a reflection on his beloved hometown, he compiled a list of experiences he had there that at the time he thought were normal.
Here they are in no particular order, serving as six slices of life in what is arguably Japan’s liveliest town.
Back when Seiji was 22, he lived in Sennan, an area with a high population of the rough-and-tumble proletarians known as yankees. One day he was riding home from university at night when he bumped into one such yankee – an act that could potentially become an invitation to an ass-kicking.
“What was your junior high?!” shouted the yankee with his fist cocked as if to strike, and Seiji instinctively answered the name of his middle school without hesitation. This immediately disarmed the yankee, who fired back with a friendly, “Oh! Do you know [name of another yankee]?”
This is not an uncommon scene in Osaka. Yankees are very community-oriented people, deeply rooted in the neighborhoods they grew up in. They are a timeless people that have remained virtually unchanged in Sennan and most of Osaka for generations even to this day.
Train Station Attendants
Seiji had never realized how friendly staff in the train stations of Osaka were, even when he moved to Tokyo and got used to how things work here. He realized this during a visit home one day, at around the same time a movie he wanted to see came out. He searched for a theater that was showing it and took a train to the nearest station – or so he thought.
After getting off the train and heading towards the exit, a worker there called out, “Where ya goin?” Seiji answered that he wanted to go to the cinema and the station attendant answered “Ain’t no theater like that around here. Are you sure you didn’t make a mistake?”
The two got to talking and at some point during the conversation it dawned on Seiji that he originally intended to see a movie. However, he felt so thoroughly entertained by his new acquaintance that he didn’t even care about the movie any more.
A peculiar thing about Osaka are the merchants and restaurateurs who stand on the street and shout at people. This happens in other cities like Tokyo, where it is clearly a deliberate business strategy to draw customers into the shops, which can easily be ignored. However, in Osaka that motive isn’t always so clear.
When walking down the street in Osaka you often get blindsided with a staggeringly loud holler from a shopkeeper, and then while in a daze get drawn into a conversation with the stranger that has nothing to do with their business, like the weather or the local sports team.
Those looking to be polite may sit and nod at the rambling while quietly hoping they can get a chance to slip away. Those savvy in the ways of Osaka, on the other hand, know how to slip away.
Here there is a subconscious belief among some people that as long as you can get a laugh, your work is done. Therefore, if you find yourself trapped in a random chat with a store owner just give them a hearty laugh. They will instinctively be satisfied with that and go back about their business – completely forgetting that their business was to get you into their store.
It’s a neat trick!
While Osaka does have a disproportionately large number of creepy older guys yelling at random people, Seiji will soon testify that the city also has unstable men who possess a caliber of “frightening” unmatched by other parts of Japan.
Once again, it all started when Seiji was 22 and riding his bike. This time he was carrying a guitar and heading towards a rehearsal with his band. He was heading down a narrow street when he noticed an older man walking in front of him who also happened to be built like a linebacker.
Given the dimensions of both man and street, Seiji decided to just ride slowly behind him until he could get an opening to pass. When the opportunity eventually came, Seiji glided past the person.
However, just then, Seiji heard a voice say “What happened to ‘thank you’?” and in an instant his entire body, bicycle, and guitar got slammed against the brick wall beside him. After falling to the ground, the man – who we remind you is huge – began hitting Seiji repeatedly. If it weren’t for his guitar protecting him from the blows, who knows what the outcome would have been.
Luckily, he managed to escape without serious injury, but Seiji learned his lesson, not to mess with the scary guys of Osaka…and by ‘mess with’ he means ‘mind his own business’.
Yakuza members will sometimes talk to Seiji like he was their friend…
That’s it, but it’s weird.
Perhaps we should show a picture of Seiji to help you envision just how odd of a scene it would be.
This is a more recent thing that Seiji noticed, but the homeless people of Osaka have a particular modus operandi. On two separate occasions of the same day while he was back in town, homeless people confronted our writer.
The first one darted towards Seiji as if he knew him and eagerly asked, “I wanna ride the bus, so give me 100 yen please.” The begging was so blindly fast that Seiji didn’t have time to consider a polite refusal and simply blurted out “Dude, you can’t even ride a bus for 100 yen!”
The second time a homeless person approached Seiji was when he was walking with a pack of cigarettes clearly visible in his shirt pocket. “You don’t have any cigarettes, do you?” the homeless man asked, while flicking a lighter repeatedly.
What was special about these encounters is that in Osaka people like this will mechanically repeat their pitch using the same words and mannerisms without even really acknowledging the person they are talking to. Only when you give them an unequivocal and loud reply of “Muri (No way)!” will they abandon their routine and walk away with a dejected “I see,” or “Nothing, huh?”
And that wraps up the world of Osaka according to Seiji Nakazawa. If you’re actively looking for same kind of trouble he experienced, he recommends the Airinchiku (high concentration of drifters) and Tobita Shinchi (red-light district) areas, but proceed with caution. Otherwise, you can always play it safe as this is a city where strangeness can break out in even its most normal looking areas.