Life like Gaijin

November 28, 2010 § Leave a comment

Tonight I’m in a studio apartment watching the jigsaw puzzle of towers that make up the Osaka skyline creep towards night. It’s the ninth night my love and I have spent in Japan, having spent the first six in Shinjuku, Tokyo. We are exactly half-way through our trip and I am still surprised every day when I am thanked by a vending machine for buying a pancake flavoured milk drink, or see a policeman meticulously sweeping the sidewalk with a witches’ broom. Twine strapped around little twigs. A tool so nifty and honest it makes me want to sweep too.

Tokyo is enchanting, a city where trains are packed face-to-armpit at midnight on a Monday and nobody seems disgruntled. Osaka is engaging but in a more conflicting way. A main street brimming with the pretty face of global luxury brands. A short walk behind them shows you middle-aged suits promising immaculate young girls all the prizes that wait in the windows on the other side of the block. The girls are so exquisite that even in my Sunday best I feel like a homeless hermit crab next to their colourful plumage. Some are prostitutes, some are hired by clubs and bars to lure the wealthy men in. It’s all business, and business is booming.

Back in our apartment we hammer into four dollar bento boxes from a Family Mart. A documentary is on the television about an elderly Japanese man and his many cats. An advertisement for instant coffee and milk powder comes on. A woman sings ‘Blendy! Blendy, blendy, blendy stick! Stick! Stick, stick, blendy stick!’ and gives a trouble free smile. (Note: Little do I know, this tune is going to stick in my head and infuriate me for many days to come but at the time of writing I thought it was nothing short of amazing.)

There is an actual gingerbread house in the lobby of our hotel. A sweets stall built with gingerbread shingles and walls, macaroon tiles and marshmallow trim. The sweetly spiced fragrance spills out of the elevators even on the twelfth floor and I have to physically restrain my companion from devouring the whole structure in a gluttonous rage. By the third day, it is not even funny anymore. It is serious, and I think he might need help.

Now, nestling into bed against a bean filled pillow, safe from the lure of the gingerbread, we can hear a fire engine shifting through lanes of traffic while an amplified voice is thanking motorists for their patience and apologising for the inconvenience. Japan is definitely a country that raises more questions than it answers.

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