November 29, 2004
On the way back from the UK, I visited k (who a while ago I was worried I might never see again), in Osaka. Although it has a reputation as an exciting city, the first time I went there, to meet Alex at New Year, we had trouble finding exactly what it was that’s so great about it. Compared to Tokyo, it just seemed like just another ugly, nondescript metropolis, and although we did some interesting things there, I was left a bit disappointed.
I now suspect that it’s Osakan culture, rather than any particular place, that is what Osaka has going for it, and that the way to see it is with a native of Osaka. There’s a sort of rude, loud, bustling friendliness to Osaka that’s quite different from anywhere else I’ve been in Japan (interestingly, it maybe has some things in common with Okinawa, where they don’t go in for the whole formality thing to the same extent, either).
So I stayed with the very Osakan k, and her mum and brother, both of whom would individually have qualified as two of the nicest, most interesting people I’ve met in Japan (her little brother has uncannily similar taste in music to me: from the obvious to more unusual things like Sparklehorse, Mogwai, and Boards of Canada, none of which are particularly big in Japan, I don’t think. He’s even into Múm, and the Olivia Tremor Control – an obscure band I saw more-or-less by accident in the ICA in London about seven years ago. He’s also an absolute wizard at pool, having spent the last few months working the night shift at an all-night pool hall).
Like Okinawa, Osaka also has a rich and strange dialect, but because lots of TV comedians come from Osaka the dialect has the advantage of being understandable (and amusing) to people all over Japan. Okinawan dialect, on the other hand, is incomprehensible outside Okinawa. Which is also fun, in a different way. So as I wandered round Osaka, k taught me quite a lot of Osakan dialect, and since I got back I’ve been enjoying suddenly dropping loud Osakan interjections (“Really? No way!” sort of thing) into my conversation and watching people’s reactions…
I also, in a public bath around the corner from k’s house, had my first (accidental) experience of the infamous denki furo or electric bath. It took me by surprise: I’d gone into the bath-house, showered as you’re meant to before getting in the baths, dipped a toe into the nearest bath to check the temperature, and —without reading the sign—climbed into it. Just as I was sitting down, all the muscles in my body suddenly violently contracted and the shock made me jump out again. I then experimented, lowering my hand towards the electrode, and watching the fingers involuntarily curl up. It’s an experience that feels so strange that while it’s definitely not pleasant, it’s hard to say for sure that it’s definitely unpleasant, either… (by the way, here is a great article about the denki furo…)
Kim has been conducting an informal poll among people she meets in Japan: “Do you like the denki furo?” No matter who she asks, she always seems to get the same answer: “No, but I think maybe old people do.” Which is exactly the answer k gave me, too. From which I suppose I can only conclude that old people (old Japanese people, anyway) enjoy being mildly electrocuted.
Hmm… a strange indication of the paths of least resistance through my brain: when I read the headline “Prince backs healthy school meals”, my first reaction is surprise that a funk grandmaster – even a notoriously eccentric one – would feel strongly enough about this topic to make his views public.
More importantly, look at this: like those ‘Parental Guidance – Explicit Lyrics‘ stickers—only for biology textbooks!