August 27 & September 2, 2002
We arrived at Osaka/Kansai airport, a perfectly rectangular human created island connected to the main land by an efficient express freeway. With Ritsuko by my side, navigation was never an issue, but the main signs around the airport are also in English leading towards the center of Osaka. If you are in a luxury car, don't be surprised to find a talking (in Japanese) navigational computer showing the way the many statistics about your journey along the way.
My expectations of Osaka were the same of my image of Tokyo - ashamed business men screaming in the streets, homeless prophets and space-age technology everywhere. Since my brief visit in North Africa was so exotic, I was looking for the most bizarre in my first visit to Asia. In Japan's normality, I was a little disappointed, but was amazed at the amazingly friendly and helpful Japanese people. And there were the cultural differences, like the sales pitches in the streets: a robotic voice from a statue outside a fast food place and sales criers promoting what-evers to non-existant audiences. They stopped talking when you got closer as a matter of shyness or personal space I suppose. When you did talk to a salesman, they thanked you sincerly for your time even if no purchase was made.
"Electric street" or "Nippon Bashi" dazzled me with all sorts of fun gadgets. This was a clue that my Blade Runner view of urban Japan might be true. Over a mile of huge stores filled with all sorts of consumer electronics that won't reach the rest of the world for another year. Most things are test marketed here. The prices are reasonable too.
Very old, small shrines co-habit the same areas as modern buildings. Restaurants are tucked beneath bamboo shades in the sunlight masking their identity. It was hot and this kept me under a blur of jet-lag for awhile. More subtle differences start to come out. This place is clean - minimal street liter and people going out of their way to use the well maintainted trash bins. The police, security officers, taxi drivers and bus drivers wear spotless white gloves, perhaps to say, "Don't worry, I'm clean."
September 2, 2002:
A week later, another day in Osaka was a bit more laid back. Recoverd from the jet-lag, we stayed with one of Ritsuko's friends. It was fine modern city living on the edge of the city: elevators for cars and a huge highrise building that was able to maintain the feeling of being in a five star Jersey shore hotel.
I was saying good bye to Japan for now with a strange feeling about the travel here. I wasn't the rough and ruged traveler, but rather was being taken care of, even pampered by Ritsuko, her family and friends. I was treated like an insider, yet fresh and new to the day - being bathed in the warmth of the welcoming red rising sun, but soon to be whisked away in the efficient rush hour stream. Coming back should be as easy as leaving.