Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Under the Tsutenkaku

Southern Osaka is considered to be a bit rough. Here you find everything you aren't supposed to think of as Japanese: homeless people sleeping in the streets and parks, used clothing vendors hawking their wares on the sidewalks, low-level Yakuza - or Yakuza wannabes - shuffling around in tacky track suits covered with embroidered dragons, tyranny streetwalkers strutting the arcades and red-light districts where the girls look out on the streets from doorways lit by the unforgiving glare of florescence. Most of my Japanese friends wont go there and, having never been to say South Chicago or Cuidad Juárez, they consider it unsafe. Naturally, I find it fascinating.

I've finally met some expats who speak fluent Japanese, and this means I'm meeting more interesting Japanese people. Today a friend of mine named Shoko told me she was going down to her favorite bar to see if they would be willing to show a documentary she made, and she asked me if I wanted to come. She said I couldn't miss the spot because the bar was located right under the Tsutenkaku (通天閣, the tower passing to heaven).

The Tsutenkaku is a huge broadcasting tower that advertises Hitachi in many changing neon lights. Once you get into the general area of Tennoji (天王寺), you can't miss it. (I'll let you be the judge of how well you think the name suits the structure.) Shoko met me under the tower and led me into this tiny bar, upstairs in one of the buildings on the square surrounding the tower. I had some very good, very hot Thai green curry served with brown rice and a fried egg.

The place is owned by a couple and, since we were the only customers, we sat at the bar and chatted with them. Since only Shoko spoke more than individual words of English they mostly just chatted in Japanese and I tried to follow.

The owners were really into Thai food and spent a lot of time trying to tell me where I could go to get good Thai food in Osaka. This involved me taking out my map, to shuts of sugoi, and them pointing out various spots where they were pretty sure there were Thai restaurants. I have yet to meet anyone here who can give more than the vaguest directions anywhere.

The girl I bought my furniture from was the worst by far. She gave me a hand drawn map for a store she was telling me about that consisted of the circled name of a steak house that was then unknown to me and three lines near it that were supposed to be parallel streets. There was then an arrow that pointed up between two of the streets. She told me the shop was somewhere around there between those streets. I tried to save that drawing because it was easily a contender for the most worthless map of all times, but I seem to have lost it.

At one point, I actually saw that steak house and rode around for a bit in what may have been the general direction of the arrow she drew; but this was in Umeda, so of course there were many streets, many of them more or less parallel.

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