13 Feb 2023, Osaka – It happened again, for the countless time and it makes Kame-chan and me want to yowl. On a social media platform, a Japan “expert” told me that Japan is filled with (used) panty vending machines. I asked, as usual, the address of the machine they visited. Of course, what followed was admission that, no, they had not seen one in person nor even a picture of one and had not ever even been to Japan. It is true, at least one did exist in the dark side alleys of Tokyo’s Akihabara, about 10 or 15 years ago, but the laws are too strict now.
Kame-chan wanted to set the record straight the last time we went out camping with his solar-powered, bike-driven RV. On the way to camping we cruised around Osaka looking for some of the more unusual vending machines. We saw umbrella vending machines in the business center of Umeda, manga-based toys dispensed in plastic bubble capsules by gumball machine-type vending machines called Gashapon (see photo caption) along the manga shops and maid cafes in trendy Namba area and cigarette and alcohol machines in the seedy Nishinari district’s back streets. But no panties.
Watching me pedal the bike was making Kame-chan hungry so food vending machines caught his eye as we headed out of town towards his favorite campground. There are some surprising foods found in vending machines. Soda machines, featuring normal soda and ice teas as well as hot coffee and milk tea cans, are ubiquitous in Japan but there are some unusual items, too. Many of the soda machines carry hot soup cans.
Need a midnight fix of Ramen soup? There are machines for that. If it is 2 A.M and your backyard BBQ is out of steak? Sure we have that too. If it is 5 A.M. and you awake with a craving for Chinese-style rice buns filled with meat and veggies? We got you covered. Kame-chan was tempted by the steak.
Perhaps the oddest thing we discovered on our quest was a Ponzu sauce vending machine. Ponzu is a thick vinegar-based sauce with the flavor of the citrus fruit Yuzu, reminscient of a small grapefruit. Tsuruhashi ward in Osaka is famous for its Yakiniku (BBQ steak) restaurants but had long held an iconic puffer fish restaurant. The restaurant is gone but its signature sauce lives on, perhaps only in this lone vending machine.
After checking the stock, which included a spicy variety which I favored and a premium version, Kame-chan chose a bottle of the plain ponzu sauce for 750 yen ($5.70) and we were off to them camping site. I did not have puffer fish, since I do not feel confident preparing such a potentially lethal cuisine, but I did bring steak for me and salmon parts for Kame-chan. I fired up my portable grill and used the Ponzu sauce as steak marinade sauce. Kame-chan had fish and I made some with and without the sauce.
The sauce was mild with those fruity citrus tones and I can see it would go better with fish. Kame-chan was not a fan. He thought the sauce was too salty and went for the plain fish without sauce.
There is no accounting for taste in cats and there are no used panty vending machines in Japan.
In this column, I write about my life and experiences in the Kansai region of Japan. Since June, when I was adopted by a young kitten, that experience has involved sharing my house with a Japanese cat.
I woke and turned on the coffee kettle and padded to the bathroom, barely awake. On my way back to the kitchen, I suddenly felt three rapid taps upon the top of my head. That is the daily method in which my cat Kame-chan informs me that I have been pawed by a puma and therefore did not survive until breakfast. I look up and he is upon the water pipes running near the ceiling to the water heater.
This happens every day. Not just before I am fully awake, but anytime during the day. While I am passing any of the various high points in the house, I might be “pounced” by the triple-tap of the delicate paw with the razor-like claws, carefully sheathed.
Living the High Life
How did this little jungle beast learn to always gain the high ground? I had put up a shelf for my laundry supplies and even when the kitten was only ankle-high, he was jumping onto the laundry machine and then hopping onto the supply shelf. Of course, I learned about this only while hearing the kitten making a delightfully satisfied mewling in its throat (Hey Dad, guess what I can do!) amidst the clatter of clothes pins cascading to the floor. I went to the laundry room in time to watch the box of detergent make its own path to its demise.
Just days later, I found him on top of the 6-foot-tall dish cabinet in the kitchen. I realized that I had better make some accommodations to our home. I purchased some carpets from the local 100 yen (dollar store) discount shop and made a sling “hammock” suspended from the clothesline under the skylight in the laundry room (pictured below). This is another perch from which I am often pounced by a panther.
The Panther By Ogden Nash
The panther is like a leopard, Except it hasn’t been peppered. Should you behold a panther crouch, Prepare to say Ouch. Better yet, if called by a panther, Don’t anther.
Lord of the Land
Since Kame’s sling was easy and made no alteration to the apartment, I could put it up without consulting the property owner. I however also made a corner shelf for him with another bargain carpet piece. This meant adding a step shelf for him to launch himself from. This certainly requires getting the landlord’s permission which can be exceedingly difficult in Japan. Luckily, I have an unusually easy-going landlord.
Kame enjoys hopping up to this high shelf on his corner perch.
It is, in fact quite difficult to find a residence that even allows animals. If you want to have an animal, it is necessary when apartment hunting to search for places that are “petto sōdan” ペット相談 (pets are negotiable.) Some advice on how to find pet-friendly apartments or homes is to look at places more than 10 minutes walk from a subway or rail line, older buildings or city suburbs. Don’t lie to landlords and try to conceal altering your rooms or having pets, as it can get you immediately kicked out and losing your deposit money.
For Kame to quench his primeval spirit, even being able to run up and down stairs in our two-story home and his shelves and hammock, it is not enough. He wants the window into the bathtub room open. He supervises filling the tub and then gives himself a bath while I take mine.
With all of these options to play the lord of the jungle, he is happy most of the day while I am working at the computer. But sometimes he calls me from the second-floor with urgent meows as if he is trapped or injured. I will go upstairs only to find him prepared to spring upon his unwitting prey.
Osaka is steeped in history and is fortunate to have a beautiful restored castle centered in the heart of the city. It is surrounded by beautiful parkland open year-round 24 hours a day and features the Osaka Castle Museum.
There is, however, another castle that played an important role in Osaka’s history and makes for a great moderately challenging day hike. The Iimoriyama Castle ruins are about 15 km northwest of Osaka Castle in Shijonawate, Osaka. It is easily reached by the JR Gakkentoshi Line at Kyobashi Station.
The castle is a 3 km and 250m elevation hike from the Shijonawate station. There are many shops and restaurants in Shijonawate to prepare for the hike. I walked along the winding stream flowing from the mountains but if you have extra time, the Shijonawate Shrine is a worthwhile detour.
Iimoriyama Mountain extends from the Kawachi Ridge connecting to Mount Ikoma to the south and descends to a low pass in the ridge to the North. Climbing the northern face is a challenging scramble but the trail does have steps and in some cases hand ropes so hikers of all levels can handle this trip.
After walking about 20 minutes from the station, the trail head ascends into the woods with a shady, densely forested climb. It quickly becomes steep with double-height steps and there is commonly some erosion from heavy rains.
The climb will soon offer a vista to the north looking towards Kyoto. The main road from Kyoto passed below. The strategic value of this location is evident and even before the castle was constructed here around 1520, there were military forts commanding this spot.
This hike is especially popular for foliage in the fall but offers a great short hike year-round so close to Osaka city and is rarely crowded. After passing a side trail to Shijonawate Shrine, there is a final press to the castle.
At the top of the climb, there is a viewing deck and a statue to Masatsura Kusunoki, the hero of the Battle of Shijonawate in 1348, well before the construction of the castle.
Masatsura’s enduring fame is not for winning the battle but rather trying to avenge his father’s death, he fought his way into the opposing camp and came to within meters of meeting his foe when it was clear he would be taken, so he took his life with his own sword. His acts are held as a model of filial piety and honor.
Because of its powerful defensive nature and strategic location, the castle was torn down around 1570. All that remains today are the rock walls lining earthen defense structures.
Enjoy your time at the castle grounds and explore the ruins. This was one of the larger Japanese castles with a huge footprint of 800 by 400 meters. It had been defended by a dry moat and other constructions. Shijonawate was connected to the Yodogawa River, another reason for the location of this fortress to command the Osaka plains.
On your way down you can ponder the history of the castle and its role in the region. At the height of a warring states period under a weak empire, it was captured by Nagayoshi Miyoshi (1522-1564) and he moved his base there in 1559. The Miyoshi clan held stable control of the economic center in Sakai to the southwest. This allowed Nagayoshi to concentrate on keeping the Shogun in Kyoto at bay.
As the Shogunate was weak at this time, some historians ponder that Nagayoshi could have made bold moves and taken Kyoto as his own. Perhaps he was too cautious but maybe he was simply overcome by the peacefulness of the views. Whatever the reason, Nagayoshi and his lord Harumoto Hosokawa were killed in the battle of Taiheiji in 1564 marking the end of the castle’s prominence and its eventual destruction.
The climb down offers its own challenging sections and a few nice vistas. Before descending into the village of Nozaki you can view the Buddhist Jigenji Temple also known as Nozaki Kannon which can be accessed by crossing a short scenic bridge. The temple in coordination with Daito City Mountain Federation offer a downloadable detailed map (in Japanese only.)
Now you are in the village of Nozaki and it is a short trip to the JR station back to Osaka.
In Japan, there are many public parks in the cities and towns where you can go for a stroll, exercise, socialize and relax. Many have a variety of facilities for sports, children’s playscapes, public swimming pools and more.
Another common feature is BBQ areas, some supplying everything you need even the food while others offer the BBQ pits for the D.I.Y. crowd to bring in their own feast. While tents tend to spring up on the park lawns on any nice day, many of the parks have designated day camping facilities
Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park https://www.tsurumi-ryokuchi.jp/ ,situated between the Northeast of Osaka and Moriguchi Cities, is one of Osaka’s hidden gems. It covers over 300 acres, about half the size of New York City’s Central Park, and offers a lake, botanical gardens, a variety of recreational facilities and kilometers of trails. It is also known for Sakuya Konohana Kan, one of Japan’s largest greenhouses.
A surprising feature of this park is a campground featuring 10-place centered on a BBQ area and best of all, it is free. While some campgrounds are budget, most charge 2,000 and up.
I was bouncing off the wall with cabin fever because of Covid restrictions and I was eager to test out a new tent under actual conditions before taking it on longer cycling trips. During a week of rainy weather, I went directly to the office that manages the camping and BBQ and there was no problem booking an open spot. They even offered registration forms in English.
People often go to enjoy a bit or exercise or relaxation in a park, but it is an unusual experience to sleep in one. Thankfully, there was a break in the rain while I set up the tent. Even with the rain there were a few other campers who were not driven inside by the soggy weather and the happy sounds of children echoed around the crackling fire.
For being within the city limits of Osaka, the park became amazingly quiet. It is even protected from the traffic noise. By 21:00, the barbeque feasts were complete and kids were getting ready to climb into sleeping bags, exhausted from the day of playing in the park.
This was an evening that kindly granted us a break in the heavens to see the full moon rise. I was able to leave my tent and wander among the many people using the park even at night. Like most Japanese parks, it is open 24 hours a day. The Moon did not disappoint.
The residents of the campsite beside me also marveled at the moonrise. They were an Osaka single mother and her daughter seeking an escape before the summer holiday ended. The mother said that due to Covid restrictions, they did not get much of a chance to travel this summer so she wanted to do something special. The chance to be in a park, distanced from all the crowds of the city was a nice experience. She said it was better than going to a theme park during the ongoing emergency. Her pre-teen daughter rolled her eyes but remained silent.
The clouds soon enveloped the sky and blotting the Moon so I retreated to my tent. A park security vehicle, blue light rotating on top, did make its rounds a few times during the night. A cat yowled its disappointment at the lack of BBQ leftovers since nobody had used the two BBQ areas adjacent to the camps. I had some food in my pack that the kitty appreciated and so it was quiet for the night, as the rain began.
I woke before the dawn in darkness and the rain had ceased. I was pleased to find my tent had weathered the storm quite well and my sleeping bag was dry. I quickly grabbed my camera. Life would soon be stirring in the park.
The predawn golden hour was beckoning me and I wandered beyond the park to find a morning coffee. With another stormy day on the way, the morning sunrise was stunning. But this breathtaking view was short-lived, returning to leaden-grey overcast within minutes.
The morning summoned people and wildlife alike to congregate in the park. This was a weekday so there were many joggers taking their dogs for a run before work. It struck me how friendly and full of life the morning was.
Even on a cloudy morning the beauty of the park was overwhelming. The gardens in the park have a variety making some flora in season year-round.
The day was starting and a storm was threatening, so I returned to my tent and packed up my campsite. I made sure to carefully gather my my gear and to pack out the trash.
The campsite beside me was coming to life. Mother and daughter busily preparing breakfast. I asked the shy child if she had fun. She hesitated. Her mother answered for her. “Yes, she had alot of fun.” The daughter? She did not say otherwise.
It certainly was a memorable experience. It was nice to take advantage of this park that is just a few kilometers from Osaka station and a stop on the Nagahori Tsurumi Ryokuchi subway line.
Free campsites & Cheap campsites information in Japan – A listing of select free or low-cost campsites, mostly provided by local municipalities. https://camp.tabinchuya.com/en.html
Convention and Tourism Bureaus for cities or regions will often have listings of interesting tourism sites including campgrounds and day camping sites provided supported by the towns or local businesses.
Camping is still not a large industry in Japan so when searching for campgrounds assure that overnight camping is allowed and what facilities are offered.
Reserve ahead. Japan campgrounds, even if they have a vacancy, often will not rent spaces on the same day. Unplanned wandering is not advised. Make your plan and reservations well in advance.
If you find yourself in Yao, a small suburban community on the east side of Osaka, then it is worth dropping by the Kintestsu Yao station to grab a bite at Pedro’s Burger. Of course, Yao does not have many attractions to bring in tourists, so even though Pedro’s Burger only holds about 12 people, you will probably find a seat.
Yao, founded in 1948, is a rapidly-growing industrial town at the foot of Mount Takayasu with about 270,000 residents. It is centered around a general aviation airport which was founded as Hanshin Avaiation School in 1938. It remains a great place to catch a scenic flight.
Mount Takayasu, itself is perhaps the strongest draw to visit Yao. There is well-preserved historical architecture in slope-side villages and many paths along this peak which is a part of the ridge dividing Nara and Osaka prefectures. The most interesting feature of this mountain is the Takayasu Senzuka Kofungun, a series of hundreds of burial mounds that hikers can visit.
After exploring Yao, there are many local cuisines that are featured in the local restaurants, especially the locally-grown green soy beans. But “Pedro”, who opened Pedro’s Burger in 2016, is undertaking a mission to make Yao, and the world, better through burgers. He says burgers are addictive and he is creating “burgerholics” one burger at a time. The restaurant welcomes visitors with a unique mix of knick-knacks reflecting American and Australian pop culture.
Pedro, who is now 40 years old, is an Osakan native with a past as eclectic as his restaurant. He backpacked to over 20 countries in North America, Europe and Asia and took an extended work holiday. He has learned the food industry from the ground up with experience at Japanese restaurants, ramen houses and American diners.
The burgers are well-made with a larger-than-expected patty of quality beef and a satisfying order of fries. There is a variety of burgers to suit various tastes, but the signature Pedro Burger is a must, coming in at under 800 yen. It features a solid patty of lean beef resting atop a garden fresh and welcoming pile of crisp lettuce, a house-special sauce and a layer of pickled ginger to make this a distinctly Asian burger experience.
Like most Japanese burgers, the sauce is laid on heavily enough it will drip so the burger is served on foil. Thankfully the menu has pictorial descriptions of how best to fold the foil to enjoy the burger while trapping the flow of sauces.
When leaving, the proprietor will mention a burger that you should try next time. He is confident that you will be hooked.
How to get there:
Address: 14 3 ４丁目, 3 Higashihonmachi, Yao, Osaka 581-0004 (about 5 min. walk east from Kintetsu Yao Station)
Opening hours: Daily 11:00-20:00 (Closed on Mondays and public holidays)
Nearest station: Kintetsu Railway Yao Station (from Tsuruhashi Station)
Kick off a successful New Year by celebrating Ebisu, Osaka-style.
By Richard Trombly
11 Jan. 2020 – Osaka The Toka Ebisu Festival or Ebbesan, as the locals call it, recently filled the streets of central Osaka’s Naniwa Ward in an annual celebration. The event is centered on the Imamiya Ebisu Shrine in the Shadow of Shin Sekai’s Tsutenkaku Tower from 9-11 January each year. On January 10th, alone, nearly 1 million worshipers passed through the temple gates seeking this god’s blessing for the new year, according to shrine officials. The coincidence of the full Moon this year made attending the event in the evening even more alluring.
Ebisu is one of Japan’s seven god’s of fortune but, unlike the other six, Ebisu’s origins are entirely Japanese. As the god of fishermen, he is portrayed as bearded, chubby and jovial with a fishing pole and a large red sea bream fish that is emblematic of his fruitful labors. Also, unlike the other deities, Ebisu is said to have been born crippled and tossed into the sea by his parents. He did not die and, instead, overcame his disability and learned how to work hard fishing for a living.
The origins of the temple were as a gateway to Osaka’s greater Shitennoji temple in about 600 C.E. At the time, Osaka was still mostly a fishing and farming town but it rapidly became a bustling commerce center. Over the years, the Imamiya Shrine has taken on fame in its own rights and Ebisu’s fortune also smiles on commerce as well as fishermen and farmers.
While other gods of fortune represent good luck, Ebisu was not born lucky. He worked hard and the fish represents the bountiful rewards of good fortune favoring hard work. Perhaps that is why so many people come as they seek reassurance that their hard work will pay off in the new year.
The press of visitors carrying dried bamboo stalks is shoulder-to-shoulder but everyone seems to be happy and move along in an orderly fashion. Many buy lucky charms as tokens of good fortune as the endless stream of visitors moves slowly forward. This is a friendly and casual event but one man dressed in business attire purchases a token representing a bar of gold. “I own a company and come here every year,” said the man surnamed Kawakami. “I hope my business will do well so I can prosper.”
Once finally passing the temple gates, there are friendly faces of volunteer temple staff to greet the newcomers helping them to make a sacrifice of the brown, dried stalks of bamboo. The afternoon of the 10th is special because there is a parade and 50 special temple maids called fukumusume are chosen from among thousands of applicants will cheerfully hand out token gifts to lucky fortune-seekers.
These tokens or charms are also available for purchase from the temple if you are not fortunate enough to be honored by the fukumusume. Participants will each be given a branch of bamboo to sacrifice the following year along with the charms. There are many smiling temple maidens to attach the tokens to your bamboo branch.
Despite the scale of this event, it still has the friendly feel of a neighborhood gathering with everyone sharing in good cheer. In this crowd of many thousands there are chance greetings and random reunions happening everywhere. In the spirit of coincidence and good fortune, I even heard my name called out and found the familiar face of a friend from another district of the city greeting me from the booth he was staffing as a volunteer.
For an event based around a shrine, there were very few strict aspects of religion. No sermons or strict ceremonies. Just people happily making their offerings including tossing coins into the temple coffers, getting their bamboo and charms, and then learning their fortunes. For 50 yen, you can get a printed fortune based on your birthday or you can visit one of the many booths where sooth-sayers predict your coming year’s luck.
But the celebrants are reluctant to leave after making their devotions. They stay and have fun at the carnival-like atmosphere of the celebration whose stalls and vendors spread for several blocks to the north and west from the grounds of the shrine.
There are actually several other temples and shrines, such as the Hirota Shrine, are located within the festival and are swarmed by the crowds of people and merchant stalls, arcade games and endless selection of sweets and snack being sold. In the midst of it all is one small and quiet Shinto shrine.
境内社 赤土稲荷社remains nearly undisturbed as the crowds flow past the red lamp posts of its entry lane. The only sound piercing the tiny temple grounds is the occasional ringing of the shrine’s bell tolling from the rare visitor.
Ebisu is a character that enjoys feasting on the bounty of his hard work. Likewise, all of the celebration is hungry work. Aside from the endless snack stalls, a proper Osakan feast comprised of a wide range of local street food delicacies can be had at one of the many vast tent canteens that spring up for the festival. The din of joyous dinner conversations go on long into the night.
If you ever get the chance to visit Osaka around the new year, take the chance to participate in the Imamaya festival. Like Ebisu grappling his mighty fish, you might get a hold on good fortune for the coming year.
While tourists seek
out the hustle and bustle of Namba markets, the historic sites at Osaka Castle
or day trips braving the crowds to see the deer in Nara, they overlook the
natural and cultural wonders that exist in-between. From anywhere in Osaka, you
can look eastward and see an inviting ridgeline centered on the 642-meter-tall
Mount Ikoma which divides Nara and Osaka.
It is worthy simply as a nice day hike with the family or friends but it has added treasures. On top of Mount Ikoma, the summit holds the Ikoma Sanjo Amusement Park that was built in 1929. The park rides are really only for young kids, but since the park entry is free, it is a great place to stroll about and the park has had a recent face lift that did not destroy its historic charm. There is also a cat and dog petting zoo that claims to house various furry friends from around the world. Hours are seasonal so it is best to call ahead.
If climbing up those 600 meters does not sound fun, there is another bonus. Just a short walk from the Ikoma Station of the Chou-line metro and Kintetsu railway is a cable car to the summit and amusement park. The Kintetsu Ikoma Cable Car, opened in 1928, is the oldest commercial cable car line in Japan running from Toriimae station up the mountain to Ikoma Sanjo. Some of the cars retain a classic look while some have been tailored to look like a dog or cat for the younger park guests. Kids will often ask the conductor to make the animals “talk” so as the dog and cat cable cars cross each other the cat calls out “nyao nyao” and the dog responds “won won.” After passing through the Ikoma hillside community and up to Hosan-ji, you must transfer to reach the top.
Long before the temple was built, Mt
Ikoma was already venerated by the local people. It became a training site for
Buddhist monks as early as 665. The temple, dating back to the Edo Period, is
dedicated to Kangiten. This god is usually depicted as an elephant figure
similar to the Hindu Ganesha, and is known for wisdom, joy and prosperity which
made Kangiten popular amongst merchants and entertainers.
Small pilgrimages from Osaka or Nara brought worshipers here,
so there developed a hillside village and a variety of shops, restaurants, entertainment venues and
guesthouses along the slopes that have been serving religious pilgrims and
visitors ever since. However, unlike some crowded tourist sites, the shops are
low key and there are no tour buses discharging throngs of temple visitors. On
most days you will only meet a few other climbers, many taking a rest over a
cup of coffee or a meal.
Climbing through the community, the lanes are very narrow and
steep and even become a staircase in places. There are some traditional
buildings maintaining echoes of historical architecture and the view of the
Osaka cityscape is impressive. Soon you rise above the last outpost of
civilization alongside the Hozanji station of the cable car line.
Ascending to the temple, there is a
broad stairway but there are also winding forest paths which lead to the temple
grounds. There are some unique features here. While the dark
wooden framed structures with white stucco walls and grey ceramic kawara-tiled
roofs are of typical Japanese temple construction, the altar and prayer
halls are constructed from brown wooden walls with bark roofs which are
indicative of Shinto shrines. A seated Buddha commands an alcove in the cliff
behind the main hall. There is an outlook over the valley as well.
A trail rising up behind the main hall
leads through the peaceful forests on its winding way up to the summit. It is a
steep climb through thick groves of bamboo or tall cedars with the silence only
broken by bird calls and the cheerful murmurs of mountain springs tumbling down
If you ascend the trail you will pass
many smaller shrines and there are many statues of Jizo and other Buddhist
figures. Jizo are usually stone-carved statues of a bodhisattva that is a
spirit protecting known for travelers so they are often located at pilgrimage
destinations and boundaries, both physical and spiritual. These figures are
also often depicted with children or even holding an infant because they are
seen as protectors of children, especially the spirits of those children who
passed away young. You will see hats, gloves or bibs on many of the Jizo. Women
make these clothes, often carefully knitted, as religious devotion however
several of the Jizo here are wearing a sweater or hat, from a departed child,
placed with care by grieving parents. There are offerings not only of fruits
but also of children’s’ beloved toys.
On September 23 each year, the hillside
and village is filled with worshipers, revelers and vendors celebrating the
Ikoma Shoten Equinox Lantern Ceremony. A vast array of lanterns and candles
adorn the mountain steps and paths lighting the autumn night in celebration.
Osaka, 13 October 2019 – I was strolling through Nishinari Ward near DoubutsenMae (the zoo area), my neighborhood in Osaka, tonight enjoying the autumn scent encroaching into the air mixed with the rich smells coming from the many small restaurants in the close-packed store fronts. Admittedly, this is the low budget end of town despite being just blocks from the tallest building in Japan and the brand malls and boutiques of the prosperous Tennoji area, it is home to a notorious area of prostitution and dubious karaoke bars where 100 yen (USD $1) gets you one song and a bar maiden to be your audience, as well as homeless elderly folks camped under the eaves of a warehouse across from the Shin Imamiya railway station. So amidst the din of mealtime conversation spilling from these restaurants and the alcohol-fueled warbling rising out of these KTV, I came across and incredible, yet very common, find. It was a concert hall of about 12 square meters with a jamming guitar playing acoustic solo and heart-felt lyrics being belted out in a rich voice, gravelly with too many cigarettes and lost hopes. The lyrics of “Life During Wartime” by The Talking Heads came to mind.
“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, This ain’t no fooling around This ain’t no Mudd Club, or C. B. G. B., I ain’t got time for that now.”
Osaka actually does have time for that, though, I thought. It really runs at a different pace than other places, especially compared to fast-paced Shanghai, where I have spend most of my past two decades, or Tokyo. As the second-largest city in the island nation, it is the very antithesis of the capital. There is very little outdoor advertising here because people here are hard to market to. They seem to have little use for status symbols of consumerism. And there is an underground culture and art movement here that is quiet yet pervasive.
A concert hall? Not really, but it is a music cafe called EARTH that barely functions as a business. It is a gathering point for the proprietor, Daichi Terakawa’s friends, for music makers, and perhaps a dozen music lovers at a time. But that does not matter, because it is a place to perform. Here, art matters. It reminded me of that club CBGB in the Bowery, a rather impoverished area of New York City, or at least it was back in the day that bands like The Talking Heads,The Ramones, Patti Smith, The Police, and other bands got a chance to be heard in an ever-narrowing music industry.
I am not saying that this bar is going to launch stars like Hilly Kristol did, but CBGB was created for performance, not for fame. This hole-in-the-wall is just that, a performance space. It is a place free of the studio-perfect meter and pitch and recorded perfection that destroys the very sense of the concert experience today, as most bands perform to a pre-canned music track and just do a stage performance, perfectly choreographed to death of any art.
It is so much more rewarding to see an earnest artist perform an imperfect and beautifully raw and flawed performance in a venue like this, or the famed Iron Horse performance space in the old stomping grounds of my youth in the western end of Massachusetts. The experience to see bands in a venue where you are one of less than 100 people packed into a venue is priceless. The performance there is genuine and the energy of the performers is powerful.
Osaka is rich with this sort of art sensibility. Currently the city ward is in the midst of the Shin Imamiya Festival featuring traditional folk drama in non-traditional venues, concerts on the street, and even Rakugo, (literally “fallen words”), but it means a “sit-down” comedian, performing folk comic routines dressed in traditional attire. Osaka just hosted a citywide vibrant month-long celebration of this art that pushes the edge with the Fringe Festival https://osakafringe.com/home-english/. Venues across the city and even parks held a wide variety or concerts, stage plays and performance art but the energy and feel of this underground art culture is there year-round.