[One of my favorite streets in Osaka.]
Here’s Cate Blanchett being absolutely sublime.
And now our topic for the evening!
When I studied abroad in 2008, I was staying in Kobe. Every day after I finished class, however, I’d hop on the shinkansen and go straight to Osaka. I did that because I had a Japanese Rail Pass, a magical passport add-on I bought for a few hundred dollars before I left the States for my trip. The JR Pass allowed me to ride certain speeds of the shinkansen, and meant that I could hop between Kobe and Osaka in fifteen minutes instead of the twenty-five it would take by normal express train. The JR Pass is a luxury I look back on now and pine for (since residents aren’t allowed to have them because it would be too awesome for us to handle).
Even now, I live in Kobe for the mountains and the view of the sea and the fresh air and the friends who live close by, but Osaka’s still like a playground. Osaka people are generally friendly and warm and good with conversation. I recently ran into the elderly owner of a restaurant I go to occasionally and she patted me on the cheek and told me to drop by soon. The Japanese don’t tend to be very touchy-feely, so it surprised me in the best way.
One of the reasons I go into Osaka is a private lesson with two extraordinarily fun gentlemen. It feels odd to call them students since they’re my father’s age and they waved away the idea of textbooks during our first meeting which means we just talk for an hour and a half every week, so I’ll just go ahead and call them “the two Japanese gentlemen I speak with every week.”
I’ll alter their names here and call them Morita and Okada. Morita is the top lawyer at his firm and Okada works at the top of a construction company. According to them, Morita’s greatest joy in life is his granddaughter and Okada’s is golf. Okada’s favorite saying is, “Don’t worry,” and it makes an appearance at least once a lesson. The two of them are very friendly, extremely well-educated, and quick to laugh. Morita is originally from Fukuoka, and Okada is from Nara. I’ll have to share Morita’s story at some point because it’s fascinating. Okada, on the other hand, is God.
MORITA: [grinning, points to OKADA] He is god.
OKADA: [sage nod] I am god.
He built his own shrine on the mountain where he lives and, I kid you not, his town actually holds festivals around his shrine.
OKADA: Therefore, I am god. [big hearty laugh]
My talks with them are always the highlight of the day.
Tonight, after discussing Japan’s political system and bathtub evolution (one of them is shaped like a cauldron and named for a thief that was once boiled alive in one), we talked about the multiple fires that devastated Edo (Tokyo before it was called “Tokyo”), and that reminded us of the recent fire in Juso, a part of Osaka. The fire happened during the day and fortunately no one was killed, but it was very close to the train station and many people took photos of the flames lashing up toward the sky.
SELF: I think I read that it started from a toilet?
MORITA: [laughs] Outside the toilet, outside.
OKADA: Because it was in ションベン横丁.
SELF: ショーwait, what?
MORITA: [laughs, gestures to Okada] Explain ションベン横丁.
OKADA: Hmm…how to…ah. It’s like. [grins, hums thoughtfully]
MORITA: [holding back laughter]
MORITA: [can’t hold back anymore] Shit Town.
In the year I’ve spent speaking with these guys, I’ve never heard either of them curse in English. it was the funniest thing I heard all day, and I spent the better part of the day with two very funny people.
Morita explained that basically ションベン means “excrement” and 横丁 means “small town/lane/alley.” The reason that area is called ションベン横丁 is because all the restaurants there are stacked tightly together and there were (are?) no bathrooms installed in any of them. So, after drinks were had and people started stumbling around looking for the restroom, they’d realize or remember that there were none to be found and…ションベン横丁.
Tonight’s lesson was a perfect blend of learning and laughing so hard I broke a few ribs.
Sadly, I won’t be meeting up with them for a while because tomorrow I’m heading to Europe!
I’ll keep updating here, though, hopefully with some stories from Europe to delight and amaze.
Take care of yourselves, citizens of the god Okada.