Mr Hiro-san is on the balcony in his underwear. He’s hanging out his laundry. I’ve seen him in his underwear every night I’ve been in Osaka. He doesn’t seem to mind, and I look the other way.
Hiro-san is the owner of this ‘hostel’ – or rather, his apartment. It’s a cramped affair of furniture and posters and knickknacks, with beds for 15 and a single toilet and shower. Hiro-san is grey-haired and divorced. He works from 6am-something at somewhere that requires a blue security shirt and batons, and arrives home each evening to clean up after guests and fold futons (and take off his pants). In between mouthfuls of ramen and miso, he delivers broken-English directions for getting to Nara, Kyoto, Tokyo – wherever his non-Japanese guests want to go. Then he falls asleep in his bunk bed, a metre and a half from the dining table, where said guests drink smuggled booze out of coffee mugs so as to heed the handwritten “Do not alcohol!” orders pasted around the walls.
I like it.
And yet, I’m not sure what to think of Japan. For years I’ve dreamed of coming here – I always knew I would – but to actually be here is another thing altogether. It’s only been four days, and the transit sucked (don’t ask), so perhaps I’m still in shock.
Shocking indeed is the strength of the yen. Four months of sub-dollar trains/beds/meals in India and Vietnam have seduced me into believing that Asia is deliciously cheap and chaotic. Japan is not. Japan is outrageously not. 7-Eleven ready-meals and 99-yen instant noodles have been my staple so far. I haven’t even eaten sushi yet.
Tourists seem to outnumber even the trees here. Squawking hordes of Chinese ladies and cigarette-puffing Korean men clog every temple, every street, every souvenir store. Whole busloads of unformed children stuff sweet bean cakes and ice creams into their mouths between posing for selfies and group shots with wide grins and V-signs. Everything is for sale and everything is horrifyingly expensive.
I usually steer clear of this stuff. Temples don’t interest me. I never buy souvenirs. I’d rather eat an egg sandwich than a baby octopus on a stick.
I like Japan. I just can’t believe I’m here.
Tokyo I’ve saved for last. Please be kind, Tokyo.