Buzzed In Dotonbori

Living alone in Nara can feel quite melancholic. The evenings are dark and quiet. The remoteness of my dormitory makes going out even just for a late night snack or soda an odyssey, plus everything pretty much closes after 9PM. It’s a far cry from the 24/7 hustle and bustle of Manila.

So I’ve resolved to expediting to any extent I can my wife’s arrival in the country. To do this, I had to make a day trip to Osaka. After filing the necessary forms, which only took until a little after lunch time, I thought I might make better use of the money I already spent on train fare and do a quick walking tour of Dotonbori.

Readers of my blog will already know that I have previously been in Japan back in 2018. However, at the time, I only got to explore Nagoya and Kyoto. Although my friends, whose flights back home were leaving from Kansai airport, got to go there without me.

Dotonbori was exactly as I expected it, based on stories told by my friends and the description Mishima Yukio gives us in his 1950 novel, Thirst For Love:

If she wanted to go anywhere, all she had to do was go downstairs into the Umeda terminal and take the subway to Shinsaibashi or Dotonbori. Yet if she stepped outside the store and crossed the intersection, where the shoeshine boys were lined up and calling, “Shine! Shine!”, she would find herself on the beach of the metropolis, where the rich tides ran.

For Etsuko – born and brought up in Tokyo – Osaka held inexplicable terrors. City of merchant princes, hoboes, industrialists, stockbrokers, whores, opium pushers, white-collar workers, punks, bankers, provincial officials, aldermen, Gidayu reciters, kept women, penny-pinching wives, newspaper reporters, music hall entertainers, bar girls, shoeshine boys – it was not really this that Etsuko feared. Might it have been nothing but life itself? Life – this limitless, complex sea, filled with assorted flotsam, brimming with capricious, violent, and yet eternally transparent blues and greens.

Thirst For Love by Mishima Yukio (trans. Alfred H. Marks)

It’s a busy city, which to someone from Manila feels almost like home. It’s like being among the shopping crowd at Carriedo, though with a more sightly river whose waters aren’t an assault on the nose. Tourists and locals scramble along the shops at Shinsaibashi. Every minute of the day there’s a crowd gathered along the promenade hoping to get a picture of the iconic Glico man. Nearly seventy five years later, I can still get a sense of the anxiety that fills Etsuko coming face to face with this “beach of the metropolis”. Emerging from the subway station in Namba, I feel almost overwhelmed, having been accustomed already by the expanse of rice fields and the woodland backdrops of Nara, to be face to face once again with high rise apartment buildings, skyscrapers, and expressways.

Come to think of it, I was in Dotonbori at the perfect time. It was already late in the afternoon then, with golden hour upon me. Though I had neglected to bring my camera at home, I at least could make use of my iPhone camera to take exquisite shots of the sun-swamped city. The golden sunlight reflected elegantly on the paved roads, and the grey urban exoskeletons of the towering architecture. Plus, Dotonbori is a literal sensory overload: countless flags of discount shops, signages of restaurants serving okonomiyaki, takoyaki (the two being region’s speciality), and Kobe beef.

At the end of the street, I run into a nondescript stall selling grilled wagyu beef on a stick. Having already sampled the okonomiyaki and takoyaki, I thought this was a perfect way to cap my short walking tour. It was quite pricey, but the meat was to die for: for P500 yen I got a few bite sized cubes of the most tender cut of beef I’d ever tasted in my life (so far). And the guy behind the grill, probably amused at my expression of nearly melting on the spot on the street because of his cooking, offered to cut me a deal: I buy one more stick, and he’d give me a cup of highball (basically whiskey soda). So I did.

Friends know I’m not a very strong drinker. I hardly qualify as a moderate drinker by any measure. I drink very rarely, and even then I stick to small amounts because I hate dealing with the ensuing hangover and basically being rendered unproductive for the entire day after. I had way better tolerance, and a less busy schedule back in college. Things just turn 180 when you age past twenty – or maybe that’s just me. Either way, the highball was a perfect pair with the grilled meat, but one cup was enough to get me buzzed.

That’s how I ended up buzzed while walking along Dotonbori on a random Wednesday afternoon. Not wanting to run into problems on the way back to Nara, I had to extend my afternoon walking tour to the evening. It was also an excuse to stay later and watch the lights go on along the river. The city in the daytime and the city at night are wildly different beasts: in the light of the neon signs and the billboards everything just takes on a new character. It stopped feeling like a Mishima novel and more like Ghost In The Shell.

I shook off the remaining buzz from the highball by going around another circle through Shinsaibashi and took photos of the river, lit as it was to the heavens. Then, after a quick dinner at the nearby Yoshinoya, I hightailed it to the subway and was back in my dormitory before midnight.

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