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Seven hours in Osaka: Blowfish, Bicycles, and Bizarre Sporting Celebrations – Osaka, Japan

Seven hours in Osaka: Blowfish, Bicycles, and Bizarre Sporting Celebrations
Osaka, Japan

Eating Shabu-Shabu in Osaka
Eating Shabu-Shabu in Osaka
In truth, two hours was all I had to soak up some authentic Japanese culture in Osaka. My visa run dragged on for much longer than I expected, and my return flight to South Korea fast approached. After a long day on the move, my first stop had to be for some well-overdue food intake. I went into a nearby restaurant and sat at a table. The bar, which was lined mostly with Japanese men scoffing raw fish, looked far too unfamiliar to be comfortable; and my weary bones were craving a little comfort at this point. I saw some blowfish and had a paranoid televisual flashback to Homer Simpson almost dying from the stuff. So instead, I ordered something that looked safe; a pile of meat and vegetables arrived at the table, uncooked.

A stove promptly arrived at the table and an overpowering waft of gas drifted through my olfactory system before the kimono-attired waitress lit it. I am not unaccustomed to the convention of do-it-yourself restaurant cooking in Eastern Asia, however, this was an unfamiliar dish and I was not exactly sure in what order to cook the various ingredients. I asked for assistance and the waitress kindly began cooking the food for me.

The Dotombori River
The Dotombori River
I discovered that the dish was a Nabe dish. Nabe dishes are usually prepared in a hot pot at the table and include typical ingredients such as Negi, a type of Japanese leek, and Hakusai, a Chinese cabbage. There are a variety of Nabe dishes depending on a region and ones personal reference, and they are especially popular in the winter months. This particular dish was called Shabu-Shabu, which is thinly sliced meat, vegetables, mushrooms and tofu that is cooked in a hot soup. I found this combination particularly agreeable and spent far too much of my limited time sampling the various nuances of the dish.

After dinner I began strolling around the Osaka shopping boulevards and I stumbled across the Dotombori River. A local expatriate told me that the river is inextricably connected to the local baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers. To celebrate the major victories of the Tigers, locals throw themselves en masse from the bridges into the ten-foot deep murky waters below. Despite health warnings from medical experts advising against these activities, during the 2002 Soccer World Cup when Japan defeated Tunisia 2-0 in Osaka, some 2,000 people dived into the Dotombori River. However, as I looked down, the river looked to me very much like a British canal; not a place you would want to dip your toes in. Beer cans and plastic bags cruised down the river to advertise its inhospitable disposition. Perhaps the numerous empty beer cans are what prompted some of the diving in the first place.

Walking back to the train station through the streets of Osaka, I could not help but note the sheer number of cyclists in the city. There were literally hundreds both parked and on the move, dodging in and out of the way of pedestrians who seemed, unlike myself, quite disinterested by the phenomenon. I, however, felt like I was walking down the middle of a particularly busy road and so I tried to stick as closely as possible to the nearest wall for cover.

Bicycle Lined Streets in Osaka
Bicycle Lined Streets in Osaka
So what had I learned from my two free hours in Japan? Well, I am too yellow to try the infamous Japanese blowfish, I am afraid of fast moving bicycles, and there is also a high probability that I would not join in any sporting celebration near the Dotombori River. I would, though, like to return one day for a longer period of time when perhaps, I might pluck up the courage to order that poisonous fish and perhaps acquire some automatic avoidance techniques for all those bicycles. It would take a hell of a lot of beer though, for me to jump into any Japanese canals.


The author is currently teaching English in Seoul, South Korea, whilst also seeking freelance writing opportunities. Contact the author at jjrgaskell at hotmail dot com.

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