This Is Easy When You’re Big In Japan (Osaka, Japan)

Written 10 September 2010.

Hello Westerners,

We’ll start in Australia: as many of you will be aware I have transcended from being in the state of travelling business class to actually being business class. I expect certain things: a comfortable seat with plenty of legroom, an a la carte meal (I like to order entrees), an endless supply of alcohol, an excellent in-flight entertainment program and a tremendous amount of attention from the flight crew. The seat was acceptable, the legroom even better, the food atrocious, the alcohol refreshing, the entertainment non-existant and the attention… My cultural guide to Japan said that losing face is a tremendous shame, one that cannot be undone through confession or suicide bombing. That’s why, when I had to send back my meal because it didn’t have parents, it caused much consternation with the young Japan Airlines lass that was essentially on board just to look after me and my peculiar and at times contradictory dietary requirements. By the end of the meal service period, she was attempting Hari-Kari, but even then she brought more shame to herself by failing to the break the skin with the weird plastic knives you get on planes. She soon realised, however, my weakness for those miniature liquor bottles, and even though they play havoc with my non-prescription valium addiction, I was satiated by a never ending cascade of Cointreau on Ice. Back in Australia, my derision of wait staff normally leads to the consumption of urine, but it’s easy when you’re big in Japan.

There’s a saying among the Australians that when in Japan, instead of asking permission, it’s better to just act and then apologise later. I’ve been apoligising a lot here because the Nipponese have smoking laws in complete contrast to Australia. It’s possible and popular to smoke virtually everywhere inside: airports, train stations, the trains themselves, shrines, cafes, restaurants, workplaces, hotel lobbies; but it’s quite the no-no to smoke in the street. In fact, there are designated smoking corners on the streets in Osaka. Most Japanese locals obey these rules with strict adherence, probably because their avatars in online games also do, but I flaunted this rule with gay abandon, and although breaking smoking laws is a $550 offence in New South Wales, you can get away with it when you’re big in Japan.

On Tuesday this week I visited the S Museum. All the big corporations have museums and history tours in their home cities because the output of corporations is the closest thing the Japanese have produced to art. There wasn’t the first Japanese piece of literature, however, as that’s yet to be invented. Whilst there, I accidently knocked over the first Japanese projector and, judging by the sound of shattered glass and the calls of ‘rickshaw’, there will be no more spreadsheets documenting the decline of the Japanese economy emitting from this little device. You normally have to pay for things you break in Australia, but it’s free to cause damage when you’re big in Japan.

For those that know me well, those that know me okay and even those that no me, a visit for this reminiscing raconteur to the Hiroshima Atom Bomb peace and rememberence museum would cause guffaws. But there I found myself, directly 600 metres below where Little Boy activated its energetic bright flash, triggering the five days of reflection that would ultimately lead to Japan accepting the Allies’ call for complete and unconditional surrender. It is quite a solemn place, and the ‘Hiroshima Dome’, a building that has only been maintained, rather than restored, since that fateful morning on 6 August 1945, stands as a reminder to the brutal magnitude of Harry Truman’s will. I am unwavering in my support of this bombing, and that of Nagasaki, and instead of praying for the repose of the ~75,000 locals killed istantly by the blast, I prayed only for the eternal repose of President Truman, who acted with great strength when he gave the final order. I also found it incredibly patronising for the museum to preach the need for peace and disarmament: something it didn’t hold so dear when it launched the worst act of unprovoked violence in history when it bombed Pearl Harbor. Amusingly, an American tourist was wearing a T-shirt that read: “Are you ready for the bomb” whilst visiting this museum. I wore much less provocative clothing, and I surprised even myself with how respectful I was during this interlude. Back in Australia I would have caused a scene, but reverence is easy when you’re big in Japan.

Whilst at Hiroshima, a group of Japanese primary school students ran at me (it’s a popular location for school excursions, though I’m unsure if they’re actually taught why Japan was under attack from the US). These young charges had a workbook to complete whilst at the museum, and one of their assignments was to approach a westerner and ask them a series of questions (What is your name? Where are you from? Do you like Japan? Do you like Japanese food? What are your favourite Japanese foods?). They were very sweet kids, and I answered their questions with the same sort of energy normally reserved for when people ask me how life changing moments have made me feel (though I didn’t say my favourite Japanese food was the diazepam I bought on the streets the night before). After this little Q&A session, I wondered if young Aussie kids ever on excursion to the Wall Memorial in Canberra are ever instructed to run up to Asians to ask them a series of scintillating questions about their visit. I’m pretty sure Penny Wong would kindly answer. Before they left, I took a photo of the five youngsters, three of which made that bizarre V finger sign that’s so popular here. Normally when people make the universal ‘f-you’ hand sign at me I fly off the handle, but I’m on diazepam, and not beating up kids is easy when you’re big in Japan.

After dinner one night this week two of the journos and I went for a walk around the red light district here in Osaka. There are a lot of corner bars, not unlike in Melbourne, which are just walk in closets that have been converted into public houses. The first we went to was called Layla: it had the most impressive selection of spirits I have ever seen in a licensed establishment, but not a single customer save ourselves. My company ordered a beer and a whiskey, whilst I had a Seven and Seven (Seagrams Gin with 7-Up). There was something very peculiar about this place, and I was certain that our drinks had been laced with a relaxant (possibly diazepam) and that we would soon wake up in a bathtup fool of ice sans kidneys. I reasoned that with my addiction/tolerance/dependence to diazepam now fully operational, I would probably be able to resist the collapsing that would overtake my two fellow drinkers, giving me time to stumble out into the Osaka streets and seek help. But, no collapsing, ever happened, so either the drinks weren’t laced or I’m not the only man succeeding in life whilst battling a crippling addiction to prescription back pain medication. From there we ventured to an underground bar called the Magical Mystery Tour. I don’t know whether I myself was on LSD by this stage (I take a lot pills, alright), but this was craziest fucking thing I’d ever seen. Set in the heart of Osaka was a Beatles themed bar the size of a prison cell. The whole place had a Merseybeat feel to it, and even the barperson had a real Lola feel to him/her. We drank Carlsberg here (just for you C) and talked British music. This Japanese guy at the bar recognised our accents as Australians and told us he lived in Melbourne for two years back in the early 90s. His favourite band was Boom Crash Opera and he was a Collingwood fan. This was a gay bar, by the way, a point I only learnt the next day in one of those “are you serious?” moments. This is important because whilst in this bar, I used the urinal, something I never do in Australia. Back home, I feel very insecure, but it’s easy when you’re big in Japan.

I’ve already written a lot more than I planned to when I sat down at this cafe with free Wi-Fi to tap out another masterpiece. I’ve got some more classic anecdotes and some photos just waiting to be captioned in an online album. I’m surprised how much I’ve enjoyed my second trip to Japan: the last time was postively awful. Thanks to all those who encouraged me to give it a second chance. I don’t normally admit my mistakes, but when you’re forced to apologise to a Japanese midget for accidently flicking a cigarette at them it’s easy when you’re big in Japan.


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