Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

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Voyage to Japan 2: 3rd-4th April
I had less than a day in Osaka, which was obviously nothing like enough time to do the city justice, so I decided to stick to the area around my hotel, i.e. Shinsaibashi, rather than spend hours on the subway. My tasks were: a) to eat okonomiyaki and possibly takoyaki, and b) the look for souvenirs for my children in the cool part of town.


The first part was easy. I wandered in the direction of the river, where the garish shop fronts face on to the water, and sakura-decorated river boats ply up and down, many with obaasans clapping and singing along to music.

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Both takoyaki and okonomiyaki places were easy to find:

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Wait, what was that menu again?

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Well, I'm an adventurous eater, but much as I was tempted by a plate of stir-fried hormones I was on a mission, and so plumped for okonomiyaki - the plainest version on the menu, since I wasn't actually that hungry. Nevertheless it was a treat, served on an inbuilt hot-plate in an individual booth a little like the ramen place in Fukuoka. (I'm afraid I'd already attacked it with a trowel before remembering to take the photo below, hence its war wound.)

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The rest of the day was taken up with hanging out with the cool kids in the trendy area known as Amerika Mura (America Village). This wasn't the best place to look for Japanese souvenirs since, true to its name, it was very strong on American imagery (Star Wars, The Simpsons and Disney in particular, if you're wondering). But it was a great place to look around, with shops such as Alice on Wednesday ("the store of lovely and just a little bit wonderful 'sweets' and 'accessories'") testifying that British culture had not been entirely forgotten either, and the capacity of young Japanese girls to eat large amounts of brightly-coloured sugar being amply demonstrated on all sides:

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Here's a bit of video, if you want to catch the soundscape as well:

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Anyway, as I wandered around Amerika Mura I saw this sign:

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Naturally, having been to an Owl Cafe a few days earlier there was no way I was going to pass up the chance to play matchmaker and visit a cat one, so I went up, paid for my drink (iced yuzu - yum), and having admired a group of cats who were obviously in the middle of a moody photo shoot for their first album cover -

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- went into a room where various people were trying look like comfortable perches for the twenty or so cats distributed about the place. Towels were provided for the purpose, so we looked as if we were in a rather poor Arthur Dent lookalike competition.

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Some people had one cat:

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Some lucky so-and-sos had two:

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I sat down, towel draped invitingly over my thighs, and waited for the purry parade - but no. Not a cat came! I began to feel paranoid. Could the cats actually be racist?

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I haven’t been so pointedly ignored by a cat since… well, since the last time I was with a cat. Then I remembered the secret weapon. I paid 200 yen for a little cat food, and suddenly...

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Finally, I felt that my true worth as a human being had been appreciated.

It rained in the evening, so I looked for a meal near my hotel, but the first six restaurants I found were Italian, and I was determined not to eat Italian two nights in a row in Japan, so I walked rather a long way in the end. Even so, I had to settle for another foreign cuisine - Mexican, Japanese style. I went for the guacamole and chilli mushrooms, which I record here for the sake of completeness. They were actually pretty good, but not what I was in the mood for that evening.

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The next morning I set off for Tokyo, my final destination of the trip. Because it was a three-hour trip on the shinkansen, I bought myself a spring-themed ekiben (packed lunch bought at the station). It was very good, unlike the photo I took of it. I must remember to put ocotpus in my next packed lunch:

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Having failed to find souvenirs the day before, I spend the first afternoon in Tokyo mooching around Akihabara and Harajuku. The latter was very much like Amerika Mura, though with an extra helping of kawaii, while Akihabara is definitely more seedy in parts, like Soho used to be, though it did succeed in selling me a couple of Pokemon-themed notebooks. Still, finding myself drinking Yamazaki whisky in a Joan-of-Arc-themed maid café with purple and gold furnishing and plenty of helms and weaponry, and explaining in Japanese to one of the maids what and where the Winged Victory of Samothrace was, I realised that I had crossed somekind of threshold – linguistically, and perhaps in other ways. It was a new cafe, by the way, having opened only the month before, so the Gothic furniture gleamed. I wish I could show you, but as with all maid cafes, photography was frowned on. I ordered a "Light Duel", and went on my way refreshed.

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Oh, and here's the strawberry, cream and chocolate crepe I ate in Harajuku, along with its makers:

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Hope you remembered to get me a samurai sword!

Sadly it was confiscated at customs...

Banzai!

Japanese Mexican food!

I want the cat place HERE.

There's one coming to Bristol soon! I'm rather excited about that, too.

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