steepholm (steepholm) wrote,

Giving Osaka an Even Break (17-19 May)

On escalators, you generally stand on the right (except in Japan where you stand on the left (except in the Kansai region where you stand on the right (except in Kyoto where you stand on the left))). What could be more logical or straightforward?

Now that we've got that straight, we're ready to repack our bags and head out west.

I was in Osaka for the first and only time two years ago, when I spent a pleasant afternoon in Amerikamura, and then a rainy evening looking in vain for a Japanese restaurant in a city famed for its cuisine. Altogether I think I gave it short shrift, so I was especially pleased to have a chance to return. Osaka has a great atmosphere, from what I've seen - a bit more devil-may-care than Tokyo, perhaps? But of course I've only sampled either to a small extent. Even this time my stay has been punctuated by a day trip to Kobe, and two days in the hills outside Kameoka - both of course in search of that elusive creature, "Britain in the Japanese imagination".

First, though, to Namba in downtown Osaka and the Hotel Monterey Grasmere. You may remember that in February I had the pleasure of visiting Brockhampton Church in Herefordshire, a turn-of-the-(twentieth)-century Arts-and-Crafts design by William Lethaby. The Hotel Monterey Grasmere is the place that took that church and reproduced it at about three-quarters scale on the 22-23rd Floor (or 21-22nd in British money). Getting permission to go inside the hotel's church was a somewhat tortuous process. At first I wrote to them in Japanese, explaining my project and mentioning my visit to Herefordshire and the fact that the churchwarden there had given me a book to pass on to them as a token of friendship. I got a terse reply (in English) explaining that I couldn't look inside the church as it was only used for ceremonies, and anyway they had no one who could talk to me in English. I replied (again in Japanese) pointing out that I could speak at least a little Japanese, and urging again my quasi-ambassadorial status as an envoy of Brockhampton. This time the reply - again in English - was less brusque and more regretful, but still obdurate in insisting that entrance to the church was impossible. Eventually, they did admit that in fact they held regular tours of the church for guests, and they would let me look round even though I wasn't a guest. I thanked them, of course - although I had mentioned at the top of my first email that I was actually staying there for two nights.

When I eventually arrived, they opened the church with alacrity and had me escorted there by a charming woman who was entirely fluent in English, her father having been born in Manchester. They were friendly and solicitous about the whole affair, and everything was cool. I feel there is a deep cultural lesson here, but I'm not sure what it is. Instead, let me give you one or two of the photos, so that you can compare them with the original, should the exercise appeal:


To give you some sense of context for this place, here is the view from my hotel room:


The first evening I spent hanging out with my friend Viki, who had been a fellow Japanese student in Bristol but is now teaching English in the outskirts of Osaka under the JET programme. We wandered the streets around Dotonbori counting the love hotels, ate okonomiyaki, and reminisced about the て-form. It was very nice to have a guide through this unfamiliar landscape:


Perhaps the highlight was encountering a group of MarioKart racers, dressed for the occasion:


The next day I went to Shinnomiya (Kobe), to meet up with Yuka, my online friend, whom I saw last year in Tokyo when I was feeling far too ill to be much fun. This time I was much more genki (in the words of Yuka's friend Eri, who came along too). The three of us had a really fun time - not least when we went to the part of Kobe where European and American foreigners used to live a century and more ago. Several of the houses had been themed, as the English House, the French House, and so on. The English house used to belong to a keen hunter, and was crammed to the gunnels with the corpses of his victims to an extent that made it a little unsettling...


The French House was far less sanguinary, although clearly under the influence of surréalisme:


But my favourite, not least because we got to dress up for it, was the Sherlock Holmes house. Here, Yuka and Eri visit the great detective in his study:


This house was for fans of the books only: not a sign of Benedict Cumberbatch, or even Basil Rathbone. There were a lot of fairly subtle references (a bust of Napoleon in a cabinet), and details clearly meant to please aficianados, of whom it seems there are many in Japan, although my two companions were not familiar with the detective and his work. This tableaux is apparently inspired by "The Speckled Band":


Encouraging letters from UK-based Sherlock Holmes societies and the head of the British consulate in Osaka decorated the walls, too, and a pretty accurate rendition of Baker Street tube station was to be found in the garden outside:


A small corner was also devoted to Alice in Wonderland, I saw with quiet satisfaction:


I note in passing that this is the second suit of armour that I've seen in rather undignified circumstances in the last few days. Clearly it needs to point Percy at the porcelain, and sharpish:


I'd love to have seen more of Yuka and Eri, but tides and timetables are inexorable, and the next day was to take me to Dreamton...
Tags: cotswolds project, nippon notes, real life, voyage to japan
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