We had high expectations for Osaka, where our ship would dock in the city center. The day before, we had attended the ship’s port talk, the first time we had used this source of information. Turns out, we had been missing some good advice all those times we skipped the lecture. The presenter had great slides and instructions about how to use the subway, and what to see in the city. We planned what we wanted to do: long walks to the fun shopping streets, long walks to a castle, long walks to find udon noodles, long walks to buy comic books. Our itinerary filled up, and we put ourselves to bed the night before with hopes of a fabulous first day in Japan.
I slept well. Until I started dreaming about marching bands. The steady boom of a bass drum keeping up with a row of trumpets, and the ting of a triangle entered my peaceful rest. Marching bands? When the ripple of snare drums started up, I decided I better open my eyes. The edges of the curtain told me morning was approaching. The band played on, despite me waking up. I got out of bed and opened the curtain, then the patio doors and stepped onto the balcony*. Right below on the dock, nine stories down, there stood a dozen members of a marching band, playing ‘The Stars and Stripes Forever’ like the whole world should hear them. And the world whole should have – their rousing music took my breath away. Too soon, the song ended, the band flourishing at exactly the right moment. In Osaka’s early grey dawn, applause sounded from the ship as a Japanese band marched away to the fading notes of an old American patriotic standard.
Welcome ashore. Rubbing up against the wharf in a tight hug, we had a city to reach out and touch. As we had slept, we’d been guided to a different country. This is the best advantage of cruising: you get to a fabulous place while you sleep in comfort. Workers on the dock finished tying the ropes that would hold us in place at the port of Osaka. It was time for Stanley to get up and smell the Udon broth waiting for us along the bright, clean streets of the first Japanese city we will ever have visited.
The subway provided us with a perfect introduction. Though it was well-used, there was a quiet order about the ride. We stayed on to the end of the green line, retraced our steps then took the blue line to find some comics, back on the brown line to the castle, a little bit of everything to get us back to the ship. I love getting lost in places that are new to me, and though I tried in Osaka, I did not get lost. It was disappointing and reassuring at the same time. We sat next to a hundred or more young men in tailored dark business suits and one young lady in geisha-wear. We sat near a family from San Jose, California, Japanese-Americans, who looked at their new surroundings with the same expressions as were on our faces. I admired the outfits that the young women wore: short pumps, nylon stockings, tailored skirts, flared jackets. I knew that the conservative attire of the daytime might change dramatically for fun and frolic at night. Sitting on the subway, watching another culture’s day begin is more fascinating to me than the most thorough history book.
On the Osaka Castle grounds, a young man approached and bowed. He handed me an Instamatic camera, a type I had never seen before, and mimicked taking a photo. Without speaking, he gave me a couple instructions, then stepped back, framed by a cherry-blossomed tree, and I snapped the photo. Through hand motions and expressions, he asked me and Stanley to pose, and handed us the developing picture when he was finished. Without a word of common language, we had a memorable exchange.
We stopped at the vibrant comic stands and bought a Manga comic, stopped at the wild tee-shirt shops and bought two outlandish shirts. But really, the only souvenir I value from Osaka is my under-developed photo of Stanley and me standing beside the cherry tree on the castle grounds, taken by a fellow whose name I will never know.
*balcony?? see next post, please.