Our feet with the rubber thongs that carry too many rough traveller credits pad a little out of place on the wide paved footpath of Osaka’s central business area. Charlie’s green T-shirt has that little rip near the tag that is getting wider and wider by the country but it’s so warm at altitude while mine could do with a wash but we spin it out for just one more day; as we did yesterday. We do have fresh haircuts though that stare back at us in the reflection of the sparkling windows of the Mclaren showroom, the gaudy orange machine that costs more than our combined budget for this entire adventure sits mocking us with it’s opulence as our freedom mocks it in sharp rebuttal.
As if on cue, a growling Maserati of similar showy excess flexes down the road behind us leaving no mistake that in this part of Osaka, money is mana. In many ways this fiscal theme park acts as an elegant symbol for our adventure, all around us glamorous fashion stores sell dreams with no chance of evolving beyond hope while their windows reflect those holding dear to the dream after the hope has long since faded. Irony is such a clever devil at times, financial liberty has gifted us the good fortune to take this trip, a dream we turned into reality; yet we sit so out of place here among the sparkling excess that looks down at us for grasping the dream it sells. No one looks accusingly at us, it’s the place, not the people. Another time might draw a self conscious fixing of attire but not now, the bright orange Mclaren exists no more, just a mirror mirror on a wall: who’s the most fortunate of them all?Maybe Osaka is a one-trick cesspit of social climbers in couture, then again maybe we turn a corner and our cheap rubber clad feet are grasping uneven pavement like unlikely mountain goats once more. In the time it takes to muse about the wonder of having our own bed at home, we’re back in our natural habitat and charading to a local cafe about how to make a piccolo from our vintage timber camping chairs on the road of a small laneway. Amerika-Mura sits just a street or two away from the vodka-colonic day spa of the business area exploding with haphazard neon and counter culture chic. A whimsical dress sits draped over a mannequin opposite us, not behind glass but on the street just like these chairs, so real; a dream so close, so touchable, a dream destined to be loved intensely for a time then discarded for another.
Through tight streets past more than just the occasional suspicious looking character, our feet carry us to the canal carved banks of the Dotonborigawa river that slices through this city of many faces. Far from the out of sight stormwater of many city rivers, a procession of paper lamps line the waterway as a prelude to the tall buildings that encroach in towering cliffs of blinking light on this canal that has no night or day, just different kinds of bright. Through pumping crowds we forge our way to a bridge to join the pumping crowd gathering for a concert of sorts on the banks of the river, thrusting glow-sticks into the air seemingly not noticing that in this world of fluorescent light there’s little point in waving a glow-stick. The words are Japanese but the songs are ones we know. We sing out loud the anthem from the musical Annie, thinking little of the songs lament, only our ever so soon adventure back home: ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow: You’re only a day away’.Through the throngs of Doutonbori street, a jam packed pedestrian street that feels more like a festival crowd, we push forward thinking of that plane ride home and the next country that feels more like an escalation of an adventure than the finish of one. Escaping the hubbub, we dart down a tight alleyway under a gate boasting a heavy timber sign we can’t read into a lamp lit cobbled alleyway to somewhere. Past small shopfronts all displaying the now typical Japanese aesthetic of discrete obscurity, we can’t see in and we don’t know what they sell or do; the effect so opposed to the crystal clear facades of the business area and far more effective. We want to go into each one but we settle for the wonders of this quiet escape just metres away from Doutonbori street that feels like a new city entirely. We share this new world not with the crowds but the clan of old men sipping drinks on an outdoor table in a small nook of this old world tucked away beside the new.
Over the pavement of the chic business area, bitumen of trendy Amerika-Mura, the promenade of the flashing Dotonborigawa, through the crush of Doutonbori street and beyond the cobbles of the little lane that feels like ours alone, our rubbered feet have carried us, as they have all year. There was a time we might shy away from these discrete shopfronts so intimidatingly alluring, but not now; there comes a time for food and the wolf has returned to the door after the octopus dumplings from Doutonbori street. We press our bodies to the back wall and squeeze past the six or so other customers to make our way to the back of the bar now full for beer and our hosts suggestions of grilled something or other on a stick.We’re only passing through Osaka, one night before we return in a few days, one night to scout out and taste this city known for food. On this one walk around this city our feet have carried us, as they have this whole trip, over thresholds into different places to so elegantly exemplify a summed up narrative to this adventure. We had cast off the luxury and trappings of money that we had and handed back the car keys and nicer clothes to abandon fashion and use our feet as we so rarely do anymore. Glamour, counter culture, dazzling cities, excitement, old time charm and braving new boundaries that seemed so daunting to eat all the while sounds like a tag line for this adventure; it’s also a tagline for Osaka.
Once we were trapped staring through the glass at that dream of orange metal that could never be real, a dream that perpetuated only more dreams. We stared, we dreamt until one day we caught the reflection in the glass that showed up the nightmare of a false dream chased with too much vigour. We were living the other side of the glass but remained trapped in the wide open world unable to remove ourselves from that glass, wishing so desperately to be trapped inside with the orange machine; my favourite colour. There was a time, we both remember it well, a conversation over expensive wine in expensive glasses where we decided to look at the reflection in the window instead of beyond it and the sight frightened us. We decided to leave the expensive wine in it’s expensive glass untouched on the table, trade the fine leather shoes for cheap rubber and listen to that mirror mirror on the wall. We stole our dreams back from the orange machine and stopped waiting for the answer from the mirror, we decided to be the most fortunate of them all to simply turn around, and start walking.