Nine Hours in Namba.

(Technically, it’d be “Nanba,” but the romanization of many Japanese place names with ん switches to an m, instead.)

Of the eight of us, two were scheduled to meet with their conversation partners, and of the remaining six, five made plans and chose not to include me because one of them is holding a week-old grudge over a minor disagreement with me. Thus, I chose to go out on my own.

I didn’t think we’d have much to carry while in Japan, so I chose not to bring my backpack on the trip, a decision I regretted about the second day of classes. Oomura-sensei suggested the Aeon building nearby (the one with the bookstore and supermarket), but they didn’t sell backpacks, and an employee there only recommended a different Aeon that had a sporting-goods shop. I tried asking the ladies back at the hotel counter, and one recommended a place called ジャガかばん (“Jaguar Bags”), located in Namba. Her cohort even printed me off a map, which was both generous and typical of Japanese hospitality. I had the whole Saturday ahead of me and didn’t intend to waste it, so off I went.

Even spending the day by myself in the rain, this was one of the best times I had in Japan.

Namba is a shopper’s dream, with stores and restaurants all over, plus the mammoth Toho Cinemas (which features a massive flatscreen on the side of the building that plays ads with sound), and the stunning Namba Parks Carnival Mall, as well as Den-Den Town (Osaka’s equivalent to Akihabara) in nearby Nipponbashi. I was lost immediately after exiting the station, so I started walking. I strolled through a shoutengai before finally asking a man (who seemed to be security) where the place was. He explained it to me, and even gave me a map, but he also marveled at my Japanese, occasionally switching to not-bad English when he spoke. I’ve been getting that a lot; many people give me a “nihongo jouzu” or “nihongo umai” when I speak to them, but I try to graciously deflect, since I have so far to go and make so many mistakes. Turns out his mother lived in America for a time, and taught him some English, so he seemed pleased to meet me. He also corrected me when I said ありがとう to him, explaining that the Osakan thanks is おおきに (which I immediately switched to). I finally parted ways with him and went in search of the bag shop.

ジャガかばん, where I got my trusty backpack.

Finding the place once I got directions from good bearings was easy, and the guy there showed me some inexpensive bags, one of which was a smallish, black model that seemed durable and cost under 2000円. I’d had the foresight to take along things I’d been wanting a backpack for (my other camera, both pairs of glasses, Nano, DS with denshijisho cartridge), and as soon as I’d paid, I found an empty spot between racks and loaded up the pack. With my primary mission successful, it was time to explore.

The rain was pretty much relentless, so I trudged around and looked for interesting places, preferably dry ones. Underneath Namba is a huge complex, part of which is like an underground shoutengai, so I paused for lunch at a small Mos Burger (I love me some Mos Burger). I ended up sitting beside a guy who looked Nordic, and since I haven’t been carrying my watch (because the battery’s dying), I asked him (in Japanese) what time it was. He asked me, “What?” in English, so I switched and started talking to him. I explained that he looked obviously Western, but I couldn’t be sure where, and he confirmed that his father was from Norway, but that he was from England. He’s lived in Japan for five years, and mentioned liking the safety and security, but also said he liked straight answers, which the Japanese aren’t good at giving.

Lunch finished, I managed to find a Tower Records, which occupies three floors of the building it’s in. Their anime and game soundtrack sections were huge, and I found a couple singles I wanted, then tried to order the probably-out-of-print Tenshi no Shippo drama CDs. That was difficult, due in part to the somewhat obscure request, the small language barrier (with specialized lingo), and the fact that I don’t have a phone for them to call me to say whether or not they can get the stuff. I finally agreed to call after classes on Monday and ask for the girl there who knows some English (since she was the one who helped the first lady I asked).

Arcades may be dead in America, but not Japan.

It didn’t take me long to realize that if I was in Namba, I could find the Namba Parks Cinema and see the new Makoto Shinkai film 「星を追う子ども」, which I’ve wanted to see since I learned it existed. I managed to find the theaters — they’re on the top two floors of the eight-story mall — but was about half an hour late to see the current show. So I bought a ticket and killed time. I found an arcade called Namco Land, which was full of the usual slots and crane games, but also had numerous light-gun games, purikura machines, and some other electronic noise. I tried my hand at a Lupin III light-gun game, which woulda been more fun with a second player, then sat in a machine called “Dead Storm Pirates,” a fixed-mount light-gun game with hydraulics under the seats to make you toss and turn like you’re on the deck of a ship. There was even a small ship’s wheel between the P1 and P2 mounts that you had to use now and again. (This game will probably not make it to home consoles.) When I finished, three girls were watching me from behind the game. “Pretty bad, huh?” I asked. They laughed, and the middle girl proudly proclaimed that she’d cleared it. “Really?” I asked. “Niiiice.” She and her friends climbed in to play, and I started to watch, but the outgoing one waved me off. “Am I not allowed to watch?” I asked. “I want to see your skill!” No, she told me, I wasn’t to watch, since her methods were secret. I saw her a little later while I was buying Ren & Stimpy gachapon (which was amazing in and of itself), and asked her if she’d cleared it again, but she told me not that time.

I got back to the theater abut half an hour early, and fell into conversation with a gentleman near the free upcoming-movie flyers. He was impressed with my Japanese, and I mean impressed, despite me telling him that I frequently make mistakes and have so much more to learn. He seemed genuinely interested in me, asking where I was from and such. He was there to see a Metropolitan opera (with subtitles); apparently, Japan gets translated operas at the movies about two to three weeks after their live showing. When it was time to go, I bid him goodbye and headed to my theater.

Shinkai’s not particularly famous in Japan (yet), and the movie had been out for two weeks in a handful of theaters, so I had the place almost to myself. It was nice to sit down and dry off after walking in the rain (umbrella notwithstanding). I even took off my shoes and let my hot, tired feet rest on the cool theater floor — and since it was Japan, I was completely confident in its cleanliness.

The movie was excellent. Gorgeous animation, top-notch voice acting, action and adventure and wonder and magic… but, of course, no subtitles. I understood most shorter conversations, but longer ones tended to lose me. Still, I got the gist of the movie, and my desire to see it on DVD with subtitles has grown. I even bought a pair of clear files with movie pictures on them, but the stone pendant from the movie that was displayed in the gift shop was only a sample — it had to be ordered online, and I would be long gone by the time it would have arrived.

Finding my way back to the station was a challenge. It was still raining, due to a typhoon passing nearby, and I found a path with periodic walkway tiles that were dangerously slick (odd in a country so concerned with safety). After a long walk, I made it back to the station and back to the hotel. I’m not even sure most people realized I’d been gone all day; according to everyone else, they’d only stayed out a couple hours and then come back.

I spent the rest of my evening chatting with the guys across the hall, eating deli-made food and sampling some sake. I’d call the day a success, despite its beginning.

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