Osaka, the City of Things I Love

The band I previously used as a monthly suggestion, Merry, was playing a concert in Osaka for their 10th year anniversary. Not only was I itching to see a band I held in such high esteem as Merry, but I also really wanted to go to Osaka.

Why Osaka? I have a love of many things, but three of my favorite obsessions include visual kei music, takoyaki, and host clubs. Merry would fulfill my need for visual. Takoyaki is supposed to be especially delicious in Osaka. And host clubs? I suppose you could call Osaka the host club capital of the world.

I arrived at an empty 6am Osaka by night bus quite exhausted. The day before I’d had class from 8:45am and of course hadn’t gotten a single wink on the bus ride. I wanted nothing more than to curl up in my hotel bed, but of course check-in wasn’t going to be until 12pm. I dropped my luggage off at the hotel and with a growling stomach went to a First Kitchen to grab some food and kill some time. When I finished eating it was barely past 7, so I sat in the restaurant and played Final Fantasy Tactics A2 until my attention span ran out. It was probably 9:00 at this point. I knew I had to kill more time, so I decided I would try and find the venue ahead of time. Armed with a map on my iPod and a general description by my friend I headed out into the streets.

It took me a while to find, as the venue isn’t on the biggest of streets. However once I knew where it was I knew it would be easy to find. Walking around had eaten up a sufficient amount of time, so I headed back to the hotel slightly early. Luckily the room was cleaned quickly. I fit in about 4 hours of sleep before sitting up wide awake, knowing a concert was soon.

The fans of Merry gathered outside the venue were kind of amazing to look at. They were all a swarm of different Merry shirts in all colors. They were of more varying demographics than your typical visual fans, which makes sense as Merry is more angura kei, the toned-down version of visual. Their music is also much more interesting than your typical visual band, and the members are much more skillful. I saw a lot more boys and men, as well as some older women. The fans really stood out amongst the others in the Umeda area. They wore darker colors and almost all of them had the word “Merry” somewhere on their attire.

From the pictures I’d seen of the venue, I’d been afraid it would be a large venue. In my experience small shows are way more fun. That, and I’d gotten a really high numbered ticket, thus was one of the last to enter. What I found upon entering was that the venue was surprisingly small and also that I was probably the tallest Merry fan present. Good luck for me.

Then the performance started. Let me tell you, I’ve always thought Merry was good live from recordings and whatnot, but not even the best recording can prepare you for what they’re actually like. The moment the vocalist started to sing the crowd was all but hypnotized. It’s hard for me to even describe the incredible feeling I got while listening to them perform. Their instruments were perfect, their drummer was impressive with his gigantic drum-set as usual, and the vocalist is actually far better live than he is recorded.

About the hypnotized thing – the moment the band stopped making sound, the crowd would burst out with shouts at their favorite band members. The moment the band wanted our attention again, absolute silence would fall. It was almost eerie how swiftly the audience shifted between these two states. This isn’t to say the typical headbanging and Japanese-style moshing weren’t present, it’s just to say that the audience showed as much respect as any rock fan can show while still having fun.

I truly wish I could find words to describe how incredible Merry is live, but it’s really hard. The sound is wonderful and the performance style is captivating. No recording can do them justice. If I could make everyone see them live once, I would. Oh, and as the concert goes on, the vocalist slowly loses pieces of clothing. He came out in a full suit complete with a cane, but soon he was wearing nothing but falling jeans and a corset (why?).  I was left wondering, “When did that happen?”

After my Merry induced trance broke off I wanted to try and find a host club, but I soon learned going into Umeda to do so blindly wasn’t going to work. My 4 hours of sleep in a long number of hours was quite exhausting. I happily returned to my hotel room bed to get some rest.

The next day I woke up rather late and prepared a few things on my iPod so that I wouldn’t get lost upon going out. During the day my destination was the Osaka Aquarium, bringing us to another of the things I love. Osaka has one of the world’s largest aquariums, complete with a whale shark. When I was a kid I’d wanted to be a marine biologist, and though time told me I hated the math associated with science as well as the whole lab thing, I still have a love for sea creatures.

Sharks, dolphins, all sorts of fish, penguins, porpoises, jellyfish, even a capybara… They really had it all! When you go into the aquarium you start at the top of the building and go on a path that slowly spirals downward. It brings you to various exhibits, but there are also massive tanks which you can see from various perspectives as you go on. The shark tank was the most awe-inspiring, with great whites circling near the top, a manta ray gliding past the glass, hammer heads making their rounds, and the famous whale shark circling the tank with a codependent species of fish swimming flawlessly at its side. This tank extended all the way to the top of the building and was full of viewers at every level.

When I came out of the main viewing area into the area containing smaller exhibits and a place to touch sting rays, someone tapped me on my shoulder. I was quite surprised to find myself facing another girl studying in Saijo! I know before she’d mentioned that she was going to see a concert in Osaka, but I’d completely forgotten until that moment. What a small world it is that you can randomly run into someone in a place like Osaka.

From then on we spent the rest of the day together. Outside of the aquarium there is a giant Ferris wheel from which you can see most of Osaka bay. We rode around that and snapped pictures of the foggy city-seascape. After that we decided to check out Osaka Castle, but unfortunately we’d gotten there rather late so the inside was closed. Instead we snapped some pictures of its impressive exterior before heading off to dinner.

It was after dinner together that we headed our separate ways so that I could go to a host club for the first time, details of which are written our here.

I returned around 2am and was unable to sleep well due to my high energy. I still felt wide awake when my alarm went off at 8:30 and I went to check out.

I met my friend again in Namba. Together we wandered around an area of Namba known as アメリカ村 (America Mura), or America Town. America town is less like America and more like Tokyo’s unique Harajuku district. The stores are all colorful and filled with street fashion, there are strange pieces of art here and there, and all of the lamps are shaped like bizarre humans with lights for heads. Since it was morning, America Town had yet to be very active. To kill time my friend and I ended up in a Tower Records, where we managed to kill about an hour.

After this my friend showed me her favorite spot in Osaka. Near America Town there is a boardwalk area over a river where people come to practice random performances of all kinds. We sat there for probably two or three hours, talking and people-watching. There were two dance groups, one group doing a fashion show, and two pairs of comedy duos practicing. There were also plenty of people walking incredibly fluffy dogs by, and several parents chasing after run-away toddlers. It was a wonderful atmosphere to just sit in and absorb. I wish there was a place like that in Hiroshima. I would go there every day.

Around this time my friend had to catch her bus back to Hiroshima. We parted ways as she went to the station and I went to have another look through some of the stores in America Town we’d passed by. That was when I finally got the other thing I’d hoped to get in Osaka: my takoyaki.

It was good, sure, but nothing particularly special to me. One of my Japanese friends had suggested a certain shop to me, but between venues and host clubs I was quite tired of searching for specific shops. I settled for a stand near a hip-hop dance performance put on by a group of talented kids. A rather large crowd surrounded me, also looking on.

With a stomach full of takoyaki I wandered around a bit more. Some rather satisfying shopping was done (another visual kei shop; I have a problem) before my exhaustion caught up with me. The night bus wasn’t going to happen – I hopped on a shinkansen.

And now I’m back in Saijo, writing this blog. I really think I want to go to Osaka again. I didn’t get the chance to explore famous Kyoto, nor did I get to search Namba as much as I’d liked to have. I also want to try another host club, or maybe going back to visit the one I went to on Saturday night. It all depends on the price.

Osaka, my love. I will be back again someday.

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~ by megumiwasframed on June 20, 2011.

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