I wake up with a pounding headache, take my ear plugs out and look around the room. It’s 12pm on Sunday, the room is dark with afternoon sunlight peaking in the side of the blinds. We just had an epic day and night in Osaka, and now we are paying for it.
We started off the day reasonably early to go visit the Osaka castle in the scorching sunshine, sweating through our clothing. It’s a beautiful castle rebuilt because the original burned (actually mostly everything has burned down at some point in Japanese history, and then was rebuilt again and again, the price of making everything from wood and using so many lanterns).
After the castle climb, we went back for a cold shower for the second time and to change our clothes.. this weather is more intense than I could have imagined. We got ready to go on a night walking tour of Osaka’s retro, forgotten neighborhood, Shinsekai, a more “seedy” area of Japan with graffiti, abandoned houses, a transient population and also of the um.. red light district.
We met a group of travelers at the train station and started our tour. We laughed a bit because the “seedy” areas in Japan seem just like any American city in the not sketchy neighborhoods. We wandered around Shinsekai, and found a vintage arcade with original Mario, and learned about Japanese men’s weird sexual fetishes (there are little toy dispensers you can buy underwear or other strange sexual things promptly located next to the kids section). This was really much more local and our guide let us know that even Osakan’s from other neighborhoods usually don’t come visit this area because of it’s bad reputation for being filled with crime.
Wandering out of the blinking lights and restaurants, the tour took a turn after we walked through a maze of dark back-alleyways and made it to the red light district of Osaka. Our guide told us that he had to meet us on the other side of the red light district because he was told by the Japanese mafia that he was no longer allowed to walk through.
I’m sorry, what? I have to admit, when we signed up for this tour I didn’t fully read the description and I also was aiming to just make some friends. I was completely surprised for what came next. We walked through the streets and it was one of the strangest places I’ve been in Japan. Think Amsterdam, but very clean stalls with no glass windows, pink lights beaming out and girls sitting on pillows perfectly framed by the doorway. Prostitution is illegal in Japan, but there is a loophole. These are ‘tea rooms’ and the men who go to them pay for ‘tea and cookies’. Girls sit in the garage doorway, many dressed like school girls, eyes big. Some didn’t mind a group of foreigners walking through to witness this Japanese red light district, but others were not very happy and showed it by giving us the finger or hiding their faces. The women sit with their ‘mama’s’ - previous sex workers. In typical Japanese fashion, everything is clean and organized, even the streets are organized by age of the woman. This red light district is known for having solely Japanese women and it is only for men. The group was really respectful, though it’s a bit controversial to walk through as a tour, but I haven’t sorted my feelings out about that yet.
There are a lot of lingering questions and feelings about it all, of course, like how these girls got here, how is it so out-in-the-open while being ‘illegal’, thoughts about how strange sex is treated in Japan and what a mix of fetishes it can be, almost a bit childish from manga cartoons depicting porn to kuwaii school girl fetishes to toy dispensers dispensing R-rated items. Either way, this was an eye-opening tour and gave us a glimpse deeper into Japanese life.
The tour ended at a pachinko parlor, where Japanese men go to gamble on little slot machines.
We all made our way to get dinner, okonomiyaki, with the group. We ended up staying out until 5am, making friends (hi new friends!), walking into the more popular neighborhood of Namba, finding small bars, drinking so much Asahi and saying “kanpai!” clinking glasses until it was time to go home when the sun started coming up.
I slowly get up, sip some water, brush my teeth, and lay down again to binge watch Netflix. I don’t think we’ll be doing much sight-seeing today..