MY toilet is called Toto and so, too, is the name of my potential paramour. From my heated throne, I ponder whether Toto, the man, would also be prepared to warm my bottom before blasting it with a jet of water. I suspect one final, perky puff of deodorising spray, just like my toilet serves up, is a step too far in any relationship. I am in Osaka, surfing both the porcelain bowl and Japanese Tinder, in a bid to better understand this mysterious culture and potentially meet a mate. It is my first foray into the Land of the Rising Sun and I am intrigued by everything, from the views, to the loo, to the deadly fugu.
I discover a delicious dichotomy of weird and whacky characters, best digested with fabulous fishy dishes and chased down by ice-cold Asahi beer. The rumours are true, Japan’s famous brew does taste better up here. And, it appears, so too do Australian women, if my popularity on Osaka Tinder is any indication. Look, I don’t want to brag, but I’m receiving more Super Likes than Super Woman. Toto aside, Nori, 48, whose name reminds me of a delicious Japanese roll, is only 13km away from my hotel, but can speak no English. My Japanese is limited to a hearty “Hai!”, a phrase you’ll hear often in this colourful country, but, like a circle, has no real beginning or end. There appears to be a bounty of blokes, but it comes with a catch. For while this is a quirky culture on one hand, it is also deeply conservative on the other.
My Inside Japan tour guide Richard, a boisterous Brit and Zen Buddhism devotee, tells me if I were to marry a Japanese man, I would be compelled to take his surname. If I were to have children, and return to the workplace, I would be demoted to secretarial work. And at work drinks, as a woman, I would be expected to pour everyone’s beer before someone acknowledged my “lowly status” and finally served me. A thirsty girl, I am horrified at the prospect. But there is also much to love about Japan.
I am sitting with Richard and two colleagues in Osaka’s Temma area, home to tiny standing bars and intimate yakitori restaurants, discussing Japanese life. (Richard’s also even poured my beer first). Want an example of Japanese hospitality? Not only is my party of four dining in Yakitori Mame, which has been recommended to Richard early in the day by a man known only as Uryu-San, when it comes to our first drinks, this mystery man has already paid for them. Richard says this is typical of the people of Osaka.
“This is the kind of thing that happens in Japan. I’ve heard stories of customers on tours, who, when they have had some free time, may have become lost. They are accosted by a local who tells them it’s too far to walk, and has not only hailed a cab for them, but jumped in and taken them to the destination, and paid for the taxi ride,” he says.
To really understand Osaka, head to the edgy district of Shinsekai which means “new world” in Japanese. Frequented by locals who say it’s modelled on Paris and New York’s Coney Island, the area was destroyed during World War Two, but has been rebuilt. It’s a stone’s throw from Japan’s tallest skyscraper and home to a number of fascinating standing bars. You’ll even find Osaka’s mascot Billiken here, who is hailed as “The God of things as they ought to be”. It is here that I delve into my first Japanese vending machine, and this one specialises in “erotica”. I insert my $5 and am rewarded with a pair of saucy white g-strings which I shove into my winter coat, and mistake for a tissue for the rest of the day. Things are off to a sensual start.
We amble a mesmerising maze of streets, pausing to pay homage to Jizo, a roadside deity which protects expectant mothers and travellers, before we arrive at Hell Temple. I stick my head in a hole where I’m told I can hear the sounds of hell. Disappointed, I detect nothing. I undertake an electronic survey to determine whether I am going to heaven or hell. I scrape into heaven. Just. There is hope for me yet. Later in the trip I return with my Aussie colleagues to Shinsekai and to Spa World which turns out to be my idea of hell. Picture wall-to-wall naked Japanese women, for whom a trip to the waxer has never occurred, and three prudish Aussie girls, clutching on to their towels, the size of a face washer. What I’ve seen, cannot be unseen. And I will be establishing a waxing clinic in Japan in the near future.
We push on to Kyoto, where I dive into my second Japanese vending machine experience. This one predicts “love fortunes”. I reach into the bowels of the beast and extract my fortune. My guide, Aya, translates my future. Apparently I am “unlucky in love” (I did not need to part with $2 to discover this); I need to “change my attitude” to love; and best of all, I need to find someone who is either 120 years older or 120 years younger than me. Not only that, I need to cook them a barbecue…inside my house. Love just got a whole lot more difficult and dangerous.
Aya, 42, confirms what I already know.
“It is hard to find a good western man. Japanese men look after their women and if they get sick, they look after them,” she says.
“But that is changing. Japanese men are getting worse and that’s the western influence. But Japanese men are not as good looking as western men, because they are short.”
Our jaunty Japanese journey continues, on to the traditional Japanese spa town of Kinosaki Onsen. Here, there’s seven different types of onsen, whose waters are believed to contain different healing properties. I head straight to Goshono-Yu, which is said to bring good luck in finding a marriage partner and preventing fires. If I am to believe my $2 vending machine reading back in Kyoto, I will need all the luck there is in finding a partner with a 120-year age difference, plus some fire prevention when I cook him that barbecue inside my house. I’m convinced these waters are working.
The last destination of my trip is up at Mt Koya, considered the most significant site in Japan for Shingon Buddhism. Even more fascinating, it’s home to 1000 monks, who no longer believe in celibacy and even like a drink. They call sake “wisdom water” and beer “bubbled wisdom water” up here and from the way I imbibe, I’m a wise woman indeed. Interestingly, women were not allowed on the mountain until the 20th century, which I believe makes me a hot commodity on this minus two degree day. Late at night, I lay on my basic mattress in my temple lodging and surf Temple Tinder. But the pickings are slim. Where are all the manly monks? The next morning, I join the monks in their 6am prayer service. There’s a deity in the temple devoted to love. I make a silent offering (desperate plea) and head back down the mountain. I’m heading home to stoke up the barbecue and wait for my 120-year-old mate.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Inside Japan Tours, https://www.insidejapantours.com whose specialist English-speaking guides will show you the real Japan, armed with insider knowledge and experience tailored to your interests.
Qantas has several direct flights between Australia and Osaka including from Sydney and the newly-introduced Melbourne route. Fly Business Class, and you can also experience their new light-weight crockery range, which translates to more than 500,000kgs of fuel savings each year. http://www.qantas.com