lost in osaka

In japan, travelling on January 29, 2010 at 3:25 am

spent most of my first full day lost in osaka. I was trying to find the aquarium, I had a hankering to commune with nemo and his friends. I’d left my map behind in tokyo, so was using a crappy tourist, one, which ripped whenever you pulled it out of your pocket, unfolded it, refolded it or used it in any of the ways it is supposed to be used. And to add insult to ripped injury it didn’t cover the area where the aquarium was supposed to be, so in fact it was pretty much useless, but it was the only map I had so it had to be used.

So I find a route, head out on the bike and take my first proper spin through Osaka. And immediately can’t find the bridge which I have to go over to get from Shin Osaka, where I’m staying which is on the other side of the river from Osaka proper. I roll slowly this way and that way, checking on the position of the main train line, on my still shitty map, to see if I can figure out where the bridge would be in relation to it. But no joy, I just plump on a direction, follow traffic, go up a flyover which looks promising but just dumps me back out to where I was. Finally, finally, find the bridge, roll over it and spin down into Osaka proper, long wide roads, bridges galore, the wind rubs my face and I breathe deep. I’m on my way.

I’ve made the decision to pop into a fixed track bike shop which is along the way first, and I spend the next twenty mins, rolling around the block where it is supposed to be situated, fucked if I can find it. The whole address system in Japan is bollocked lots of the minor roads don’t have names or numbers, and so most places have a map on the back of their business cards, which is fine when your a native, but not the easiest system when your a tourist. I suppose thinking pictorially, is easier when your writing system is based on characters rather than words, and why name all the roads, when you can just show someone where it is.  But, when shops are in buildings on the 2f or 3f, and you have to look for signs and shit, it meant I spent far too long, aimlessly roaming around trying to find the bike shop. and when I did find it, it wasn’t all that anyway. Lots of off the pegs, bright colours, and not able to hold a candle to the boutiques and old school bike places I’d found in tokyo. (On a side note, whoever writes for the free Kansai tourist mag, that I snagged at the tourist office in Shin Osaka, knows fuck all about fixed bikes as the two of the three bike shops they mentioned and I actually saw were Rahhhhbish! I found better bike shops wandering around in Osaka and Kyoto than they did. and their paid for it, damn lazy journalists).

So after the disappointment of the bike shop, its full steam ahead for the aquarium, they have whale sharks and I’m so up for seeing them. I check the map, orientate myself in relation to the bridges I’ve just crossed, ride over a big junction, looking for the road number, find it, zero in on it, and follow it away and down towards the sea. Bike shops line the way, loads of them, all selling shoppers, and bikes with baskets, and occasionally the odd road bike. I’m amazed by how many people are riding bikes, amazed by how many bike shops there are, and I’m on a straight straight staight road, which leads me to a bridge and what looks surprisingly like the industrial part of town.

This feels so wrong. Lorries rumble past, the bridge I’m standing on peering at my map overlooks, factories and cranes and buildings with their pipes on the outside and not in a good Lloyds building kind of way. I’m pretty sure the tourist attraction that is the Osaka Aquarium won’t be in the brown, dirty part of town. I double check the map, but I’m off the edge of it, I’m sure I’ve come the right way, I’m not wrong am I? I decide to forge on, slowly riding down this, the only road, which curls round to the right, as the buildings become ever more industrial and factory like. There is no escaping the fact that I’ve taken the wrong road, and the only way to get out of this is to turn around and ride back the way I came.

Check my watch and hope the aquarium will still be open when I can find my way to it. I’m not going to bail on the whale sharks because of a little navigation malfunction. I ride to the end of the road, just on the odd chance I’m wrong, but it is in fact, definitely the end of the road, because I come to a river and there is no bridge, and no other way of crossing. Turn around and head back, along this road enclosed with factories and pipework, and the smell of metallic corruption in my nostrils. To my right is a spiral of a road, which cars and trucks emerge from, it leads to a bridge. a bridge which is so high it makes my neck hurt to look up at it. I’m not going to cross it, I know if it does provide a shortcut to my intended destination that I wouldn’t know it if I got there, as the map doesn’t even show where I am. But I can’t pass the chance up to ride upwards in a circle, a lazy circle of death up into the sky. The cars and trucks that flow inside me, pull me up into the ether, and I stomp on the pedals to keep up. The slope isn’t that steep, its constant and all I’ve got to do is maintain a rhythm, and I’m damned if I’m going to get off, but magpie like I see something I want to take a shot of, so I slow, step off the pedals and pull out the camera.

When I get to the top, I can’t see the other side as the curve of the bridge hides it, humping upward, a whale breaching the surface. I push the bike along, hand on the saddle, cleats clicking beneath me, buffeted by the wind. And take a photo from the tippity top. The photo doesn’t do the view justice, blue skies, white clouds, and once you look past the industrial mess directly underneath, the city of Osaka is laid out below. The only disturbance is the regular passing of the trucks and cars which use this skyhigh shortcut.

I freewheel down, covering the front brake, and letting my weight just shoot me down, wind in my non existent hair, eyes tearing slightly, right foot up, leant into the turn. I shoot out the bottom and go back the way I came, leaving the industrial units behind me.

As is always the case, the ride back down the road I rode down incorrectly, is quicker than heading out. I get back to where I think I made the wrong turn and check my torn and creased map, find the right road and take it. I’m hoping I’m heading in the correct direction, it feels pretty similar to the road I’ve just come down, maybe a bit more neon, the shops are a bit more upmarket, more restaurants, and fast food outlets. I’m checking the map at every other big junction and I feel confident, well more confident that I’m going to be alright, and I won’t miss the whale sharks.

Over a hump, a flyover, a park and a gymnasium! to my right and I can see the metro and the road heading down into an underpass, I’m almost there and I know the aquarium is on my right. But I miss the turning as I head up an incline and end up at the sea, a railing stopping me from getting wet, and a group of old japanese men fishing.

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