We have been in Osaka now for about 2 weeks and we still love it. To start with when you move to a new place you find it all fascinating, and after a couple of weeks/months it becomes boring. That hasn’t happened yet and I can’t see it happening to us at least for a while. It actually never happened to me in Brighton. You see, moving to Osaka wasn’t my first big move. In my early 20s I was going through severe quarter-life crisis and needed to ‘experience’ life outside my hometown of Kotka, Finland. I had not gone to University. Instead, after doing a diploma in business at a college in a nearby town, I worked in my parents’ business. It was not bad. In fact, most days were quite a laugh. But I knew I did not want to stay in that job or Kotka forever. And what would be a better place to move to than Brighton, a lovely seaside resort on the south coast of England where I had visited repeatedly 10 years earlier as a young language student. Brighton was a city where I already had friends, and who, as if destiny was setting my life up for me, had bought a house there, and I lodged with them my first year in Brighton. So, I moved from a small industrial town in Finland into a creative hippie town in England. Our current move involved the reverse. I am back in an industrial town. You see, Osaka is a bit like Birmingham: one of the biggest cities in the country; industrial; not a particularly attractive city; slightly devoid of culture; and its inhabitants are friendly (unlike the inhabitants of Tokyo or London). There are only three things that seem to differ between Osaka and Birmingham, apart from the obvious linguistic, cultural and racial differences: as far as we know, (a) the people of Osaka aren’t considered thick by the rest of the country (like Brummies), (b) the Osaka accent is relatively easy for foreigners to understand/learn (unlike the Brummie accent) and (c) you do not need to worry about your belongings or your own safety when you walk around the city even late at night. You have to be extremely unlucky to get mugged over here. This is of course not the case in Birmingham where you would be extremely lucky if you only got mugged and not stabbed as well.
In terms of safety Osaka is really great! Recall that about 3.5 million people live in Osaka and a further 1.5 million people come here every day for work. Regardless of this, one can walk alone along the back alleys of the city late at night. And not only this but very young children, age 6, make their way to school in the city centre on their own (see photo) with their oversized rucksacks rocking from side to side when they march along, and their arm up in the air signaling that they need an adult to help them cross the road. By an ‘adult’ I mean a stranger. This is an unbelievably helpful, and perhaps, consequently, a trusting society. Similar can be observed in Finland where children start walking/cycling to school on their own usually pretty much from day one of school, i.e. from 6 or 7 years of age. I am not quite sure if this is the norm in Helsinki, but in smaller towns and cities young children walking to and from school and staying at home for up to 4-5 hours on their own after school while their parents are at work is nothing that would make a Finnish social worker gasp. And I believe it is relatively rarely that anything bad happens to these children. England is slightly different. Parents usually do the school run until the children are 10-12 years old. I seem to recall reading a newspaper article in England about a mother who had left her 12 year-old daughter to babysit the daughter’s four year old sibling while the mother went to Tesco to get some food. English social workers didn’t like it. Some members of the public didn’t like it either. This would not have been big news in Finland. In fact, bigger news in Finland would have been the British youth of today becoming increasingly handicapped for life when they are never let to tackle everyday scenarios on their own. I mean how many of you (Finnish and older English) readers did not lose your home key at least once when you were in primary school and had to figure out what to do for the 4 hour period between the school finishing at 1pm your parents coming home from work at 5pm in -10 degree temperature (Finland) or in the rain (England)? I believe that without those types of experiences we would not be as quick to come up with a plan B as an adult when something goes wrong. We all had plenty of practice in plan Bs as children and are now reaping the rewards. The bottom line is that, leaving young children home alone or letting them walk to and from school in Finland would not make a social worker pay a visit at your house. However, an adult allowing a child to attend an outside PE lesson in shorts and a T-shirt in January would result in a Finnish social worker having a complete meltdown.
In addition to Osaka being safe in the sense that usually people do not want to harm you, it is also unlikely that people will steal from you. The first week of my work I got given an envelope by the HR department that contained some money for my moving cost. I did not realise that they were giving me this money in cash and left the envelope on my office table for a number of days. The envelope did not go missing. None of the cash went missing. They did finally point it out to me that I had an envelope on my desk that had some money in it (you see, they could read the Japanese writing on it) otherwise I would have left it there probably for a further week or two.
Furthermore, they do not rip you off over here, and are very precise about money. My husband and children took the tube across town during the second week of our stay in Osaka. My husband had bought himself and our children tickets. When they went through the gates and started walking towards the platform, the attendant ran after them and explained in a distressed manner that because of our daughter’s age, she did not need a ticket, and said that he needed to refund the ticket. My husband wasn’t bothered about the 100JPY (0,60 GBP 0,80 EUR) refund but could not explain this to the assistant in Japanese and so reluctantly followed the assistant to his booth and got the money back. I bet this would not have happened in England or even in Finland.
The subway and public transport is pretty safe here as well. Although, in addition to the standard mixed sex carriages, at night the tube and trains also have women only carriages. If I have understood correctly, this is because many ever so polite Japanese men apparently turn into drunken monkeys when they have had a couple of drinks. So, if you don’t want to risk a drunken Japanese man feeling you up on the tube opt for the carriage into which they cannot enter. Although, I am not sure how drunken Japanese women behave, so am not quite sure whether these carriages are any safer than the standard ones. In any case, I haven’t had a problem with Japanese men behaving badly. I don’t know whether it is because the local men do not find me attractive or because I intimidate them. After all, I am half a head taller than most of them. Perhaps they are worried that they will lose their face if a Russian farm girl-type woman turns out to be stronger than them. In the name of honesty, I am a bit of a wuss. If a Japanese man squeezed my buttock on the train or verbally abuses me rather than deliver a kick between his legs I guess would just retrieve to the far left with an apologetic look on my face.
On the topic of Japanese men: I don’t really find many Japanese men all that attractive. This is surprising given that my husband looks a little bit Japanese (even though he is British Caucasian). He has those kind of slightly droopy eyelids that Japanese people have. And this is such a strong a genetic trade that he has firmly passed those eyelids onto our children as well. When our daughter and I stayed in hospital for a couple of days after she was born, more than one or two doctors and nurses asked me which part of the far East my husband was from. I can see why. My daughter with her black newborn hair and droopy eye lids looked like a Japanese child even to me and my husband. We did not have this problem with our son. Even though he has his father’s eyes, he is ginger, which curbed the far East comments. But I don’t have to tell you that it was a little awkward when I told the doctors and nurses who were querying about my daughter’s father that my husband was not from Japan, but Manchester. In any case, one would imagine that me finding my husband a hottie means that I would think the same of Japanese men. But no. I have seen a couple of nice looking Japanese men but overall they are not my type. Japanese women on the other hand are extremely beautiful. (Not that I think about them in that sense but as a fellow female I look at them envyingly). As a group, Japanese women are short and petite, they have attractive facial features and perfect complexion, they are always well groomed, more often than not have feminine clothes on, and 9 out of 10 times wear high heels. And these heels are high! They totter around with these shoes on wherever they are. I am sure that Japanese women go camping wearing stilettos. The fact that many Japanese women resemble John Wayne in that there legs bend slightly outwards as if they had been doing horse riding from birth, their gait in the high heels appears somehow even more child-like and unsteady, and makes them appear somehow fragile. In comparison, my legs bend inwards, like an hourglass. This is not a good look. And I usually wear boots to walk any distance (I keep my high heels at work so I can do the commute in my boots). So, when I and the Japanese ladies try to make our way from the tube platform into the train in the morning rush hour, I am sure I look like an East-German shot-putter attempting my final throw at the Olympics, while the Japanese women tiptoe towards the tube taking 10 times as many (tiny) steps for the same distance as me. I am painfully aware of the fact that I look like an elephant in comparison. Furthermore, many Japanese women’s feet point inwards when they walk. This together with their bowed legs makes their gait even more unsteady and child-like. When my twin sister and I were little, my sister used to walk like that – with her feet pointing inwards. My feet, on the other hand, pointed outwards. Because Finnish people, the older folk in particular, do not tolerate deviation from the norm very well, during one 2 ½ month long school summer holiday back in the 80s which we spent at our grandmother’s summer cottage rectified our undesirable walk issues. She was tough, and would not rest until we walked like ‘normal people’. Thanks to her, I am not known as Charlie Chaplin by my friends or colleagues.
The Japanese men are also well groomed and wear nice clothes. The norm for work seems to be a black suit, for most types of work. The other morning, I was walking to the tube station from my building when an elderly gentleman walked towards me from the opposite direction. He was wearing a suit and was holding a briefcase. He grinned at me. My first reaction was ‘A creep’ until two seconds later, when he had already passed me, I recognized him. He was the janitor of our building, to whom I always say ‘Konnitchiwa/Ohaiyoo! (Hello/Morning!) when I pass his little booth in the communal area on the ground floor of our building. And I feel he quite likes us because he always smiles this big grin when he sees us. So, I wasn’t ignoring him because he was our janitor, but because I just did not recognize him without his blue boiler suit. I felt terrible all day at work, so on my way home I saw the chap in his little janitor’s booth and went and apologized for ignoring him earlier. I am not 100% sure that he understood my miming but he started grinning and said ‘Arigatoo’ (thank you) all enthusiastically. So, I think we are back on good terms.