It’s been 2 ½ years since we lived in Osaka and the city is pretty similar to what it was when we moved back to England. For instance, it seems not to have aged like me and my husband have (it certainly hasn’t acquired the wrinkles we have in the past 2 1/2 years) and it is still as much fun as it ever was! But there is one important thing that has changed – a thing that would have made our life much less difficult when we lived in Osaka as Westerners who did not speak Japanese beyond the absolute necessities, like ‘Plum wine with ice, please’. You see, there is much more English around in Osaka now than there was 3 years ago, probably (at least partly) because Japan is gearing up for the 2020 Summer Olympics and needs to be more accessible for the sport-loving tourists – even the parts of the country (e.g. Osaka) that without the pressure from pleasing the international crowds (or the Olympic officials) would be happy to do its own thing and ignore any need for the use of English (unlike cities like Tokyo and Kyoto that have been more tourist-friendly for years).
But things have changed.
Many of the restaurants in Osaka now have signs outside telling customers in Japanese and in English what type of restaurant they are and dishes they serve – 3 years ago this was not the case and we felt like Livingstone exploring the unknown and unpredictable territory when trying to avoid any hostess clubs (read about those here) or restaurants specialising in serving (deadly) puffer fish (read about those here) in a quest for finding some more suitable establishments for families with small children, i.e. places where waiting staff (not hostesses) would serve things like fried noodles, octopus dumplings or even cow’s large intestines. On a positive note, we never found ourselves in a hostess club and as far as we are aware never fed the children puffer fish – but given that most of the time we did not know what we ate, I can’t be 100% sure.
In addition to restaurants being more tourist- and non-Japanese speaking resident-friendly, convenience stores have also changed many of their food labels so that less guesswork is needed than 3 years ago. For example, onigiri (rice balls) and maki rolls (rolls of rice and seaweed) labels now have English translations telling what you’ll find inside the rice ball/roll. When we moved to Japan in 2014, buying a onigiri was like buying a scratchcard, i.e. you hoping that you’ll get something that would make your day (i.e. tuna mayo, prawn mayo or pickled plum) or at least something that wouldn’t ruin it (i.e. sea bream or seaweed) as long as it wasn’t fish roe, or even worse, natto (i.e. rather slimy and stinky fermented beans). To go off on a tangent, my son tried natto this morning at our hotel breakfast (first time ever), earned a family bravery medal in the process and said, quote, ‘How can they give children this stuff?’ (which pretty much every Japanese parent does!). With due initiative he went and told the hotel staff that from hereafter he would prefer a Continental to a Japanese breakfast.
Onigiri with Japanese and English labels
Not only does onigiri now have English translations, but so do crisps – hooray! In a previous life many a evenings were ruined when I walked home (blissfully unaware) that I was carrying a bag of seaweed or scallop flavoured crisps instead of ready salted.
Lastly, convenience store and department store staff nowadays have much better English skills than they did 3 years ago and many of them spontaneously interact with foreign customers in English. And even if I want to practice my poor Japanese by telling the cashier that I don’t want a carrier bag, fork and chopsticks with my noodle salad, they now respond in English!
To round off, Osaka is pretty similar as it was in 2017 when we moved back to England, except for the annoyance of any Japanese language enthusiasts who would like to reap the rewards of their hard work of learning Japanese or a non-Japanese speaker Livingstone wannabe.