Vagabond Tim
Airborne again we flew relatively uneventfully to Kansai International airport, which is a city unto itself on its own little man made island adjacent to Osaka.  Several things were immediately apparent to me upon leaving the plane, the first of which being that despite numerous claims that Japan in fact does have a winter season they clearly do not mean the same thing when they say winter as Canadians do.  Before I left home it had been snowing for a month and warmth was but a distant memory, a fable told to the young in a manner in many ways similar to the way house Stark tends to  reassure their children that winter is both coming and cannot last forever.

After my somewhat grueling 24 hour transit I was in no mood for hideous octodogs to begin again searching my bags as though the three previous security gates had simply waived me through under the assumption I was not in fact one of the droids they were looking for.  So the lady at the first gate indicated through rather proficient pantomime that I should open my bag for her to inspect it contents, which if I have not stated enough were a laptop, a notebook, a pen, and some pants. Five or so minutes later she seemed somewhat disappointed, which is unusual as it generally takes me far less time to disappoint a woman.

From this checkpoint I proceeded through two more identical exchanges followed by a frisking and rather confused conversation about the nature of my stay, this was somewhat unexpected given that Japan has suffered a 68% drop in tourism since the tsunami in march of 2011. I had actually expected that the much touted efforts to make arrival less jarring were in fact a reality, this was in fact not the case.

Despite the lack of English, either spoken or signage the airport like most is a fairly straightforward affair with few ways to get oneself lost.

There are trains leaving the station every few minutes and despite everything being written in a rather absurd moon language the actual stops have their names written in English so as long as one has checked the name of the stop nearest the hotel it is a fairly simple process.

This of course assumes that unlike my flight one arrives on time, or within a relatively reasonable proximity of check in time.

United having delayed my arrival until after check in, and in fact until well after closing time for the hostel, unbeknownst to me at the time, I proceeded to leave the station and approached a long line up of taxis.

The first thing to mention about cabs in Japan is that the doors are automatic and they prefer you not touch them, the second thing is that unlike taxis anywhere else on earth the drivers seem completely unfamiliar with the local area or the concept of a point on a map. Further to this is the problem caused by many hotels attempting to be English friendly by posting their addresses only in English, which could work if the cabbies did not automatically disengage their brains at the mere idea of something not being Japanese. It is additionally worth noting that the tendency to cease mental function in this way is endemic to the country not just the cabs, so it is wise to learn how to say certain things like place names.

After a fairly exhausting series of conversations if you can call them that I abandoned all hope of finding a taxi to take me to my hostel and began walking the few kilometers toward my destination.

When I finally arrived at my hostel I found it not only closed and shuttered but located in an unlit back alley.  In front of the door was a fellow smoking who seemed to speak English well enough to be both confusing and irritating as I quickly discovered he was far less able to understand me than his speech would indicate.  Having spoken to a few of the local English teachers later I came to learn that they drill pronunciation endlessly and almost ignore vocabulary or anything approaching ability to converse, this seems slightly absurd until one remembers that Japan is deeply obsessed with dogmatic adherence to tradition despite any and all evidence that it in now way works.

So this fellow tells me that the place is closed and repeatedly asks me if I have a key, I repeatedly tell him to simply go inside and find someone who works there, sadly he does not understand my request and keeps repeating himself.  As time progresses I realize that much like chatting with a parrot this conversation is going nowhere and is fairly infuriating so I decided to walk away instead of choking him to death.

Days later I received an email from the hostel informing me that this fellow was a guest of theirs and in fact several members of staff were inside awaiting my arrival and had mentioned this to him, so if he had in any way understood my request I would have been able to check in.

As a result of this irritating series of events that I should mention is entirely the fault of United Airlines delaying my arrival by six hours I had about twelve hours to kill and nowhere to go in a city devoid of English and entirely shut down for the night. Had this not been a nation completely unfamiliar with the concept of street crime I might have been concerned, however I was just cold.

So seeing as how my train the following day was leaving from a station a few kilometers away and the local subway system was also closed, I decided to go for a wander through some of the most absurd shit I have ever seen.

Japan has something of a reputation for a large number of cyclists, however they are outnumbered greatly by pedestrians as walking a few kilometers a day is simply a part of life and not a horrific burden as it seems to be viewed by North America and our beloved car culture.

After walking for the better part of the night my watch said 4pm, which was of absolutely no use given that I was not in Alberta nor was I at that time able to figure out exactly what hour that meant it was in Osaka.

Arriving at the train station I was sadly unable to enter as the doors were locked, this seemed odd for a few moments until I observed the number of people asleep on the ground and stairs outside the terminal.  The vast majority of them appeared neither homeless or well prepared for such an evening, I learned later that this is a very common occurrence due to the last trains departing over an hour before the karaoke places and bars close.

So having several hours until I could enter the terminal and feeling as though I may at any moment permanently lose the use of my legs I decided that the ‘when in rome’ approach was my best bet.

The temperature outside was above zero, but not much so I was quite glad I had filled my backpack with blankets ‘liberated’ from my earlier flight.

So after several hours of fitful sleep on the stairs and I was awoken by the mass exodus of my sleeping compatriots  and realized the station had unlocked its doors.

Stepping inside I was greeted by much needed warmth as well as available washrooms. I cannot express my joy at being able to finally pee, they should have sent a poet.

Having accomplished my goals of survival and not relieving myself within my clothes I quickly began assessing my situation and becoming somewhat disheartened.   It was at that point that I learned Osaka station has no chairs or benches of any kind and that my train did not leave for another six hours, so I began wandering aimlessly anew.  Sadly the square footage of the station meant I could circle it entirely every fifteen or so minutes, and it would be several hours before anything opened.

To paraphrase Sir Elton John
I miss the earth so much, It’s lonely out in space, On such an endless flight

Either Japanese dogs exist in two dimensions only, or have eight legs

The very first advertisement I saw was fairly telling of the type of madness Japan seems to favor

The number of bikes here is impressive, but more impressive is the variety

This bike in particular caught my eye as it was just sitting alone in the middle of the alley, again highlighting the fact that no one thinks to steal things around here

I cannot recommend these steps as a comfortable place to stay

Although none of them spoke English and we mostly were unconscious, I would say they were great company.

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