Osaka was the last stop during my visit to Japan. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from this city, aside from amazing food. Throughout the stay in the land of the rising sun, Osaka has been described to me as the food heaven and a “must” when visiting the country. As we only had one day left in Japan before heading off to South Korea, my husband and I decided to give Osaka a try.
Following one last breakfast in Kyoto, we took the train to this famous port town. In just 1.5 hours we had been transported from tradition and peace back to screaming modernity. After Kyoto and Tokyo, Osaka seemed small and dirty. We made our way to Dōtombori, city’s main tourist destination, where we enjoyed delicious snacks. Having eaten the street food and having seen the iconic “Glico man” ad, which had once been the world’s largest LED sign back in 1930s, we realised we were “done” with Osaka.
In the summer heat, we experienced Osaka as hectic and chaotic in an uneventful manner. The contrast between it and Kyoto had been too drastic, and I missed the space and greenery. Having grown up in a port town, I was disappointed not to notice any signs of sea being nearby. Instead of the refreshing breeze I knew from seaside locations in Europe, the air in Osaka was stagnant and filled with the heavy smells of a busy city.
We walked around the area for a bit longer and when the day was nearing the end, we made our way to the traditional Japanese ryokan. As our plane for Seoul was leaving early in the morning, I made sure to book a place in Osaka close to the airport. What didn’t occur to me however, was to check how far it will take us to get there from the city’s centre. The journey to the neighbourhood where we were to spend the night turned out to be longer than the trip from Kyoto to Osaka, and I realised we probably would have been better having stayed in Kyoto and traveling straight to the airport from there.
By the time we arrived at Kaizuka, we realised we were no longer in Osaka. The station was completely deserted and the two of us were the only people on the dead quiet residential streets. Walking in the dark, for the first time during our visit to Asia we felt a bit uneasy. There were no shops around, no restaurants open, no people to ask for directions. We followed directions to the Takematsutei Guest House in silence.
Amongst the dense forest of the one-storey houses, we finally managed to arrive at our ryokan. We rang the doorbell and waited. No-one answered. We went around the wooden fence, checking for a different entrance, but we just ended up where we had started. We rang the buzzer again, only to be welcomed by silence. The lights were turned off and there was no sign of another human being. It was 10 pm and we were alone in front of the abandoned ryokan.
We decided to try our luck and pushed the gate to the guest house. The door yield open and we walked onto the empty courtyard. To our left, in a tiny room by the gate, on a materace in the open doorway was an open laptop, suggesting its owner will be returning soon. We decided to look for them in the main building. We entered thought the wide-open door to the low-rise wooden house. We called into the darkness, still hoping we would encounter an owner of the establishment or some guests who would make us feel less eerie about the place. Still, nobody was there.
Using the open-access wi-fi we managed to access our booking confirmation and found the number to the owner of the ryokan. What we weren’t prepared for, was that the person who picked up would not know any English. Desperate to find out what was happening and to have a roof above our head that night, my husband spoke to the woman using google translate and what he hoped was the right pronunciation of the Japanese words it was suggesting to him, until he realised she wasn’t speaking Japanese but Chinese! Luckily for us, my brother in law knows mandarin, so with the lady on the phone, we used my mobile to call my husband’s brother and have him explain our predicament to the woman on the phone.
Following a short inter-continental exchange, a young worried man showed up at the guest house. In broken English he apologised profusely for not being there when we arrived. He looked confused at our presence at the ryokan and in between puzzled head-scratches, he kept on staring at our reservation. I was tired and angry, blaming the man in my mind for being irresponsible and leaving us waiting for over half an hour. I had been scared having waited for him in the abandoned guest house, in a scenery that to my worried mind reminded a background to a horror movie more than a peaceful, traditional place I had hoped I was booking. My anger was also masking my guilt, at dragging my husband so far for such a disappointing experience. The place seemed run down and with every minute of wait, I was beginning to regret my choice more and more.
Finally, the scratches ceased and the man looked at me from above our reservation. “I am really sorry miss, but today is Sunday, and you booked your room for Monday. We don’t work on Sundays”, he finally explained shyly. In disbelief, I took my phone to look at the reservation, realising in utter horror the terrible mistake I had made. All the anger and judgement evaporated in an instant, giving way to complete embarrassment. I apologised for the confusion and trouble, my face burning from shame. I had dragged this poor man from whatever he was doing on his day off, to his place of work, making him stressed about mistake he hadn’t made. Luckily for me, he agreed to let us stay at the ryokan for the night. We were the only guests in the entire place.
In the morning light, the place had transformed from abandoned and scary, to tranquil and beautiful space. The different feelings it evoked in me, reminded me of the two extremes I have felt the previous night. I was so quick to judge others, when it was me who was wrong all along. On the way to the airport, I kept on wondering how typical it was of me. I was too quick to jump into pointing errors in others without pausing to check if it wasn’t me who was wrong. Osaka taught me a lesson. Next time, I will question myself first, before casting judgment on others. And I will never, ever again book hotels in a rush while suffering from jetlag.