A Night Out in Osaka: The Good, the Bad, and the White Boys
Since arriving in Japan last August, weekends have found me in Osaka more times than I can remember. On a given Friday afternoon, once 3:30 hits, and my day at whatever elementary school I'm at is over, I'm rushing home to shower and throw together an overnight bag so that my friends and I can leave our area by 5:00 and get into the city by 8:00. It's a long trip, yes, but with good friends and the promise of a night well spent, it's always worth it.
I am of the staunch opinion that Osaka is a near perfect city for your Average Night Out. It's loud, it's boisterous, it's friendly, it stands in stark contrast with much of the rest of the country and isn't afraid to scream out in frustration or throw back its head and laugh. And with dozens of bars, restaurants, and clubs (and all sorts of other less savory institutions if you're so inclined) within walking distance of each other, there's sure to be something for everyone at every price point. Though if you aren't satisfied, it's beyond easy to pick up and hop on over to the next place.
To anyone used to the American model of nightlife, Japan might seem a little weird. There are no laws regulating public consumption of alcohol, so you'll often see people gathered just drinking on the streets. And because there's zero tolerance for drinking and driving, and trains stop at midnight, it isn't uncommon to see businessmen stumbling around at 9 pm dead drunk after a work outing. On the other hand, most of the bars and clubs stay open until 5 am (or later) when the trains start up again, making it equally likely to see people slumped over on the train well past sun-up. And because it's so safe (while Osaka is Japan's most dangerous city, it's still exponentially safer than most American cities), people aren't afraid to really let go and get a little sloppy. Which can get a little uncomfortable sometimes, but I suppose it can also be a little extra incentive for you to do as the Romans do and have a good time.
I've never really been one to "go out" on the weekends. Sure, I love going to concerts and raves and events, but bars and clubs? As a regular thing? Nah, not my jam. And yet I find myself often counting down the days to an Osaka Weekend. There's something about getting off the train at Namba Station, emerging through the Dotombori exit just south of the river to the smell of frying gyoza and the purple lit trees lining Midosuji that instantly puts me in a good mood.
I think, more than anything, a lot of it has to do with the fact that we've established such a set routine that to me at least, a night in Osaka has become more than just the action of going to a couple different places to "have a good time." It's experiencing a dynamic that country life doesn't really allow for. Taking comfort in knowing that you'll see some of the same people every time and having the ability to build relationships, but also knowing that you can just be another face in the crowd if that's what you're feeling. As someone who tends to prefer being allowed to do what I want when I want, the freedom from judgement that only a city as extravagant as Osaka can offer is extremely comforting to me.
One complaint that I do have, though, is less specific to Osaka and has more to do with the types of people that tend to be attracted to Japan. And anyone who's been in Japan long enough knows exactly the type. I'm talking about the White Boy. But like, the kind of white boy who only dates Asians because he's got such a fragile sense of masculinity that he feels like he needs a girl who is the picture of femininity and submissiveness (which Western media tells him he can find in an Asian). The kind of white boy who's such a Sad Boy that no girl back in his home country would touch him with a ten-foot pole, and yet the attention he receives when he comes to Asia simply for being white inflates his heads to massive proportions and makes him even more intolerable. The kind of white boy who, despite having his question answered in perfectly fluent, American-accented English, will respond to you in Japanese and remark on how good your English is. You know? That kind of White Boy.
Osaka seems to have a bizarrely high concentration of these types. Maybe it's because it is such a good city to go out in. Or maybe because it's an incredibly welcoming place with some of the most open people you'll find in all of Japan. In any case, it's impossible to dodge them completely, but I think the routine we've settled into takes us far enough around their periphery to avoid the worst of them. For anyone looking for pointers, rule of thumb is, if you've heard about a place on the internet, don't go there.
I can't say Osaka is my favorite city. Nor can I even say that I have any particularly strong affinity for it. But in filling a gap in my life, and doing it rather well, I am appreciative of it and incredibly grateful that I live somewhere within a (somewhat) reasonable distance. I love Japan, and I love living here, but sometimes the culture, particularly in the countryside, can get a little overbearing, and being allowed these moments to be nobody - or somebody - provides a much-needed counterbalance.