Thousands of Miles from Home


Playground Osaka

On April Fools Day, Shoko asked if I wanted to join her on a trip to Osaka to see Mama Mia, the “smash musical hit” based entirely on ABBA songs. Never one to turn down an exciting experience, but slightly wary of the coincidental date, I agreed to meet her in Okayama for a trip to the “big city.”

I ended up riding the same bus with her to Okayama (which calmed my fears about a cruel April Fools joke), and we talked about what she had been doing recently as well as some general facts about Osaka. Apparently, Osaka is one of the fastest moving cities in the world, in league with Tokyo and New York. People walk faster in Osaka than other parts of Japan, and use the left side of the escalator for waiting and the right side for people in a hurry (the reverse is true for other cities in Japan). Shoko also informed me that she purchased a new TV, even larger than her old TV (which is the largest I have seen in a house in Japan), and invited me over anytime to sit and vegetate in front of the massive screen.

Arriving in Okayama, I treated Shoko to a breakfast at Starbucks, and then proceeded to the ticket counter for train tickets to Osaka. Boarding the Shinkansen, Shoko pulled out her new iPod mini (a birthday present from Masatoshi) and we both listened to some tunes on the speedy 44 minute ride from Okayama to Osaka.

Arriving in Osaka, it didn’t immediately appear different from any other Japanese city. I did notice the use of the opposite side of the escalator (very strange) and we boarded a train to Osaka-Jo Koen (Osaka Castle Park), our first destination before the show. I had visited Himeji and Okayama castles before, but the Osaka castle is the newest of the three (reconstructed in 1931). Striding across a large park near the station, we crossed a bridge and entered the grounds of the castle proper.

Osaka castle can be easily recognized as a Japanese castle from the multi-tiered roof and large protective stone walls. Osaka castle, to the best of my knowledge, was burned to the ground and rebuilt sometime before the Meiji Restoration. Shoko and I spent some time walking around in the interior of the castle, where I overheard a Hebrew-speaking couple but couldn’t remember enough conversational Hebrew for an intelligent conversation. The castle itself was a multileveled museum, with a large observation deck on the top floor. Many large and decisive battles in Japanese history had been fought at the site, and scores of artifacts had been collected at the museum.

After the castle, Shoko and I took a different path back to the station passing a considerable line of girls waiting for a Japanese boy-band concert at the Osaka Dome. They were all carrying pink bags, and some looked as if they had been waiting in line for a long time. Back at the station, Shoko and I bought a quick lunch before entering the Mama Mia concert music hall.

I didn’t know quite what to expect from Mama Mia. It is based on ABBA songs, which to me seems like it’s either going to be excellent or terrible, with little gray area in between. I have little knowledge of ABBA’s music (outside of Dancing Queen and the title track, Mama Mia), especially the Japanese versions. Entering the large concert hall, Shoko and I took our respective seats (she bought the tickets online, accidentally in separate rows). I noted very few men were in the auditorium, but the same might go for Mama Mia performances around the world.

To my wonderful surprise, from the time the curtain went up until it finally closed again after several bows, Mama Mia was amazing. The singing, dance numbers, and acting was so phenomenal that I didn’t even feel burdened with the task of translating the Japanese. The costumes were also astonishing, but maybe it has just been a while since I have seen a large-scale musical. The theatre group that put on the musical is also supposed to be one of the best in Japan, so I was thoroughly satisfied with the final product.

The story of Mama Mia is a simple one; a girl invites three of her mother’s childhood lovers to her wedding ceremony with the hopes of discovering her real father. Singing, dancing, and all around hilarity ensued, with ABBA oddly fitting for the occasion. At the end of the show the cast came out for a massive dance number, followed by three curtain calls and numerous rounds of applause.

After the musical, and thanking Shoko profusely for the tickets, we met her friend Kishi-san and daughter Hiroko before going to dinner at “Creative Sushi” near Osaka station. Kishi-san is a pharmacist, and her daughter is currently studying medicine in Osaka. On the way to Creative Sushi, I received the shock of the day by running into Andee’s host family from Tamano. Out of the countless number of people in Osaka that day, what are the chances of running into someone recognizable from Tamano? It was Andee’s host sister’s first day at college, and her mother had come along to help her move into the new apartment. We had a quick, shocked conversation before regaining composure and continuing to the restaurant.

Creative Sushi was certainly that, with about four courses of various sushi concoctions served, before being handed a menu with numerous sushi-of-the-day selections. I chatted with Hiroko, the college student, and Kishi-san about my stay in Japan, and then a little more in depth with Kiroko about college in Osaka. We laughed, ate sushi, and took pictures before finally returning to the station to say goodbye.

Back in Okayama, Shoko and I rode the train home together before I departed at Bizen-Tai station.

An excellent day in Osaka, and I would love the chance to visit again.


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