It was during a summer ten years ago.
At the age of 30, I was traveling to Osaka for the very first time. The reason for my trip was to ask my girlfriend’s parents’ permission to marry her.
We had met through my company in Tokyo. She had been dispatched from a subsidiary in Kansai; we hit it off immediately.
Thereafter we maintained a long-distance relationship between Tokyo and Osaka for two years, until I had proposed just a short while ago. It was finally time to meet her parents.
“Please give your daughter to me,” I would ask, bowing my head to her parents. Things went perfectly in my simulations of the event, but I had spent the last several days filled with tension.
The place where we were to meet was the Tsutenkaku tower. “You’re coming all this way, so let’s see the sights before you come to my home,” my girlfriend had insisted.
Getting off the Shinkansen from Tokyo at Shin-Osaka, I transferred to the subway and alighted at Ebisucho Station. It was the route my girlfriend had told me to take beforehand.
Leaving the station, deepest Osaka was waiting for me.
Signs for skewered pork cutlets thickly riddled with sales slogans. Paper lanterns modeled after puffer fish. Old women walking about in gaudy clothes as they chattered in rapid-fire Osaka dialect. I was in the downtown neighborhood called Shinsekai – “New World.”
And located smack-dab in the center of Shinsekai was the Tsutenkaku. A tower which served as a symbol of Osaka.
According to a tour guide, it was 103* meters tall. The name meant “tall building leading to the heavens.” Incidentally, it was supposedly modeled after the Eifel Tower, but unfortunately I, at least, sensed no essence of Paris from the structure.
We were scheduled to meet on the viewing deck at the top of the tower. Slipping through the entrance, I used the elevator first to the lower floors and then the one to the observation deck and headed to the scheduled floor.
The observation floor was octagonal and designed so that you could walk completely around the core of the tower, with telescopes installed at regular intervals. I walked the circuit once, but it seemed my girlfriend had yet to arrive.
I stopped next to one of the telescopes. They allowed you to look through them for a fixed period of time after inserting a coin. If I just stood there, I would become fixated on my coming meeting with my girlfriend’s parents and lose my nerve. Deciding to look at the scenery in an attempt to distract myself, I began fiddling with the telescope.
After a while gazing at the cityscape of Shinsekai and the distant mountains it lay at the foot thereof, two men came and stood in front of another telescope nearby.
They were quite the flashy duo. The both appeared to be around 20 years of age, and both had punch perms and sunglasses. To top off the ensemble, they were wearing button-up shirts of the kind of awful designs that make you wonder where they’d even found them.
They looked utterly like chinpira, old-fashioned low level yakuza. What I could hear of their conversation was thick with Osaka dialect – it seemed they were most definitely local youths.
They began to peep through the telescope while leering. Then, suddenly, one of them bellowed, “Hoo mama! I can see right into the women’s bath!”
What did he just say? The women’s bath?!
I hurried to point my telescope in the direction they were looking.
Stare as I might, however, I couldn’t even see the sign for the baths, never mind into the women’s area. Where? Where was that damn women’s bath?!
“Quitch’er lying. Ain’t no way you could see into the women’s bath.”
With that I returned to my senses.
The other member of the pair had retorted with disgust. His friend guffawed and scratched his head.
“There’s no foolin’ you, eh? You never have much luck with the ladies; I thought you’d totally fall for it.”
“You stupid or something? The ladies love me. I got, like, a couple of girlfriends. You’re the one who’s got the trouble with women.”
“No way. Me, I got a hundred girlfriends!”
I had completely fallen for it...
Thinking about it, though, I realized it would have been a pretty big deal if you could see into the women’s section of a bathhouse from the tower. It would have become a sightseeing spot in the worst sense. No matter how nervous I was waiting to ask my girlfriend’s parents for her hand in marriage, it was just sad I’d fallen for such a childish trick.
I assume the punch permed pair were just regular people, but this was like some comedic skit. And I had gotten completely wrapped up in it. Osaka is not a place to let your guard down!
Embarrassed, I moved away from the telescope.
And that is when my girlfriend arrived. ...Phew! Thank goodness she didn’t see my frantic searching of moments ago.
Pulling myself together, we began walking around the observation deck together. Suddenly, she stopped in front of a curious seated statue positioned on the deck.
“Look, it’s a Billiken statue. He’s the guardian deity of Shinsekai, you know. They say rubbing the soles of his feet brings you good luck.”
The figure vaguely resembled a mythical kappa in some way and gave off an overall humorous air.
As we stared at the statue, someone stopped in front of it – two someones. It was the punch perm pair.
Clapping their hands briskly in prayer before the statue, they began to rub the soles of its feet while intoning in unison, “Bestow onto us cute girlfriends!”
Ain’t you two Lotharios already s’posed to have girlfriends?!
The quip came naturally to mind. In the Osaka dialect to boot.
It was then that I felt I truly understood Osaka.
A city where even your average Joe is a practicing comedian. A place which naturally pulls you in and draws out a smile. That is Osaka.
After the pair left, we too stood before Billiken-san. And ever-so-gently did we rub the soles of his feet.
Thanks to this little incident, my nervousness had completely disappeared and I was able to be relaxed meeting and talking with her parents thereafter.
Even now, ten years later, I occasionally talk about that Osaka atmosphere I felt up there in the Tsutenkaku. Together with my now wife and then girlfriend.
That day, I asked a favor of Billiken.
May I always be together with my girlfriend.
That wish seems to be doing pretty well so far.
*The height of the Tsutenkaku was increased to 108 meters in October 2016 with the addition of a lightning rod.