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Before I took my current job, my girlfriend and I were living in the slums of Osaka (Nishinari-ku), one of the few places in Japan where it’s genuinely dangerous to walk alone at night, and often remembered for the riots that occurred there in semi-recent times (spurred by the police beating a day laborer to death, no less).
We lived in an apartment smaller than I can even try describing in western terms, and the view from our single window consisted of the Hanshin expressway, and truck horns blared long into the night. Living with another person in such a cramped space is actually quite bonding if you get along well (and let’s be honest, if it’s all you can afford, you tend to make do somehow). The biggest joke was the name of the apartment complex: “Beverly Hills.” It was written in this ultra-tacky katakana lettering across the top of the building, a testament to that immediately recognizable design trend around the world that, in half-heartedly emulating gild and glitz, positively screams, “GHETTO!”
We liked the vibe of that area because there was never a dull moment; on any given day you might see people brawling in the middle of the street with cars whizzing by both ways, or police on foot pursuit of a shoplifter in a Keystone Cop-like sequence complete with whistle-blowing action and the command to “Stop! We are POLICE!” (arguably the best reason not to stop, but…). My all-time favorite memory from our hood, however, was the time when a group of local toughs were hanging out on the curb, passing around a monster bottle of cheap sake while randomly shooting roman candles off at passing cars – and then beating the shit out of anyone who stopped to complain. They actually made one guy hand over money and apologize for the grave transgression of – I swear, this was the exact phrase – “hitting and ruining their precious fireworks with his shitty car.” (hmm? That last part might be better expressed in a movie than in writing – I think Takeshi, for one, could pull it off. Tarantino would go overboard on props like a +2 damage wakizashi with sharkskin scabbard and Iridium Edo inlay, and other directors of the “pearl licker persuasion” would have Chow Yun or, heaven forbid, Jet Li acting the part of “Japanese Salaryman Pulled Suddenly from Car, Slapped.” Y’all might get away with taking absolutely heinous liberties with the memoirs of a certain (AHEM!) Chinese (AHEM!) geisha, but not so with mine.)
Yeah, good old Nishinari-ku (the “-ku” suffix is literally translated as “ward”). So many memories – we actually lived in an area called Tamade. Tamade is famous for pachinko because the kanji for tama means “balls” and de means “to come out,” so this is an auspiciously named area (Whether this area was named specifically for pachinko in the modern era, or if the “balls coming out” is a reference to some strange Meiji era sexual practice involving love beads, I do not know*. I am guessing it’s the former since much of the area burnt down during the war) for it. There were a lot of elderly pachipro in those parlors, and sometimes they would give up really surprising tricks of the trade if they took a liking to you. Nam was once able to buy a ticket back to Thailand with a night’s winnings after an old guy tipped her off to a “sleeper.” Another guy showed me how to jackpot a certain type of machine with a keitai, but I never worked up the nerve to try it – for some reason I always equated getting caught at cheating with that ball-peen hammer scene in Casino.
*although this might help explain “Pearl Jam”
END OF PART ONE