On the way to work I was reminded of Osaka-jo and the blue tarpaulins of the homeless.

October 1st, 2013, 2pm

It was 16°C with few clouds. There was moderate breeze.

I lived in Daikokucho, a short walk from Nanba and the entertainment district of Shinsaibashi, one subway stop north of gangland Osaka, den of supposed iniquity, home to Eastern European ‘hostesses’, junkies and one of Japan’s largest homeless communities.

My students urged me to look for a safer neighbourhood. I would smile and shrug at their earnest appeals, secretly enjoy the idea of being so close to the bad side of things. I never felt threatened, or was threatened. Didn’t even think about it. But I wasn’t from there. That world really was another universe, parallel to my Gaijin existence of teaching english, karaoke, and expat bars, where you didn’t even begin to scratch the surface of everyday Japanese life, let alone its underworld.

Maybe I liked where I lived because, even though I wasn’t a part of it, it felt like there was a community there. A community is what I found at Osaka-jo. Well maintained and impressive structures, tarps lashed over the top, held down my dead batteries to which they were tied. Men, always men, never women, in groups sitting round mini gas, or alcohol-burning, stoves. So orderly. I took photos. This is what you do when you’re a tourist in another land, assume the role of peeping-tom.

After a while I began to see the ubiquitous blue tarp everywhere I went: in doorways on Yotsubashi-suji, Tennoji Station, sometimes near Ashiharabashi Station where one or two structures would be pushed up against the fence that ran beside the Loop Line. Later, years after I had departed Japan, I discovered I had lived not very far away from Kamagasaki - Slum Town.

Always the tarp.

It didn’t define my time in Osaka, but it had an effect on me, like Japan itself, which gets under your skin, stamps it uniqueness on you, won’t leave you alone. The mama-charis, the humid-beyond-belief summers, the chorus of irasshaimases when you enter or leave a shop or restaurant, the way subway train doors line up perfectly to two white lines on a platform, the food, Den Den Town, the way everything just works.

But that can’t be the way of things, right?

Evidence suggests that’s not the case, the world over, cities flush or not flush with blue tarps.

Every thing doesn’t just work.

Zam, Stephen, Cassie, ankel and 5 others said thanks.

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Aidan Rasmussen

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