It's easy to let your guard down in Japan because it's one of the safest countries. However, just because it's safe doesn't mean you should ignore your instincts.
This post is going to be a bit darker than the previous ones, but please keep in mind that my experiences don't reflect everybody's. Many people love Osaka and have amazing experiences in Dotonbori, so don't let my story deter you from experiencing the city for yourself. If anything, take this as a cautionary tale to always keep your guard up, especially when traveling alone and especially as a young woman.
I left my hostel at around 11am and hopped on the train to the infamous Dotonbori. I wanted to see the Glico running man, explore the shopping streets and fill myself with food.
I wore a tank top with a long-sleeve shirt over it and was regretting it almost instantly; my shirt stuck to my lower back with sweat. But in Japan, woman dress more conservatively and I didn't want to take the over-shirt off and walk around with just a tank top, so I sucked it up.
The streets of Dotonbori were already bustling and it wasn't even noon yet. I fought my way through the crowds until I finally laid my eyes on the famous Glico man. The feeling was....underwhelming. I stood there on the bridge for a while and watched the other tourists take selfies in front of this sign and felt disappointed. It wasn't even as big as it looked online. I was left with the feeling of: now what? I watched boats pass through the canal, watched groups of travelers hold up peace signs for pictures, then I realized it was the afternoon and I hadn't eaten yet. (Searching for food seems to be a common denominator in this series).
Luckily, one thing Dotonbori didn't lack was the abundance of restaurants and food stalls. I followed my nose until I came across an arcade full of places to eat.
Side note: In Japan, an arcade is a covered street full of shops for pedestrians, like the one shown on the right. The one in this picture is actually in Tokyo, not Osaka, but you get the idea.
Every restaurant was packed and the lines snaked through the arcade. I wasn't looking to sit down for a fancy lunch, I just wanted to grab something quick so I could keep exploring.
I walked through the maze of connected arcades looking for an affordable meal when I was stopped by a man in his 40s. The man said he was from Canada and stopped me because he could tell I was also a tourist and could probably speak English.
He was looking for a money exchange shop because he was traveling with his wife and son and was running low on cash. I told him that I had seen one in the arcade to the right and to check there. The man thanked me, but didn't leave. He said it was nice to talk with other English-speaking tourists and kept talking to me. He was a nice enough person, but I was hungry and didn't want to dawdle.
He then gave me some advice on where to eat; he said there was a market about five minutes away that was much less crowded and less expensive because it wasn't in the middle of Dotonbori. He asked for a picture with me (which was super awkward), then we parted ways.
At first I didn't think much of the interaction and was even glad to have a destination for lunch. I headed in the direction of the market he suggested and decided to Google the market to get an idea of what they sold. That's when I saw that the market was closed...yet he said he had just eaten there.
My pulse started to race and I stopped walking. The man claimed to be with his family but he was alone, he said he just ate at the market but it was closed, and he sent me there alone after taking a photo with me... I think I was headed towards a trap. The second I walked away, that man sent that photo to an accomplice who was waiting at the closed market for gullible idiots like me to fall into their trap.
My spidey senses kicked in and I knew I had to change my appearance and my destination. I put my hair up, put sunglasses on and took off the blue shirt I was wearing so I was now in my maroon tank top. As I stated earlier, I would never normally wear just a tank top in Japan because Japanese people dress much more conservatively, but desperate times called for desperate measures.
I changed my course and headed back to Dotonbori, making sure to stay hidden among the large crowds. I avoided the set of arcades where I met that man and instead headed through the main shopping street. At the end of the street, I came across a large area full of food stalls!
Even though It was a hot day, I decided that a spicy bowl of tonkatsu ramen sounded divine!
I got my ramen and found an open table in the seating area. By this time it was past 1pm and I was starving.
I was only able to eat half the bowl before I was approached by an elderly Japanese man and his wife. Guess I won't be finishing any time soon...
The elderly man mentioned something about how white I was (because my tank top exposed my shoulders to the sun) and motioned for his wife to come over and shade me with an umbrella while he spoke to me. The man was clearly using me as a means to practice his English speaking skills, which I normally wouldn't mind under different circumstances.
The elderly man just kept talking and wouldn't stop, he mentioned how spicy ramen was more of a Korean dish than Japanese, he told me that with my tattoo, if I were Japanese people would think I was in the Yakuza, then he started talking about a trip he took to New York, and that's when I got really fed up. The man went on to tell me that he felt unsafe in New York because of how many Black people there were there... I needed to escape this conversation immediately.
I tried to inch away as he spoke but when he noticed I was trying to leave, he grabbed my arm and said he wanted a picture with me. Without giving me a choice, the elderly man pulled me towards him, tightly placing his hand on my waist. His wife closed the umbrella and ran over to take a picture of us (why was she his accomplice in all this??)
She took a few pictures of her husband grasping a young foreign girl, then I finally pulled away. I told them to have a good day, tossed the rest of my ramen in the trash and got the hell out of there. After the day I had, I just wanted to get out of Dotonbori as soon as possible.
I headed back to the train station and made the 45-minute train ride back to the station near my hostel.
Once I returned to the hostel, I headed straight to the roof where we had the BBQ the night before because I wanted to be alone.
On the roof, I had time to reflect on everything that happened. For all I know, that Canadian man in the arcade wasn't sending me to a trap. Perhaps the Google info on the market he sent me to was inaccurate and he was really just sending me for a good lunch. Maybe he really was with his family and they had separated so he could get more cash for them.
If I had kept heading to that market, maybe I wouldn't have been cornered by the elderly couple and groped by an old man while I was trying to eat lunch. But one thing I decided was that I was happy I didn't stick around to find out all those answers. I followed my instinct and that led me back to the safety of that rooftop, so I had no regrets about the decisions I made.
It's easy to let your guard down in Japan because it is one of the safest countries. However, just because it is safe doesn't mean you shouldn't follow your instincts. I don't know what would've happened if I'd made different decisions that day, but I'm glad that I don't know.
I spent the rest of that day alone at the hostel; I didn't want to be around people for a while. But instead of moping, I decided to plan out what I would do the next day. I focused my energy on trying to turn the Osaka portion of my trip around. But that's another blog for another day!
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See you soon!