Wednesday, April 17, 2013

O: Oh, the places you'll go!

This is my contribution to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, in which I'm focusing on overseas destinations I've visited.

O is for Osaka and Oxford

Osaka, Japan (1986-1989)

My first exposure to Osaka was when Debbie and I arrived in Osaka Station via shinkansen from Tokyo. The jerks we were working for (who ran an unethical business recruiting English teachers and then falsifying their credentials to get visas) had told us that we needed to find a place to stay in Osaka once we arrived. We protested and insisted that they meet us at the station (as we spoke no Japanese and had no clue how to find a hotel!), so they did. Their first taste of assertive American women!! They arranged for a hotel for us, and the next morning we left for Wakayama, our new home.

We returned to Osaka as tourists a few weeks later, and then Robert and Hiroshi (the sketchy businessmen's names) contracted us out to teach Japanese businessmen in Osaka once a week, in the evenings. We complained at first, because that wasn't part of our contract, but it was actually a rewarding experience that led to some fun times.

Osaka is a really fun city, full of amazing restaurants, sights, and sounds. It's Japan's economic center and is the third-largest city in Japan (after Tokyo and Yokohama). People in Tokyo seem to look down on Osakans a bit...such as a Japanese (nisei, or second-generation) teacher in Portland. When we first got married, we signed up for a Japanese class to keep up our Japanese, but our teacher seemed disgusted with our Osaka accents (called Osaka-ben), which she could hear even through our nonfluent Japanese! I dropped out after a few classes because the other students hardly knew any Japanese and I figured I had better use for my time, and the teacher didn't seem that thrilled to have students who could actually speak Japanese!...but Mike continued on, because he is so polite!

First tourist visit to Osaka, in Shinsaibashi

Abby and Debbie in the big city
Robert and Hiroshi also used us as pseudo-hostesses, too, I think--not too long after we arrived in Japan all six of us foreign teachers in Wakayama were invited into Osaka for dinner and to sing karaoke with a bunch of Japanese businessmen. It was actually fun...but I wonder now if they were paid to provide the foreign women...probably so! By the time we were done for the evening, it was too late to return to Wakayama, so we ended up shacking up in a downmarket love hotel, the unsavory sort of hotel Japanese couples use by the hour for sex! I remember it being freezing cold, with no bed (?!) and a plastic sheet!! When Robert found out we'd stayed in a love hotel, he was horrified--worried that our reputation as teachers would be affected. But we hadn't been paid yet, and it wasn't like we could afford a fancy hotel. And I'm sure he was learning that American women are a lot less worried about what other people might think than Japanese women were!
Debbie and I singing karaoke
Amazing nightlife
On the subway with the famous "Robert" (who I still liked at this point--later was another story!)
With some of my students in Osaka
Little did I know during my first few visits to Osaka that I would end up living there! After I met Mike at the end of my first year there, I decided to stay on in Japan and I moved to Osaka to be closer to him. I shared an apartment with another college friend, Jean, who moved to Japan at the beginning of my second year there...but I spent a lot of time at Mike's apartment. We lived in an area called Hirano, above a sushi restaurant, so we had some cockroach issues! Jean and I shared a two-bedroom flat, while Mike had a two-bedroom flat all to himself. But I have fond memories of the apartment, in spite of the cockroaches. It was really close to the train station and supermarket (and a pachinko parlor!). I don't think we ever ate the sushi downstairs...weird, huh?
Party at my apartment, with another teacher
 and the school secretaries (who I loved! they were all absolutely brilliant at English,
way better than the students themselves--
but because they were women, they were confined to administrative roles)

Party at my apartment

Playing "spin the bottle" (the tradition in my family) in my apartment one Christmas in Japan
Jean in our kitchen, way less fancy than Mike's!
We had a two-burner gas stove and a toaster oven...that's about it!
I have so many fond memories of Osaka and times with Mike--cherry blossom viewing at Osaka Castle; eating dinner in fancy French restaurants, wine bars, and robatayakis; going to the movies and being the only ones to laugh during American and English films; and spending time and getting to know each other. Also, we both met our respective parents for the first time in Japan. Osaka truly has some of the best food in the was there that I discovered my love of Indian food.  We regularly ate wonderful Mexican, French, Italian, Chinese, and of course Japanese food. 
And of course I will never forget the moment when I met Mike in Namba Station, after we'd been apart for one month, while his friend was visiting him from England, and we fell in love by writing letters to each other. I came down the escalator at the station and saw him waiting for me, in his suit and's one of the most romantic moments in my memory. We went to a wine bar for dinner and then went to the Shinsaibashi bridge and made out passionately...I'm sure shocking all of the Japanese around us! Public displays of affection between couples are not done in Japan. This Japanese culture site says: "The Japanese frown on open displays of affection. They do not touch in public. It is highly inappropriate to touch someone of the opposite sex in public." So we were not following proper etiquette, but we couldn't help ourselves. Young love! 

View from Shinsaibashi bridge, where we made out!
Mike had his one-and-only-ever mustache when his parents visited. His mother was horrified when she saw it, but he waited to shave it off until after they had left!
Love this photo of Mike and his dad (who died in 1992)

Mike with his parents and the moustache with a life of its own!
Cherry blossom viewing party with Mike's parents and friends
I also treasure time spent with new friends...
At a party with my fellow teachers, who I'm still in contact with, Kelly
 (who lives in Victoria, BC) and Sue (who runs a B&B in the Cotswolds)
 And old friends, too:
With our Japanese teacher Ikuko, her husband "Peacock," and my PLU friend Tami,
 who also joined us in Japan in 1989 and stayed there for several years (she now lives in Boise)

With Mike on a bridge in Osaka

A truly flattering photo of my husband and an enormous Asahi beer bottle! :)

Celebrating my 24th birthday at a Mexican restaurant in Osaka

Mike and I enjoyed watching sumo when we lived in Japan, and we got to watch a couple of tournaments live. We were also priveleged to attend the retirement party of Asashio, the wrestler in the photo below, who was an alum of the university Mike and Tom (also below) taught at, Kinki University. You read that right...Kinki! It's the region of Japan where we lived.
Meeting sumo wrestler Asashio!
And meeting the largest sumo wrestler at the time, Hawaiian-born Konishiki
(who weighed 630 pounds at this heaviest)
He was the first foreign-born sumo wrestler to reach Ozeki title
We ate out a lot--Osaka has such great food! This photo was taken in a favorite Italian restaurant...
At one of our goodbye parties right before we left Japan
My only regret about all the wonderful time I had in Osaka was that I have lost touch with so many of my Japanese friends there. I've found that many Japanese people are not all that great at staying in touch. Some wrote for a few years but then fell away. We still hear, annually, from our Japanese teacher Ikuko. I was so excited to meet up with one of the school secretaries, who lives in Vancouver BC, when we traveled there a few years ago!

Meeting up with Fumiko after 20+ years!
Oxford, England (early 1990s)

One of Oxford's most famous buildings,
the Radcliffe Camera (built in the 1700s)
If you are American, you might not realize that the University of Oxford (which makes its city famous) is made up of 40+ separate, self-governing colleges and halls, each with its own distinct identity. A central administration is headed by a vice-chancellor. Academic departments are based in the main administration, and although they are not affliated with particular colleges, certain colleges have subject specialties. Most undergraduate teaching consists of weekly tutorials in the colleges, supported by classes, lectures, and lab work.

According to wikipedia, there is evidence of teaching at Oxford that dates back to 1096. The university grew rapidly from 1167 when Henry II banned English students from attending the University of Paris. Disputes between Oxford academics and the townspeople led to some of the academics fleeing to Cambridge, where they established the University of Cambridge in 1209. Oxford and Cambridge have many things in common (including a rivalry) and are jointly called "Oxbridge."

Bodleian Library

Inside the Bodleian
I love the funky statues and heads all over Oxford, like these!
Until 1875, women were not able to attend Oxford. At that time the university passed a statute allowing delegates to create exams for women...and in 1878-79, the first four women's colleges were established. Oxford was long considered a bastion of male privilege, and it wasn't until 1920 that women became eligible for admission as full members of the university and given the right to take degrees. In fact, from 1927 to 1957, the university had a quota limiting the number of female students to a quarter that of men. Before the 1970s all Oxford colleges were for men or women only. In 1959, the women's colleges were finally given full collegiate status.

Famous "Bridge of Sighs"
Mike attended Linacre College at Oxford for his graduate degree. Linacre, a post-graduate college founded in 1962, was the first of Oxford's colleges to admit female and male students on an equal basis. The majority of students are from outside the UK and represent more than 50 countries. In fact it was at Linacre that Mike met his Japanese friends Kazue and Katsuyo, who were the ones who inspired him to go to Japan.
Linacre College
More wonderful faces!
I was intrigued to poke my head into one of the college dining halls!
Much nicer than the PLU university center!
Another beautiful Oxford dining hall
When Mike's parents lived in Reading, we would often take day trips into Oxford--it's only 25 miles and a quick train ride away. I loved walking around the university and going to the town's wonderful bookshops!

Mike visiting Oxford in 1990, the year we got married

Beautiful aerial of Oxford University
Visit here to read my A-N posts. Tomorrow, it's back to England, with some side trips to Asia and France thrown in.


  1. I had a Japanese penpal many years ago but yes, the correspondence dwindled when she started her family. Oxford was one of our stops on the trip to London/Paris in 12th grade during spring break week but I don't remember much about it. Have you ever read 'the Golden Compass'? It takes place in an Oxford of another dimension. It's pretty cool.

  2. Amazing!! I loved all the pictures! Thanks so much for sharing. I have not traveled much and might never get the chance so seeing pictures of far away places is always so fun.
    Take care,

  3. I love the sound of Osaka-ben. I wish I had known a little more about the city when I visited there, like the best places to go for food and stuff. I don't know if I'll ever get back to Japan though, there are just so many places ahead on the list.


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