Outside Sakai station is a statue of a 16th century Spanish missionary, Francis Xavier. The pious Jesuit is looking out over a still canal. When he bothers to look up beyond the dead water, he can see a dreary mishmash of rectangular buildings trapped under a web of overhead wires. The only buildings lit up were banks and budget business hotels called Comfort and Super. To Xavier’s left rises that wart of a mega-store, Aeon, now officially classed as an invasive species across the whole archipelago. Sharing Xavier’s view was enough for me to start questioning what I had travelled 6,000 miles for. While the radiant full moon was impressive, even Dubai airport had that.
Fortunately of course there are many areas of curiosity and interest. Xavier – the poor fool hasn’t seemed to have cottoned on to the fact he is only a few yards from a row of lively bars and counter-seat diners. Under the colourful noren curtains, I could see legs and hear lots of laughter. In the end, I chose to go in one of the more conservative dining establishments which actually had a door.
The inside was grubby, noisy and wonderful. The speciality was okonomiyaki which in simple terms is a kind of revolutionary bubble and squeak that uses completely different ingredients and is cooked on a hotplate instead of an oven. You can choose your own stuffing for the okonomiyaki: I chose squid, pork and rice-cake as they had run out of marmite.
The walls were decorated with dead grandfather clocks and a retro poster of a red-haired foreigner drinking Asahi beer. Music was playing but it was barely audible above the chatter of groups families and friends. I think Buddy Holly was playing on the wireless. Although it could have been Mozart. Anyway, I was very happy, sat alone at the counter, on centre stage, entertained by all that was around me. My only regret was not inviting Xavier to join me.