The Japanese seem programmed, as it were, to do the right thing. Following the disastrous earthquake and tsunami nearly a year ago, when they rushed to stock up on mineral water they only bought the minimum from supermarkets rather than stripping the shelves.
The government told them to conserve power so they shivered in their homes in winter and, later, boiled in summer.
The gal sees this for herself on a busy Sunday in Osaka. She takes a 90-minute ‘stroll’ along the pedestrianised Shinsaibashisuji Avenue.
At Takashiyama department store by Namba rail station – a link for Osaka’s airport – cross the street and head north, straight as far as you want. She went as far as she wanted, to Nagahoridori, or, if it is easier to measure, to the second Zara store, and then turned back because of the cold.
Shinsaibashisuji Avenue is, except for road crossings and Ebisubashi Bridge over the river, covered, as protection from the elements. Think a Japanese version of any Middle Eastern souk, for width of walkway. Think Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II for height and cleanliness.
You can buy anything along the way, from soaps to Miss Kitty accessories, from housemaids’ and nurses’ uniforms for size-zero adults to hairbows in a thousand colours. Brands include Dolce & Gabbana, GU and Uniqlo.
Outside many stores young ladies with maximum hair and maximum heel height and minimum dress length shout into loudhailers entreating you to come in for special bargains, or hold up boards proclaiming ’10 percent off’.
Lots of the shoppers are similarly dressed, but most are sensibly covered up against the cold. Looking ahead, it is fair to predict that the most fashionable this summer will be in shades of stone through to salmon.
Softness is in. Harshness is out. There are far fewer outrageous hair colours than even a couple of years ago, and far fewer straw-coloured spikes on the heads of the guys.
And so they process, at a rate determined by those around them. No-one jostles or runs.
Unless they cross to a store the other side of the street, they walk keeping to the left (just like the motorized traffic in Japan). At junctions crossing Shinsaibashisuji they wait patiently until the lights turn green.
At the bridge over the river, where it is custom to take photos in front of the big billboards, they keep out of photographers’ way. Wonder what this is all like when it is not freezing cold…
Swissôtel Nankai Osaka has the good luck to be right on top of Namba rail station, and it is thus – as Tripadvisor comments say – really handy.
After such retail therapy, the resulting appetite was well satisfied by dinner with a good Swiss boy, Christian Schaufelbuehl, who is GM of the 548-room hotel. He has turned a lobby-level bar in a concept that methinks is unique, wine bar meets Swiss fondue meets local (Osaka) skewer food known as Kushikatsu or kushiage , from the Japanese word for skewers, Kushi .
The restaurant, called Sh’un, is beautifully designed – by Atsuto Okauchi of At.o.De – with peripheral booths and wine walls, and a central cooking area (dining counter around) decorated with three central, 20-inch high, lumps of real salt and, behind, a blue-glass tank with real fish.
We were brought bowls of Himalayan salt powder, and tumblers holding crudités and baby tomatoes, and nightlights supporting bowls of real Swiss-cheese fondue, and portions of fingernail-sized bread cubes.
The chef first presented a tray with pairs of finger-length skewers holding, say, wagyu and pineapple, or cabbage-wrapped minced pork, or simple whole prawns. These were then wrapped in breadcrumbs, deep fried and presented singly. Mr Switzerland dipped his into the fondue. The gal ate hers as-is, dipping her bread into the fondue.
Even as we nibbled, nine weddings had been taking place here. Some couples choose the hotel’s spectacular four-floor open atrium, dominated by a three-ton chandelier, but most opt for its traditional Shinto temple or a Christian chapel – the hotel has two, set up with white flowers, cameras set at strategic points and white grand pianos, and they bring in a ‘priest’, usually American or Australian.
They also rent dresses: the hotel has a stock of over 300, and if the bride wants something else, the hotel will buy it and rent it practically at cost – Japanese brides, who live in miniscule homes, do not want the bother of keeping their outfits, and they may well change three times during the whole event.
The hotel will also provide, at more cost, the beautician, the hairdresser, and of course the food and drink (and the priest). It will not, so far, come up with someone to marry.