Day 6

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Tuesday, May 25—Osaka

As Advertised: Breakfast will be available in your hotel this morning. Plenary Sessions and events of the Rotary International Convention continue. Tonight you may wish to choose one of the optional tours that will be available.

Up with the dawn again—around 5 a.m.—had breakfast in Checkers again, and were ready in plenty of time to make it to the Dome for the beginning of the third plenary session at nine. But we ran into Matthew and Chris, who wanted to go with us, and, thanks to some miscommunication and our failure to realize that the dinging we heard was not the nearby elevator but in fact our doorbell, it was actually about 10 a.m. when we finally arrived at the Dome, where we joined Dad, Sam, and Debby.

Having scoped out the schedule of entertainment in the House of Friendship, we left the minute the plenary session was over (or perhaps a bit before) to rush back to the RRH so Matthew could catch a taiko drum performance (since he had missed the drummers at the Opening Ceremonies). Somewhat confusingly, this was instead identified as a “gombei” drum performance, but it appears that “gombei-daiko” is a style of taiko performance in which masks are worn.

When we’d enjoyed as much of that as we could stand, Tom, Joan, and “the boys,” who by this time had caught up with us, headed off to look for lunch. Barney and I made a cursory tour of the project and fellowship booths in the RRH, spending a good while chatting with people at a few of them, but mostly just walking around to see what was there. I also visited the photography booth and ordered the official convention photo CD. Some of the booths we found especially interesting were these:

Kimonos and Traditional Culture. Unfortunately, this booth didnt have any literature, so I found that my memories of it were vague, but I gather that a Rotary club primarily composed of women (perhaps in Osaka itself) has taken on the dual project of encouraging Japanese women to wear kimono and to repurpose worn-out (or at least used) kimono into modern garments.

Shelter Box. A project of the Rotary Club of Helston-Lizard (Cornwall, England), the Shelter Box (which costs £490 or US$720) is a Rubbermaid-type storage container containing disaster relief supplies, which can be shipped on a moment’s notice to areas affected by flood, earthquake, war, etc. “A large tent [10 x 20 feet], [10] sleeping bags, cooker, water purification, warmth, and shelter for ten people…all in a box.” In addition to the mentioned items, the box contains cooking pots and utensils, spade, and rope. The boxes are distributed by international relief agencies. The Shelter Box organization has received considerable publicity since the convention as a result of its response to the Great Tsunami of December 26, 2004, and other disasters, including Hurricane Katrina.

Rotarians of Amateur Radio. As a “ham,” Barney was of course attracted to this Rotary fellowship, and I collected a QSL card from their booth.

International Fellowship of Scouting Rotarians. Because Tom and Joan are both heavily involved in Scouting, I endured a protracted pep talk from the Rotarian manning this booth and brought home some of their literature. It seems to be a fellowship of Rotarians who are former Boy and Girl Scouts/Guides, but the sales talk I got was about the virtues of integrating Rotary and Scouting by encouraging your Rotary club to sponsor Explorer Scouts (a Vocational Service project).

United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Despite an almost total lack of interest in the UNFPA per se, we spent 20 minutes or more in the unpleasantly warm small room where this booth was situated talking to the couple who were staffing it, finding many things in common and issuing reciprocal invitations to visit (which presumably neither of us will take the other up on!).

After exhausting our patience in the RRH, we left to walk back to the hotel. Along the Nanakoshima Promenade we fell in with another convention-goer who was returning to the ANA Hotel. She had been planning to take a shuttle bus but at our suggestion decided to walk, though she was unsure how to get to the ANA. Since we were pretty familiar with the geography by now, we were confident that we could direct her, but we had not counted on the helpfulness of the Japanese people. There is a reason why our phrase books included the Japanese for “Yes, I’ll take you there. Follow me please.” If you stop and look confused, you can be sure that someone will offer to assist you, especially if you compound the error by looking at a map.

Sure enough, as we stopped at an intersection to consult our maps and try to point our comrade in the right direction, even though we were not looking particularly confused, a Japanese man in the conventional black suit stepped forward to help us. We couldn’t figure out why he kept looking at his watch, since we didn’t think the location of the hotel would depend on the time, but this began to make sense when he offered to guide our companion to the hotel. We protested this wasn’t necessary, but he told us he was also a Rotarian and produced a business card, from which Barney learned that he was a Shinto priest in mufti.

So we parted ways, and the helpful Rotarian (who may well have been from a stranger to Osaka himself) led our companion off in the entirely wrong direction. We proceeded in the direction we knew was correct, and a few minutes later they rejoined us. Our helper was obviously mortified and fell all over himself apologizing. It was about this point when we realized that we could actually see the tower of the ANA, clearly marked, from where we were!

So the three of us continued together. Along the way we were intrigued by the entrance to the Dojima Underground Shopping Center, and Barney and I ventured down into it. We thought it was a subway station, but now I’m not sure it was, though it was certainly similar in character to the shopping precincts that seem to fill so many railroad and subway stations in Japan. (One Web site I found said, “In the vicinity of Umeda, there are different underground shopping areas such as Whity Umeda, Dojima Chika Center, Diamor, and Hankyu Sanbangai, all connected so as to form a large-scale underground shopping area. The older areas date back some 30 years.” Another wrote, “Osaka must rank as one of the world's leading cities in underground shopping arcades. Enter the vast underground arcades in Umeda (where the JR, Hanshin, subway, and Hankyu train lines intersect) with names like Whity Umeda, Hankyu Sanbangai, Diamor Osaka, and Dojima Underground Shopping Center, and you may never emerge in this lifetime.”)

At any rate, we found a restaurant called 551 Horai, where we had a huge lunch for somewhat less than we’d paid the previous day (¥2,970). This was (or at least we thought it was) the first authentic Japanese meal we’d secured on our own, and we felt really smug about it (even though it later proved to have been a mistake).

The second Host Organizing Committee–sponsored event—Park Festa at the Universal Studios theme park—was scheduled for that afternoon and evening. We had reserved tickets for this (¥6,000 apiece) and collected them the previous day. The ticket package included an impressive four-color printed plastic badge on a lanyard, various brochures, meal coupons, and an Express Pass ticket for the Spiderman ride. The badge itself was our ticket to the special Water World show, of which there were three showings, and the badges were color-coded according to the show time we’d selected.

Shuttle buses were running to Universal Studios beginning at 2 p.m., and most of our party sensibly went as early as they could and took advantage of all that the park had to offer. Barney and I, however, didn’t even finish lunch till about 3:30, then had to return to the hotel and change clothes, then walk back to the Museum of Modern Art parking lot to catch the shuttle, so it was pretty late when we got there. Many of the attractions were already closed, and those that remained open were all “rides.” We rode the Spiderman “ride,” which was as exciting as something can be when it is entirely in a foreign language and based on a movie you haven’t seen. We considered the other rides, also based on movies we hadn’t seen (and in some cases had never even heard of), and found we couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for them.

Nor were we especially hungry, having had such a large lunch so late, but we were determined not to waste the meal coupons that represented a third of the ticket price (we’d each received four ¥500 coupons). By the time we started looking for a place to eat, however, most of the restaurants were closing. Moreover, after the park was closed down to all but Rotarians at 7 p.m., we were restricted to a circumscribed area, reducing our options further. We ended up having pasta and dessert in a Louie’s N.Y. Pizza Parlor. Because we purchased our meals separately, we ended up using all our coupons (my meal was ¥1,761 and Barney’s about the same), and the cashier was a bit surprised that we didn’t mind surrendering them. We later realized we could have salvaged one coupon if we’d paid jointly, but we didn’t expect to need it later (since we weren’t hungry even then, and it was almost time for the show), and it didn’t occur to us we could have donated it to Matthew’s insatiable thirst for beer!

We shared a table with a couple from California—rabid Republicans that Barney described as “Nazis.” As soon as we divined their political leanings, we just bit our tongues and let them rant, but it wasn’t very pleasant dinner-table conversation and didn’t at all help with forcing down food we had no appetite for to begin with!

We’d gotten tickets for the last showing of the Water World show, at 8:30 p.m. Although there was an introduction in English beforehand, the entire show was (naturally enough) in Japanese, and it was pretty unfathomable. When it was over we finally made contact with Tom, Joan, and our three sons (Sam, Debby, and Chris has bought ordinary tickets—not the Rotary ones—so they didn’t have tickets to the show and had left earlier, before Barney and I arrived), and we just hung out together until the park closed at 10.

Tom and Joan and company had ridden the JR train to Universal Studios, which they said was (not surprisingly) much more efficient than the shuttle, so for the first time we used our rail passes, which was exciting. We rode back to Osaka Station (across the street from our hotel), arriving about 10:30, and were in bed by 11.