It’s still a bit chilly in Osaka, but the sun was bright this morning and the cherry blossoms are in bloom. So I could ignore the unexpectedly crisp wind and enjoy a bit of colour and brightness on my walk from the station to my meeting in Namba. I took my usual shortcut through some back streets, walking past a school and a little park where the cherry trees were especially pretty – the petals falling like a light snow flurry. It was about then that I noticed the small crowd in front of the café (“Anemone”) at the corner of the park.
Now a crowd can mean three things in Osaka: a sale, a celebrity, or an accident. There are no stores at that corner and no famous person would bother going to that coffee shop (which, frankly, isn’t that great). That left an accident. Sure enough.
When I got to the corner, a young woman was standing there, looking stunned, obviously in shock at something that had happened. None of the people around her spoke to her – they just looked. A young fireman had come over from the nearby fire station and might have checked her for injuries. An ambulance was parked around the corner, and the drivers (many of them are still not paramedics here) were diffidently trying to persuade her to walk into the back of the ambulance. They didn’t seem in any hurry to take the stretcher out or help her. No one seemed to be concerned that she might have any injuries that would be made worse by her standing around (or even getting up). The fireman was jogging back to the station, having turned over authority, such as it was, to the drivers. It was then I noticed the front of the little car in the middle of the little road – beneath the front tires was a 10-speed bicycle, crushed almost to the seat. She was pretty lucky to be alive. As I walked on, a police car, siren blaring, drove up the road, and a female officer, on her bicycle, came up another sidestreet. Better late than never, I suppose.
Just last week, a colleague arrived to work to say that he’d seen a dead guy lying in the street with orange traffic cones placed around him. An ambulance sat to the side. Since he was dead, I guess they weren’t in any hurry (it’s hard enough to find hospitals which will take living people on short notice these days).
This happened at the notoriously dangerous intersection in front of Takashimaya Department Store – dangerous not because of any design fault, but because Osakan pedestrians are as aggressive as the drivers. The south side of the city – or Minami (南), where Namba is found – is Aggression Central. Long before the crossing light comes on, many waiting pedestrians have edged themselves a few metres onto the street. Problem is, drivers (and cyclists) are much the same way when they’re about to get the green (or blue) light. So I’ve seen a few close calls over the years as everyone plays this odd (and pointless) game of chicken. when a collision occurs, the drivers always park and calmly wait for the cops to arrive (hit and run would be pretty difficult anyway in Osaka City). But they rarely show any concern for the victim, as though they don’t want to get involved (a bit late for that). I stopped jaywalking downtown the day I saw a woman lying in front of a small truck at a crossing; the driver jumped out and … promptly inspected his headlights. She had ignored the light change, but that was beside the point.