At about 7:30 last night, I put on the iPod and went for a long, meandering walk (11,207 steps). It’s dark in Osaka by then, and the heat lets up a degree or two after sunset. After strolling through Nagai Park and a few after-hours shotengai and long back roads, I reached Showacho subway station and began my return journey. Going up a sidestreet, I heard someone absolutely roaring at someone else up ahead. I squinted and saw in the distance a large, expensively-dressed man walking towards a large car and a woman in very high heels walking away. A yakuza having a quarrel with the girlfriend? That’s a common enough occurrence in these parts. There it was again – a shout of indecipherable abuse, but it wasn’t coming from the burly man. He calmly got in his car and was driving away – the woman might have been just a bar mama seeing a good customer to the door. I was puzzled.
Then I realized that I had looked right past the young man standing with his bicycle at the street corner. He had a baby on his back, probably no more than a year and a half old – in itself remarkable, because it’s only in the last year or so that you see a man carrying a baby or even pushing a baby carriage in Osaka. The man was young – 21 at most, and was dressed like a teenager: oversized t-shirt, cap askew, the whole thing. As I turned the corner and passed behind him, he let forth some more shouting. I realized then that he was holding a cell phone. He was calling someone – his wife/girlfriend/the kid’s mother? – some pretty awful things at the top of his lungs. Now, you really can’t curse in Japanese – there’s no vocabulary for it. You show contempt by dropping to a lower politeness level – more a question of grammar, not vocabulary. Then you raise your voice. Then you use intonation which distorts the atonal Japanese language. Then you go apeshit and do all three. I’d only ever seen arguing chinpira in their macho/theatrical best get to that level before. But they were only putting on a show – the powerless showing each other how powerful they were. This kid had really lost it. Oblivious to where he was, oblivious to the child on his back, the whole neighbourhood got to hear about what he thought of the woman at the other end of the line.
I kept walking, but I looked back at the baby. He didn’t seem to notice – perhaps it was normal for him. Three blocks away, I could still hear the father. Five blocks away, I heard actual roaring – he was riding his bike in my direction and was kicking over parked bicycles along the way. I stopped and turned around. I said nothing – what could I say? – but he suddenly got quiet. All he saw was a large foreigner staring at him in the dark – like a good bully, he gave me a wide berth and disappeared around another corner. The baby looked to be asleep, his hands clutching the father’s scrawny shoulders.