I’m often asked by friends, students and colleagues here in Japan a number of different variations on the same basic question:
- “How is Osaka different from your country?”
- “What do you think Osaka does better than your hometown?”
- “How does Scotland compare to Japan?”
I’ll be honest, it’s difficult to confirm the accuracy of any answer I may give as I have lived outside Glasgow for most of the past 12 years. So, I tend to be a bit general and vague in my answers.
Many people from the U.K. who live in Japan probably follow a similar line as I do when trying to explain their hometown to Japanese people. We look for practical examples of places in Japan and how they can compare to where we come from.
In the U.K. context, there are a few very obvious examples. London is, of course, a very clear mirror image of Tokyo. It’s the nerve center of business, commerce and government, with people from all over the rest of the country migrating there in their millions in search of the best jobs.
To those from outside Tokyo or London, they both share the dubious honor of being perceived as the self-appointed “center of the universe.” This is probably not being fair, but when one looks at the often huge gulf in salary and consequent living expenses between these cities and the rest of their respective countries it is kind of understandable.
Another rather obvious choice is to draw parallels between Japan’s historical capital, Kyoto and the U.K.’s arts and cultural hub of Edinburgh. Both of these cities are havens of history and fine art, as well as being absolutely wonderful to walk around.
So, what of Osaka? Well, as a native Glaswegian I’m probably a bit biased in my viewpoint and whilst a case could also be made for northern English cities like Liverpool or Newcastle, I honestly believe that the city that comes closest to capturing the unique spirit and cultural quirks of Osaka is Glasgow.
Both cities are known for their food, their humor and their nightlife. Also, in much the same way as some Kyoto people tend to look down on their Osakan neighbors as somehow “inferior,” there is a similar rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh.
I once explained to a couple of my Osaka-born friends the old saying in Scotland that goes: “You’ll have more fun at a Glasgow funeral than an Edinburgh wedding.”
They laughed and acknowledged that if there was a Japanese equivalent for such a phrase, it could probably be applied to the “friendly banter” that goes back and forth between Kyoto and Osaka. Kyoto people sometimes perceive Osaka people as lacking in manners and culture. Conversely, Osaka natives tend to say that Kyoto folks are too stiff, serious and self-important. Neither is really true, of course, but it does make for good trash talk between the two cities.
Osaka is often referred to as “Japan’s kitchen,” such is the depth and variety of the food culture here. Glasgow, too, has a similar culinary heritage. Not only is it the hometown of famous TV chef Gordon Ramsay, it has also been the winner of the prize for best Indian curry in Europe for more than a decade.
Then there’s the humor. As Glasgow has produced legendary comics like Billy Connolly, so too Osaka has produced generation upon generation of some of Japan’s most famous stand-up comedians and performers.
I remember seeing an interview with “The Big Yin” once where he remarked that it was the “work hard, play hard” mentality of the predominantly working-class city of Glasgow that made the city such a fertile breeding ground for comedy. Osaka, too, I believe has a similar character. While you can still find high-class, fine dining and boutique shopping with all the usual designer labels in the likes of Umeda and Namba, Osaka remains a predominantly working class city. Life is often hard for people here and they make the daily struggle just that little bit more bearable by being funny.
Go into any Osaka bar, restaurant or izakaya on any night of the week and you’re likely to be greeted with roars of raucous laughter, an occasional drunken sing-song and, of course, a plethora of affable, inebriated salarymen eager to chat with you in severely broken English. Although in their defense—limited though their vocabulary may be—it is probably a lot easier to engage a drunken Osaka salaryman in a basic English conversation than it is a drunken Glaswegian.
I had the pleasure of watching a Hanshin Tigers baseball game last year, and believe me, such is the passion of Osaka’s many sports fans that the atmosphere was almost—though not quite—up there with a Celtic versus Rangers soccer game. Though thankfully, I think my chances of being lynched at a Tigers game here in Japan are significantly lower.
So whether its sports, comedy, food or just a few pints of beer at the end of a busy day, there’s plenty of reminders of home for a Glaswegian living in Osaka. Indeed, it gives me the perfect balance. I can enjoy the same playful banter, exuberance and boisterousness as I used to see back in Scotland, with none of the darker tones of danger and exceptionally high crime rates.
Osaka is a better place to live—for sure—but there is plenty here that leaves me nostalgic for Glasgow.