‘I can’t wait to see you tonight! Please promise me one thing: let’s not go to a club’, I plead with my friend over the phone. I’m not a clubbing person in general, but clubbing in Japan has turned out to be especially awkward. She replies ‘No worries, I’ll bring some special friends!’
I mean, I’m sure there are places where there’s good music and a fun crowd that actually dances. Somewhere in Tokyo that is full of rich and famous kids – not here.
My friend Miru is half-Japanese, half-Korean, ‘full Osaka!’, as she says, although she tends to spend half the year in Central America now. Nobody really knows what she does there, but I was about to find out.
At the agreed time, I wait outside the Uniqlo shop at the entrance of a shopping alley behind Higashi-Umeda station. She arrives with three guys that look undoubtedly Latin. In slow English, she introduces me to each one of them, but then quickly switches to Spanish. It turns out these are the new exchange students at the university where she teaches Japanese… except that they’ve only had one lesson so far. I inquire if any of them speak English.
The answer is no, and so for the rest of the night I try to switch back and forth between Japanese and Spanish, my third and fourth language, which both share a surprising number of sounds, which makes things even more confusing. Half the time, we don’t know what we are saying to each other.
Which doesn’t matter as bashfully, Miru drags us all along to…
‘A club! You promised no clubs tonight!’, but she smiles and says ‘Special club, it’s Latin music tonight!’.
I sigh – what choice do I have at this point? And after all, we are early and thus don’t have to pay the 2000 Yen cover charge that applies later in the night. Clubbing is an expensive pastime here.
Salsa, bachata, merengue and all that have become increasingly popular in Osaka over the last years, along with an influx of Latin American immigrants and a surprising number of Mexican restaurants popping up all over town.
Unfortunately, it seems the people in this clubs tonight haven’t heard of those dancing classes. When we enter (not without the bouncer checking our IDs to see that we’re not illegal immigrants), the DJ is in full swing, but the dance floor is separated: on one side, about two dozen perfectly styled, high-heeled Japanese girls, on the other, about the same amount of guys with smart suits and big hair. They just stand there, drink in hand, staring at each other. Nobody is making a move to dance.
Now, I’m not a particularly good dancer, and Germanic blood doesn’t exactly make for a natural sense of rhythm, but in this moment, we all figure out that the one thing that can save the night is to just not care about any of this and just dance. Especially as we have a real Cuban, Mexican and Ecuadorian in tow!
After about twenty minutes, some of the Japanese guests shyly make a move to dance, and another 20 minutes later, we’re all having the time of our lives – although there’s no denying the Latin guys look much better than all of us. But it doesn’t matter, because at that moment, skill doesn’t matter, whether it’s language skills or what you’d learn in dancing classes.
The music, the movement, the rhythms connect us all, and before I know it it’s 5 am and trains start to run again – but we don’t care, because in Osaka, clubs often stay open until 10 am!