How to walk in Osaka

Entering a new culture is like learning to walk again—in Osaka, this is literally true. Train stations teem with throngs of black-headed figures headed hither and yon. What should be a simple case of moving from point A to point B becomes more like a game of Asteroids. It takes the skill of an air traffic controller to avoid collision. These techniques for cutting through the crowd may help:

1. Find a blocker – A large fellow moving at a good clip is your ticket to bump-free movement. Ride in his wake as long as he goes your way. Two people walking together tend to chat and dawdle; choose one big guy on his way to work.

2. Karate chop cut in – Avoid the sidestep dance and declare your direction clearly by chopping the air toward your chosen path. The sea of humanity will part as if you were Moses. It also implies you know martial arts, which tends to help you get your way.

3. Briefcase battering ram – arm extended, briefcase at face height, few Japanese will want to get in your way. Watch heads dodge as you plow through the throng. (This only works when moving in a straight line. Actually cold-cocking commuters is considered bad form.)

4. Run – Are you old enough to remember the Hertz Rent-a-Car commercials with OJ Simpson racing through an airport? (This was before he was accused of stabbing his ex-wife to death.) Fact is, a charging foreigner is slightly scary to most Japanese. They get out of the way. Be ready to dart and weave like The Juice.

5. Soft shoulder brush off – My initial instinct in the train station scrum was to brace myself for impact. That’s a mistake and turns an innocent accident into high school football blocking practice. Instead, give way gently and your collision partner will do the same. Your bodies turn, you brush past, no harm done. A polite “sumimasen” (excuse me) makes sure there are no hard feelings. And you’re on your way…


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