Walking around Osaka for the last couple of days, I noticed myself subconsciously whistling a catchy little tune I hadn't heard for a while. I wracked my brains for a few hours, until I realised it was the music Oh-Dae-Su hears every time he is gassed in Oldboy.
It's a little harsh on Kaneyoshi Ryokan, where I was staying, to unwittingly draw a parallel between it and a fictional hotel prison. Whilst I wasn't exactly scraping out the mortar with a sharpened chopstick, it had a certain "Old Asian charm" as the brochure might have said. And just like in Oldboy, things would mysteriously appear in my room when I wasn't looking; little rice snacks, flasks of tea or ice cold watery coffee. I came back yesterday to find this biscuit on the table:
Their Japanese breakfast was an experience. Two tiny little ladies came in at 8am, quickly rolled my futon out of the way and began assembling the feast on my table, before bowing their way out of sight. They were gesturing that I should sit down, but being over six foot tall in an ill-fitting kimono, I was concerned about my tackle inadvertently 'popping out', so just stood politely.
I was thinking that moving to Kyoto, the centre of traditional Japanese culture, things would get even better. Given that this city is older than the planet itself, I was a little disappointed to arrive at a building that looked like it had been recently purchased from Ikea. The staff are very friendly and helpful, but there's no Japanese breakfast on offer here. (It's 400 yen for a slice of toast and coffee if you're interested).
I make my way up to my room, which smells uncannily like a hamster's cage. I was expecting to find shredded newspaper and a wheel attached to the wall, but it must be coming from the brand new straw mats that line the floor. Even more disappointing is the absence of the computerised toilet I was getting used to, with the adjustable jet of soothing warm water that cuts down on the Andrex bill.
In Osaka, the ladies would come in and make up your futon on the floor while you were out. Leafing through the information pack in Sakura Ryokan in Kyoto, I discover that, this being such a traditional place, it doesn't happen here: To experience the culture of Japan, please try futon bedding by yourself. Surely the only hotel in the world where where they charge you £100 a night and then do you a favour by not bothering to make your bed. Brilliant.
Wherever the tourists are, you will find the peddlers of 'tradition' making a fast buck. Tonight I came in to see a group of Dutch guys sitting around the lobby in their kimonos checking facebook. On my last night in Osaka the guy behind the desk asked me where I was going when I checked out. I thought he was just being curious, but in the morning he presented me with this piece of paper, and I loved him for it.
That's Japanese tradition for you right there.