WHAT struck me during my first visit to Japan was our similarities rather than our differences.
A small island, lying off the coast of a large continent which it has alternatively threatened or been threatened by during its history; a population that has developed an elaborate set of manners, much of it a legacy of feudalism, to cope with living cheek by jowl with the neighbours; a love of tweed and Argyle socks; and, of course, a universal adoration of David Beckham.
Then I was in Osaka, whose fantastic neon-lit centre, Shinsai-bashi, was the backdrop for the Michael Douglas film Black Rain – and I had a moment of total alienation.
On the Ebisu-bashi bridge stood two small lines of young men, dressed smartly in black designer suits and ties.
Osaka’s night life is vibrant and practically every doorway holds a similarly preened youth acting as greeter to a club or bar, with very un-Japanese blond hair topping many.
But what were these ones up to?
I didn’t have to wait long to find out.
As two girls came tottering over the bridge in high heels and tight skirts, the men converged on them and, bowing politely all the while, started chatting them up.
To borrow an old-fashioned phrase, they were pressing their suit on them – almost literally. Later, I discovered Ebisu-bashi’s nickname is ‘fishing bridge’. Seriously weird.
Running the gauntlet As the girls giggled off on their way, the boys returned to their ranks to await the next single women brave enough to run their gauntlet.
Picking my jaw up off the floor, I went to find a bar.