Sunday, 2 June 2013

Meeting the ‘Big Men’ of Osaka

In most large cities there are a few key locations that everybody knows and plan to meet at when they are about to set out for an evening down town. More often than not, these places are not necessarily planned, but somehow they become part of the local folk law. In my hometown of Adelaide, South Australia we have the famed ‘Balls in the Mall’, a tag which congers up a range interesting images. However, they are in fact a couple of large chrome spheres stacked one on top of each other to form a very distinct abstract sculpture that stands centrally in the city’s main shopping mall. Everyone who lives there knows it very well and it is by far Adelaide’s most well known meeting place. Here in Osaka it isn’t too much different, but of course being a much bigger city there are actually two spots in selected parts of town where people tend to meet up. Each are very different and prove yet again that there is absolutely no logical reason for such places being chosen by the public…they just are!

The most recognizable place for a rendezvous in the Namba ward of Osaka is on Dotonbori Bridge where the neon signs light up the nearby canal when the sun sets. Here, amongst the vast array of illuminated advertising, is one the city’s most recognizable landmarks known as the ‘Glico Man’. This is a giant twenty-meter high neon sign that depicts a runner crossing the finishing line of a race. While other signage has come and gone over the years, the Glico Man has somehow remained, having been originally installed in 1935 by the Glico Company to promote its range of confectionaries. It seems that advertising in those days was largely based upon fact, with the image of the runner chosen after it was scientifically determined that one Glico-caramel provided you with enough calories to run exactly 300 meters. That is of course if you are 165cm tall, weigh 55kg and complete the 300 metres in exactly 1.88 minutes (Japanese precision at work)! Sure, this isn't award winning advertising, with the obscure message being almost totally lost, but somehow the strong graphic image worked well with the public and the Glico Man has gone on to become a much loved symbol throughout Japan. On any given night you will find thousands of people standing on Dotonbori Bridge being photographed with the towering figure of the Glico Man in the background. Over the years the bridge itself has also been expanded to cater for the sign’s ever growing popularity with tourists and as a favored meeting place for Osakans.

With all this interest in the giant Glico Man, Jules and I were slightly confused when we were first asked to meet up at the second most favored gathering spot in downtown Umeda, at a place that is simply referred to as ‘Big Man’. Having become familiar with the Glico Man, we were expecting to see a similarly oversized character at this location in the Umeda Railway Station. Not so! We were quite surprised the find that ‘Big Man’ is not actually a man at all, but rather a nickname given to a giant video screen that is positioned in the central concourse of the station. The five metre high screen is not particularly ‘big’ either, at least by today’s standards, but it was built during the economic boom when Japan led the world in large screen technology and it was indeed new and revolutionary at the time. While technology has since moved on, ‘Big Man’ has over the years proved to be a hit with the general public, who can be seen at all hours of the day waiting in the crowded area for their friends, while being entertained by the colourful images on the big screen. The phrase ‘meet me at Big Man’ has become so common here, that after a while it doesn’t seem unusual at all, unless of course you are new to the city.

While Osaka itself continues to change and evolve, there are now many new places emerging that could be equally suitable as locations to gather and meet. While there is no determining the areas that the general public will favor in the future, it appears for at least the time being, the old favorites remain as popular as ever. Who knows what the formula might be for making a spot in a big city so identifiable and commonly known? Some places just mysteriously strike a chord with the widespread public and over time become a magnet for people to connect. So if you ever get to Osaka and have to meet someone, one of the two ‘big men’ of the city will certainly be the most obvious places. While a visitor might be a little confused, the locals will know exactly where to go!


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