I left, bleary-eyed, along with Steve The Soundman, from Heathrow’s Terminal 5 on the 8.05am to Tokyo. There we connected with the Osaka flight, arriving (even more bleary-eyed) at 7.40am the next day.
But a fabulous hotel awaited us. The Cross is quite an experience, with a lovely and really attentive manager. They looked after us so well and we were lucky to be invited to some fantastic after-filming meals there. I loved the chef’s table experience, where, once seated, the doors open up behind you and the kitchen is revealed in all its glory.
I know you’ll be as fascinated as I was by the powered loos with heated toilet seats that give you a wash and blow dry afterwards. I could get used to that!
Outside the hotel I got a bit excited about the taxis, too. They had self-opening doors.
To me, it seemed like an unusual mix of high-tech future and old-fashioned traditions. Osaka is a big old city, around two and half million people, but it feels orderly and safe and the population has a real pride in the place. A new bank had opened up just along from the hotel and the executives and managers were outside, sweeping the pavements to make sure the place really looked at its best. The dickie-bow wearing traffic wardens bow to the traffic. They have smoking-free streets, attracting hefty fines if you’re caught having a crafty drag. Maybe that’s how things will go everywhere else – but they’re already on it in Japan.
I know it’s a cliché to point out how efficient and polite Japan can be – but it really was like that. People care about doing the best job they can. I swear, you could eat your dinner off the underground platforms, they were so well kept.
We were in a pretty trendy area and I fell in love with some of the shops. There was a fabulous department store which put me in mind of Harrods fifty years ago: immaculate doormen in elegant uniforms, everything presented perfectly and efficiently.
The filming days were long – as usual – this time affected by the flu virus sweeping through the city. So yes – there were lots of watery-eyed people wearing masks and spraying anti-viral foam all over the shop. We’d set up filming in a family restaurant to learn about casual food, only to discover all the staff were ill. I ended up serving the customers and our filming fixer ended up staffing the till. I’m not sure what the poor guy would have done if we hadn’t shown up!
In the evening we visited the local bars and watched as much of the Premier League as we could. Liverpool did us 5-1 while we were there – us Gooners don’t seem to like early kick-offs! I also managed to fit in a couple of massages. Fabulous, though I did have a habit of nodding off and being late for dinner.
The food is amazing – but you’ll see that in the programme. A lot of fish, as you’d expect, but there’s much more to Osakan cuisine than that.
It’s an eye-opening place, though you do come away feeling like a giant who needs to update his bathroom facilities.