We had nowhere to stay until the following night. The air was warm and the park was quiet, so we put our rucksacks down with a joyous release of pressure. My back was aching from the exertion, which I remedied by laying flat with my head resting on the bottom of my bag. Before us, beneath a yellowish haze of light pollution, stood Osaka. Its skyline was vast and unmoving aside from the sluggish flashing of the red aircraft warning lights on top of the skyscrapers that pierced the haze.
Having chanced upon the perfect spot for a night of sleeping rough, we surveyed the scenery below us. Running down from the top step where we now perched was a path that descended into the park. It was a grassy flatland, worn thin here and there by games of baseball, Japan’s most popular sport. We watched as our eyes acclimated to the darkness, enabling us to see distant figures making their way across or along the expanse.
To our right was a long bridge that stretched over the Yodo River and into the heart of the city. Cars silently emerged from the mass of skyscrapers, at first only small lights in the distance. They grew larger as they approached and a dull roar reached our ears as they passed by, heading into the city’s outskirts. It was past midnight and yet this mesmerising commute back and forth from Osaka’s centre continued until dawn, like worker bees entering and leaving the hive.
The darkness beneath us was penetrated intermittently by kids on their rusty bicycles, shooting fireworks whilst they rode along. They seemed unconcerned about authorities, claiming the land as their own as they stole across it in convoy, lighting up the gloom. Their wheels swished on the grass, scraped on the sand and finally crunched on the gravel as they disappeared out of sight.
Our vantage point afforded us a view far along the park, which followed the river up to the bridge, under it, and out to Osaka bay, where the river meets the Harima-nada sea. The water attracted a range of insects: wide-winged dragonflies flitted from perch to perch, mosquitoes buzzed uncomfortably close to my ears, and all of the above were hunted by small birds who darted through the air.
I watched the yellow haze above the skyline fade and the darkness recede with the coming dawn. Our hours worth of fitful sleep had failed to restore our energy, but figures below us entered the park brimming with it. Old men, head to toe in running gear, walked along the now visible concrete path. They stopped and began to stretch with limberness I, and most other men their age, could only dream of. Then they glided smoothly off down the river, fulfilling their morning ritual. We followed suit, picking up our bags and, though at a much slower pace, took our own route across the bridge and into the crowded streets.