Osaka City's Shinsekai Neighborhood Experiences a 'New World'

by 24/09/2012 11:06:00 0 comments 1059 Views
Osaka City's Shinsekai Neighborhood Experiences a 'New World'

OSAKA, Japan — In the not too distant past, the Shinsekai neighborhood of southern Osaka City was know more for seediness and squalor than as a tourist destination

What Shinsekai — literally, "New World" — lacks in elegance, it makes up for in atmosphere and authenticity. And as it celebrates its centenary this year, tourists are again being drawn to one of the few remaining playgrounds of the Japanese working class.

On the rare occasions that Shinsekai is mentioned in international guidebooks, it is often in disparaging terms. An edition of Lonely Planet once advised visitors to "keep their wits about them" in what may be the "closest thing in Japan to a dangerous neighborhood."

While that level of caution seems absurd now, it should be pointed out that Shinsekai is within walking distance of two of Osaka's more insalubrious neighborhoods: the laborer district of Kamagasaki and the classic bordello-style brothels of Tobita Shinchi. Both interesting places, certainly, though best approached with caution.

But there is plenty of a more wholesome nature crammed into the boulevards and backstreets of Shinsekai: standing bars, retro cafes, restaurants and food stalls and, thanks to renewed interest in the area among Japanese visitors, the obligatory souvenir shops.

Given its "cosmopolitan" origins, it is fitting that Shinsekai is now attracting visitors from overseas. Overlooking the entire district is the imposing edifice of the 103-meter-tall Tsutenkaku, an observation tower originally built in 1912 designed to resemble the Arc de Triomphe at its base and the Eiffel Tower at its loftiest reaches.

The northern half of the area was modeled on Paris, with its streets fanning out in the manner of the elegant boulevards of the French capital. The area south of the "tower to heaven" was modeled on Coney Island, complete with the 132,000-square-meter leisure park that featured an arcade, rides, a music hall, theater and spa. Lunar Park's existence was short lived, however: It closed in 1923 and was not revived after Tsutenkaku, which had been damaged during the war, was rebuilt and reopened in 1956.

That Shinsekai was overlooked during Japan's rapid postwar development turned out to be a blessing. It has undergone a facelift in recent years, but remains arguably the best, and most visitor-friendly example of the real Osaka.