I was born in a residential town, just north of central Osaka. By residential town I mean a kind of town that is not industrial, it was developed in the post-modernisation era (1920s) by a railway company as a modern place to live. Almost everyone of my friends lived in a house with a garden, and some lived in new high-rising apartments that just started to appear in our area. Pretty much all our parents worked in service industry, maybe some in public service like teacher at public school.Everyone was ‘middle class’ and I grew up not questioning it.
I’m beginning to sound a bit like Haruki Murakami in one of my favourite books… Well, I’m not the only child, and many kids around me had brothers and sisters. So there, it is different from how his story goes. Anyhow, for an Osakan guy like myself, some parts of Osaka are very foreign to me, even today. Some very industrial, some very poor, and some typical working class.
On the 10th day of January every year, there is a festival at certain type of shrine across the country that worships the god of prosperity (one of the seven gods), and people in business and commerce go to the local shrine that they’ve chosen as their guardian for business and re-new the blessing. I went to another one of those this time last year when I was also staying with my family in Japan, and this time I chose the one in downtown Osaka.
To my surprise there were many photographers. They typically carry large camera with big white lens, and they were asking those ‘fortune girls’ for smiles through their lens. It was quite similar to those motor shows at exhibition centre where girls in bikini or tight body suit promotes manufacturer’s cars and accessories. And those photographers only have their eyes on girls. I was hoping to capture some moments, how people follow this custom and what is unique about this, but seeing so many girl-chasing photographers I had enough and left the shrine.
Walking around the arcades, back streets and I came across this on the main street. It is a pretty industrial looking building, I could mistake it for storage site for some grains if it were not for the big red crosses. It looks almost deserted, but on the street level (first photo of this blog), it has countless banners, posters and flyers all saying something along the lines of Lord will save your soul, etc. but very pushy the way it does, if you get what I mean. When was the last time you walked by a church and it looked like a discount supermarket on the last day of the sale period?
This street has many simple accommodations for labourers and there used to be a massive community of homeless people. I don’t know where they’ve gone to after the authority ‘cleaned up’ the area. Last time I heard, which was already almost 10 years ago when I was still living in Japan, they built a new community within one of the JR terminals, but that I think was also cleared. Japan is not a place where everyone is middle class, equal and happy, as they want us to believe. People’s good standard of living rely on those manual labour and illegal workers from neighbouring Asian countries like China.
I remember a popular animation that used to be on TV when I was young. It was a story about people in the southern part of Osaka, a man who is without a steady job, his young daughter who is running a family business of bar where they serve grilled ‘hormone’ and those genuine characters in their neighbourhood. It was pretty good and many of the voice actors were famous commedians (who all speak with typical southern Osakan accent). At that time, I had no idea what grilled hormone is. I didn’t think it was something I had ever had, and judging from how people always drink alcohol like sake (rice wine) or shocu (Japanese spirits, a bit like vodka) it was some food for drinkers. Only later years I realised that horome is a term used for (mainly) organs. According to the resources on the internet there seem to be a few theories as to why the name came about, but one of them has to do with those parts being nutritious. The reality is, though, that these parts are much cheaper than the more popular muscular/fatty parts of the animal, therefore affordable for those working class citizens as their supper. Given their texture and flavour, they are often simmered in source and/or grilled and served with drinks (cheap ones, probably) such as shochu, whisky (questionable quality, sometimes), and beer.
Just had a quick search on the net about this cartoon ‘jarinko chie’ (official website) and found out that the original comic ran for almost 20 years and its story is actually taking place in this very district, Nishinari Ward in Osaka, near Tsutenkaku Tower. I should probably go through the comic again before visiting next time!
This is the area where the old tram is still servicing the local residents. When my father was a kid, I think there were trams running across town of Osaka. But they were replaced by the network of trains, subways and buses, as well as cars. Osaka now has a wide network of public transport. Here, however, it seems like the time just stood still.
It was a public holiday so the town was very quiet. But next time I would like to walk on those streets when people are living their ordinary life, and feel how it is. Come to think of it, the last time I came here was also on a weekend. I’d better plan properly next time…
To get to this area, probably the easiest thing to do is to look for info on Tsutenkaku Tower. The nearest stations are Imamiya Ebisu (Nankai line), Shin-Imamiya (JR loop line), and Dobutsuen-mae (Osaka subway Midosuji / Sakaisuji lines).