Ah, Shinsekai. An old Osaka neighbourhood that Osakans seem to think is dangerous. But in a country that’s incredibly safe, that’s not really saying much. (Most of Detroit makes even the worst parts of Japan look like Disneyland.) Shinsekai (新世界) literally means “new world” which I suppose is kind of funny now because the area is pretty run down. Here’s what Wikipedia says:
The neighbourhood was created in 1912 with New York as a model for its southern half and Paris for its northern half. As a result of minimal redevelopment after World War II, the area has become one of Japan’s poorest. Despite its negative image and commonly held reputation as Osaka’s most dangerous area, Shinsekai boasts a colourful history and unique identity.
Whether the stigma surrounding Shinsekai is deserved is open to debate. Many Osakans claim to be afraid to set foot in the area. The travel guide Lonely Planet Japan, warns visitors to “keep their wits about them” as Shinsekai may be the “closest thing in Japan to a dangerous neighbourhood”.
This makes Shinsekai sound like a terrible place, but it’s actually not! During the day, it’s crowded with families, schoolchildren, and tourists. It’s an interesting place to visit because it’s like entering a time warp. Lots of really old buildings, decrepit storefronts, small restaurants, and bars filled with old men who look like they’ve been there since 1912. The neighbourhood is also famous for kushikatsu, which is basically delicious fried things on sticks.
See, does this look dangerous to you?
Narrow alleyways filled with restaurants and not so dangerous people.
I guess maybe this guy looks a little suspicious.
Most American Wal-marts are way scarier than this.
This tower, called Tsutenkaku, is an Osaka landmark. As far as towers go, it doesn’t seem very tall, but when it was built in 1912, it was apparently the second tallest structure in Asia. (It’s only 103 metres, and for comparison, the CN Tower is 553 metres.) We were planning to go up the tower but there was a lineup so we didn’t bother. Instead, we went to eat some kushikatsu!
Daruma (right across from Tsutenkaku, but there are several locations) is the most well-known kushikatsu place. It also had a lineup, but I’m much more willing to wait for fried food than I am for some mediocre tower views.
Daruma is mostly counter seating, with a couple tables in the back. (But like most places in Japan, the counter is the prime spot.)
Hooray for fried things! One of my favourites is chikuwa cheese (ちくわチーズ), which is chikuwa (a kind of fish cake shaped like a tube), filled with cheese. Sounds gross, tastes delicious, especially when fried. My other favourites are shrimp and mochi.
Mike demonstrates dipping technique. There are signs everywhere (in Japanese and English and probably other languages too) reminding you of the cardinal kushikatsu rule: NO DOUBLE DIPPING IN THE SAUCE. The sauce is communal, and I don’t know what happens if you double dip, but it’s probably bad. If you need more sauce, you can use the provided cabbage to scoop up some more. There’s even a kushikatsu mascot (of course) named Kushitan. His sash says not to double dip in the sauce.
The “Paris” end of Shinsekai. It was mostly empty when we walked through.
Another view of Tsutenkaku.
Mike got kind of obsessed with these old-timey pinball-type machines. You put in 100 yen, and you get a bunch of white balls. Your goal is to get them in the numbered holes and win more balls. You can trade the balls in for prizes, but I’m not sure how you get yourself to stop playing. I also have yet to figure out if there’s any actual skill involved in this game. Shinsekai is also home to myriad pachinko parlours and a couple video game arcades that probably haven’t changed since the 1980s.
Another Shinsekai thing are these weird statues of Billiken. They’re everywhere! Billiken is actually an American invention — you can read the story on Wikipedia if you’re interested. You’re supposed to rub his feet for good luck but I think he’s creepy so I stay away.
So that’s the new world of Shinsekai. I might do another post about Shinsekai at night. (You know, if I don’t get murdered because it’s so dangerous.) If you’re ever in Osaka, it’s definitely worth walking through. Take the Midosuji line to Dobutsuen-mae station and start walking. The area leads right into Tennoji Zoo (a cute zoo that I’ll talk about in another post) and Tennoji Park.