Spent the day hanging around the Ghettos of Osaka.
This place gives out eerie vibes. I never fail to get chills every time I’m in this area. Feeling lonely & desolate whenever I’m here… A negative element greets you as you enter; Welcome to the “New World”.
Shinsekai is Osaka’s “New World”, a district that was developed before the war and then neglected in the decades afterwards. At the district’s center stands Tsutenkaku Tower, the nostalgia evoking symbol of Shinsekai.
The area was developed into its current layout following the success of the 1903 National Industrial Exposition, which brought over five million people to the neighborhood within just five months.
Shortly after the expo closed its doors, work began to improve and Shinsekai continued to swiftly evolve.
However, 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.
At the beginning of the 20th century the neighbourhood flourished as a local tourist attraction showcasing the city’s modern image. The centrepiece of the neighbourhood was Tsutenkaku Tower, whose name means: the “tower reaching toward heaven”), and the now abandoned; Shinsekai Luna Park.
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”. However, Shinsekai’s status as a dangerous area owes much to criminal activity that flourished in the decades before the 90’s.
Continuing the area’s chequered fortunes of recent years, in place of rampant criminality, Osaka’s large permanent settlement of homeless has taken root in the areas around Shinsekai.
Homeless men, often elderly, from all over Japan come to Osaka to escape the stigma of hometown societal shame and wander the streets around the area.
The neighbourhood is also home to a large presence of prostitutes and a concentration of Osaka’s transvestite community.
Though its elements of seediness and destitution are often highlighted, Shinsekai is also home to a large number of legitimate business outlets. It is the scene of low-cost restaurants, cheap clothing stores, cinemas, shogi and mahjong clubs, and pachinko parlors.
Paris was chosen as the model for Shinsekai’s northern half, while the southern portion was built to imitate Coney Island in New York. Tsutenkaku Tower was constructed in 1912 after Paris’ Eiffel Tower. Although it was scrapped during World War 2, the tower was reconstructed soon afterwards in 1956. The current tower is 103 meters high, with the main observatory at a height of 91 meters.
Today, Shinsekai has a reputation as one of Japan’s more seedy and dangerous neighborhoods, a fact that is more reflective of the country’s high standard of safety than anything else.
Nevertheless, there is a sizeable homeless population around Shinsekai, and the neighborhood south of the JR railway tracks is one of the few areas in Japan where the large number of open prostitution occurs, without any police interference.
Another noted attraction in Shinsekai is Kushikatsu, one of Osaka’s best known specialties. It is a dish composed of various skewered, battered and deep fried foods. Varieties on offer range from chicken and beef, pumpkin and asparagus, to the banana and even ice cream dessert varieties – all breaded and deep fried on small sticks for around 150 yen each..
Many of Shinsekai’s kushikatsu restaurants are open 24 hours, but only truly come alive when the lights come on at night.
Shinsekai also has several Fugu restaurants, but the neighborhood’s real culinary forte is Kushikatsu.
Shinsekai is also home to Spa World, a huge bath complex with a large number of pools on a European themed floor and an Asian themed floor – enjoyed naked and gender separated. The floors are switched between genders each month. Natural hot spring water is pumped up from far below the earth’s surface.
Further south from Spa World is the also -now-closed Festival Gate, a compact amusement park built to rejuvenate Osaka’s most run-down area, but ended up bankrupting itself. Instead of trying to blend the park into Shinsekai, its construction resulted in virtually barricading it from the surrounding neighborhood.
It managed to remain open for nearly seven years but in somewhere around 2004, a joint-venture behind the operation went into bankruptcy, effectively shutting down the complex for the most part. As an amusement space, it was no match for the nearby internationally recognized Universal Studios Japan.
In early 2008, the city began calling for tenders from prospective buyers although, at this time only ONE crepe shop adjoining Spa World was the ONE and only business still operating in the empty complex.
Nothing seems to go right in Shinsekai. It might have failed multiple times, there’s nothing odd about that. But every time Shinsekai picks itself up, it ends up falling even harder than before. Is it due to poor management or is Shinsekai considered “unlucky” or cursed?
I guess we’ll never know…however, one thing’s for sure. The government has given up trying to resurrect Shinsekai from the dead. It’s impossible to revive it, Shinsekai has been gone for too long.
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