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Osaka Insider Progress Report 2

January 27, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s come time to make my second progress report on the status of the Osaka Insider website.

But first I would like to call attention to two new features I have added to this blog: the e-mail subscription and RSS feed subscription buttons near the top of the sidebar. Using either (or both) of these features, you can conveniently monitor updates to my blog. The subscription function for individual post comments is still available as before. You can also find me on Twitter (username: osakainsider). I hope these features will make it easier for you, the reader, to follow and enjoy Osaka Insider.

The Osaka Insider website has not progressed as fast as I’d like, but that is mostly because I am not willing to cut corners and leave out information that may be useful to potential readers. The number of sightseeing spots and facilities to be included on the site at launch is approximately 120, which includes not only individual facilities and sites, but large sites comprising various facilities within (Banpaku Memorial Park, Namba underground shopping, etc). I have completed about 95% the pages for these sightseeing spots. Further, I have scrapped the labor-intensive idea of trying to make my own access maps for each place, and instead decided to use customized Google Maps for this feature–the folks over at Google obviously make way better maps than I can. I am starting to focus more on the gourmet and nightlife sections now, which is the bulk of the work remaining for the site. Speaking of nightlife and gourmet, I welcome any recommendations by Osaka residents or former residents, as I believe word of mouth is one of the best ways to get good information.

The purpose of my website is to provide a comprehensive database of information that can be easily accessed and utilized anytime by those who are in, plan to visit, or have interest in Osaka. I took much of my inspiration for this from japan-guide.com, which is an excellent site that provides concise and useful tourist information. This blog will become part of that site, providing a dynamic and flexible forum to report new things, write articles about Osaka and Japan in general, and supply fresh information. By combining the dynamic format of this blog with the extensive information provided by the website, I hope to create the best source of information. There is a tremendous lack of information regarding Osaka in English, and I hope to be the one who changes that. The site will, of course, expand beyond its already wide scope once I get the beast online. I have more than 100 other spots that I am not currently using at the site because there is not information available on them, I have not physically visited them, or because I am still evaluating them to see if they meet standards (I refuse to post poor recommendations just to inflate my sightseeing list).

I am also putting more effort into increasing traffic on this blog, and researching SEO stuff in preparation for my future site launch. One of the best resources for not only increasing blog readership but gaining inspiration and just entertaining myself throughout the week has been my fellow bloggers, whose links who can find in my blogroll on the right-hand side. It is these people who establish standards of quality to strive for, and who make the online community such a rich place.

You can read all website progress reports here.

As always, suggestions, comments, or ideas for what you want to see on this blog or on the website are welcome.

osakainsider AT gmail DOT com

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Tsutenkaku and the New World

January 20, 2010 5 comments

I must have been a stronger person when I came to live in Osaka for the first time. Newly divorced, friendless, jobless, and without orientation in my new environment, I would spend two months watching the numbers in my bank book grow progressively smaller as job interviews came and went uneventfully. I gradually compromised my standards until I was desperate enough to apply for any job that looked remotely bearable. The tiny apartment was barren, with only a floor mattress to sleep on, a folding “floor chair” whose protruding metal bars made the hardwood floor feel merciful, and a cart for the television set scuffed-up Playstation 2. To retain my sanity and sustain myself, I bought cheap sake, Meiji chocolate and instant yakisoba from Super Tamade, the obnoxiously bright supermarket with blaring theme music, cashiers who only spoke Chinese, and suspiciously low prices.

The studio apartment was a seven-minute walk from Shin-Imamiya Station, located in what seems to be the largest agglomeration of homeless people in Osaka. Also nearby was the covered arcades of Shin-Sekai and Den Den Town, where smelly old men wandered the streets or simply slept on them, day or night. The neighborhood I lived in was Ebisucho, and my apartment building Rapanjiiru Ebisu III—Rapanjiiru is “Rapunzel” in Japanese. When I was first introduced to the apartment, it was through an agency that catered specifically in to foreign customers, because even today many apartments will reject non-Japanese.

After looking at a series of rancid, decrepit rooms, living in a cardboard box in Osaka Castle Park was starting to look attractive—until we reached that seventh-storey room in Rapunzel Ebisu III. It was clean, conveniently located near the subway station, and close to the city center. I made up my mind when I first stepped out on the balcony and saw a somewhat dingy, yet oddly familiar, metal tower.

“Um, this isn’t…”

Tsutenkaku? Yeah,” said the agent, laughing derisively at the aging urban landmark.

Then it came back to me: my university professor, who specialized in Osakan history, had mentioned this tower. “So that over there is Shin-Sekai?”

The agent looked surprised. “Yeah! How did you know that?”

But could this really be the Shin-Sekai I had learned about? Was this the fashionable entertainment district of Taisho-period Osaka? Impossible. But there it was, in plain sight: Shin-Sekai, with the landmark Tsutenkaku tower right smack in the center.

In the early modern period, as Japan rapidly “modernized” to try to gain equal footing, politically and otherwise, with Europe and the United States, planners developed Shin-Sekai (which means “new world”). The area was half modeled after New York City, and half after Paris, with the Eiffel-Tower-inspired Tsutenkaku (the name means “tower reaching the heavens”) as the centerpiece. There was an immensely popular amusement park, Luna Park, located there from 1912 until its closing in 1923. Tsutenkaku was connected to Luna Park by aerial cable car, another modern marvel at the time, and ching-ching of streetcars could be heard from the nearby boulevards. The neon nights, clattering of wooden-shoed feet and giggling of youthful kimono-clad women in Shin-Sekai continued day and night. The brilliant glow of Tsutenkaku could be seen from anywhere in a metropolis that was not yet dominated by high-rise buildings. Shin-Sekai was, to Osakans of the time, truly a marvelous new world.

After the war, however, when most of Osaka had been burnt clean to the ground and the original Tsutenkaku heartlessly dismantled for parts in desperate support of the war effort, Shin-Sekai had seen its final days as Osaka’s glamorous entertainment district. Almost no effort was put into redeveloping the area in the postwar period, and it diminished into a run-down residential neighborhood. Yakuza gangsters operated in the area until the 1990s, giving Shin-Sekai a reputation as being dangerous that still lingers to this day, and after the Yakuza left, the homeless moved in to occupy the space, which did nothing to improve its image. A faint smell of piss mixed with rotting garbage had come to permeate the air of this former playground for the young.

But all was not lost. Surviving citizens of the neighborhood had not forgotten the glamour of the former Shin-Sekai, and even though the district was physically not what it used to be, the pride and culture of the area remained unscathed. Thanks largely to the efforts of neighborhood donations and volunteers, Tsutenkaku was rebuilt in 1956 in a slightly altered form from the original tower, and began to draw attention as a tourist attraction. Hitachi began sponsoring the tower in 1957—and still does today—dressing it with neon lights that the company renews periodically. This resulted in Tsutenkaku becoming a beautiful thing to see at night, in contrast to the dull, metallic spectacle it provided during the day. The tower was not only a piece of local history; it had become a beacon of hope for wartime recovery. It was also an encouraging companion for this lost American who, alone on his floor mat in Rapunzel Ebisu III, looked out at the shining monolith in the dark and felt a faint stirring in his heart.

I imagine the way I felt looking out at the tower every night from my window was the same way many local residents must have felt when the tower’s reconstruction was finished and it once again soared in the sky. Through all the good times and all the tribulations, this simple, elegant tower waited for my return home every evening. Even during that first lonely Christmas full of regret and uncertainty, lying next to the cheap plastic tree from the hundred-yen shop, the warm rays of Tsutenkaku softly stealing through the windowpanes provided some semblance of comfort. Shin-Sekai may be a thing of the past, but its spirit, and the spirit of the Osakans who loved it, live on in this tower to the heavens.

(Tsutenkaku, Shin-Sekai, and Den Den Town can be reached from Ebisucho Station on the Sakaisuji Subway Line.)

Hard Rock Cafe

January 12, 2010 1 comment

Hard Rock Cafes are found in most major cities of the world, and Osaka is no exception. You can get a delicious burger with fries for around 2,000, yen which is a little spendy but worth it considering Japanese burger joints consider a hamburger to be what is essentially cheap meatloaf placed between bread (e.g., Mos Burger).

The HRC in Hommachi, near many of the city’s large offices and the laid-back Utsubo Park, is located in what was once a bank. Besides retaining the feel of Hard Rock Cafes worldwide with its slick interior design and blaring music, this shop hosts DJ events, New Year’s and Halloween parties, and more.

The shop in Universal Studios Japan’s Universal Citywalk shopping complex is the newer of the two, and in my opinion has a far better interior design and atmosphere. As with all Hard Rock Cafes, rare collector’s items are on display inside. This is the perfect way to finish of a day of rides and shopping at Universal Studios.

Both HRCs have gift shops, of course. And incredibly hot waitresses.

The Hommachi branch is located directly outside of exits 9 and 10 of Hommachi Station on the Midosuji, Chuo, and Yotsubashi Subway Lines. The USJ branch is a 3-5 min. walk from Universal City Station on the JR Yumesaki Line (some trains branch off the JR Osaka Loop Line onto this line; you can also transfer from regular JR Loop Line trains, or from the Hanshin Namba Line, at Nishikujo Station).

Happy New Year From Osaka!

January 1, 2010 Leave a comment

I wish a happy New Year to all my readers! I hope 2010 will bring you success and happiness!

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