Home > My Opinons > In Defense of Shin-Imamiya, Shin-Sekai, and Nishinari

In Defense of Shin-Imamiya, Shin-Sekai, and Nishinari

Shin-Imamiya, Shin-Sekai, and Nishinari–these three places are known by people throughout Kansai as dangerous places. Guidebooks parrot the same mindless hearsay, advising people not even to set foot in these neighborhoods. I, for one, believe their reputation for being “dangerous” is undeserved, or at least highly exaggerated.

Let’s start with Shin-Sekai, the home of Tsutenkaku, Spa World, and delicious fugu and kushikatsu. This place has a reputation for being “dangerous,” but in all seriousness, there is almost nothing dangerous here. People talk about Yakuza presence, but it has been gone for decades. Of course, it is not the kind of place a woman would want to walk through alone at night, but for the most part it just smells bad because of all the homeless people living in the covered shopping arcades.

Then there’s Shin-Imamiya, that awful-looking, awful-smelling area at the bottom of the loop line, near the Airin labor center. There are many homeless people and generally creepy people, but there is minimal danger near in this station-front area. It is actually a popular place among backpackers and budget travelers from abroad, as many of the doya* that day laborers used to live in have been converted to extremely cheap youth hostels (2,000 yen or so a night), and the location is convenient for sightseeing in and around Osaka, as well as for nights out in Minami. The day laborers themselves are, for the most part, not bad people–many of them were workers who fell victim to economic downturn, were members of outcast groups, or else were “salarymen” and the like who couldn’t cut it in corporate culture and had no family to help them. Of course there are also alcoholics, criminals, and the like mixed in, but I don’t think that’s the norm. An interesting bit of Shin-Imamiya culture: on the south side of the JR station and west of the Nankai tracks, at around 5:00 am or so every morning, homeless, poor, and regular residents of the area put on a flea market, selling all sorts of interesting things they pick up from around town. While there’s nothing there really worth buying, it’s fun to browse through.

Lastly, there’s Nishinari. This ward became famous in 1991 when the Nishinari Riots occurred, stemming from dissatisfaction on the part of day laborers and homeless in the area and also in response to their unfair (and sometimes brutal) treatment by police. This sort of violence rarely occurs on such a large scale in Japan, a country that is considered extremely safe, and as a result Nishinari came into the spotlight as a “dangerous place.” Now, I’ll admit that Nishinari is not a very nice part of town by any means, and it really isn’t a very good place to live, but for the most part it’s safe as long as you know where to go and where not to go. (Tip: stay out of the southeast area, where Yakuza actually are still active.)

I spent about two years living in these areas (one year in Ebisucho just a short walk from Shin-Imamiya and right next to Shin-Sekai, and one year in Nishinari itself on the other side of Shin-Imamiya), so I have seen a lot of the good and the bad. These are poorer parts of town, but I truly think their reputation for being extremely dangerous is exaggerated, although their reputation for being filthy and dirty is spot-on. Although these areas are probably less safe than other parts of town, a little common sense is all you need to avoid trouble. Perhaps my attitude is related to my different perception of what is “dangerous,” having grown having grown up visiting American cities where real danger is easily encountered.

Furthermore, there is a really sense of community in these areas, whether it be in the Shin-Sekai neighborhood (an old neighborhood with pride in their history), among the homeless and day laborers, or among the many non-Japanese and other people who don’t quite fit in to society as a “normal” Japanese person might.

Before speaking so badly of a place, I think it should be visited and evaluated in person.

*Doya (ドヤ) is a slang term used by day laborers for facilities where small rooms can be rented out for short- or long-term stays. These facilities are used by many day laborers who stay when they have enough money (or when the weather is too cold), and sleep outside at other times. The term comes from the common word yado, which means home or lodging, but with the two Japanese letters ya and do put in reverse order (宿→ヤド→ドヤ). In order to stay in business among changes in day laborer demographics, owners of many doya have converted their facilities into youth hostels targeting backpackers from abroad and other budget travelers.

  1. Robin
    June 4, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    I make these areas part of every travel itinerary when friends (not family) from overseas visit. Never have I encountered any dangerous situation.

    Here’s a travel guide to Tobita Shinchi😉

    • June 5, 2010 at 9:20 am

      Thanks for the link! I haven’t been out to Tobita Shinchi yet.

  2. odorunara
    June 18, 2010 at 12:58 pm

    During my days as a naive 留学生, my friends and I found ourselves exiting the Tennoji Zoo into Shin-Sekai, and strong-armed into the worst restaurant ever by a scary おばあさん。 Were we physically safe? Probably. Was the whole area super 雰囲気が怖い? 確かに。

  3. justin
    September 12, 2010 at 6:53 pm

    ive lived in nishinari-ku on and off for 10yrs when living in japan and love the place for some reason. Its an old school exisitance with no pompas yeh it stinks and theres no hot women walking around the streets but the place has character!

    One you’ve lived there for long enough and get to know locals who have grown up there you soon see the pride they have in whats considered the most dangerous area in japan.

    My good mate Michael Duhn who is half japanese has lived in nishinari for most of his life maybe some of you have seen him about, he looks like kanau reeves lol

    we met walking the streets of nishinari and became best mates, i dont think he’ll ever leave nishinari ku.

  4. Faisal
    April 27, 2011 at 11:34 am

    I totally agree with you !
    There’s a certain charm about nishinari
    I dunno why but I love it

  5. forever
    March 30, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    I would just like to comment that, before coming to this area, what was written on the net about it scared the shit out of me. However, coming here, I frequently found myself saying `So… this is it?`.

    I wonder why the public has made such a fuss about the area. Yes, it`s certainly not `fashionable`, and yes, there is lots of poverty here and there. But that`s it. Remember that, you`re a foreigner. And if everythings correct, you`re twice the size of the old homeless guys walking around. There is nothing to be scared of. I found my native Amsterdam to be 100 times more scary as a matter of fact. It is still Japan.

    Finally I would like to add, that I am suprised by the amount of `non-homeless people`, that is, salarymen, mothers, young people that frequent the area as if there is nothing special too it. Its just the poorest area of Osaka. That`s really all there is to it.

  6. roy
    October 12, 2012 at 7:57 pm

    Stayed around the corner from Dōbutsuen-mae Station, and loved it. Not super clean, but not dirty either. Just lived-in. Full of character, and I never felt unsafe. I plan to use that area as a base next trip. Oh and found great, cheap accommodation (1980 Yen a night). You can’t get that anywhere near Umeda or Namba, and it’s just a few stops away! Working as a Photographer, I found this place a but of a Mecca, and I could easily live there. Tokyo, not so much. Have spent more time in Tokyo, and it’s just not for me, Osaka all the way.

  7. Tralone
    December 11, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I stayed in Nishinari last November 2012 and walked around Shin-Imamiya and Shin-Sekai area, it was around 12 midnight to observe around the place. I saw homeless guy sleeping sorrounded by his stuffs in front of the closed store near uniqlo, i don’t think he can harm people but the one dirty guy who went out from lawsons convenient store looked at me as he want to do something bad to me, i just ignored him and continue walking back to my hostel. There are police patrol cars to monitor the area and keep the area safe every night.

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