Construction started in March 2010 in Umeda’s Kita Yard (北ヤード), an area located directly next to JR Osaka Station that has been used as a freight terminal throughout its history until now. The area has always been an eyesore in the upscale district, and the redevelopment of this area will essentially “complete” the Umeda area. According to the development project’s website, phase one is scheduled to be complete in March 2013. According to various sources, the entire redevelopment will be complete between 2020 and 2025.
Phase one consists of a series of buildings forming a district known as the “Knowledge-Capital” (inappropriate hyphen placement is their English, not mine). It will supposedly be a multi-purpose commercial-residential-research district, focusing on an international gathering of minds combined with cutting-edge technology. Cutting through all the flowery descriptions, the reality will be a mixed office-shopping-residential district, along with facilities for conferences, conventions, research, and knowledge-workers. There will also be green space modeled after Osaka’s current overarching development theme, the “city of water.”
The above is my summary of what the planners envision, but now I’d like to share my personal thoughts. The Kita Yard is a giant eyesore in Umeda, especially when going to the Umeda Sky Building or Yodobashi Camera, and it also acts as an unwelcome reminder of Osaka’s dirty, industrial past. The land in question is probably the most expensive property in Osaka, and I have high hopes that they will redevelop it in such a way as to add more originality and fun to the Umeda district.
I think the idea of a “Knowledge-Capital” will flop, and the new area will essentially be an expansion of Umeda as a shopping district, with new and extremely expensive housing added in. About a third of the area is dedicated to housing and hotel space, another third to offices, and another third to commercial facilities with a smattering of “Knowledge-Capital” commercial zoning. Throughout Japan’s modern urban development history, there have been many attempts to make technology-based districts or districts revolving around vague concepts such as knowledge or internationalization, and all of them have simply turned into upscale commercial districts in the end–I have almost no doubt that this time will be no different.
In other words, this new part of Umeda will simply be an expansion of the current upscale shopping and central business district. What is needed is some originality, something to make Umeda stand out. This cannot be accomplished by simply throwing in a few department stores, overpriced restaurants and brand-name department stores for gold-diggers and himo. Umeda is a fun place, but it has always felt a bit like a Kansai version of Tokyo’s Shinjuku rather than something uniquely Osakan, as places like Namba, Tsuruhashi and Shin-Sekai are.
Furthermore, areas in the central city north of Osaka Castle Park and Utusbo Park are severely lacking in quality parks and pleasant green space (I’m not counting the drab Yodogawa riverfront), so quality parks and open areas rather than a few sad-looking shrubs are sorely needed in Umeda. These would likely raise property values in the area even further (which must be of some interest to developers there). Osaka has some of the most well-planned parks I’ve encountered in Japan, and a new one in Umeda would be a definite plus for residents.
Finally, this development plan coincides with transportation network expansion projects, namely by JR and the Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau (public operator of subways and buses in Osaka). JR has long been considering a namboku (“north-south”–name TBD) line going underground from a new Kita-Osaka Station in Umeda, through to the existing JR Namba Station and continuing from there on current tracks to Tennoji Station. This would not only provide an alternative route for regular trains and tokkyu special express trains going north-south (they currently use the loop line), it would provide an alternative route for JR freight traffic, as well as new public transportation along Naniwa-suji (boulevard). Osaka City is considering extending its Yotsubashi Line to connect with Kita-Umeda and continue north through Juso to Shin-Osaka Station (where the shinkansen stops). Although they are still in the discussion phases, these moves could greatly improve the Osaka City and Kansai area rail networks and improve ease of movement around the city.
I have mostly commented on phase one of the plan, because that is the only one where details are clear. Only time will tell what the new Umeda will look like, but I have very high expectations that the positive direction Osaka city planning has taken will continue to pick up momentum with this project.
Take a look at the development project’s website if you are interested in learning more.
Photos by Wikimedia Commons.
If you have ever lived in Osaka City, then the mere mention of Super Tamade is sure to bring forth either a smile or a grimace. At any rate, it will invoke some kind of feeling. Perhaps that feeling when you ate their “super” meat and spent a super-swell evening bent over the toilet. Perhaps it is a memory–a memory of the time you first saw Super Tamade and said, “Wait, that’s a supermarket?” Yes, it’s garish exterior, brighter than Disneyland, a pachinko parlor, and the sun combined, will shock you.
This is the store that lives up to its claim of having gekiyasu (ultra-low) prices, with one-yen sales and the lowest prices you will find on any food item in the city, even beating out the penguin-emblazoned Don Quijote stores (well, in prices, not in weirdness).
But be warned: even if you speak Japanese, you can expect most employees to speak nothing but Chinese in response to you. Along with Super Tamade’s suspiciously low-priced octopus and suspiciously colored meat, you will find a suspiciously high number of non-Japanese working suspiciously long hours for (possibly) suspiciously low wages. But I suppose that’s how they achieve gekiyasu prices.
It’s not surprising that Super Tamade was founded in 1992, coinciding with the final decline of the Yakuza, in the south part of town where the Yakuza held considerable influence. Perhaps they just moved from prostitution, smuggling and gambling into the supermarket business instead.
Whatever the case may be, Super Tamade is worth at least one visit. Oh, and don’t even thinking of eating their ready-made meals. Not if you value your health.
Photos by Wikicommons
Kansai International Aiport (KIX) is the second most important airport in Japan (after Narita in Tokyo) and the main airline hub for the Kansai area, which includes Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Wakayama, and many other large cities. KIX is located on an artificial island in Osaka Bay, near Sennan and Izumisano Cities in southern Osaka Prefecture. It is connected to the land by a 3 km (2 mile) bridge that carries rail and road traffic, and also by ferry services.
The island built for this airport turned Osaka Prefecture, formerly the smallest prefecture in Japan in terms of land area, into the second smallest in Japan, putting Kagawa Prefecture in last. There have been problems with the island sinking slowly each year, but they have been mitigated for the most part, naturally and due to technological innovations. Fear of strong crosswinds affecting rail traffic has also been assuaged through installation of protective barriers. KIX survived severe typhoon winds and the 1995 Great Awaji-Hanshin Earthquake without significant damage.
The airport was designed by world-famous Italian architect Renzo Piano, and the terminal is the longest in the world at 1.7 km in length (it is served by a tram/train). There are two runways, and a third is planned as part of a future expansion. KIX has a good variety of restaurants and facilities, and just across the bridge is Rinku Town, one of the most extensive and entertaining shopping areas in all of Osaka Prefecture. You can also stay in the ANA Gate Tower Hotel at Rinku Town, located in the Rinku Gate Tower Building, the second tallest building in Japan after Yokohama’s Landmark Tower (Rinku Gate Tower is the same height as Osaka City’s WTC Cosmo Tower).
KIX is about 35-45 min. by limited express train (JR or Nankai Railways) from central Osaka City, and JR trains continue through Osaka all the way to Kyoto. Check out KIX’s website here. When you visit Osaka next, come through Kansai International Airport and learn why it is considered on of the best airports in the world.
Here is another good post on KIX that focuses more on the interesting architecture design of the airport and contains a number of terminal-building photographs.
Ah yes, one of my favorite spots to go eat or just stroll around. This is Osaka’s own little slice of Korea. Tsuruhashi is populated by a large number of immigrants and family members of past immigrants, and as a result it is home to a large number of unique shops selling traditional Korean apparel, sweets, and other goods. But the main attraction is the food: not only are there a large number of fish and vegetable markets (be forewarned about the smell if you have not spent much time in fish markets), but there are many unbelievably delicious and reasonably priced restaurants serving popular Korean dishes. When you leave the ticket gates of the JR or Kintetsu station, your senses will be treated to a barrage of smells, sights, and sounds as you wander through the almost unbelievably cramped passageways between shops and buildings. This is a unique neighborhood to Osaka and Japan in general, and I recommend taking at least one meal here (give the chijimi a try, it is a delicious Korean food that is also popular in Japan).
One restaurant that I love in particular is Takohachi, a shop that manages to pull off some of the best okonomiyaki and chijimi I’ve had, among other great dishes, and all for more-than-reasonable prices. The staff are cordial will make you feel right at home in this cozy little shop. It’s just a step or two outside Tsuruhashi Station on the Kintetsu Lines and JR Osaka Loop Lines, and it’s close to the same station on the Sennichimae Subway Line as well. Be forewarned that Takohachi closes early.
If there’s one thing that Osaka has more of than any other city in Japan (in fact, there are many things), it’s underground. First of all, let me remind readers that Japanese cities developed differently than many cities in the West, and there is generally more than one “city center” or “downtown.” In Osaka, the two largest are called Umeda and Namba, often called Kita (“north”) and Minami (“south”) by locals because of their geographical locations.
Even Frommer’s claims that “Osaka must rank as one of the world’s leading cities in underground shopping arcades.” According to Wikipedia numbers, of the top five underground shopping districts in Japan, two are in Osaka (Crysta Nagahori at 81,765 m² in size and Japan’s biggest, and Diamor Osaka at 42,977 m²), and the total number of underground shops/restaurants exceeds 1,200. Namba and Umeda have at least as much, if not more, underground as they do above ground and in the sky. Almost any main street has corridors running underneath it with restaurants, arcades, cafes, bars, and shops of all varieties, and layered underneath those are subway lines, rail lines and parking lots. If it’s raining outside, or if you are in the midst of a sweltering Kansai summer there’s really no need to worry because you can often get from the train station to your destination without ever seeing the sky.
Some of the larger underground complexes include Whity, Diamor, Dojima, Gare, and the Hilton shopping complex in Umeda, Namba Walk and Nan-Nan Town in the Namba area, and Crysta Nagahori running between Shinsaibashi and Nagahoribashi Stations (underneath Nagahori-dori). Other complex such as OCAT, Namba City, and Hankyu Sanbangai have portions above- and below-ground. There are also a number of ground-level, outdoor, covered shopping arcades, the most famous being the Shinsaibashi, Tenjinbashi, and Hankyu Higashi-dori shopping arcades and the Kuromon fresh food market. The outdoor Shinsaibashi arcade is so crowded that it is air-conditioned in the summer.
These trends follow the general theme in Osaka: many of the best things about this city are not readily visible, but if you are willing explore a little, amazing experiences are waiting just below the surface.