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.
First opened in 1933 between a temporary Umeda Station and Shinsaibashi Station, the Midosuji Line is Japan’s second oldest subway line (after Tokyo’s Ginza Line) and the first state-operated subway line in Japanese history. Coinciding with a massive widening and redevelopment of Midosuji Boulevard–transforming it from a narrow street into a sweeping boulevard, and the first north-south street capable of handling modern traffic in the city–this first section of the subway line was dug by hand. The project was intended not only to further modernize Osaka’s transportation and communications infrastructure, an important step in a fast-rising interwar Japan, but it was also meant to give jobs to the laborers of Osaka as part of wide-ranging efforts to improve the lives of and provide more opportunities to the city’s working class. By the outbreak of war in Asia and the subsequent Pacific War with the United States, the line had been extended through Namba down to Tennoji.
The following is video footage from the 1930s, starting with the construction work on Midosuji Boulevard from 1930 and concluding with the launch of the subway itself in 1933.
The current Midosuji Line, operated by the Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau, spans 20 stations, running from Suita City in the north, southward to Nakamozu in Sakai City. It is the most heavily used subway line in Japan, which may be because Osaka has the most dramatic daytime/nighttime population change of any city in the country–the amount of commuters from outside is so great that the daytime population increases by about 50% on weekdays. The subway line runs along Osaka’s the most important boulevard, through the most developed areas, and its ten-car trains (a huge contrast from the almost comical single-car trains of 1933) come at intervals of approximately 30 to 60 seconds during the rush hour, packed wall to wall. The crowded Midosuji Line was also where the concept of the ladies-only car started in response to groping incidents on crowded trains: this innovation has reduced the number of incidents greatly and is used throughout large cities in Japan today.
While Japanese people tend to be very polite for the most part, don’t expect anything of the sort when riding the Midosuji Line during rush hour. Here you will encounter a wide variety of bad manners as people pack into the stifling train cars and shove their way through stations to get to work in time. For residents such as myself, this is nothing new, as I long ago learned to sleep standing up with someone’s elbow jammed into my back; for tourists, I urge you to avoid the peak hours. I’m sure you will otherwise find the Midosuji Line to be a convenient, quick, and even enjoyable way to get around Osaka.
Photo by WikiCommons
Hub British Pub (英国風ハブ) is a chain of friendly bars where you can meet people, whether you are from Japan or abroad. I have met more people from other countries at the Hub than anywhere else. There is fairly tasty food, as would be expected of a pub, especially the Hub Premium Cheeseburger (comes with fries) and the spinach gnocchi. But most of all, the drinks are good, and they don’t rip you off by using cheap liquor. The long island iced teas are delicious and perfectly balanced, and the original cocktails are superb–I personally like the “Tarantula,” which has quite a kick despite its smooth taste, and the one-liter tower of beer is always fun. Happy hour, which goes until 7:00 pm every day, means cocktails as cheap as 190 yen each, which is probably the lowest price I’ve seen outside of Blue Moon Bar. Hub Pubs are generally open until around 1:00 am on weekdays and 2:00 am on weekends. They can be reserved for private parties, and they often show sports events involving local or Japanese national teams (with soccer being shown most often). Most of all, the atmosphere is casual and relaxed.
Despite being a large chain, the Hub provides consistent quality and good times, and whether you are new in town, looking to meet new people, or just searching to a place to kick back after work, check out on of Osaka’s four branches (two in Namba, one near Shinsaibashi, and one in Umeda’s Chayamachi district).
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.