Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Shinsekai, the underbely of Osaka

Shady underworld-type woman at Shinsekai

We decided to go into town and look around. Here are some pictures near the neighborhood where I am staying at. What in the world is this place Charlie supposed to be?

As usual, there are tons of stairs to climb. Looking back over the day, I think I must have walked for at least two hours. My feet are killing me, and I thought I walked a lot back in Hawaii. You go down a long flight of stairs to the station, only to find another flight, followed by more walking after you buy your train ticket.

We caught the train to Namba station, one of the major shopping areas in Osaka city. Right by the station is a huge underground complex called Nan Nan town. Yoko told me that back in the 1980s, it was packed with people, and while the place has obviously seen better days, and seems a bit run down, you can still see many people walking through this large complex full of small shops, restaurants, and bookstores. We stopped by a takoyaki (deep fried breaded octopus shaped into small balls) – saying “octopus balls” just gives people the wrong idea. It is a very old school takoyaki – the sauce is cooked into the batter, and so there is no need for added sweet sauce. Quite delicious! One touch I like is the wet tissues on the table – why don’t more restaurants in America do this? Don’t they realize that customers want to clean their hands before eating?

Now the good in Japan is delicious, but let’s be honest, just comes in too small portions. So I was still hungry and we went to a kaiten sushi shop – sushi that goes around a revolving belt. This restaurant called Daisukiya had so many varieties of sushi – for example different types of salmon and had two levels of conveyor belts with numerous varieties of fish. Each type of sushi was put in a group and had a sign describing what it was. I had new types of fish I’d never had before. I think Hawaii is ready for this kind of place – upscale, yet affordable sushi. The whole meal only cost us $25 for the two of us.

There are cheap places to buy clothes. Uniqlo is a chain of clothing stores like Wal-Mart (made in China) but much more stylishly designed, and clothes made for Asian appearances. I thought I’d never shop for clothes in Japan given what I thought were ridiculous prices, but with stylish short pants (made of dri-fit material) going for less than $5, I ended up buying four pairs of short pants. Here’s a dressing room in Uniqlo. Notice how you take off your shoes when you go inside. Shops should do this in Hawaii as well. The clerk wouldn’t let me take the picture at first, but when I told her that we don’t have this in America, she took a picture of me in the changing room. So if you go to Japan, shop at Uniqlo for clothes, and eat at kaiten sushi for food.

We then emerged into a new outdoor shopping center – Namba Town. One note – western pop music is everywhere and stores play everything BUT Japanese music in Japan. I head music ranging from Kool and the Gang (Celebration), to Etta James. And Boyz II Men songs still blare over store stereos in Japan. They must have a huge following here. I think western music makes stores seem more hip and classy.

We then caught a cab to the other extreme in terms of social class of Osaka – Shinsekai. This place used to be a happening place in the 1920s with crowds of factory workers coming to the numerous movie theaters, restaurants, and parks over here. At night, the whole place would be lit up, and a gondola ferried passengers. Many Japanese considered this to be the shape of Japan to come. Now, this place is a former shadow of its former self. Everyone here seems blue collar, and many middle-aged men seem to walk around in a drunken stupor. The movie theaters play soft-core porno or dated 1960s yakuza gangster flicks that celebrate Japanese chivalry. Lonely Planet guidebook called this one of the most dangerous places in Japan. So I had to go here.

This is my kind of place. You see tattooed women (probably gangster affiliated), middle aged men who seem down on their luck, and of course, lots of small bars and eateries that cater to this population. We went into a kushikatsu joint. Kushikatsu is food, such as meat, radishes, shrimp, cheese, or even a whole egg put on a stick, dipped in batter and then deep-fried. You dunk the fried food into sauce (double dipping is strictly forbidden), and then eat. Chopped cabbage is on the side for you to eat. Again, I ate tons of food and even had some beer, and it all came out to $24 for the two of us. So if you are in Osaka, eat kushikatsu in Shinsekai.

This eatery, I will visit again. Along the way, I passed by a porno peep room with a cartoon character of the Monkey King as its mascot.

Afterwards, we met up with Yoko’s mother, and then we walked through Den Den town. I’ll come back here later and do more descriptions. For now, it is heaven for connoisseurs of electronic goods and Japanese animation.

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