Shinsaibashi, Osaka is home to one of the most vibrant and stylish places in Japan. Locals lovingly call it the “Amerikamura” (American village). But you may pass right in front of it without noticing it’s existence.
A 20 minute walk is all it takes. There you can experience yourself what so far has only been seen on T.V.
As soon as you get off the Shinsaibashi station you’re greeted by the traditional Japanese business district. It’s plain and boring.
Uninviting office buildings hug the sides of the main road called “Mido-Suji”. In front of them are neatly planted Sakura trees.
In reality these boring business giants are mere walls guarding the Amerika-mura. Once you venture inside you feel as if you’re Alice in Wonderland. A whole new world opens up. Streets become small and cosy with plenty of colorful lights.
People transform from fortyish salarymen in plain suites into young hipsters and rappers. Girls are exactly as you’ve imagined them. Stylish and daring, crazy make-up and cute giggles. They’re exactly as they appear on Japanese street fashion sites.
Cars are out and bicycles are in. You feel as if you’ve stepped into a new dimension. Clothing stores have loud speakers that spill out New-York’s finest hip-hop stations onto the streets.
Many restaurants have food stands facing the streets. You can sit inside or order right from the street. In either case you are surrounded by the delicious aroma which lingers in the air. No wonder Osaka is often called “nation’s kitchen”.
Youth is out on the streets. Laughing and joking, nodding heads rhythmically to the sounds of hip-hop beats. Girls with hip-hop styles ride on the back of low-rider bicycles. The atmosphere is relaxed and casual. You feel like people shed inhibitions as soon as they enter this area. It’s clean, warm and welcoming as if a little flame of friendship is lit on every street corner.
Dance clubs are all around. Hip-hop, techno and even raggae dance halls are scattered throughout the neighborhood.
But discovery does not end there. Walk several blocks down and you will find the more traditional Japanese neighborhood with a little twist. Shrines with exquisite Kanji writing and monolithic stones face modern store fronts.
Many small bridges extend over Osaka bay canals and you feel as if you’re traveling from Island to Island. Many of these shrines and bridges have been there for centuries. Osakans say there is 808 bridges. They use 808 to describe an extreme amount that cannot be counted. Ancient and modern co-exist in perfect harmony here.
The sounds of hip-hop slowly fade in the distance and hipsters are transformed into well groomed Japanese playboy hosts.
They stand in front of their host clubs dressed in slick suits. The hair is spiky and colorful. They are waiting for the female patrons to pass by so they can invite them in. This is the place where the famous documentary about host clubs, “The Great Happiness Space”, was filmed.
Clubs show off the merchandise (in this case Japanese playboys) with high-quality photographs on the walls. Each picture is backlit with bright lighting. There is a lot going on in these buildings, but there are no streeet hustlers. You don’t feel intimidated at times as you would in Roppongi hills back in Tokyo (Roppongi Hills Incident).
Further down are the popular Osaka shopping mazes. The famous neon signs of Ezaki Glico (running man) and Asahi beer look down at the square. These signs often appear in videos about Japan, down the street is the giant red mechanical crab.
Segregation ends here. Dotonbori is where rappers, hipsters, hosts and tipsy salarymen converge together as one.
The hotels in the area are very affordable and the food is inexpensive. If you travel to Osaka next time, don’t forget to spend a couple of days in Shinsaibashi.
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