A 20-minute walk south of Namba will take you to Shinsekai. Although the name may be a little out-dated today (it means New World) it is still well worth a visit.
As far back as the 1800’s the Osaka government had a grand plan to transform this mainly working class area into an attractive entertainment district. By 1913 the layout of Shinsekai was much as it is today with Grand boulevards spiralling from the central tower Tsutenkaku – meaning “Tower Reaching Heaven”.
Since 1912 the fortunes of Shinsekai has been boom and bust. Fires, an earthquake, recessions and even a war have battled against the success of Shinsekai but this area seems to have staged more comebacks than John Farnham. Tsutenkaku has been destroyed and rebuilt; businesses (and an entire shopping centre complete with amusement park) have opened and closed but Shinsekai still draws the crowds.
Today Shinsekai is an area of mixed fortune and mixed interest. From spring to autumn it is crawling with tourists mainly from neighbouring Asian countries. The main attraction is Spa World, which is a world famous onsen complex featuring themed hot spa pools from Finland to Ancient Greece. It rates as a top 5 experience when visiting Osaka.
New businesses are slowly creeping into the area. The newly opened Tower Knives is well worth a look. It boasts a small yet thoughtful collection of chef’s knives mainly from the Kansai area.
Tourists have to eat and Shinsekai offers food in abundance. Once known as the Fugu (poisonous blowfish) capital it is fast being taken over by kushikatsu – deep-fried goodies on sticks. Even kushikatsu chains from Tokyo are setting up shop here for bragging rites of having their “Honten” (head office) in the Shinsekai area. Of course there are sushi and other restaurants in the area including the excellent Roku Sushi-ya at the foot of the tower.
If you are in the market for T-shirt (or beer coaster) that marks your trip to Osaka then Shinsekai offers these in abundance. As much as the area is alive during the day, at night is a ghost town. By 9pm the streets are empty and you will have to head North to finds signs of life.
Yes Shinsekai has its detractors, there are more homeless people here than other parts of Japan but like all other Osakans even the homeless seem friendly. And it’s true that Shinsekai is well overdue for (yet another) revival, but there are gems hidden amongst the New World.
Do visit Shinsekai whilst in Osaka even if it is to see the Infamous Billiken enshrined in Tsutenkaku.
How to get to Shinsekai
Take the Sakaisuji subway line (brown line) Ebisucho station (K18).
Take exit number 3, walk up the stairs and Shinsekai is your oyster.
The unmistakable Tsutenkaku Tower will be straight ahead down the mall. Don’t forget to climb the tower – it’s well worth it – The view of southern Osaka is excellent. At the base of the tower is the famous Roku (sushi restaurant) and above Roku is Tower Knives.
On the next corner is Daruma kushikatsu, it’s the shop with the big queue. Go under the tower and walk straight ahead. After passing Fugu restaurants a flight of stairs takes you to Spa World.
Shinsekai is definitely a must see destination for your next trip to Osaka.