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Osaka, where I was born, is known for having the highest crime rate in Japan. But, this may come as quite the surprise especially to those who have actually visited Osaka for sightseeing. Don’t get me wrong though. Osaka is, for the most part, a safe city. Foreigners will find it to be a safe place, though locals will not be surprised by this stigma. This is partly thanks to Nishinari (aka Kamagasaki, or Airin), which is considered to be the slum of Osaka.

japan

Although the locals tend to avoid this area, it has surprisingly become a sort of mecca for foreign backpackers due to the cheap accomodations. The reason why they don’t mind staying in such a place is because it is statistically way safer than their own home countries. Apparently, there are even a few guide books that say this outright: “Nishinari-ku: the most dangerous area in Japan, but not as bad as your own country.”

But, can you really be confident that this place is not as dangerous as your own country? It’s possible that you may feel quite comfortable in those areas at home, but, many things are done differently country to country. So, how cheap are things in Nishinari-ku? Is it really worth visiting or staying here? Let’s find out in this two part article.

Nishinari Ward

There are 24 wards in Osaka City, and one of them is Nishinari, which takes up a whole 2.8 square miles. If you type “Nishinari” in Google Maps, it will show you where the Nishinari Ward is. Perhaps you’ll even recognize some of the more popular landmarks nearby.

nishinari-ward

This area is famous for the Tennouji Park, Tennouji Zoo, the Tsutenkaku Tower, deep fried kebab-style restaurants, and “Spa World,” which has many different kinds of onsen from around the world as well as scary water slides. One slide is called “The Death Loop,” if that helps to paint a picture.

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After reading the above paragraph you may be wondering something like, “Mami, you said the locals tend to avoid that area, didn’t you?” Well, the park and zoo are in Tennouji-ward and the other sight-seeing spots called Shinsekai (literally meaning “new world”) are all located in Naniwa-ward. Only Midousuji Boulevard separates Naniwa from Nishinari, but the difference is still quickly noticeable. So, if you are a little worried about going to Nishinari, make sure not to cross the road to the “other side” of Japan.

Furthermore, the slum area doesn’t cover the whole of the Nishinari-Ward either. The undesireable areas of Nishinari are found around Haginochaya, Taishi, and Sannou. In May 1966, Airin-chiku became the area’s offical name, but most of the locals continue to call this area “Kamagasaki” or “Nishinari”.

Although not found in the above mentioned areas, Japan’s largest red-light-district, Tobita-shinchi (a.k.a Tobita-Yuukaku) also makes its home in Nishinari-ward. Though it’s advisable to avoid this area in real life, especially if you’re a woman, when writing an article about Nishinari it’s nearly impossible to bypass.

Kamagasaki: Nishinari in Nishinari-ward

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Until the mid Meiji-era (1868-1912 AD), Osaka’s slum area was located in Nagamachi, which is now Block 1-3 Nipponbashi in Chuuou-ward, and the Kamagasaki area was just a small fishing village with a graveyard and an accompanying execution grounds, a vestige of the Edo (1603-1867) Shogunate.

The Nagamachi area had many extremely cheap inns for day laborers (called Kichin-ya), but for the purpose of making more available accommodations for the fifth National Industrial Exhibition being held in 1903, a law was passed forcing all inns in the Nagamachi area to move to the Kamagasaki area in 1898. In turn this forced the day laborers to follow, and so began the Kamagasaki slum.

Just as a note, some people mistake Kamagasaki (or Nagamachi) area to be the distinctive village of Burakumin, but they are different. The Nagamachi and Kamagasaki slums were naturally formed by homeless people and wanderers, whereas the Buraku hamlets were officially formed as outcaste communities in the Japanese feudal era.

nishinari

Photo by Hippi39311

The Kamagasaki area is only ~500-800 square meters but the population is said to be around 20,000 to 30,000. The actual number is unknown because many of the people there are homeless and aren’t even on the residential registration. Since there are so many Doya-inns (previously known as Kichinya-inns) in such a small area, its population density is said to be 3 or 4 times that of Tokyo’s 23 wards.

Sakaisuji Street divides the area into West and East and each side has different characteristics. On the East side, there are many wooden rental houses and also a shopping arcade called “Tobita-hon-doori” (a.k.a Doubutsuen-mae-ichiban-gai). Thus, it still exhibits a similar resemblance to, and a taste of the ambiance of old Osaka. On the West side, there are many multistoried Doya-inns as well as restaurants and launderettes for laborers. Regional improvement facilities are also increasing in number.

Super Cheap Doya-Inns

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Photo by kamame

In the 90’s there were around 200 Doya-inns. Now it’s nearly half of that due to the aging of the laborers. Some Doya-inns changed into public welfare housing where residents pay rent with public assistance. Although those public housing complexes are no longer available, other Doya-inns are open for not only day-layborers but anyone else who needs a bed. In fact, Doya-inns first started to be used by foreigners in 2002, when the FIFA World Cup was held in Japan and Korea.

News of the cheap accommodations and convenience traveled quickly among world travelers and now it’s becoming a backpackers’ paradise. I even came across a person who tweeted that he wants to make homeless and foreign friends at the same time, so he is thinking of staying over night in a doya.

The cost of Doya-Inns start at 400 yen/night (~$4). However, the cheapest places (400-1000yen/night) are very competitive and are usually already occupied by fixed residents. But, don’t worry. There are still plenty of other cheap places starting from 1000-2500 (~$10-$25) yen/night. Furthermore, if you were rich enough to pay over 2500 yen/night, you could stay at a nice “hotel” in and around this area, as well.

According to Hotel Price Index, the average hotel price in Japan is around $150/night, so now you have a better idea as to how cheap these Kamagasaki “hotels” really are.

In terms of what you’re getting, the average Doya-inn is around 54 square feet (3 tatami mats). The bathroom and toilet are shared, or you may have to go to another inn or hotel to take a shower. Some rooms are becoming non-smoking for backpackers, but you can still smell the stale cigarette smoke that will be stuck there for years to come.

What Else Is Cheap?

As many of you have probably already guessed by now, the accommodations are not the only thing that is inexpensive. Let’s have a look around to find out what else can be done on the cheap.

Super Tamade

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Photo by hippie39311

First, in Kamagasaki area, there are 5 super cheap grocery stores called “Super Tamade.” Super Tamade was founded in 1992, coinciding with the final decline of the Yakuza in Tamade of the Nishinari-ward. There is a well-known rumor that this discount grocery store chain is run by the Yakuza, but I will leave that up to your imagination.

This discount grocery chain goes to extreme lenghts to stand out in comparison to others, not only for their brightly decorated appearance but also their unbelievably cheap prices.

1yendeals

(A flyer of Super Tamade)

For example, they have a unique 1 yen (~1 penny) sale system. If you spend 1,000 yen or more, you can buy one of their special items at 1 yen. Several items are selected everyday and they are usually canned food, drinks, vegetables, meats, eggs, etc… The amount you can purchase at 1 yen is restricted, but it’s still a nice surprise, isn’t it? They are so friendly to day laborers that they also offer a variety of bento boxes starting at 200 yen.

Himawari

There is also a 24/7 cafe restaurant called “Himawari” (meaning sunflower) managed by Super Tamade in the Nishinari-ward. They offer breakfast for about 300 yen and lunch sets for about 500yen.

Cheap Foods Other Than Tamade

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Photo by hippie39311

There are many cheap teishoku (set menu) restaurants. For example, manpuku-shokudou provide “home-made” set meals for 400 to 500yen that will fill a traveller’s stomach.

Most of the restaurants in Kamagasaki also have a tachinomi (standing bar) because it’s more economical for both restaurant owners and laborers.

Tachinomis offer quick and simple meals, as well. For example, one place sells “cooked instant ramen” for 200yen and another sells “homemade curry rice” for 300yen.

Free meals are sometimes distributed in a public park, but you need to bring a container and wait in a super long line.

Cheap Vending Machines

Although Japan’s cheapest beverage vending machine (10yen) is in the Fukushima-ward of Osaka, they have their own cheap cans too. All of the cheap beverages are made by Sangaria, a local company in Osaka. The average price of Kamagasaki’s vending machines ranges from 50 to 70 yen/can, whereas the average Japan-wide price is 120 yen. Unlike the cheapest vending machine in the Fukushima-ward, at least here you actually get to choose what comes out of the machine.

cheap-vending

Photo by Kinu_chi

Interestingly, Sangaria gets its name from a famous Chinese poem called “Spring View” by Toho, “国破れて山河在り” or “國破山河在 (guó pò shān hé zài)” in Chinese, which means; “The country is destroyed; yet mountains and rivers remain.” So, I feel like the company is saying, “Even though Japan was bankrupt, Sangaria’s cheap beverage will remain.” Please don’t say that I’m the only one that thinks that because they made a song for a commercial that went;

いち にい サンガリア
1 2 3(san)-garia

にい にい サンガリア
2 2 3(san)-garia

サンガリア サンガリア
Sangaria Sangaria

国破れて サンガリア
The country is destroyed: yet Sangaria remains.

敵も味方も ヨンダリア
You should invite both friends and foes. (Yondaria sounds like “youndariya” in Kansai-ben, which means “you should invite”)

みーんなで仲良く 飲んだりア サンガリアコーヒー
You should all drink Sangaria coffee together as friends. (Nakayoku-nondaria sounds like “nakayoku-nondariya” in Kansai-ben, which means “you should drink as friends”.)

Needless to say, there are many alcohol vending machines, as well.

Seemingly Cheap Shops

There are also several shops displaying unique signboards. For instance, the board of a clothing store called Yasuda-ya says “まだ高いですか!!”, which means “Is it still expensive?”. There is an Izakaya restaurant in the arcade that goes by the name “甘すぎてすいません”, which means “Sorry for spoiling you”. Speaking of “sorry,” sorry, but I’m not sure if these places are actually cheap or not, but it’s a fairly safe bet given their signs and where they are located.

Cheap Movies

There is a small movie theatre called Tobita-Cinema where you can see 3 movies for 800 yen. If it is Tuesday, it’s 500 yen.

Cheap Or Even Free Haircut

cheap-haircut

The average price of a haircut is around 800 yen in this area. If you were really broke, sometimes volunteers will offer you a free haircut. There’s usually a notification posted somewhere beforehand. In order to get a free haircut, you have to get a numbered ticket in the morning in the public park because they usually have a maximum limit.

Granted, if you’re reading this you’re not likely to be homeless, but don’t be taken aback that I’ve told you where to get a free haircut. Believe it or not, when I took my boyfriend to Spa world, we came across a caucasian man sleeping on flattened out cardboard boxes.

At first we weren’t able to see him because of the blanket he’d fashioned out of cardboard to get away from the drizzle that night. Yes, he wasn’t even able to stay in a Doya-inn and had to do Aokan (sleeping outside). We had some leftover nan bread from the curry restaurant we’d just come from, so my boyfriend offered it to the man.

As he rustled to grab the bread we realized that he was not Japanese when his response – “Ah, cheers man. Thanks” – was unmistakably that of a native English speaker. We never asked him anything about how he came there, but like I said at the beginning of the article, you never know what will happen there.

What’s Coming Up Next

Now that you know what’s here (and how cheap it is), please come back tomorrow to learn more about the “dodgy” side of Nishinari. It will tell you what makes this place somewhat dangerous (though maybe not as dangerous as you might expect). Go ahead and rent out a night in a Doya-Inn and we’ll see you in the morning!

Bonus Wallpapers!

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[1280x800] ∙ [2560x1600]

And map!

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[750x1110] ∙ [2230x3300]

  • Corey Taylor

    This is a pretty refreshing article. No one likes to talk about the “down” places of, well, anywhere, but it helps make it more “real” to see that Japan isn’t the paradise anyone who talks about Japan makes it out to be (and this goes for almost everywhere else, too).

    Everywhere is going to have run down places with homelessness and shadyness. I think it would not only be an interesting, but an important exercise in examining how different cultures view, interact with, and help and alleviate all that goes on in these areas.

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    Wait until you see tomorrow, things get really down

  • Fliss

    I stayed here a few years ago and had an amazing time at this community centre set up by hippies in one of the arcades. Just wandered in off the street and there was this guy playing accordion and a girl singing. Everyone really friendly and the guy who ran it explained how he organized events for the elderly and homeless there. There was shodo all over the walls that had been done at a recent workshop. Lovely people.

  • Mark Bellis

    Nice! I saw a documentary where it showed that nuclear plants get a lot of their temporary workers from there.

  • Maarten Rutte

    I’ve stayed in a hotel near doubutsuen-mae for a little over a week. In my experience, it wasn’t all that bad. Granted, the hostel I stayed at in Kyoto was a lot better, but apart from the occasional drunk homeless guy or police siren at night, it wasn’t too bad. It certainly did not feel dangerous to me at all. I wouldn’t want to live there though..

  • Daniel R. Patterson

    The rapping old ladies at the grocery store made my day. Thanks! LOL

  • Beetle BANE

    I am not seeing any down-sides so far.

  • https://twitter.com/Qndrez Qndrez

    They’re sporting some nice Sony MDR (can’t tell which specific model) headphones, too.

  • Colt Chaffin

    I’ve actually been to both places, and as a foreigner I felt safe walking through Airin (granted it was daylight), and I remember the vending machines. Tobita-Shinchi, however, was a completely different story.

    Hopefully more is discussed about it next time because the whole “process” is very intriguing from what my Japanese friends said (they haven’t been, but it seems most guys in Osaka know about it). They said that the places are classified as “restaurants” to get around prostitution laws, and that it is about 15,000 yen for 15 minutes. And the Obaa-chan’s just stare you down as their attractive “hosts” try and entice you by just sitting seiza for you to select.

    I also heard some bad stories about the cinema in ShinSeiKai, don’t think it is the same one listed in the article but it is really close to Tsutenkaku. Basically he said don’t go to the basement unless you are prepared to be violated.

    Very weird place, all my Japanese friends were weird about walking around but as foreigners we just didn’t care.

  • Jonathan Harston

    I want to get a time machine and track down whoever went to Japan in the 19th century and mistranslated ku into ‘ward’. In English, ‘ward’ is an electoral district that elects councillors to the local council, and as such have to have the same population so are redrawn every 15 years or so.
    I tell people that the closest equivalent to ‘Special Ward’ as in Tokyo is ‘London Borough’ – a subdivision that has its own elected council and government functions, but within a larger area that also has its own elected council and government functions. I think the closest equivalent to a Japanese ward is ‘New York Borough’ – a subdivision that doesn’t have its own elected council, but does have government functions.

    From what I’ve read up, Japanese local councils don’t seem to have electoral districts, what we’d call ‘wards’ – all council members are elected ‘at large’. If there are 50 members of the local council, you have a ballot paper with 50 choices on it and probably something like 200 candidates on it. Is that correct?
    Ok, my rambling has got really off topic. Maybe I should do some more research and write it up as a Tofugu article. :)

  • http://kathrynohalloran.blogspot.com/ Kathryn OHalloran

    I’ve stayed in the Nishinari area a few times. The most dangerous thing I encountered were the American frat boys in my hotel :) Actually I was nearly the most dangerous thing they’d ever encountered when they didn’t STFU at 2 am. I reckon it’s one of the best areas to stay in Japan.

  • Waychan

    I always stay around the area when I visit Osaka. I like to call the place dodgy as a joke but that’s compared to the rest of Japan.

  • Corey Taylor

    In my experience, any run down place you go to in the world with high crime, the worst you’re likely to experience is pick pocketing. Most violent crime happens infra and inter gang, between individuals that know each other, etc. rarely will anyone bother you if you’re minding your own business.

  • Mami

    Nice drawing!

  • Mami

    I laughed so hard when I first watched it too! lol

  • Mami

    Good to know.

  • Mami

    Check out tomorrow’s article about the dark side of the place just in case!

  • Mami

    What does “frat” and “STFU” mean? I’m glad you enjoyed staying there:)

  • Mami

    Wow interesting! I didn’t know that. Thank you for the explanation!!!

  • Mami

    Yes it will come more tomorrow.:D Thank you for sharing your experience!

  • Mami

    Actually, the hostel in Kyoto (near Sagano) received the world best hostel, if my memory is right:P

  • Mami

    You’ve been many run down places in the world? Let us know your story more(^v^)/

  • Mami

    Oh, was the documentary on TV in Canada?? (>v<) I missed it.

  • Mami

    That’s great. There are actually a lot of shodo pictures on flickers from nishinari. Maybe it’s from when you were there??

  • Mami

    I’m glad you like this article. As Koichi said, tomorrow’s article will be about down-side of this area, so please read that one, too:)

  • Beetle BANE

    Thank you, its nothing really. I just missed doodling responses to the articles here. Plus it is a nice article!

  • Mark Bellis

    No, it’s on youtube and it was fairly old, like maybe 1989 or so…I can’t remember if it was Japanese or British.

  • Mami

    Thank you! :) I like the チンピラguy! lol

  • Mami

    Oh I see. Sure I’d like to watch that:) arigatou

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    badump chssshhh.

    http://instantrimshot.com/

  • riho

    Fraternity. You may want to Google that for a full explaination . stfu is shut the f**k up. =3

  • Simi

    As I’m going to study in Osaka in September for a year this article is really interesting and helpful! I didn’t know that Osaka had such a “slum” but I’m definitely going to check it out sometime.

  • Lord Kuz

    Hello Mami-san. Thankyou for the Naan! ;)

  • Maarten Rutte

    Hey! Me too! :D Managed to get my hands on a Monkasho scholarship

  • Maarten Rutte

    The hostel I stayed at was called Khaosan, Does that ring any bell?
    I wouldn’t be surprised if they received that title! It’s clean, cozy and has friendly staff!

  • Cory

    Very interesting article. Was always curious about the shady areas of Japan. Can’t wait till part 2 tomorrow.

  • DAVIDPD

    Sounds lovely. I would definitely go if I was a bit richer. Thanks for the hard work Mami.

  • http://kathrynohalloran.blogspot.com/ Kathryn OHalloran

    Ha, I see riho has already replied. I’m not American but I mean college boys like you see in the movies – all loud and arrogant. They were actually watching porn in their room when I went to tell them to be quiet and were trying to act cool but had looks of total embarrassment on their faces :)

    To be honest, I don’t understand why they were sitting around a hostel room getting drunk and watching porn while in Osaka. There are so much better things to do.

  • melx

    I think they just wanted a term for the subdividing cities. If not ward, what would you want to call it?

  • Jonathan Harston

    Community. District. If it’s got it’s own elected council, Borough.

    I’ve just spent a couple of hours reading through descriptions of the Japanese local government systems (plural, as there is more than one type of local government in Japan), and I may brew up some tea, draw some pretty diagrams and write that article.

  • Mami

    Thank you DavidPD. :)

  • Mami

    Arigatou Cory!

  • Mami

    Were you the guy!!!???? lol

  • Mami

    Before deciding to go there, please read tomorrow’s article too:)

  • Mami

    Congrats!

  • Mami

    Oh I see. Thank you!

  • Mami

    I agree with you. They should have gone out and see a lot of places in Japan…they came to all the way to Japan!!!

  • Mami

    Good point.

  • Mami

    I see:)

  • Mami

    Ummmm…it doesn’t ring my bell (TT) zannen…sorry

  • LittleCurious

    This is off topic for this article, but I was just wondering about something. I am a native English speaker and barely know any Japanese (I more or less know a handful of kanji, some extremely basic vocabulary words, and recognize most hiragana and katakana). Yet, sometimes I find myself using some weird version of the Japanese “r” when I am speaking in English. I just wanted to know if this is common or if this has happened to anyone else?

  • 水音しゃひーろ

    That obachaan
    Oba oba oba oba obachaan.

  • Cynnie

    Oh wow..when I was in Japan on exchange in Nagoya, I met up with a friend back home for one night’s stay in Osaka before heading to Kyoto. My friend made plans and booked a room at a super cheap hostel, so I thought I’d just stay with her there too.

    Looking at the landmarks you mentioned in Nishinari made me realise that we had unwittingly booked out stay there. Spa world was just across the street from where we were staying.

    Privately, I had thought that the accommodation at that particular hostel was pretty bad…it definitely was what you paid for. I had no idea that it was considered the slums until now.

    We were both 20 year of Asian females at the time, armed with only our beginner-intermediate level Japanese and a naive head…it worries me that things could have easily gone wrong in an area with such a reputation!

    I can’t wait for tomorrow’s article~

  • Mark Bellis
  • KaoriCamellia

    “Trouble-Cinema”…Because if you have a seat, your asking for it?

  • Cora Fung

    Thank you for the great article. I stayed there for 3 weeks to get some aikido training in showa-cho. I loved the place! Some Japanese friends suggested me not to stay there, saying that it’s “dangerous”, but here was one point when I walked all the way back at 1 am from showa-cho and the area seemed pretty quiet.

  • YellowMagic

    In fukuoka, the knife would be a gernade.

    http://www.police.pref.fukuoka.jp/keiji/keiso/caution.html

  • Beetle BANE

    Oh snap, dude! :D

  • Mami

    kowai!! wow

  • Mami

    snap!

  • Mami

    I’m glad that it was safe! You must be a strong aikido master anyway though:P

  • Mami

    trouble-cinema?? btw, I’m on a vacation now and started your story:) I’m still at the very beginning, but it’s very interesting.

  • Mami

    Oh you stayed there! Thank you for sharing your experience:)

  • Mami

    The video made my day.

  • Mami

    Using weird version of the Japanese “r” ?? I don’t get it (:;) What does that mean exactly??

  • Mami

    Thank you!

  • KaoriCamellia

    I was kind of poking fun of Tobita-Cinema, haha. Never mind, it wasn’t that funny. :D
    Also, very cool! Enjoy your vacation!

  • Mami

    Thank you:)

  • Sueeeden!

    I’m moving to Tennoji in osaka soon, should I be scared? o.o