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'Skid Row' of Osaka may be a dream for budget-conscious tourists, but is it safe?

8 Comments

Nishinari is a ramshackle slum filled with ragtag vagrants and dangerous criminals — at least, that’s what the Osaka locals will have you think. Tourists, on the other hand, view it as a backpacker’s paradise packed with cheap hotels and Airbnbs conveniently positioned near tourist attractions like the Shinsekai area.

The reality is something else — a rundown but bustling district with heaps of character and a complicated history. Welcome to one of Osaka’s most fascinating, yet controversial, neighborhoods.

Osaka’s underbelly

Nishinari-graffiti-and-vending-machines.jpg
Bart Simpson is a big fan of these ¥50 vending machines. Photo: goppe728

Nishinari is one of Osaka’s 24 wards. It’s located just south of Namba, a glitzy nightlife and shopping district geared towards tourism. Nishinari is essentially the opposite, characterized by an aging male population, faded storefronts, and dingy karaoke and pachinko joints. Day laborers, unable or unwilling to find steady work in the suit-and-tie world, have congregated in the area since 1898, seeking shelter in doya (cheap and often minimalist inns).

The front and back streets are still packed with doya, as well as lively local haunts and covered shopping arcades. Everything is ridiculously cheap with izakayas, grocery stores and even vending machines advertising prices much lower than Namba and the surrounding areas.

Restaurants serving filling meals for around ¥400 to ¥500 line the streets, and local supermarket Super Tamade offers boxed lunches for around ¥200. The supermarket also has a wacky system where select items are only ¥1 after you spend ¥1,000. Some hotels are even as cheap as ¥850 a night!

As such, Nishinari has become a sought after spot for tourists both trying to save money and looking for a glimpse into Osaka’s rougher and more authentic side. It’s an exciting place to simply wander, that is if you feel safe enough to do so.

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© GaijinPot Travel

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8 Comments
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Tokyo has Sanya, Yokohoma has Kotobukicho. Both of those traditionally catered to day workers.

I used to live in Yokohama and sometimes drove through Kotobukicho to avoid traffic jams as other drivers used to avoid that area, and it definitely used to be a dodgy area. Sometimes in the winter fires used to be lit in the street so people living there could keep warm.

I believe both those areas have also reinvented themselves as backpacker hostel areas. Who knows? Maybe they will become thriving areas bustling with tourists like the Khao Sarn area of Bangkok.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Yes your right. Kotobukico, near to the Yokohama stadium there are many doya and day workers, sometimes drinking in the streets. A more tame version of Nishinara, and across from that is isezakicho, kind of a slum with many interesting things going on there also. In this respect, Japan is allot like China, where there are districts or parts of town reserved for this or that. Now in that area are some hostel and places for backpackers. To me its all a horrible looking scene but near to it are some scenic areas like Yamate.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Sometimes when you travel through Japan it all seems a bit sanitized, a bit too orderly. This is a reminder that all societies have their rough edges. If you've read books like Edward Fowler's San'ya Blues, however, you'll know that the lot of a day labourer, whether it's in Osaka, Tokyo or Yokohama, is neither picturesque nor happy.

I haven't been to Nishinari. When I told my Japanese friends in Australia I'd been to Shinsekai, they were horrified. Dangerous, they said. Full of Yakuza. It's hard to tell whether that's really true, or whether it's just that being Japanese they aren't used to the kind of hassles we take for granted in any Western city.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Hmm, I live in Nishinari and my part of the 'hood' isn't so bad. It's just run down and needs new blood to take over the unused stores in my local shotengai. However, Hanazonocho near the Nishinari Police Station is pretty rough. Dozens of police and constant fights. Shinimamiya has got a lot of homeless folk but I don't think they're a threat.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Rough, yes, dangerous, no. I lived in Konohana-ku, Osaka for nine years and saw zero fights. I then moved to Amagasaki, Hyogo (though most people in Hyogo would say it's Osaka) and in the first month saw two fights on the street, and was seconds from a fight myself with a barber that thought it funny to shave my head instead: staff were holding him back from laying into me when I called him out in perfect Osaka-Ben. Point is, you can find trouble if you look, there are plenty of Japanese guys up for it against foreign men.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I had an apartment here while in Osaka, run down - Yes, but dangerous NO, only a short walk to the Tennoji train station / shopping complex and for those that are interested the Osaka redlight district.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Bit of a joke here!

Nishinari is hardly a ghetto in any sense of the word. I’m safer in Nishinari than I would be in 85% of this planet.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I lived down the road from Nishinari for several years. Generally a pretty safe area despite it's reputation. Has a ton of character unlike a lot of other places in Japan.

I would advise that if you are a tourist though not go round taking pictures like it's the center of Paris. The locals don't take too well to that.

It's also the only part of town where you can leave your cans out on the street any day of the week and have someone whisk them away within the hour.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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