The Osaka Slum Experience
Staring out the train window heading into Osaka, never ending old and new tall apartment blocks tangled in spider webs of power lines flash past. The cheapest range of backpacker accommodation in Osaka is located around the Shin-Imamiya JR train station, and that’s where we’re heading. We chose a basic place featuring thin futon mats on the floor with less-than-comfortable bean bag pillows, where Jarrad was too tall for the door to our room. The things we do to save money, hey? We were feeling a little dubious as other travellers and the all-knowing internet had informed us that this area (Kamagasaki) was the slum of Osaka; an area that some Japanese people wouldn’t dare set foot in. But was it really as bad as the reputation that preceded it?
Historically, Kamagasaki housed the lower class in the Japanese caste system which is all but forgotten, but the stigma attached to the area lives on. Wandering the streets anxiously with our luggage searching for our hostel, there was a noticeable absence of young woman, the conspicuous presence of homeless men and a faint urine scent. We were within ten minutes walking distance of Osaka’s red light district, with streets full of “establishments” marked by pretty pink street signs with sexy young scantly dressed women in windows. Their costumes were amazing; anything from pirates to bunny rabbits.
Prostitution isn’t technically legal in Japan, which is circumvented by presenting the girls as “waitresses” who will serve you a drink or meal*.
What happens after that “can’t be helped” I guess. I wasn’t feeling particularly thirsty when we walked by, although I did get a compliment about my breasts. The Japanese are so nice!
*Or offer anal or oral, which are apparently different to “sex”.
Worst of all though, was when we finally found our hostel and sat relaxing outside and a fellow backpacker kindly informed us that his girlfriend was harassed by a man while sitting outside her hostel…in the exact chair I happened to be sitting in at the time! We were not deterred. Our room was a bargain!
Despite being bombarded with negatives we set out to find the positives. Who leaves a place just because of crime, the mafia and prostitution? A lovely Japanese lady once informed me politely that Japanese do not understand sarcasm. If she’s reading this then that sentence above was a perfect example of sarcasm.
One plus side of staying in the area is that you’re walking distance to the vibrant Shin-Sekai district. Shin-Sekai means new world in English, which is ironic because the district is styled like the Osaka of the 60’s or 70’s. Walking through I felt as if I was in the sideshow alley of a theme park, which made me feel like an excited little girl. This area also boasts the Tsutenkaku Tower, which is apparently modelled after the Eiffel tower but very much pails in comparison.
If your guilty pleasure is deep fried things then you’re in luck. This is the best place to try kushikatsu; deep fried “anything you choose” on skewers. They also offer grilled tuna head, seared cheek meat, stewed giblet or salted cod internal organs, but the deep fried things seemed like more palatable options (and how DARE you suggest I picked the weirdest things on the menu purely for dramatic effect!) There’s also a translation error in some of the menus that tells you that the beer is free! What a bargain! My heart broke to know it just meant “alcohol free”. Seriously, who buys this stuff?
The skewers didn’t overjoy my taste buds but they were fun and you’re given a bowl of fresh cabbage on the side. I’m not sure why, so I took a picture of it. There was almost half a cabbage in there!
Nearby we had another meal so good that just writing this makes me salivate on my keyboard. I really mean that. It’s gross. My keys are sticky. The first time I tasted okonomiyaki my life changed forever. The heavens opened, and I realised there is a God after all… and that I was going to have to purchase a larger size pants.
In a small back alley we enjoyed the famous Japanese savoury pancake. Masterfully prepared in front of you and eaten off a hotplate on your table, this is one thing you can’t not eat in Japan. Despite it being in a slightly dodgy looking alley, it was the most amazing thing that’s ever entered my stomach. Staying here had its benefits. Two huge okonomiyaki came to 1200 yen.
Despite all the bad predictions, most of the local people nearby seemed friendly. We wandered around and shopped in the local supermarket with no hassle at all, enjoying many mouthwatering meals. Perhaps the area is really only the “slums” by high Japanese standards. Exactly how much is stigma and how much is reality, I’ll never know. It’s dirty and lower class, but I’m not convinced it’s as spine chillingly dangerous as people claim…and it IS very cheap. It was a little rough around the edges, but hey, so am I.
Have you got an unbelievable gap year story or some helpful travel advice?
We’d love to hear it!
Make sure you share your story and you could be featured in NomadHead magazine.