Saturday, October 21, 2017

Shinsekai and Tsutenkaku

This article is based on a visit made on Sunday, 20 November 2016.

Edit 7 October 2019: Updated prices to reflect the increase in Japan's national sales tax.

Shinsekai (新世界, lit. 'new world') is a neighbourhood in south-central Osaka.  It came into form in the early 20th century, and was then inspired by the cityscapes of Paris and New York.  The highlights of Shinsekai back then were the tower Tsutenkaku, modelled after the Eiffel Tower, and Luna Park, an amusement parked named after another one from New York's Coney Island.  Shinsekai's glory days may be behind it -- Luna Park is long gone, and Tsutenkaku exists in a different form -- but still today it maintains its own unique attractions and cuisine.

DVMG [CC BY 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The first thing I did when I arrived at Shinsekai was visit Spa World, a public onsen with many themed baths.  Of the two floors used by the baths, there is the European Zone (like Greece, Ancient Rome, Finland, etc.), and the Asian Zone (like Arabia, Persia, Japan, etc.).  The two floors alternate between male and female-only every month, so I wound up in the Asian Zone.  I don't have any pictures of these baths, for obvious reasons, but the photos on their website, listed below, should spark your imagination.  They even have a separate water park and pool area on the top fooor, which is mixed-gender and requires swimsuits -- again, for obvious reasons.

Upon leaving Spa World, I was mere steps away from Shinsekai itself.  This place is home to a dense concentration of eateries, which compete with one another by erecting elaborate, extravagant advertisements.  One of the most iconic signs, I would say, is that giant blowfish hanging from a pole.  This restaurant, called Zubora-ya, specialises in fugu (フグ), raw sliced blowfish.  If you've heard of the dish, you may know how there are certain poisonous organs in the blowfish, which can paralyse and kill a person if eaten.  Fugu chefs are trained for years upon years to avoid this, so dining at any reputable fugu restaurant should be safe, if expensive.  Fun fact: the Emperor of Japan is banned from ever eating fugu, for obvious reasons.

There are a vast array of restaurants beyond the fugu place I described above.  One of the most common things you'll find on the menu here is kushikatsu (串カツ) an assortment of many fried and skewered dishes.  Kushikatsu can be meats (beef, chicken, squid), vegetables (tomatos, asparagus, lotus roots), and even dessert-y stuff (bananas, cheese, cheesecake).  They're cheap, with each stick costing about ¥100 to ¥200.  There are also small tubs of dipping sauce available for free, but since they're shared among diners, there is one rule you must be aware of: no double-dipping!  #seinfeld

This little fellow is known as Billiken (ビリケン, Biriken).  Known as "The God of Things As They Ought to Be", this charm doll character was originally created in America, after the turn of the 20th century.  It faded from popularity after a few years, unless you go to St. Louis University, where he is still their athletics mascot.  Anyway, Billikens also started catching on in Japan at that time, to the point that a Billiken statue was enshrined in the original Tsutenkaku in 1912.  Another such statue exists in the modern tower, which you will see later on.

After getting my nosh on, I set my sights skyward towards Tsutenkaku (通天閣, Tsūtenkaku, lit. 'Heaven-reaching tower'), an observation tower right in the centre of Shinsekai.  As mentioned above, there was an earlier version of Tsutenkaku, built in 1912, but it was torn down for scrap metal during World War II.  Its current incarnation dates back to 1956, stands 103 meters /338 feet tall, and was funded largely by the Hitachi corporation, hence the prominent placement of their name along the side.  Here it is during the day (taken that morning from Tennoji Station)...

By Momopy (Momopy) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
...and here it is at night.  Formerly lit up by neon, Tsutenkaku recently switched to LED lighting, which is more energy-efficient, and also changes to different colours every month.  The tower is functional, too.  Not only does it hold the largest clock in Japan, but the lights on the top-most ring (not visible from this angle) change colours based on the next day's weather.  White stands for clear weather, orange is cloudy, blue is rainy, and combinations of two colours indicate a mid-day change in weather.

The main deck of Tsutenkaku stands 84 metres (275 feet) above ground, and has a full 360° vantage of southern Osaka.  On top of that (in more ways than one), if you pay an extra ¥500, you can climb up to an open-air deck, which also offers 360 degrees of views.  They even lend you a pair of binoculars for taking a closer look, but hold on to them tight!  To the southeast, you can look over Tennoji Park and Abeno Harukas, the new skyscraper.

Here is a close-up of Abeno Harukas.  Its observation deck (300m / 984ft.) may be taller than Tsutenkaku's, but is more expensive to get into (¥1,500).  And besides, being closer to the ground lets us take in more details of our surroundings!

Once we're done looking out from the top of Tsutenkaku, we can take the elevator down to a small museum of sorts... and back in time, as well.  This display illustrates what Tsutenkaku's early-century predecessor looked like, as well as the amusement park that used to stand at its base.  The original Tsutenkaku stood only 64 metres (210 feet), but was the second-tallest structure in Asia at the time (Source: (English)).

This is followed by a museum, cafe, and shop dedicated to Glico, a confectionary company based in Osaka.  Their most famous product is Pocky (ポッキー, Pokkī), a cookie stick dipped in fudge.  You may have seen these if you've been to any anime convention ever.  There are many flavours of Pocky, with the main standbys being chocolate and strawberry.  Here, we see the Tsutenkaku re-created using boxes of Pocky.

With my feet back on terra firma, I tried another new beverage from a vending machine: a sports drink called Pocari Sweat.  I couldn't quite put my finger on the taste; it was very watered-down, but with a certain sour tang to it.  My research tells me it has a mild grapefruit flavour, and since I'm not so familiar with that fruit, that explains my puzzlement.  Suffice it to say, I didn't like it quite as much as the Oronamin C, which I had tried that morning.

For my sort-of selfie sign-off, I had my picture taken with the Billiken statue in Tsutenkaku's main deck.  The big draw with this thing is that you donate a coin and rub its feet, and it is supposed to grant your wishes.  We'll see how well that turned out when we go up to Dotonbori, next time on Sekai Ichi!


Access: The closest stations are Shin-Imamiya (JR Osaka Loop (O) line), Dobutsuen-mae (Osaka Metro Midosuji (M) line), and Ebisu-cho (Osaka Metro Sakaisuji (K) subway and Hankai (HN) tram lines).

From Osaka/Umeda Station, take the JR Osaka Loop line to Shin-Imamiya (O19, 17 minutes, ¥180, JR Pass OK), or the Midosuji subway line to Dobutsuen-mae (M22, 13 minutes, ¥230).
From Namba, take the Midosuji subway line to Dobutsuen-mae (4 minutes, ¥180), or the Nankai Main or Koya lines to Shin-Imamiya (NK03, 2 minutes, ¥150). You could also walk to Shinsekai in 15 minutes from Nankai Namba Station.

Directions: From Shin-Imamiya Station, turn left from the exit.  You should be facing the Maruhan/Don Quijote store.  Cross the road, turn right, and take the next left (past Spa World).

From Dobutsuen-mae Station, take exit 5.  You should emerge in front of the Maruhan/Don Quijote store.  Continue as described above.

Spa World Osaka

Hours: Open from 10:00 AM to 8:45 AM the following morning.  Infrequent, irregular closing days.

Costs: An all-day pass costs ¥1,200 on weekdays, or ¥1,500 on weekends and holidays.  Staying overnight, between midnight and 5:00 AM, costs an extra ¥1,300.  Water rides in the pool area cost  ¥500 each.

Address: 3-4-24 Ebisu Higashi, Naniwa-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 〒556-0002

Website(English) (Japanese)

Tsutenkaku

Hours: Open from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM.  Admission ends 30 minutes before closing time.  No regular closing days.

Costs: ¥800.  The upper open-air deck costs an additional ¥500, payable on the main observation deck.

Address: 1-18-6 Ebisu Higashi, Naniwa-ku, Ōsaka-shi, Ōsaka-fu 〒556-0002

Website(English) (Japanese)

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