Shinsekai, Osaka, has a reputation for being the city's seediest neighborhood. It is an amusing concept for those used to the darker corners of London, New York or Rio de Janeiro.
Built after World War II on the site of 1903 Expo, it is dominated by a model of the Eiffel Tower and its bright, neon-lit alleys are filled with young people and families.
Most are tucking into the kushikatsu for which the area is famous: skewers of battered and deep-fried food ranging from fish and chicken to bananas and ice cream. I can see rooms full of older men playing shogi, a form of chess, and budget tachinomiya bars at which patrons stand to eat and drink. But the whole is as clean and quiet as anywhere else in Osaka: no loud cell-phone calls, no sirens, no bicycle bells and no drunks. Shinsekai may be stuck in the past but its most serious danger seems to be the threat of becoming trendily retro.
On my last night in Osaka, I visit the Kita-Shinchi area where I enjoy one of the city’s famous izakaya pubs. I pick it simply because it is the first one of the many I look into that has an empty seat. The tiny bar is already packed out with another half-dozen patrons and it does not take long before they pass me some food to try out. I am soon eating maki rolls, pork dumplings and octopus crackers among other delicious dishes I cannot always identify.
My new friends start laughing and joking with me, shyly trying out their English. It seems they too have heard about Osaka’s reputation for food, humor and warm hospitality.
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