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Japan’s biggest slum being rejuvenated by foreign tourists

Shukan Jitsuwa Dec. 22
Shukan Jitsuwa Dec. 22

Osaka’s rundown Kamagasaki district in Nishinari Ward is starting to take on a new image.

Cheap lodgings near JR Shin-Imamiya train station are being converted into discount hotels, where increasing numbers of foreign tourists are arriving directly from Kansai International Airport to go sightseeing in central Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (Dec. 22).

“Foreign tourists tended to avoid Airin [meaning ‘loving district’] until very recently,” a proprietor at a local restaurant tells the magazine. “That was because there were a lot of places that were operated by Asians who took advantage of Japanese laborers, and people didn’t feel safe at many shops and restaurants. But a tourist information center is now run by local volunteers near Shin-Imamiya train station, and there are more inviting restaurants and coffee shops between Abeno and Haginochaya. Word has spread on the internet, and tourists have suddenly started to flock to the area.”

Widely regarded as Japan’s “biggest slum,” the area is known for its day laborers and homeless men roaming the area’s alleys of flophouses and rundown eateries. It includes a blackmarket where vendors peddle everything from bootleg DVDs to counterfeit brand goods. It is also a popular location for the sale of kakuseizai, or stimulant drugs.

Nowadays, foreign tourists can be seen around Sankaku Park at the heart of the area, where they chat with local laborers. They show up at soup runs and bonfires as winter sets in, which many feel may be a chance to see a different aspect of Japan.

The influx of visitors from overseas is filling a void.

“People at the local shopping arcade had started to seriously consider how to deal with the decreasing number of laborers, who are their main customers, and the aging of society,” a reporter for a community magazine explained. “The local government wants these efforts to somehow lead to a revitalization of the area, and they’ve been working together with the local shopping associations. It’s finally starting to bear fruit.”

But not all prospects are bright. Some of the laborers and the homeless who live in the Airin district are beginning to express concern about their future, wondering what is going to happen to their home.

There have been incidents spurred from tourists leisurely pointing cameras at them, and local volunteers say they are also wary that the rapid globalization of the town may cause it to become a base for new types of crime.

“It appears that the rebuilding of the town has entered a new stage,” the reporter said.

Source: “Osaka-shi Nishinari-ku Airin chiku ga gekihen! Tomadou jimoto rodosha,” Shukan Jitsuwa (Dec. 22, page 49)