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Osaka cracks down on ‘thieves market’ in nation’s biggest slum

Shukan Jitsuwa May 22
Shukan Jitsuwa May 22
For years, a heavily rundown district outside Shin Imamiya Station in southern Osaka has been the location of a black market, where vendors peddle everything from bootleg DVDs to counterfeit brand goods.

Now, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (May 22), the Osaka Prefectural Police have initiated a clean sweep of the area, located in Kamagasaki, Nishinari Ward.

“Known as a ‘thieves market,’ the area has seen its roughly 300 street stalls cut in half by the crackdown,” says a local news reporter, “and the remaining vendors are under scrutiny.”

Kamagasaki, located not far from Shinsekai, home to the Tsutenkaku Tower, is considered the biggest slum in Japan, with day laborers and homeless men roaming the area’s alleys of flophouses and rundown eateries. It is regarded as a popular location for the sale of stolen goods and stimulant drugs.

According to Shukan Jitsuwa, the clean-up initiative, dubbed the Nishinari Special Zone Plan, is the brainchild of Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto, who has been rumored to be linked to purification schemes in the past.

“This is to be a test case,” says the aforementioned reporter. “In the (nearby) Haginochaya area, a joint elementary and middle school facility will open in the spring of next year. The aim is to ensure a healthy educational environment.”

All is not lost, however, for the stall merchants. A proposal is under way between the Osaka government and Nishinari Ward for the Nishinari Open Market Plan, a trading area to be established on city land.

“Street vendors will be able to operate, at least those selling legal goods,” says the reporter. “If it works, it will become very famous.”

A road fronting the tracks for the Nankai Railway trains is one area in Kamagasaki where vendors have gathered in the past. But when a reporter for Shukan Jitsuwa visited recently a newly installed fence was in place to separate the west side of the already existing Haginochaya Elementary School and the sidewalk. No stalls were visible, but the presence of police officers and security guards was obvious.

“We can’t sit down outside a shop without being hassled by the police,” says a local interviewed by the magazine, which notes that on Saturday and Sunday mornings rogue vendors set up mobile carts from which to sell their wares.

Locals, who often refer to the are by its nickname “Airin” (loving district), do not appear sanguine about the prospects for the new proposal for the open market.

“With the open market, I wonder who will go there” says a man who formerly sold used books near the school. “This area is not for the sale of regular goods.” (A.T.)

Source: “Nishinari Airin chiku no roten isso de yami ni kuguru nise burando uraDVDten,” Shukan Jitsuwa (May 22, page 49)