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Questions emerge over Osaka site set to become pachinko parlor

Shukan Jitsuwa May 29
Shukan Jitsuwa May 29

Despite hopes to the contrary by government officials and local residents, the site of a former theme park constructed in an attempt revitalize a southern part of Osaka is scheduled to be turned into a pachinko parlor, news outlets reported earlier this month.

Now, reports Shukan Jitsuwa (May 29), the plan is raising questions about the integrity of pachinko giant Maruhan, which bought the land that formerly hosted the Festivalgate amusement park via an auction in January of 2009 with a winning bid of 1.4 billion yen.

Through financial backing of the Osaka government, Festivalgate opened in 1997. Located beside the Shin-Imamiya Station of the Osaka Loop Line in Naniwa Ward, the park boasted rides, restaurants and shops.

The private company managing the park filed for bankruptcy in 2004 with liabilities of 38 billion yen. In 2007, the facility was put up for sale. Demolition began three years later.

As a part of having their bid accepted, Maruhan was required to not turn the site into a pachinko parlor for five years.

“After the auction, Maruhan said it was planning to construct a leisure center on the property,” says a local news reporter. “Then, in July of last year, the plans were changed to a Korean-themed amusement park scheduled to be opened this summer. However, that has been scrapped and a plan for a pachinko parlor is now in place.”

Shukan Jitsuwa says that this is not a problem given that the five-year bid requirement expired in March. However, there are rumblings about whether Maruhan was sincere with its intentions from the outset.

“Aside from pachinko and bowling, Maruhan does not have any sort of expertise,” says a local developer. “They don’t know anything about theme parks. It is inevitable that the plans proposed previously will be viewed as simply dummy ventures.”

A representative of Maruhan tells the magazine that the plan for the Korean theme park was an effort by the company’s president (Han Yu, who is Korean) to contribute to Japan-Korea relations. “But relations (between the countries) have deteriorated recently, and the plan was re-evaluated,” says the representative.

The site is located near Kamagasaki, which is considered the >biggest slum in Japan, and Shinsekai, home to the Tsutenkaku Tower. In and around both areas, day laborers and homeless men congregate in the streets — often to peddle illegal goods — amid rundown eateries and shops.

Even though the addition of a pachinko parlor, scheduled to open this year, is unlikely boost the area’s prospects, local residents are hopeful that the construction of anything will be an improvement.

“Nothing can be done,” said Osaka mayor Toru Hashimoto during a general meeting on May 8.

But Shukan Jitsuwa wonders about the local residents, and what direction the area is headed. (A.T.)

Source: “Saikaihatsu tonza de kekkyoku pachinko ten atochi riyo dotabata ura,” Shukan Jitsuwa (May 29, page 45)