July 25, 2012

Juso, Osaka

Juso is an old area of Osaka that fascinates me. On train trips along the Hankyu line from Kandai to Umeda, there comes a point where the scenery fades from clean-cut apartments and convenience stores, turning into run-down restaurants, pachinko parlours and shady buildings with photos of scantily clad girls on the windows. This is Juso; residential area by day, red light district by night.
'Juso Friendly Street'
Across the road from Juso Station is the optimistically named shopping arcade, Juso Friendly Street, which contains all sorts of quirky little retailers. Many are traditional, selling sake, kimono, fabrics and Japanese snacks. Some are musty second hand shops, with an assortment of cheap toys, books, furniture, and knick knacks nobody would ever want or need. There are also fresh foods out on display, providing the street with a particularly pungent aroma - fish, meat, even live crabs. The arcade is slow paced and grey - quite like the customers who seem to frequent it. The older generation leisurely ride their bikes through Juso Friendly Street, stopping abruptly outside shops to have a loud conversation (in thick Osaka dialect, of course) with the owners.
Inside the arcade
Traditional Japanese store
Live crabs sitting outside in a wrapped bowl
This is all fairly tame. But parallel to 'Friendly Street' is another Juso landmark - Sakaemachi, home to all creatures of the night, and some of the best Engrish I have seen in Japan yet. 'Sakaemachi' literally means 'prosperous town'... and considering sex is Japan's second largest industry, I suppose that could be considered an appropriate description. Sakaemachi is so open and in-your-face it's surprising, considering prostitution is technically illegal in Japan. But the red light districts such as Juso find all sorts of ways to get around these laws and disguise their trade, operating under an 'everything but' facade. A common sight in these kinds of sleazy places are the innocently named 'annai-jo', or 'information centres', which act as a sort of directory for adult services in the area.
Sakaemachi, Juso's red light district
Obligatory host club
Is not the lover of the limit looked for by bunny at night?
Medica Room... not even sure what the imagery is meant to represent here.
Exit Sakaemachi, head back towards Juso Station, and follow the glowing orange, bespectacled Astro Boy lookalike lamps through a network of narrow alleyways tucked in under the train tracks. This is where you find wall-to-wall restaurants, differentiated only by the writing on the lanterns hanging outside. As you walk down these alleys in single file, peek through the slatted curtains to see people slurping up udon noodles at any time of day. It was ominously dark and thundery as we walked around this area, which made the warm golden lanterns and the smell of noodle soup coming from either side of the street even more inviting. Walking around in the near-darkness was a surreal experience. Barely a word of English is to be found here, making it one of those rare places where you actually feel immersed in the 'real' Japan.
Follow the Astro Boy
Restaurant alleyways... I spy cheap beer and kushi katsu.
Juso-ya, or Juso house (I think this sells noodles?)
Astro Boy watches over the streets
Walking around Juso is like stepping into another place and time. For all those people who have lived in Juso their whole lives, I don't think anything has ever changed - and, again demonstrating that stubborn Osakan way of doing things, it probably never will.


  1. Also I just bought Watermelon dishwashing liquid, and sometimes I want to eat it..

    1. Haha, is that a hint? I'll try really hard to bring ya back some Pepsi. Suitcase not looking promising though. =/

  2. Thanks for the post! It made me feel very nostalgic. I used to call Sakaemachi "Friendlier St" :-)

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  4. I just arrived here yesterday, thank you for your post! Very informative, this is an interesting part of Osaka for sure