An Esteemed Correspondent wrote to me yesterday asking about Osaka in the 30s (he’s writing a book and might visit the city to do research). Among other things, he wondered what was remaining architecturally from those days:
Esteemed Correspondent: […] I’m interested in what parts of the city survive from that period (I know the 1945 raids destroyed about 2/3) […]
I replied as best I could, and realized that I had written a blog entry.
Nagaijin: Well, [Esteemed Correspondent],
I’d be hard-pressed to find you anyone who could tell you about Japan in the 30s. You’ve already read about Mayor [Hajime] Seki [Osaka’s progressive mayor of the 1930s] so that pretty much exhausts my knowledge. By the way, on the day you wrote this, voters in Osaka were giving the present Mayor Seki –possibly a descendant of the original [his grandson, I now know]– the boot in the local elections. He was pretty incompetent, even by Osaka’s political standards. To understand how Osaka City government works, see Kurosawa’s brilliant film Ikiru (1952).
A few buildings survive from [the 30s]. Sadly, what the
B-52s B-29s missed in the War, Seki’s successors soon made quick work of. A building I believe to be Old City Hall the old Bank of Japan building still stands, in full view of the boring 80s New City Hall, and a fine old exhibition hall has recently been restored in Nakanoshima. The beautiful facade of the Shochiku-za theatre in Dotombori was surprisingly preserved, after a long fight to have it torn down and something hideous put up, in the 90s. Perhaps there are other old office buildings which you’ll come across from the time – every now and then you’ll see the right-to-left pre-war script over the door of a building in Hommachi (the business/brokerage district), but not very often.
Tennoji [and the adjoining Abenobashi], a working-class district to the south, has been pretty much gentrified out of existence in the past 10 years. This is a great pity, as it was the most authentically Osakan neighbourhood still around (which is the main reason the social-climbing politicians – who were then in the process of making a futile bid for the 2008 Olympics – wanted to get rid of it). There is still a red-light district there, carefully hidden away, but fully functioning. I’ve read descriptions of it from the 40s and it’s virtually unchanged from then (I hasten to add that I’ve walked through it a few times but never partaken – there’s only so much that even I will do for the sake of historical authenticity).
You have given me a project, though – to find and photograph old buildings before “progress” catches up to them. The architectural news this year is that two landmarks of Osaka – the New Kabuki-za (the za tacked to the end of the word means “theatre”), which was opened c. 1983, and the Kirin Plaza, which is exactly 20 years old (and featured in the Ridley Scott movie Black Rain) – are to be demolished. So don’t pin your hopes on seeing too much really old stuff (as opposed to old-looking stuff). That said, Osaka is still a really interesting city (as I hope my blog illustrates).
To trace the course of the rivers of Osaka, you have to follow the expressways which were built over them in the 60s (and then the rivers were for the most part filled in or buried – rest assured that no one in Osaka City Hall has ever heard of Jane Jacobs).
I wonder if the Osaka Museum of History could help you out, or at least point you in the right direction. At any rate, it’s a place worth visiting if and when you do come here. Also, go to the Museum of Housing and Living, or Osaka City Hall.
But just chatting to regular Osakans might be your best bet. If and when you’re in town, let me know.