Adventures In Contrasts – My Afternoon In Juso
May 3, 2010
Though I say Osaka is my favorite city in Japan, it would be far more honest to say I loved the Namba district of Osaka. The majority of trips into the city happen exclusively within this bright and buzzing area, one of the biggest cities in the country reduced to a maze of pachinko parlors and major brand stores. I doubt many people would blame me for this – everything anyone needs, especially a hapless foreigner, can be found in Namba. And by “everything” I of course mean “Mexican food and hip-hop style fashion stores.”
So naturally I found myself in Namba this past Saturday, making my usual rounds at the CD stores on a pleasantly warm day. The nice weather beckoned all the unique fashions of Japan out onto the streets, girls dressed as Little Bo Peep or wearing obnoxiously large pastel ribbons like undelivered Easter gifts. I watched this parade of peculiar individuals from a perch at Freshness Burger, home to the best fast-food burger in Japan. It was at this point in the early afternoon, I decided to go see a concert. To do so, I’d have to leave the confines of Namba and venture out to the outer areas of Osaka. With plenty of time to spare before the show started, I ambled my way over to the subway and went out to Juso, a neighborhood far from the hustle and bustle of the city I knew so well.
The area directly around Juso station resembled a miniature-Namba, swaths of people moving beneath billboards and Colonel Sander’s good-ol’-boy smile. Large open-space arcades cut through alley-sized side streets. At first glance, the outskirts(-ish) of Osaka seemed not terribly different from the center.
Walking a little deeper into the heart of Juso, though, revealed one very pronounced difference. Turns out this neighborhood doubles as a popular red light district, a fact made clear by the number of sexy anime girls dotting signboards positioned outside of clubs boasting a couple bouncers in nice suits. The situation became more skeezy on the side streets, which featured more run-down buildings, the type of establishments the scummiest bottom-feeders inhabit in a noir film. Fittingly, part of the main street was blocked off due to the filming of some sort of TV show or movie featuring two men dressed as detectives.
Though Juso comes off as a man’s carnal paradise, I did notice one business catering to (presumably) women. It appeared to be a host club stocked with men ripped from fashion magazines and J-Pop music videos. So…semi-equality?
The Juso neighborhood takes on a drastic new face only five minutes from the suspicious cafes lining the streets. Past all the seedy establishments rests a typical, peaceful Japanese city-suburban area featuring rows of apartments and convenience stores spaced out along the road. A peaceful park served as the dividing line, the collections of playground equipment and old men playing games signaling an escape from one of Osaka’s “pink districts.” After that all the typical scenes of Japanese city-suburb life appeared – school kids marching out of their schools front gates, women walking chubby corgis down the street, a baseball game played in a public park.
These parts of Japan leave me charmed. They manage to bridge the peaceful living of a Nabari with the enjoyment of big-city life. Juso manages all of this despite being a toss away from a salon best described as a sexy pharmacy. The ever-busy Namba will always grab my attention, but Juso convinced me I should take some time to see the rest of Osaka.