Shinsaibashi (心斎橋) is one of Osaka’s most well-known shopping districts, covering a fairly large area on the west side of Chūō Ward. Its spine is Shinsaibashisuji (心斎橋筋), a north south street one block to the east of Midōsuji, the primary boulevard in the central part of the city. For much of its length, Shinsaibashisuji is a covered shōtengai, though it’s actually three different segments strung end-to-end and operated by separate management associations.
The name comes from the builder of the Shinsaibashi (Shinsai Bridge), Shinsai Okada, a merchant who constructed the original wooden span in 1622 to cross the newly dug Nagahori River canal. The bridge was subsequently replaced with more modern versions to accommodate its popularity, first in iron (1873) then stone (1909). This was the first stone bridge built in Osaka. It eventually became an overpass after the reclamation of the canal, and now only portions of it survive in the crossing over the Crysta Nagahori, an underground shopping mall that fills the space where the waterway flowed. The bridge and streets connected to it became a popular route for traveling between Shinmachi on the north side of the canal and Dōtonbori on the south, creating a favorable environment for the agglomeration of businesses. By the Edo period, Shinsaibashisuji was already well established as a shopping center.
Senba Shinsaibashisuji Shotengai
Our walk begins all the way at the northern end, at the Senba Shinsaibashi Shōtengai (せんば心斎橋筋商店街), the most local and low-key of the three parts. You’ll know you’re in this section by the せんば or 船場 on the entrances and on signage inside the arcade. It runs about 550m end-to-end. Honmachi Station is the closest subway stop to this entrance.
The almost transparent arcade roof is at a typical two-story height and, on this day, the rain flowing down its curves contrasts with the warm light below.
The shōtengai intersects with narrow, low-speed, one-way streets at regular intervals, but only once, at Chūō-ōdōri, is it broken up by two-way traffic and a signal.
The Chūō Ward manhole covers in the arcade have a decorative design of Osaka Castle, which is a short walk to the east. Manhole cover photography pilgrimage is a whole subculture unto itself, a digression we’ll hold for another day, perhaps!
Official website: http://semba-shinsaibashi.jp/top.htm
Shinsaibashisuji North Shotengai
The transition at Junkeimachi-dōri to the Shinsaibashikita Shōtengai (心斎橋筋北商店街), also called “Shin Kita” (しんきた) for short, is almost seamless. The construction scaffolding blocking the light from the roof currently makes the differentiation more obvious than it would be otherwise. At 250m, this is the shortest of the three arcade segments, but it seems to make up for this by packing in a good serving of activity and texture.
Where many shops in Senba would only allow a modest amount of spillover into the street, most in Shinkita let it all hang out. Inventory, signage and lighting are all meant to draw your attention as you pass.
The slick, two-story, glass-walled Daiso, as well as a few other brightly lit chain retail stores, give Shinkita a more corporate feel than its northern counterpart, though pharmacies and sundry stores with narrow aisles and things piled every which way tend to balance the equation and help maintain a nominal level of grit.
Official website: http://www.shinsaibashi.ne.jp/
It’s difficult to see in this shot, but those railings and lamps are the remnants of the Shinsai Bridge, now the exterior of the roof of the Crysta Nagahori underground mall. The entrance to the Shinsaibashi Shōtengai (心斎橋筋商店街) is just beyond, on the south side of Nagahori-dōri. This is the longest (600m) and southernmost section of the arcade, and is probably the most well known among visitors to the city.
Years ago, on my only other visit to Osaka, I know that I definitely passed through here on my way to Dōtonbori. While I have only a vague memory of the arcade itself, what stuck with me were the views down every one of the intersecting streets. Each one was a separate cell of activity that, had there been time, I could have explored, eventually coming back to the shōtengai or maybe getting lost in some other area. Compared with the suburban/exurban places I had lived growing up in the US, it was both wonderful and overwhelming. The assault of textures and visual information pulls one’s mind away from the substantial distances walked.
The arcade itself is the poshest of the three, with more high-end retail, polished facades and a very high, grandiose, frosted glass roof. Depending on the type of buildings that flank it, the cover hits somewhere between the second and third story.
This site, originally founded in 1726 as the Matsuya kimono seller, is now the main branch of the Daimaru department store.
One of the entrances to Shinsaibashi Station comes up right into the arcade, under two of the entrances to Daimaru.
Where the other two arcades are primarily utilitarian in nature, Shinsaibashisuji clearly cultivates an image of sophistication.
A small army of mushrooms gathers on the footbridge over the Dōtonbori canal, outside the southern entrance.
I’ll admit, the first time I came to Osaka I totally camped out at the footbridge and fought with the rest of the tourists for an unobstructed photo of the iconic neon signage along the canal. While focal points, both ostentatious and ordinary, are often important pieces of place identity, these days I try to pull back and focus my attention on the entirety of the complex systems that work around us, shaping our experiences. All of the shōtengai along Shinsaibashisuji are great places for observing people interact with these systems. And with that, let’s wave to Glico Man as we pass by and continue our adventure on the other side of the canal.
Official website: http://www.shinsaibashi.or.jp/