Photo By: Alejandro .M. González
Region
Kansai
Island
Honshu
Largest City
Osaka
Population
8,804,806

Nishinari

The “Skid Row” of Osaka may be a dream for budget-conscious tourists, but is it safe?

Nishinari is a ramshackle slum filled with ragtag vagrants and dangerous criminals — at least, that’s what the Osaka locals will have you think. Tourists, on the other hand, view it as a backpacker’s paradise packed with cheap hotels and Airbnbs conveniently positioned near  tourist attractions like the Shinsekai area.

The reality is something else — a rundown but bustling district with heaps of character and a complicated history. Welcome to one of Osaka’s most fascinating, yet controversial, neighborhoods.

Osaka’s underbelly

Cheap vending machines in Nishinari Osaka

Photo by: goppe728 Bart Simpson is a big fan of these ¥50 vending machines.

Nishinari is one of Osaka’s 24 wards. It’s located just south of Namba, a glitzy nightlife and shopping district geared towards tourism. Nishinari is essentially the opposite, characterized by an aging male population, faded storefronts, and dingy karaoke and pachinko joints. Day laborers, unable or unwilling to find steady work in the suit-and-tie world, have congregated in the area since 1898, seeking shelter in doya (cheap and often minimalist inns).

The front and back streets are still packed with doya, as well as lively local haunts and covered shopping arcades. Everything is ridiculously cheap with izakayas, grocery stores and even vending machines advertising prices much lower than Namba and the surrounding areas.

Cheap accomodation in Nishinari, Osaka.

Photo by: Simon Cozen Some inns in Nishinari are as cheap as ¥850 a night!

Restaurants serving filling meals for around ¥400 to ¥500 line the streets, and local supermarket Super Tamade offers boxed lunches for around ¥200. The supermarket also has a wacky system where select items are only ¥1 after you spend ¥1,000. Some hotels are even as cheap as ¥850 a night!

As such, Nishinari has become a sought after spot for tourists both trying to save money and looking for a glimpse into Osaka’s rougher and more authentic side. It’s an exciting place to simply wander, that is if you feel safe enough to do so.

Photo by: Wiki Super Tamade has a crazy cheap system where many items only cost ¥1 if you spend ¥1000.

Kamagasaki and the red-light district

Sure, it’s great for the budget conscious, but if the stories are to be believed, are travelers staying in Nishinari asking to get robbed or kidnapped? Let’s look at the facts.

Osaka has the highest crime rate in Japan. This may shock people who’ve already visited and left their wallet unattended without incident, but that’s because the corruption is mostly concentrated in Nishinari, specifically, in the Kamagasaki district.

Sketchy things can and do happen— indecent exposure and rancid smells usually being the worst.

Kamagasaki (also known as Airin-chuku) is home to the largest concentration of day-laborers in Japan. Thousands live within a small radius either on the street or in doya, creating slum-like conditions. Crime is a regular occurrence, though offenses typically relate to drugs and gambling. Over 20 riots have occurred here, with the first in 1961 and the most recent one in 2008.

Tsutenkaku Tower

Photo by: Shoji Ogawa Tsutenkaku Tower looms in the distance, only a few steps away from Kamagasaki.

Nishinari is also home to Osaka’s morally questionable Tobita Shinchi, the city’s red-light district. It’s the largest red-light district in Western Japan rivaling Tokyo’s Kabukicho and Sapporo’s Susukino. To top it off, Nishinari is supposedly the base of two yakuza (Japanese mafia) factions.

A red light district famous for ramen and LGBT friendly?

A Japan 2019 Crime and Safety Report from the U.S. government advises to “exercise caution in entertainment and nightlife districts throughout Japan.” The report goes on to say that some of Osaka’s entertainment and nightlife districts, “in particular, the Umeda, Kitashinchi, Namba, and Tobita areas, experience a higher level of crime than other parts of the city.”

Let’s be real though, the crime rate in Japan is lower than many of its Western counterparts in Europe and the United States.  Even its most dangerous areas are tamer than what a large chunk of Western tourists are likely familiar with. Though clearly shady, the criminals of Nishinari are unlikely to mess with tourists.

To stay or not to stay

That is definitely the question, and ultimately, it’s up to you to do your research before visiting. Despite the area’s bad rap locally, many outsiders scoff at the warnings. Sketchy things can and do happen — indecent exposure and rancid smells usually being the worst — but robbery, assault, and murder? Highly unlikely.

For travelers, a more pressing drawback may be the cleanliness or lack thereof. Compared to the rest of Japan’s pristine appearance, Nishinari’s tent cities and urine smell can be jarring.

Explore Shinsekai, a pre-war neighbourhood that was created with New York as a model for its southern half and Paris for its northern half.

Nishinari is a great lodging option for travelers visiting the Shinsekai area looking to save some cash.

It isn’t all bad. Nishinari is also home to lively and generous people who live and work there legitimately, charming old buildings displaying a glimpse into Japan’s storied Showa era, and gaudily-lit shops patronized by perfectly friendly folks. It’s a great option for those visiting Tennoji Park or Tennoji Zoo as it’s only a few steps away from the Shinsekai area.

If saving money is your primary objective, go for it! If you’re concerned about safety or ethics — the area is gentrifying which could ultimately displace the day laborers — it might be best to stay elsewhere.

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Trivia

A red light district famous for ramen and LGBT friendly?

Sapporo's entertainment district with some of Japan's best miso ramen.

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How To Get There

Address

1-chōme-1-4 Hanazonokita, Nishinari-ku, Osaka, 557-0016, Japan

By train

Take the JR Osaka Loop line or the Nankai line to Shin-Imamiya station. Many cheap hotels and hostels are concentrated in this area. Dobutsuen-mae station on the Sakaisuji and Midosuji lines and Tengachaya station on the Nankai and Metro lines also connect to the Nishinari neighborhood. 

Where To Stay

Hotel Sunplaza
  • Nishinari-ku Haginochaya 1-2-22 Osaka-Shi, Osaka 557-0004
  • 7.3/10
  • 0.1 km
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FP HOTELS Grand South-Namba
  • Nishinari-ku Hanazonokita 1-2-23 Osaka-Shi, Osaka 557-0016
  • 8.6/10
  • 0.1 km
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