An old new world.
Shinsekai, or New World, was constructed in 1912 as a hip neighborhood of the future but quickly forgotten after World War II. It’s now a relic of the past, charmingly seedy, often compared to the set from 80s dystopian classic Blade Runner with its neon lights and octagonal Tsutenkaku Tower looming ominously above the streets. Locals and tourists alike flock to Shinsekai for a taste of neo-Osaka and to sample some of the best kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered vegetables and meat) the city has to offer.
Shinsekai was originally designed after two prominent holiday destinations at the time: the north was meant to mimic the streets of Paris, complete with a faux Eiffel Tower, while the south borrowed Coney Island’s flair with the Luna Park amusement park, which closed in 1923.
Tsutenkaku Tower (lit. “tower reaching heaven”) was first built in 1912 and looked much more like the Eiffel Tower than its current iteration. It was taken down during WWII and later rebuilt in 1956, designed by Tachu Naito, who also created Tokyo Tower and Sapporo’s TV Tower. It stands 103 meters tall with an observation deck 91 meters high. An open-air deck built in 2015 offers a panoramic view while the exterior is covered in thousands of LED lights that change color depending on the season (think red and green for Christmas, pink for cherry blossoms). The whole thing is aptly sponsored by Hitachi, which advertises in bold letters on one of its eight sides.
Find the gold Billiken statue on the 5th floor observation deck of the tower. The Billiken, a small elf-like figure with a mischievous smile, is a good luck figure invented in America during the New Thought Movement that grew popular upon its arrival in Japan in 1910. He is known as the God of Happiness or “Things as they ought to be.” The original wooden statue was kept in Luna Park but disappeared when the park was demolished. The current statue was created in 1979 to attract visitors to the tower but he’s since become a symbol of the entire city, and tourists visit just to rub his feet for good luck and to place a coin in his donation box.
Walk down the main street of Shinsekai to sample its restaurants, many of which specialize in kushikatsu or fugu (blow fish). They are decorated with gaudy ornaments, painted in bright colors, and strung with Japanese lanterns to create a festive atmosphere. Large, 3D signs, like the giant paper blowfish that has become a symbol for the neighborhood, dangle above the sidewalk.