By Yoshihisa Watanabe / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterOSAKA — On a peaceful windless morning, I looked toward the Osaka City Central Public Hall from Naniwabashi bridge and saw the building reflected in the Tosaborigawa river. The public hall, which will mark the 100th anniversary of its completion next year, is a symbolic site of Nakanoshima island, which also has a history of serving as the “Kitchen of the Nation,” and the river represents a “city of water” because of its history of water transportation. I took a picture of the hall, island and river together.
Osaka City Central Public Hall was originally designed by Shinichiro Okada (1883-1932), a leader of the architectural world at the time, and finished by an architectural firm that included Kingo Tatsuno (1854-1919), who designed the original version of the Tokyo Station building.
The hall was completed in 1918, and shared with the original Tokyo Station building a combination of red bricks and bright white stripes known as the Tatsuno style.
“The exterior [of the public hall] can be admired from all directions,” said Kazumitsu Sakai, 48, curator of the Osaka Museum of History.
Located in Nakanoshima, which is sandwiched between the Dojimagawa and Tosaborigawa rivers, the public hall was designed with consideration for the view from river bridges, a design method unique to a city of water. It was created in Tatsuno’s later years, when he realized his dream of designing artistic architecture that he regarded as ideal for indoor decorations. A special room with a ceiling painted by Western-style artist Hisashi Matsuoka (1862-1944) titled “Tenchi Kaibyaku” (The creation of heaven and earth) is indeed a work of art.
The public hall and the adjacent Osaka Prefectural Nakanoshima Library, built in 1904, are both designated national important cultural properties. These two modern buildings are “living important cultural properties,” as they are available for public use.
At Nakanoshima, the Bank of Japan’s Osaka branch office building has a relaxed atmosphere, with the building designed by architects including Tatsuno and built almost at the same time as the public hall and library on a nearby site facing Midosuji avenue.
Senba evolves from castle town
I walked southward on Midosuji avenue to enter Senba, a commercial center whose development started as the Osaka Castle town during the reign of 16th century warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The city of Osaka expanded its administrative area in 1925, and its population surpassed that of Tokyo at the time, expanding to about 2.11 million, the highest in Japan.
Around this era of Great Osaka, Senba saw a construction boom in which structures with elaborate designs were built through its financial power. The Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 encouraged the replacement of buildings with modern reinforced concrete structures that were superior in earthquake and fire resistance.
The Shibakawa Building, located just off Midosuji avenue, was built in 1927 by a wealthy trade merchant. For a certain period of time, up until a point during the war, a girls’ finishing school was located in the building.
The building’s strong elements of ancient Latin American-style design are fascinating, and its current tenants include a glasses store and a hat shop. Atsuko Nagata Broadhurst, who operates a chocolate shop, said, “Our customers include people who say, ‘My grandmother used to buy chocolates here.’” The building’s intricate interior decorations are said to be the same as they were when the building was completed 90 years ago.
The Arai Building near Kitahama Station was completed as a bank’s branch office in 1922. The building has four levels, with the exterior of the first floor clad with stones and that of the upper floors with tiles. The main entrance has a high and open ceiling space.
Gokan, a confectionery shop famous for sweets made with rice, has a flagship store in the Arai Building. Its salon on the second floor is very popular and there is often a line of people waiting, even on weekdays. Yuta Asada, 32, managing director of Gokan, said: “Our business is helped by the charm of the building. We provide hospitality that suits the building so customers will visit us for a second and third time.”
There are more than 30 modern buildings in Senba that are still utilized and can serve as resources to revitalize the community.
Architecture festival set for Oct.
Modern architecture in Senba has unique characteristics, including those of the Ikoma Building, with its bay windows that imitate the pendulum of a clock. I recommend dropping into a cafe in a building that takes your fancy, and walking around the neighborhood.
At the fourth annual Living Architecture Museum Festival Osaka, set to take place Oct. 28-29, visitors will be able to look inside buildings participating in the festival.
“A popular program is for visitors to hear about the history of the architecture from owners,” said Shinichi Takaoka, 47, chief of the secretariat for the festival executive committee.
From Tokyo to Shin-Osaka by JR Tokaido Shinkansen line, it takes 2 hours 35 minutes. Transfer to Midosuji subway line and ride for 10 minutes to Yodoyabashi Station. Walk for five minutes to reach the Osaka City Central Public Hall. Phone inquiries can be made via smartphones on the Osaka Convention and Tourism Bureau’s Osaka Call Center website.
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