By Kentaro Tanaka / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer OSAKA — They’re cheap, offer good food and drink, and are located close to train stations. All Osaka people know where to find this trifecta, in the Osaka Ekimae buildings Nos. 1 to 4.
The buildings house various facilities, such as offices, clinics, discount ticket shops and stores selling daily necessities. However, they’re drawing fresh attention lately as places for “wandering salaried workers” to grab a drink before heading home after work.
Competing on prices
Laughter echoed from drinking establishments one Friday evening in a corridor filled with the retro atmosphere of the postwar Showa era (1926-89). Some office workers were still searching for a place to go on their smartphone.
Hiromi Hori, 53, tightened his towel around his head. As the corridor grew busier, Hori said, “Today’s gonna be busy too.”
Signs in the corridor advertised the inexpensive fare in the shops, such as “¥190 for one beer” and “¥500 for a beer and appetizer set.”
The low-cost bar Tokuda Saketen where Hori works in the Osaka Ekimae No. 3 Building is no exception — it offers a large bottle of beer for ¥490 and a typical homemade dish for ¥290.
Price competition is tough, but Hori said, “Sales have increased more than 10 percent from last year.”
Beginning about two years ago, sales in the evening hours have been particularly good. “Solo customers in business suits come in, stay for only an hour or so and then leave. We have more customers like that,” Hori said.
Due to the government’s drive for work style reform, workers’ overtime hours have been decreasing, and office workers are urged to leave work on time. These “wandering salaried workers” with time to spare drew media attention last year.
“I’m a wandering salaried worker, too,” said company worker Minoru Kobayashi, who was eating grilled dried sanma saury with five other colleagues at izakaya pub Himono Yaro in the Osaka Ekimae No. 4 Building.
“We all go home in different directions, but it’s convenient because this is the middle of the [busy] Umeda [district], and we can go bar hopping too,” said Kobayashi, 41. The izakaya was filled with company workers enjoying dried fish and local sake.
Ekimae means “in front of a station.” As the name indicates, the buildings are located in a prime area in front of train stations in the Umeda district in Kita Ward, Osaka. Despite this, many bars and establishments offer cheap items on their menus.
How is this possible? According to Shinjiro Sumida, 53, of real estate agent Tosho House in the Osaka Ekimae No. 1 Building:
■ The buildings are closed at night, so rent is relatively cheap compared with other neighboring busy areas.
■ Underground restaurant corridors in the buildings are well-known, so bars and restaurants don’t have to spend a lot of money on advertising.
■ If an establishment is full, visitors can just go next door, so customers don’t need to leave the buildings.
Nostalgic Showa streets
The origin of the buildings dates back to the black markets after World War II. Shops in an about six-hectare area of war ruins were clustered in the four commercial buildings in an urbanization project that started in 1961. Because the buildings adopted a form of compartmentalized ownership, which is rare among commercial buildings, the use of each unit has been relatively free and left to the owners’ discretion.
Therefore, a random, nostalgic atmosphere like a Showa-era shopping street has been created in the corridors of these buildings. Next to an izakaya pub, for example, there’s a video arcade, and across from a discount ticket shop there’s a secondhand record shop.
The four buildings have recently been featured in print and broadcast media. “Kansai Furari-man Senyo Walker” — a guidebook magazine’s special edition for wandering salaried workers in the Kansai region, published in March by Kadokawa Corp. — introduced the four buildings as “secret underground bases.”
“It’s not only a good deal, they have an air of nostalgia,” said Kenji Akai, 42, an editor of the guidebook. “It’s like a maze, and you’ll always find something new.”
“Welcome, please come in,” Seishin Ryu, 97, the famous owner of coffee shop Mazura in the No. 1 building, said as he stood to greet a customer.
His cafe was established during the black market days in 1947 and started business at the No. 1 building in 1970 when the building was completed, making Mazura one of the oldest shops there.
The about 300-square-meter shop looks like outer space. The uneven surface of the ultramarine-colored ceiling represents the surface of the moon with craters; round lights are shining stars in the sky; and mirrors on the walls and pillars evoke the unlimited space of the universe.
The coffee shop was opened in the year of the Osaka Expo. “I made the shop nice so it can compare to the Expo,” Ryu said.
Ryu is proud of the shop’s interior, which has not changed for nearly a half-century, and he’s also proud that a cup of coffee at the shop has been ¥250 for the last 20 years.
“I want to greet customers until I’m 100 years old, when the Tokyo Games are held,” Ryu said. Hoping to see Ryu’s smile, the number of young costumers is on the rise.
It’s only natural that people are attracted to such a place, where time goes by slowly in an open atmosphere with inexpensive dishes.
The Osaka Ekimae No. 1 to No. 4 buildings are connected to seven stations of West Japan Railway Co., Hankyu Corp., Hanshin Electric Railway Co. and Osaka Metro Co. through underground passages. The furthest station is only about 10 minutes away.Speech