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Otaku culture brings new visitors to old town

The Yomiuri Shimbun

A scene from an Oiran procession at last year’s Osu Street Performers Festival

By Jun Nomura / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer NAGOYA — Walk around the shopping district of Osu in Nagoya, and you will notice shops selling anime and pop idol-related goods sittings amongst traditional shops offering sweets and local specialties.

“Anything is welcome here, in this town of mishmashed things,” said Makoto Inoue, 40, a member of Osu shopping district’s federation. “It’s a place where tradition and otaku culture meet.”

The district, which stretches about 700 meters from east to west, and about 500 meters from north to south, is located about two kilometers southeast of Nagoya Station. On weekends, nearly 50,000 people hustle and bustle about in a day among the 1,200 shops there.

The Osu Street Performers Festival, which is held every October, is the source of a strong bond among the district’s shop owners. Besides the various street performances, there is an Oiran procession, where women selected from the public dress as oiran courtesans and march down the streets.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Shoji Hotta, president of the shop owners’ federation of Osu, left, talks with member Makoto Inoue about the charms of the shopping district.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

At the organizers’ meeting, they were enthusiastically discussing adding a theme related to the Heisei era (1989-), since this year’s event would be the last one for the era.

Inoue regards the festival as a symbol of Osu’s progress in development. “The town will stumble and fall if the festival sinks,” he said.

Inoue, whose family ran an old frame shop, has a strong attachment to the festival, which first took place in 1978 — a year before he was born. He opened his own shop to sell figures of characters from animations in 2000.

History in the making

Osu’s history somewhat started when Tokugawa Ieyasu built Nagoya Castle and its surrounding town in the early Edo period (1603-1867). Movie theaters stood side by side during the Showa era (1926-1989), making the town one of the largest entertainment districts in Nagoya. It lost momentum in the 1960s as the area near JR Nagoya Station and the Sakae district flourished.

The idea of launching the Osu Street Performers Festival came from young shop owners — street performances have long been common entertainment in the area. The federation decided to make it a rule to let a person lead the organizing committee “once in their lifetime.”

Shop owners who experienced the festivals have supported younger generations, which strengthens the connection between them, according to Inoue.

The Ameyoko biru (Ameyoko building), which opened in 1977, was another breakthrough.

Shops specializing in electrical components, such as those for radios, amassed in the building. Eventually, there were computer shops opening that catered to the younger generation, which liked working on mechanics. The number of anime- and video game-related shops also increased.

Shoji Hotta, 59, president of the shopping district’s federation, welcomes such development. “That was something unexpected,” he said. “But I’m grateful people are coming here.”

Hotta pointed out that dynanism — seen in Inoue’s swift switch in business, as he was aware of what was happening around him — is the culture of Osu.

The town is also proud of its hospitality.

In 2010, the federation formed the Osu Guides, a volunteer group comprising 16 members, to take visitors around. Chinatsu Matsui, 55, always clad in a kimono, is one of them.

“It’s a total pleasure to meet somebody new,” she said. “I hope I can keep on presenting the charms of Osu.”

The federation recently formed another panel to welcome foreign tourists.

Inoue wants to attract young people to Osu and have the festival preserved over generations.

He is also happy to have otaku culture take root in the area. Last year, Inoue lent the third floor of his building to let young people open a “maid cafe” — a coffee shop with waitresses dressed as maids.

“Osu is a place that welcomes challenges, while old values live on,” Inoue said. “It’s an exciting place. That’s what Osu is about.”

Cosplay summit

The World Cosplay Summit, organized by the shopping district’s federation and first held in 2003 in Osu, was originally a symposium on the activity of dressing up as characters from manga, games and the like. Today, it is an event for those who dress up in their favorite costumes to march through the city of Nagoya.

There are other areas in Japan where the local businesses promote similar events. The Sanwaichiba market in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture, organizes events related to kaiju monster movies.

Meanwhile, the shop owners’ federation in Kuki, Saitama Prefecture, produced goods related to the local Washinomiya Shrine that appeared in the anime “Raki-Suta” (Lucky Star), seeing a rise in the numbers of visitors. The organizers were adamant they would do more to promote their areas.

Nagoya

In 1956, Nagoya became a government-designated city along with Yokohama and Osaka. The population as of Jan. 1 this year was about 2.28 million, the third-largest municipality nationwide.

With the postwar reconstruction projects, 100-meter-wide roads were completed. Manufactures such as automobiles concentrate in the Nagoya area, which has developed the economy in the area.

In recent years, “Nagoya meshi” (local Nagoya dishes) with chicken wing tips, and miso katsu (miso-flavored deep-fried pork cutlet), have been widely known across the country, while a survey by the Nagoya municipal government found that Nagoya was the least attractive of the major Japanese cities.

This year, the Osu Street Performers Festival will be held on Oct. 12 to 14.Speech

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