The smoke from cooking fires mingles with potent incense and perfume, a heavy smell that hangs cloying in the air. This is Ōsu, an old "temple town (monzenmachi) spread between Ōsu Kannon and Banshōji in present-day Nagoya. While it might seem an unlikely pairing, the spiritual and the commercial have long been aligned in Japan, with stalls situated near temples to serve visitors multiplying during festivals. The mechanical dolls (karakuri ningyō) of Banshōji have historically been an especially big draw. Over the years, stage events, theaters and bookstores contributed to a cultured image, and long, covered pedestrian shopping streets added to the appeal.
The area also draws many an otaku. In general, Nagoya loves Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980) because the seminal TV anime was first aired on Nagoya TV. Indeed, the Joshin (a large department store for electronics) location in Ōsu is largely dedicated to Gundam plastic model kits. But it was later that Ōsu developed into an otaku town much like Akihabara. In the early 1980s, the Radio Center Ameyoko Building was erected in Ōsu, and stores dealing with mechanical parts, high-end audio and electronics began to gather. Local TV stations aired commercials about the Ōsu electric town, most especially the area around Akamon Street and Shintenchi Street. When GoodWill, a digital and entertainment mall, was established on Akamon Street in 1989, a shift began toward personal computers. Stores selling personal computers also sold computer games, adding colorful images of female characters to advertisements. GoodWill, in fact, opened a floor dedicated to bishōjo (beautiful girl) games and "adult" (i.e., pornographic) anime. The area was not just important to media and technology enthusiasts, but also young people who came for gaming arcades. Figurine stores, as opposed to the long-standing traditional toy stores in the area, were opening in Ōsu around the time of the national boom in figurines in the late 1990s. Luminaries include Spanky, dealing with classic American toys, and Stale, dealing with Japanese figurines. Both these leaders have expanded since appearing in 1997.
The building is conspicuously covered in images of anime girls, adding to the recognition of Ōsu as an otaku town.
Also in 1997, Volks opened a large store near Joshin, making otaku culture more visible. As more and more otaku-oriented stores appeared, M's Melody, a maid café, opened in the basement of GoodWill in 2002. Not only was it among the first maid cafes in all of Japan, but it is revered as the source of the traditional greeting ("Welcome home, master"), bells to ring for service, instant photos with the maids and "graduation ceremonies" for retiring maids. During the push to promote "Cool Japan" and the power of Japanese popular culture, Ōsu became the site of the World Cosplay Summit. The inaugural event was held at Ōsu Rose Court Hotel in 2003 and drew only five participants from abroad. By 2008, the event had become a media extravaganza, drawing some seventeen thousand people and including a cosplay parade through Ōsu.
The explosive growth of the otaku-oriented event mirrors that of the area itself. The otaku boom really took off in the second half of the 2000s. Mandarake was selling secondhand merchandise in the Sakae area of Nagoya for about ten years, but moved to Ōsu around 2007. Also located in Sakae was Gamers, which moved to Ōsu in 2003, then a new, highly visible location on Shintenchi Street in 2008. Nearby is K-Books, also here since 2008. Gee Store opened on Akamon Street in 2008, and in 2009 the illustration gallery Art Jueness moved to an enormous location at the intersection of Akamon Street and Shintenchi Street. The building is conspicuously covered in images of anime girls, adding to the recognition of Ōsu as an otaku town.
Even as Akamon and Shintenchi streets grow steadily more otaku, various people of all ages still comprise the vibrant shopping area near Ōsu Kannon. A diverse mix of people and interests, and the food and fashion stores, make for a unique experience.
OTAKU SPACES © 2012 by Patrick W. Galbraith and Androniki Christodoulou. Text and photographs reproduced by permission of the publisher, Chin Music Press.
(Top photo: Androniki Christodoulou)