Fifteen minutes on the shinkansen from Kyoto, under three hours from Tokyo, is Osaka, modern Japan’s second city. It’s the favourite place of uber-girl band Shonen Knife, and if you need any more reasons to visit, it’s also the only city outside Tokyo to have more than one Mandarake outlet.
High Fashion Meets Fandom
The secondhand anime and manga store chain has its main base in trendy Amerika-Mura. It left Osaka’s “geek central” district of Nihonbashi and moved into a much bigger store, Mandarake Grand Chaos, in March 2008. The company hopes to entice new customers from the fashionista crowd.
Some otaku , or diehard fans, may feel intimidated by the urban chic of the new location, but the Amerika-Mura retailers’ association would be happy to see the area becoming like Tokyo’s Akihabara. Nihonbashi locals don’t see the change as a sign of impending doom. One café owner told Weekly Playboy magazine: “Otaku culture has gone mainstream and many young people interested in fashion are only mildly into the otaku scene. Hardcore otaku will keep coming to Nihonbashi and the softcore types will go to Amerika-mura.”
Malls and Pocket Monsters
Umeda is a raucous shopping and entertainment district, whose maze of alleys and clubs houses some weirdly named malls. Its Hankyu Higashi-dori shopping arcade is home to home to the Pokemon Centre, where you can buy goodies devoted to anime’s least scary monsters. Mandarake’s second store is nearby.
The Hep Five and Hep Navio malls sit under the Osaka equivalent of the London Eye, a 106-metre-high ferris wheel with great city views. The foyer is dominated by a life-size model whale mother and calf, painted red. It was designed by Japanese singer, songwriter, artist, author, film producer and industrial designer Tatsuya Ishii, formerly of boyband Kome Kome Club, whose work as “spatial co-ordinator” for the complex helped it win an international design award. Teen fashion and international brands like Virgin dominate.
Those who love white-knuckle rides can freefall at 50 miles an hour down the outside wall of the namBa H!Ps mall complex. The Yabafo ride looks like a piece of modern sculpture and delivers the stomach-wrenching fun urban thrillseekers enjoy.
New Gadgets and Old Heroes
A short hop on the frequent local trains will take you to otaku heaven – Nihonbashi, and especially DenDen Town. Memorabilia shops like Hero Gangan and the Gundam Store jostle for space with electrical emporia, cafes and “rental case” shops where otaku, sell off their unwanted treasures. Plastic candy premiums in tiny bags hang on racks, waiting to complete that elusive set, while second-hand items from the 60s and 70s lurk in locked cases.
Many items are designed for young professionals with big spending power and nostalgic memories of their old TV favourites. The child who used to build Bandai robot kits is now the globe-trotting executive who can spend his salary on the Gundam-branded steel cargo case and briefcase, or the mobile phone with a charging dock shaped like the head of a Zaku robot, complete with glowing eyes. The boys get bigger but the toys are still the same – shiny, seductive gadgets to make every guy feel like an urban hero.