Feb 23, 2021
TWENTY YEARS AGO, A JAPANESE PERFORMANCE ARTIST decided to renovate an old Nagaya-style house in Nakazakicho, a neighborhood in Osaka that survived the war and has remained relatively unchanged since.
The renovation in itself was performance art but he didn’t advertise as much. Still people gathered. It took two months to build and more than a thousand people came to watch. His art triggered the area’s revitalization and a younger crowd moved in, opening hip cafes and shops within the area’s meandering alleys.
Many hold the spirit of the neighborhood’s initial catalyst at heart. Some even come under the umbrella of the artist’s first endeavor. There’s a retro vibe, a little nod to the past, at the most frequented places, where visitors delight in the old made new again.
Here are some worth exploring.
Salon De AManTo
The place that started it all is rather unassuming. Hidden away down and alley and shrouded in leafy foliage, like it’s being reclaimed by nature, you could easily just snap a photo of the building’s rewilding and walk by. But the creative space, founded by a famous dancer, Jun Amanto, is worth a stop. The salon was designed to foster community with a full roster of events (put on pause during Covid) drawing people in. Sitting back in one of the tucked away spaces and admiring the charm of this little haven, created from an eclectic array of used furniture, is a worthy way to start an exploration of the area.
Coffee and cake for two approximately ¥1,600; Japanese lunch sets also ¥1,600 for two people. 1-7-26 Nakazakinishi. Open daily 12 p.m. – 10 p.m.
Just around the corner from the area’s most well-known cafe is a cute little shop with an even more adorable collection of wares. Attic Days opened seven years ago with a mission to promote creations from Japanese designers. Detailed handmade Coco & Ami hats adorn a shelf in one corner, earrings that double as artwork by Cempaka draw attention in another. The shop is brimming with unique brooches, bags and clothes from designers from all around the country.
4-1-9 Nakazakinishi. Open Wednesday through Sunday, 12:30p.m. – 6 p.m.
Tofu may be ubiquitous to Japan but it doesn’t grab the limelight in the same way other popular Japanese foods do—except at Kaya Cafe. Here this beloved bean is clearly the star of the show. The place is well-known for its tofu tiramisu, served in wooden sake containers. The space is reminiscent of a home from another era, with novel design flourishes like stools hanging from the ceiling and a trombone reinvented as a light. ¥500 per tiramisu.
4-2-13 Nakazakinishi. Open Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
This hidden cafe fully embraces its grandma vibes. Feature walls of different damask wallpaper contrast with the mixture of fading patterns on the antique chairs and couches throughout the two-story space. There’s a full lunch menu but the colorful framboise mousse and a cream soda seem like a fitting choice in this retro space.
Cake from ¥650, cream soda from ¥740. 2-4-36 Nakazakinishi. Open daily 11 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
This quaint make-up brush shop, housed in one of the area’s most prominent old buildings, also sells beautiful bags and purses from Kyoto brand Seisuke88. The patterns featured are inspired by traditional obi (the sash of a kimono) designs from more than 150 years ago. The high-end makeup brushes are from popular brands started in the neighboring areas of Hiroshima, Kobe, Nara, Kumano and Kyoto, as well as Osaka.
1-9-13 Nakazakinishi. Open daily 12 p.m. – 7 p.m.
This cozy granola shop was born out of Amanto’s project for transforming abandoned houses into new welcoming spaces. The granola is made on-site and if you time it right you’ll see the massive trays of the good stuff being crafted behind the counter. Seating is limited (and takeout only is available during Covid) but if you want to buy more than a pack of organic granola, they also serve up acai bowls.
From ¥1,190 for a 200-gram bag. 1-1-18 Nakazakinishi. Open Wednesday through Monday, 10:30 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Nijiyura creates and sells beautiful tenugui (fabric that is often used as gift wrapping in Japan). The designs are modern but the dyeing method is steeped in history. The technique was started in Osaka some 300 years ago. The colorful fabrics are sold with the suggestion to use as a scarf, placemat, hand towel, or for interior decoration.
4-1-7 Nakazakinishi. Open daily 11 a.m. – 7 p.m., but check Facebook for days closed each month.
For more information on Nakazakicho, or to book a guided walk, food tour or bar crawl in Osaka, contact All Star Osaka.