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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Den Den Town

でんでんタウン

Denden TownIn south Osaka lies a slightly worn paradise for geeks, who are known in Japanese as otaku. In the Nipponbashi section of Osaka is a shopping area famous primarily for electronics known as Den Den Town ("Den Den" comes from the kanji for electricity, said twice: 電電). The area is a mix of old mom and pop widget shops and mega stores, anime boutiques and maid cafes. The area however has clearly seen better days, with many of the largest computer and electronics stores now near Osaka Station in the northern part of downtown.

Unlike shopping at the newer stores--in shiny buildings located in more "convenient" areas, with employees who spend a bit of time on their personal grooming--Den Den Town offers several of the quintessential Osaka experiences: haggling over price, grit, and titillation.

Video Shop in Denden TownIn most of the shops, you are not bound by the sticker prices. Within reason, you can request a discount or a reduction in sales taxes. Unlike other parts of Japan, where this would be considered gauche at best, in local Osaka you can still haggle. In some of the newer shops, Chinese-speaking staff handle overseas tour groups--and haggling in Osaka dialect, Chinese, and broken English.

Though Osaka is also known for its loud clothes and loud people, flash cars and flashy jewelry--especially when compared to understated and elegant Tokyo--it is at heart a gritty working man's town. Den Den Town exemplifies this, and is a poor cousin to the capital's Akihabara. Down narrow alley ways just off the main drag, you will find shops piled high with rotating saw blades, plumbing equipment, and bales of wire. Around the corner is a beat-up shop filled with old radios and an ancient woman sitting and smoking as she reads a tabloid paper. For the five minutes I peered around the dusty shelves, she never looked away from her paper; a cat at her feet though eyed me the entire time.

Being Osaka, though, there is of course flash. In addition to Brazilian thugs tending to a fleet of shiny Yakuza-owned Benzes kept in a grubby covered parking lot, and the wild hair styles of the local young boys on the prowl, there is a massive fly in Den Den Town. Atop a nondescript building on a side street squats a metal fly. A huge decorative fly: at top right.

Last, sex. Even on the main shopping street, many stores--mainly video shops--sell porn. The stores have large display signs out front (see above left), and the rows of DVDs and videos inside the store are clearly visible from the street.

Denden Town CafeAnother form of titillation can be had in the handmaidens, whom you can see in many cafes and cabarets and sometimes walking the streets going to work. These are young women dressed in an otaku's fantasy of a French maid. Very heavy on lace and suggestion, very light on actual naughtiness. A cup of coffee served by one of the lovely maids at Cafe Kurara costs 850 yen ($8).

Directions

Take the Sakaisuji subway line to Ebisucho Station.

If the weather is good, the area is within walking distance from Namba.


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1 comment:

Patrick said...

Great post!
The charm of Osaka's Den Den town lies in the fact that, unlike its dull cousin Akihabara, it has a lot of small shops selling hard-to-get items and unique goods. Akihabara is merely a collection of big-name stores you can find in any Japanese city--in other words, only interesting if you just got to Japan. And of course Den Den is famous for its maid cafes...although only creepy ojisan go to those :)

Patrick
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