Now fashionable, hip, and rose-scented, Utsubo Koen (Park) is a small slice of green mixed with European café culture right in the heart of urban Osaka. However, it wasn’t always so.
The park, which is in Nishi-ku close to Honmachi Station on the Yotsubashi subway line or Awaza Station on the Chuo subway line, was in the early part of the 20th century the only fish market in Osaka.
With the opening in 1931 of the Osaka Central Market, the fish market at Utsubo soon closed due to the competition. During the Second World War, the entire area was completely destroyed by a US Air Force carpet-bombing campaign. Following the War, it served as an airport for small aircraft for US occupying forces.
In the 1990s, as it was slowly becoming trendy—thanks in part to the planting of the rose garden—it also became a magnet for homeless. The two camps clashed periodically, culminating with the forced eviction of the park’s 20-30 residents in the early hours of January 30, 2006. Arriving with bullhorns and trash bags, 750 cops and ward officials cleared out all of the homeless and their belongings.
Today the park’s 24 acres feature a dense allee of pine trees, tennis courts, a rose garden, and even a large open space with grass. Clothed statues of middle-class parents and children adorn the end of the allee.
The streets that edge the park were until recently filled with small industrial operations, or mom and pop stores with a working class Osaka feel. Now the neighborhood has Vietnamese and Indian restaurants, a French bakery and women with expensive dogs, artists’ ateliers and “trendy” cafes.
Café Vade Mecum exemplifies this. A gallery cum café with an Italian barista, it is run by a Japanese fashion designer named Shin (pronounced “sin”)—whose studio is on the floor above—and his British partner, Michelle. It is pictured below left.
The design is spare, with a concrete floor, hyper-modern modern chairs (read: uncomfortable), and elegant Danish crockery. The back of the café looks out onto the Park. Coffee, sandwiches (from a Turkish bakery), and sparkling wine are available. The coffee, wine, and food were excellent.
The long gone Osaka fishmongers must be rolling in their graves.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007