Youth from another time
The Shinsekai area, or "New World," was built from the ground up in 1912 to give Osaka a renewed vitality. Shinsekai itself could use some of that today, as its quaint atmosphere and kitschy streets, though charming, remain firmly in the last century.
In the early twentieth century, joy and renewal invaded this "new town," which borrowed modernism and an obsession to replicate the Western world. The southern part was modeled on Coney Island in New York, while the northern part lovingly copied Paris, the "City of Lights". The restaurants, shops and boutiques have a colorful atmosphere, warm, a little seedy, and just like the reputation that Shinsekai garnered over the years, a mysterious area, domain of the yakuza, the homeless and sex workers. At the center of this ersatz "Japanized" new world is Tsutenkaku Tower, also built in 1912, based at the time on the Arc de Triomphe at the base of the building... and the Eiffel Tower at the top!
Though Tsutenkaku, rebuilt in 1956, replaced its French Arc with a greyish base that kind of resembles an oil rig, it has maintained a relationship with the other tower in Paris.
Red and gray
Restaurants and other red, garish storefronts line the pedestrian streets riddled with outdated, flashing neon lights. The myriad of food stalls offer plenty of choices to taste the specialty of the area, kushiage (串揚げ) also called kushikatsu (串カツ). A skewer of breaded fried meat is great for nibbling while you stroll. The arcades are also an homage to another time, the 1980s, and the pachinko parlors, which you must enter for a quick taste of the atmosphere, are other scraps of this patchwork that almost attracts more tourists than it does locals...
Everywhere, statues or figurines of a smiling figure, Billiken, inhabit the area. "So Japanese!" you'll hear from tourists who swarm the area for pictures. But the Billiken, a popular deity with a statue in Tsutenkaku Tower that thousands of visitors come to see and rub the soles of his (well-worn) feet to make their wishes come true, was originally created by an illustrator artist over 100 years ago... in the United States!
Before or after exploring the area, why not enjoy a dip at Spa World, a bath complex composed of artificial and westernized onsen? There are both European and Asian-themed baths to try.