Groovy Osaka: The Nakanoshima Tragedy

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On September 30, 2015
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Photo by John Dunsmore

As indicated by its name, Nakanoshima (中之島) is a 3 km long narrow island in the middle of the Kyu-Yodo River. While the Kyu-Yodo River is a major river system in central Osaka, its subdivisions have different local names. As the river divides around Nakanoshima, it becomes the Dojima River to the north and the Tosabori River to the south.

As an oasis in the middle of the city, the island is home to a large park with gardens and sculptures, as well as several striking historic buildings. Various city and corporate offices can be found along with the Museum of Oriental Ceramics and the Neo-Baroque Osaka Prefectural Nakanoshima Library. With its copper dome and 4 massive columns, the library stands out. However, it doesn’t grab one’s attention as much as the vibrant red brick facade and bronze roof of the Osaka City Central Public Hall (大阪市中央公会堂). Unlike most of the buildings on the island, the public hall’s history is just as interesting as its appearance.

Emerging Businesses and Stocks

During the Edo period, Nakanoshima was very important to the growth of Osaka business and culture. Teaming with warehouse-homes owned by samurai, the region became known for trade and business. The samurai of the region became better known as merchants, preferring the cold metal of money to that of a blade.

The success of the Osakan merchant samurai attracted many other businessmen from all over Japan. The business-focused culture of Osaka allowed for the easy acceptance of outsiders. As a result, Osaka became the birthplace of many modern companies.

In the late Meiji period, stock trading became popular. With stock trading, it was possible for someone to go from rags to riches based on a series of wise decisions, though it was just as easy to end up back in rags with one wrong choice.

A Japanese Carnegie

In the early 1900s, Iwamoto Einosuke (岩本栄之助) made a fortune in stocks during the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). In 1909, he was part of a business delegation to the United States. While in America, he was deeply impressed by the success and philanthropy of Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie deeply believed that the rich should use their wealth to improve the world around them, and Iwamoto aspired to do exactly that.

iwamoto_01

岩本栄之助

After returning to Japan, Iwamoto decided to donate money to the city of Osaka in order to build a a spectacular public hall, much like Carnegie Hall. He donated one million yen to the city, which was an impressive amount that very few individuals could match during that time period. Today, that would be the equivalent of billions of dollars. Ground broke for the building and construction was well underway by the time World War I was in full swing.

Due to the unpredictable nature of stocks during war time, Iwamoto lost the entirety of his fortune. The city of Osaka offered to give him a loan with his generous donation as collateral. Iwamoto refused. Friends who had been financially saved by Iwamoto tried to repay his kindness. Iwamoto refused them as well. Perhaps his pride prevented him from taking the money of others.

On October 22, 1916, Iwamoto sent his family out on an excursion with their servants to hunt for maitake mushrooms. While his family enjoyed their day trip, Iwamoto sat alone in his home. He held his treasured juzu prayer beads tightly in his left hand and held his old service pistol in his right. Defeated and penniless, he took his own life at the age of 39.

Just two years later, Osaka City Central Public Hall was completed.

The Hall

Today, the three story Osaka City Central Public Hall boasts 4 meeting rooms, 9 conference rooms, a special room, and 2 waiting rooms all for rent. The stages, audio, and lighting systems have all been updated over the years, and improvements have been made to the building to strengthen it against earthquakes and other natural disasters.

Beautiful stained glass windows and chandeliers can be found throughout the building, with the interior matching the exterior’s Neo-Renaissance style. There is an expansive ceiling mural of the Japanese creation myth, Tenchikaibyaku (天地開闢).

In the basement of the building, you can find an exhibition room with a bust in one corner and several display cases. This is the Iwamoto Memorial Room, dedicated to the life and tragic tale of the man who died before seeing the beautiful building he funded. There is no admission fee to visit the memorial room.

For More Information: http://osaka-chuokokaido.jp/english/

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Groovy punky reggae nerd from Kansai.

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