Groovy Osaka: A Taste of Korea at Tsuruhashi
By Quincy B. Fox
On August 14, 2014
Traveling by Kintetsu into Osaka, many people pass through Tsuruhashi without giving it a second thought. If they knew what they were missing, maybe they would take a detour from their loop line or subway transfers and enjoy the area.
Tsuruhashi, in Ikuno-ku, is well known for its massive Korean population. Korean expats, Zainichi Koreans, and Japanese citizens of Korean descent have made Tsuruhashi their home. The residents hail from all over the Korean peninsula from many different eras.
Some residents are from South Korea, some are from North Korea, and others were brought, or have family who were brought, to Japan during a time when Korea was a unified nation. Since that nation no longer technically exists, it has posed some serious problems for Japanese immigration and the families of those involved. Some choose to take on South Korean citizenship and some take on Japanese citizenship. Some decide not to choose or identify as North Korean, which gives them a special residency status in Japan. Some people simply chose to be repatriated to whichever region they originally came from. In fact, Kim Jong-un’s mother, Ko Yong-hui, was born and raised in Tsuruhashi until her family repatriated when she was about 10 years old.
Being aware of the cultural diversity and social issues of Korean-Japanese individuals is very important when visiting one of the largest, if not the largest, Korea towns in Japan. The awareness will help you avoid some awkward situations, and may help you handle yourself if anything does go wrong.
In the several years I lived in Tsuruhashi, I was only verbally assaulted a few times with anti-American sentiment by a few older people other residents also seemed to avoid. By far, the majority of residents are tolerant and internationally minded individuals who are helpful to tourists. There is one older gentleman who, at first glance, I mistook for an English-speaking panhandler. However, he never asks for money. He is actually just a sweet old man who wanders the markets and greets every foreign person he can find.
Some of my fondest memories are from Tsuruhashi, and I often take friends and tourists there to excellent reviews. Here are some things you shouldn’t miss if you are in the area.
The Market and Korea Town
All around the station, under the train tracks, there is a labyrinth of market stalls, much like Namdaemun Market in Seoul. You can find all sorts of imported items, k-pop goods, and amazing Korean food, all for great prices. Despite this market boasting signs in Hangeul and making you feel like you have left Japan, this is not Korea Town. Korea Town is a few more blocks away and is far easier to navigate. Both areas boast some of the finest Korean food in Japan.
Kimchi of Every Type
If you are looking for kimchi, there really isn’t just one stall in the market or Korea Town that is above all others. I have never had bad kimchi in Tsuruhashi, but the flavors and variety vary between each stall and shop. Most places have samples, so I highly recommend trying before buying. Don’t be afraid to shop around and go back to the store you like. Also, don’t feel too bad if you get roped in to buying the first delicious kimchi you try. Sellers have a tendancey to push discounts and will try to haggle with you. As I said before, there really isn’t any inferior kimchi, so anything you get in Tsuruhashi will still be better than most of the kimchi you can typically find in Japan. At grocery stores, some kimchi is labeled as being Tsuruhashi kimchi, but most of the time it is soured or quite inferior to actual Tsuruhashi kimchi. Some Tsuruhashi specialties to look out for are soft-shelled crab kimchi, cucumber kimchi, and celery kimchi. The latter is both amazing alone and in soups.
Outside Tsuruhashi station is an entire side street devoted to Korean BBQ/yakiniku. Each restaurant has various prices, cuts, and types of meat. Most of the menus are posted outside the shops, so you can check to see if the store fits your budget or if they only have tripe on the menu. Coming home everyday from the station, I had to run the gauntlet through the restaurants and all their beckoning staffers. It was torture to smell all the delicious food as I returned home to whatever leftovers awaited me. If you are vegetarian or want to avoid the BBQ restaurants for other reasons, I would suggest visiting Tsuruhashi earlier in the day. Most restaurants are only open for dinner.
Market and BBQ Town are directly outside Tsuruhashi station, on the JR Loop line, Kintetsu Nara and Osaka lines, and the Sennichimae subway line.
For Korea Town, exit the station’s Chuo-kaisatsu entrance. You’ll be on Sennichimae-dori and will need to turn right. Go straight for a while, and you’ll find an intersection called Tamatsu 3. Turn right and go straight on Sokai-Doro for about 400m. You will find Miyukimori Shrine, which is the entrance to Korea Town, also known as Miyukimori Shopping Street (御幸森商店街).