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See the Influence of the West Live in Action in Osaka's Incredible Public Hall

See the Influence of the West Live in Action in Osaka's Incredible Public Hall

Date published: 3 February 2020

Nakanoshima is a vibrant area dating back to ancient times when Osaka was a thriving merchant city. You’ll find retro buildings here, as well as fashionable cafes and restaurants. Osaka City Central Public Hall, which celebrated its 100 anniversary in 2018, is a symbol of this area. The building is still used as a public facility, and it is designated as an “Important national cultural property” for its artistic looks and architecture. We heard that guided visits of the building are available, including a delicious lunch as part of the tour, so we went along to take a look!

Bright orange brickwork typical of the Nakanoshima area

Nakanoshima is a large sandbank, surrounded by the Dojima River on one side and the Tosabori River on the other. Every May and October, the roses bloom in various locations around Nakanoshima, such as Nakanoshima Park, Nakanoshima Library and Nakanoshima Festival Tower. With over 3,000 brightly colored roses dotted around, there’s an air of culture and refinement all around.

This is where Osaka City Central Public Hall (the Public Hall) is located. It’s about a five minute walk from Yodoyabashi Station on the subway, or a minute’s walk from Naniwa Station on the Keihan Nakanoshima Line.

▲A sign at the south entrance to the Public Hall dating back to when it was first built.

The building was completed in 1918. It has a variety of different rooms inside, including a large meeting hall which can accommodate up to 1,160 people. The Public Hall is full of interesting artistic features, and in 2002 it was designated as an “Important national cultural property.” You can take a guided tour with a member of staff to look around the inside of this historic building.

Find out the history behind the Public Hall with a guided tour!

The tours are held between two and five times a month on specifically designated days. There are two tours per tour day (10:00AM and 11:00AM), with each tour taking approximately 30 minutes to go round the building. There are two options to choose from: either the Basic Course with guided tour only (500 yen incl. tax) or else the Special Course, which includes the tour and an exclusive set lunch (2,000 yen incl. tax).

I’d made the effort to come here for the tour, so I did the Special Course. On the appointed day we gather in the lobby in the basement (floor B1), and we set off, along with the other participants on the Basic Tour. The group is limited to 25 people in total, and the tour that day was pretty full! There were even some foreigners in our group with their own interpreter.

▲Photo with our guide, Nakamura-san (left), before the tour begins. She usually works on the administrative staff. Thank you so much for showing me round!

The Public Hall was built with the help of a donation from an Osaka citizen

The building has three floors and a basement. The large assembly hall on the ground floor has a high ceiling, stretching up two stories. On the top floor, there are small meeting rooms and a VIP room. The guided tour takes you round the exhibition room in the basement as well as the VIP room which is normally out of bounds.

Let’s start the tour!

Many people see the Public Hall from the outside and think to themselves, “This building looks familiar. I feel like I’ve seen this somewhere before.” Nakamura-san tells me that Kingo Tatsuno, the architect who worked on Tokyo Station, which is known for its red brickwork, was also involved with designing the Public Hall.

▲The brickwork, lighting and curved ceilings give the corridors a retro feel.

Starting in 1999, repairs were carried out and the building was restored back to its original state, as well as being updated for modern day use. The work took three and a half years to complete. Furniture and internal pillars around building were reused as part of the process.

▲Wooden seat in the basement corridor. Originally located in the large meeting hall; now used as a bench.
▲This column (made from pine) in the stairway hall in the basement is one of 4,000 foundation columns removed during the preservation and renovation works.

Articles and photos detailing the Public Hall’s hundred year history are on display in the exhibition room in the basement.

▲Tour visitors listening to Nakamura-san. Photography is permitted throughout the building

Einosuke Iwamoto, the creator of the building, was an investor on the Osaka stock exchange during the late 19th and early 20th century. On a business trip to the US in the early 1930s he was deeply impressed by the way in which American businessmen provided philanthropic support for public services. So when he returned to Japan he made a donation of a million yen to the city of Osaka (equivalent to around 5 to 10 billion yen nowadays). The city decided to use the donation to fund the building of the Central Public Hall.

However, Iwamoto ran into difficulties with his investments and sadly took his own life at the age of 39 before the building was completed.

▲Bust of Einosuke Iwamoto in the exhibition room. The Central Public Hall, Iwamoto’s gift to the people of Osaka, funded out of his own wealth, lives on today.

Numerous concerts by famous artists and celebrity lectures have been held here. “‘Aida’ was performed by a Russian opera group in the Taisho era. Since the Second World War, the Public Hall has hosted events such as a lecture by Helen Keller and a celebration for Yuri Gagarin,” Nakamura-san tells us. Looking at the articles on display in the exhibition room helps you can really appreciate the history of the building.

▲Valuable items used to decorate the interior of the building when it was first constructed are on display
▲100 year old curtains from one of the rooms used for special occasions. These were made by craftsmen in Kyoto's Nishijin textile area and the same pattern is now used by Nishijin companies today.

Nakamura-san tells us, "The role of the hall has gradually changed over the generations. For example, the rooms now used as the intermediate and small meeting halls were originally used for ceremonial dinners and banquets.” We could really feel the passage of history as we look round the exhibition.

▲The plates used in the dining room feature the original logo incorporating the “miotsukushi” symbol of Osaka City and the character “公” (ko - public).

When the rooms were used as dining rooms, we’re told that the intermediate meeting hall was reserved for use by men only and the small meeting room was for women only. That would be unthinkable now wouldn’t it? These little snippets are fascinating!

With that, we leave the exhibition room and head up to the third floor.

A VIP room packed full of art works

At last we enter the VIP room on the third floor. “This room was used as a VIP room when the Public Hall was first built. Nowadays it’s used for meetings or ceremonies or for location shoots," says Nakamura-san. As soon as we enter, our eyes are drawn to the high ceiling with its beautiful paintings, as well as the large stained glass window. We all let out gasps of wonder and admiration.

▲We can’t stop taking photos!
▲The modern city skyline seen through the glass window

The figures painted on the ceiling are gods from Japanese mythology: Izanagi, Izanami and three deities from the Japanese pantheon, the Amatsukami. The scene depicts Izanagi and Izanami giving Amanonuboko, the spear given by the Amatsukami for creating land. It was painted by Hisashi Matsuoka, a Western-style painter in the late 19th and first half of the 20th century.

▲Izanagi holding out Amanonuboko and Izanami
▲The Amatsukami receiving Amanonuboko from Izanagi (Upper left of picture)

Deities from Japanese mythology also appear in the paintings on the north and south walls.
Nakamura-san tells us that a pair of gods, Susanoonomikoto, the god of trade, and Futodaminomikoto, the god of industry, are painted on the north and south walls respectively as a prayer for prosperity.

▲The painting of Susanoonomikoto is in the middle of the north wall.
▲The south wall. Futodaminomikoto is the center painting.

Next we turn our attention to the stained glass. The east facing window with its fan-shaped stained glass patterns is spectacularly beautiful! Apparently it’s made up of 5,000 different pieces of glass.

▲Gorgeous stained glass with phoenix design. The glass has subtly different colors and textures compared to modern glass as well as its own distinctive character.

“There’s a humorous touch hidden somewhere in the design of the stained glass,” says Nakamura-san. “Does anyone know what it is?” she asks.

▲Hint: Look at the ribbon at the feet of the phoenixes!

Apparently, this ribbon is a motif of the miotsukushi symbol of Osaka. The miotsukushi was a sign placed in the sea to mark out the shipping lanes. Osaka was known as the “Water Capital” because of the many rivers that flow through it, and the miotsukushi was adopted as the emblem of the city during the Meiji era (1868-1912).

If you put your face next to the round-shaped glass...

▲Look! Everything you see through the glass is upside down!

"There are 224 circle-shaped convex lens like this,” says Nakamura-san. “Light is diffused as it goes through the window.”

▲”How ingenious!” everyone says, as they take photos. Make sure you tell your friends about this when you get home!
▲Explaining the patterns on the curtains in the exhibition room. The characters used in various unfamiliar words are shown on the board, making the meaning easier to understand
▲ Specially crafted pieces of wood are inserted into the door, using a technique known as “mokkouzoukan” (wood inlay)

That concludes our 30 minute guided tour. This whole building is like a museum, so I’m continually surprised that it is still actively used for public functions. Events are held here from time to time, even in the rooms which we weren’t allowed to go in today. I would have loved to see inside these.

There's still so much to see! Highlights of the Public Hall

At the end of the tour, visitors doing the “Special Course” are free to walk around the building until lunch at 11.30 (except for the assembly hall and the reserved meeting rooms). Let's have a look round to have a look at some of the things we didn’t get to see on the guided tour.

▲Stairwell running from the basement to the second floor. It’s a good place for a photo.
▲In some parts of the corridor walls, the plaster has been kept as it is and not painted over. Where the walls are repainted, they are virtually the same color as they were 100 years ago.

Because the building is still actively used a public facility, there are some rooms where visitors are not allowed. If you really want to see them, you should come to one of the concerts or lectures that are held here.

▲Large meeting hall. Various events, such as lectures, conferences or ceremonial occasions are held here (Photo courtesy of Osaka Central Public Hall)
▲People love the retro feel of this room, which you don’t have in the other halls
▲Intermediate meeting hall. The high ceilings and subtle and pretty chandeliers make this a popular venue for instrumental concerts and performances (Photo courtesy of Osaka Central Public Hall)
▲ The small meeting room was once a women's dining room, so it features warm woodgrain tones (Photo courtesy of Osaka City Central Public Hall)

The building also has an official shop. It features items associated with the Public Hall, as well as specially selected local products, along with fashionable accessories, stationery and books.

▲The official shop located in the basement lobby near the meeting point for the guided tour (Photo courtesy of Osaka Central Public Hall)
▲Stamps with a design of the Public Hall building are sold in the shop. 1,800 yen with box; 1,200 yen without box (excl. tax)
▲Osaka tea towels (Osaka limited edition) featuring Osaka products and landmarks: 400 yen each (excl. tax). They make great souvenirs!
▲There are numerous old as well as quaint modern buildings near the Public Hall. Books about these are available at the shop.

Enjoy lunch at Nakanoshima Social Eat Awake

It’s now 11:30 so we make our way to the lunch venue at the restaurant, “Nakanoshima Social Eat Awake”, in the basement. The restaurant incorporates the building’s red brickwork to good effect, with a stylish interior blending elegance and informality.

▲Nakanoshima Social Eat Awake entrance

The restaurant serves cool and contemporary French and Italian-style cuisine prepared with Japanese ingredients. Even though it’s a week day, there are plenty of visitors eating lunch. You can have a leisurely meal here with friends or just by yourself.

▲The spacious surroundings mean you can enjoy a relaxing lunch even when the restaurant is busy and fully booked.

Tour guide visitors are served a special set lunch. Today’s menu is Potage of Potato followed by a main dish of Kagoshima Kurobuta (Black Pig) Premium Pork Shoulder Chops with Seasonal Roasted Vegetables and a Green Mustard Sauce. The menu includes unlimited bread and one drink each.

▲Thick and rich potage, topped with intensely flavored salty, thick cut bacon
▲You’ll be amazed at the tenderness of the thick Kagoshima Kurobuta meat when you bite into it

Green mustard sauce is a perfect accompaniment for the succulent pork! It’s served with lightly fried vegetables, including potatoes, carrots, and green beans. The warm and soft sweet texture of the vegetables brings out the delicate flavors of the meat and the sauce.

2,000 yen (tax included) for a guided tour and a high quality lunch like this seems very reasonable to me! The food is of a high standard and unpretentious, but you’ll feel like you’ve had something quite special. Naturally, you’re welcome to use the restaurant even if you haven’t done the guided tour. A full dinner menu is served in the evening, so you can eat in comfort in a laid-back, grown up atmosphere.

  • Nakanoshima Social Eat Awake
    中之島ソーシャルイート アウェイク
    • Address 1-1-27 Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, Osaka
    • Phone Number 06-6233-9660
    • Opening hours: Weekdays 11:30AM - 10:30PM (Last order); Saturdays, Sunday and public holidays 11:00AM - 10:30PM (Last order)
      Closed: 4th Tuesday of the month (If this is a public holiday, the restaurant will open as usual, and will be closed on the following day)

See the Public Hall lit up in the Feast of Light! Don't miss the excellent concerts here!

The Osaka Central Public Hall is lit up at night all year round, but don’t miss the seasonal, illumination events held here.

The Osaka Feast of Light, a seasonal winter event, was held from November 12 to December 31, 2017. The Special Performance Wall Tapestry features beautiful light paintings projected onto the west wall of the Public Hall and is being held from December 14-25.

▲Osaka Central Public Hall Wall Tapestry. The projections take place between 5:00-9:00PM with each performance lasting around eight minutes.

On December 23, there is a one-off Christmas event, “ONE COIN Tour and Concert 2017.” As well as seeing the large, intermediate and small meeting halls, which you don’t get to see normally on the guided tour, you can enjoy mini-concerts by a 100-strong gospel choir and a symphony orchestra - all for the price of 500 yen (incl. tax).

▲Enjoy different styles of concerts and see rooms you don’t normally see on the guided tour (Photo courtesy of Osaka Central Public Hall)

The Central Public Hall has stood here for over 100 years, fulfilling Einosuke Iwamoto’s wish for the prosperous development of Osaka and Japan itself. The building is packed full of art works and features by leading artists and craftsmen, with its retro architecture depicting the ups and downs of its long history over the years.

If you want to try something a little different from the usual entertainment and amusement that Osaka has to offer, and to sample the city’s chic and trendy side, then why not visit the Osaka Central Public Hall?

  • Osaka City Central Public Hall
    大阪市中央公会堂
    • Address 1-1-27 Nakanoshima, Kita-ku, Osaka
    • Phone Number 06-6208-2002
    • Opening hours: 9:30AM - 9:30PM
      Admission: Free (limited to public areas of the building, such as the exhibition room in the basement)
      ◆Guided tours
      Tour days: 2-5 times a month on designated days
      Start times: 10:00AM, 11:00AM (2 tours per day)
      Fee: Basic Course 500 yen; Special Course 2,000 yen (incl. tax)
      Closed: 4th Tuesday of the month (If this is a public holiday, the Public Hall is open as usual, and will be closed on the following day), New Year holiday (12/28 - 1/4)

Text by:kurashisa

*This information is from the time of this article's publication.
*Prices and options mentioned are subject to change.
*Unless stated otherwise, all prices include tax.

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