The city of Osaka is divided into 24 districts, called ku (区).
Of all the districts, the most populous one is Hirano-ku (平野区).
It is situated in South-Eastern part of Osaka city, and has the population of around 200,000, which is bigger than some prefectural capital cities like Tottori or Matsue.
Though populous, Hirano is not popular among non-residents.
Many Japanese do not even know that there is an area called Hirano in Osaka.
However, Hirano was once an autonomous and prosperous merchant town surrounded by moat.
If you walk about Hirano districts, you can see some of the remnants of old-time prosperity of the area, and from them you can sense how a Japanese suburban town might have look like in the old days.
Along the moat, there used to be 13 gates.
These gates were the only entrance points to Hirano town and besides each gate a statue of Jizo (Bodhisattva, one of Buddist divinities) was erected to pray for the protection of travellers who were entering/leaving Hirano.
While the moat was almost completely filled in, and all the gates were taken away to make way for modern roads, all the statues of Jizo still remain at their original places and mark the former boundaries between the town and the world outside.
As Hirano is not in the centre of Osaka, the area escaped the bombardment during the Second World War, and thus retains many old-style houses.
You would be surpried to know that an ordinary Japanese sweet shop on one corner of the town has been in business for almost 400 years.
You would also be surprised by the scale of a Buddhist temple in town first founded in 1127; the biggest wooden structure in the entire Osaka prefecture.
The most important Shinto shrine in town is said to have fouded in 862, and the legend seems probable if you notice a gigantic camphor tree just after the main gate which is also said to have lived for more than 1,000 years.
In Hirano, old things resist the passing of time and exist just as they were in the past.
Even inside a modern day shopping street, a very old building suddenly appears like this;
You can also find the oldest newspaper distributor’s office in Osaka here.
Hirano is just two stations away from the southern terminal station of Tennoji on the Osaka loop line, and can be reaced in only 5 minutes with mere 160 yen.
Yet the visitors are still scarce, despite the abundance of historical monuments.
This is precisely the charm of visiting Hirano district; you can admire many histrorical buildings without being annoied by the crowds of other tourists.
If you happen to be in Osaka on the forth Sunday of months, then it is the best day to visit Hirano, for more old buildings are opening their doors to public.
Walking in Hirano itself is an unique experience, but here, you can also go more extreme; you can visit “the Hell”.
I will write about the unusual “trip to the Hell” in Hirano on the next article.