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Living is an expression. Meet Kamagasaki and learn from each other "Kamagasaki University of Arts"

Updated: Jan 31

"Shin-Imamiya" in Osaka's Deep South is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist base. In a corner of the Showa-era retro shopping district of "Kamagasaki," as it is commonly called, once bustling with day laborers, there is a guesthouse, cafe, and garden called "Kamagasaki University of Arts.

A guesthouse? University? However, this is a guesthouse, but at the same time, it is an open space where people can meet, express themselves, and learn from each other. The town of Kamagasaki is used as a university of arts, and courses for learning together with local people are held every day. It is a place where not only tourists from Japan and abroad, but also elderly people living in Kamagasaki, foreign workers, artists, researchers, and many other people visit.

From a Workers' Town to a Tourism Hub

The area around Hagino-chaya, Nishinari-ku, south of the Shin-Imamiya area, served by JR, Nankai, and Osaka Metro lines, is commonly known as Kamagasaki, and was once home to the largest day labor market in Japan.During the period of rapid economic growth, construction workers from all over Japan flocked to the area to work on construction sites such as the 1970 Expo in Osaka, and the area was full of vitality. Numerous low-cost simple lodging houses lined the streets, forming a "do-ya-gai" (town for day laborers). After the bursting of the bubble economy, the number of people who lost their jobs and were forced to live on the streets increased, becoming a major social problemAlthough public safety has deteriorated and a negative image of "Kamagasaki is scary" has been born, the public and private sectors are working together to support workers and their welfare, and the city is undergoing major changes, including the Nishinari Special Zone Initiative that began in 2013.

With the rapid increase in the number of foreign tourists, former simple lodging houses have been renovated into hotels and guesthouses. Shin-Imamiya is attracting attention as a sightseeing base because of its proximity to Osaka's representative tourist spots, such as Shinsekai with Tsutenkaku Tower towering above, Tennoji Park, and Abeno Harukas, and it's easy access to transportation.

"Guest House Museum" to experience Kamagasaki

The guest house, cafe, and garden "Kamagasaki Art University (or "Kamagei" for short)" opened in 2016 on the Dobutsuen-mae shopping street in Kamagasaki. The colorful exterior of the guesthouse stands out among the rows of Showa-era-style pubs and stores.

After passing through the entrance, where recycled goods are lined up in a crowded place, you will see calligraphy works filling the ceiling, and the entire three-story guesthouse is an art space.The walls, stairs, and toilets are also decorated with elaborate paintings. All of these were created in collaboration with day laborers living in Kamagasaki, guests, artists, and volunteers.

"We pretend to be a guesthouse, but we are a place where people from all walks of life can meet, express themselves, and learn from each other. We hope people will think of it as a guesthouse museum where they can experience Kamagasaki," said UEDA Kanayo, poet and representative of the art NPO "Koe to Kotoba to Kokoro no Ma (Room for Voice, Language, and Heart)" that operates Kamagei.

"Expression, art, and social issues are connected." The Birth of Kamagei

In 2003, Ms. Ueda established "Coco Room" under the theme of "Expression, Autonomy, Work and Society" at the Festival Gate in Shinsekai as a contemporary art base project of Osaka City. In the process of creating opportunities for people to experience expression and art in the form of a coffee shop, she met homeless people and moved to Kamagasaki in 2008. In 2012, she launched the "Kamagasaki University of Arts," a school for learning together with local residents.

Ms. Ueda jumped into Kamagasaki because "I thought that expression and art are not for someone special, but are connected to people who live without a home, for example."

"When I first started Coco Room, I did a poetry reading at a bicycle shop in Kamagasaki. I was surprised when an uncle (as Ueda-san affectionately calls day laborers) wrote the phrase I read in black ink on a sports newspaper and handed it to me, saying, "That was good." It was the first time anyone had reacted in such a vivid way. Some people told me not to get involved with homeless people, but art has nothing to do with titles. I thought it was interesting that this city has such a pure wellspring of art."

UEDA Kanayo(Representative of the art NPO "Room for Voice, Language and Heart (Coco Room))

The "Line Room", a corner of the third floor of the Guest House March 31, 2019, when the Airin Labor Welfare Center was closed, Ms. Ueda found cardboard boxes with the Heart Sutra written on them being thrown away in the center, and displayed them here.

A work left by TONA, a German artist who stayed in Kamagei. She took pictures of children and painted them all over the city. She wanted people to know that" there are children in Kamagasaki."

Poetry, philosophy, astronomy, calligraphy - a variety of themes

Kama-gei, an art created with local people

Poetry courses

The Kamagasaki University of Arts holds about 100 lectures a year at various facilities in the community under the slogan "If there are people who want to learn together, that is where the university is", using the town of Kamagasaki as a university. Themes include poetry, philosophy, astronomy, calligraphy, and choral music. Anyone can participate, and once you join, you become a Kamagei alumni. The number of students has reached 16,000 over the past 10 years.

"Kamagasaki University of Arts was created with the uncles of Kamagasaki. The school culture of Kamagasaki University of Arts is to spend time freely and spontaneously. The old men are always learning new things. Even if they have run away from home, gambled, or are addicted to alcohol, the expressions they show when they believe in the place and open themselves up are truly wonderful, unique, and precious," says Ms.Ueda.

Works created at a haiku co-creation school

Invited a monk to give a lecture on "Living with Death".

Presentation of the results of the Kamagasaki University of Arts "Kamagasaki Oh! Pera".

Photo by YANO Daisuke Choral performance at a summer festival

Yokohama Triennale, Osaka Kansai International Art Festival, etc.

Participated in exhibitions throughout Japan

Photo by TANAKA Yuichiro

When artist MORIMURA Yasumasa filmed a piece in Lenin's costume in Kamagasaki, homeless people helped him as extras, and Mr. Morimura also became an instructor at Kamagei in 2013.

In 2014, the artworks were exhibited at Kamagasaki University of Arts at the Yokohama Triennale 2014, for which Mr. Morimura is the artistic director. Ms. Ueda and about 50 students from Kamagei went to Yokohama to hold a traveling event that included a creative Kyogen performance with SHIGEYAMA Sennojo, poetry readings, and a soup kitchen café.

"Since exhibiting at the Yokohama Triennale, the art world's view of us seems to have changed. We are now invited to participate in some exhibition every year, including the Osaka Kansai International Art Festival."

In 2015, Mr. Morimura also established the Kamagei Graduate Institute of Aesthetics.

Must-see guest room decorated by MORIMURA Yasumasa and Kamagei students.

Guest room with collaboration between MORIMURA Yasumasa and SAKASHITA Noriyuki, the oldest member of the Kamagei team.「Our Sweet Home」

The guesthouse is the base of the Kamagasaki University of Arts.

It is located on the second and third floors of the building. Our recommendation is the special twin room "Our Sweet Home" (2nd floor), a collaboration between artist MORIMURA Yasumasa and SAKASHITA Noriyuki, a former day laborer and the oldest resident of Kamagasaki University of Arts. The room, which can be considered an installation of posters of Mr. Morimura's exhibitions and works and a written work of words by Mr. Sakashita, a humorous narrator and recitalist, is well worth a visit.

A dream journal is placed at Our Sweet Home. 「Wondering what kind of dreams you'd have in this room.」

In the "Poet's Room" (3rd floor), which is a single room, the poet TANIGAWA Shuntaro stayed in this room and wrote his poem "At Cocoyadoya," which is on display for guests to continue the poem. There are also rooms and dormitories for painters, poets, and haiku poets associated with Kamagei, with a total of 35 beds.

Guests range from solo travelers to families. Many foreigners stay here for several months to a year. Children are also welcome, and in one case, after a parent and child stayed once, just three elementary school children came to stay for a graduation trip.

Kamagei's famous "makanai gohan" meal

A diverse meeting place that welcomes everyone

To encourage diverse encounters, there is a café and garden on the first floor where anyone can stop by. At the café, "Makanai Gohan," where everyone gathers around a platter of food at lunchtime and in the evening, is very popular. Foreign visitors staying at the hotel, passing tourists, local senior citizens, and staff all gather around the same table, passing around the food and chatting. When there is a shortage of staff, guests spontaneously start cleaning up the dishes, which may be another form of interaction.

The courtyard garden, which stretches about 70 tsubos (about 1.5 square meters) facing the cafe, is tended by the people of Kamagasaki and is overgrown with rare plants such as bananas, basho (Japanese banana), and French figs, as if it were a botanical garden.At the back of the garden, there is a traditional water well!

A well suddenly appears at the end of the garden

With the cooperation of Osamu Hasuoka, who dug wells for the international NGO Peshawar Kai in 2019, a project was undertaken to dig wells while learning how to dig from day laborers in Kamagasaki, "Let's think about the water of life." It took 700 people, including children, foreign guests, people with disabilities, and refugees, to dig the well with shovels in their hands, and it took six months to complete the project.

「While taking a fresh look at the convenience of turning on a faucet to get water, wanted to learn the skilled skills of the old men of Kamagasaki, who supported Japan's rapid economic growth, as my teachers. Recently, people say that the town of Kamagasaki has been cleaned up, but don't let it be said that the existence of people who have lived here and the history of the town did not exist, as if to cover up the image that Kamagasaki is a scary place. So we decided to dig a well together and record our experiences.」

Drilling wells

An interesting experience that will shake your sense of values in Kamagei, a treasure house of the theater of life.

「Honma ni Book Café」

A " Honma ni Book Café" is located in one corner of the guesthouse. In this unique system, a "manager of the day," who can be anyone, selects a book and offers hospitality, and guests sometimes stand at the counter and enjoy chatting with local people. There is also a "beneficiary ticket" where the proceeds are donated, and a small economy of giving is at work.

The charm of the guesthouse is that "the most interesting thing is to communicate with people who happen to be here. I want everyone to encounter Kamagasaki," says Ms. Ueda.

Come and have an interesting experience that will shake up your conventional values at the Kamagasaki University of Arts, where the theater of life unfolds every day.

Guesthouse, cafe and garden "Kamagasaki Art University



2-3-3 Taishi, Nishinari-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka


06-6636-1612 (9:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m.)



No holidays


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