The eighteenth and twenty-eighth of every month are when the crowds flock to the market at Osu Kannon, a Buddhist temple two subway stops away from Nagoya Station. They come to purchase rare collectibles and used odds and ends from the approximately 80 antique dealers who gather here from all over the country. Here, collectors, passers-by, and foreigners rummage through old Seto ware, sword guards, and pipes from the turn of the century, looking for bargains. "Haggling over prices is half the fun," a young couple reports, evidently happy with the price they paid for an old phonograph player that will decorate their living room.
The temple is the focus of this old section of Nagoya and is where arcades lined with shops invariably lead. While smaller shrines and temples abound, the Kannon-sama (the merciful bodhisattva Avalokitesvera) at Osu has been the real draw for legions of worshippers through the ages. More recently, rows of movie theaters and vaudeville halls were built to entice visitors to indulge in some recreation as well, and at one time Osu laid claim to being Nagoya's biggest entertainment district.
The stream of visitors gradually thinned, but Osu is once again thriving thanks to an influx of computer shops. The pioneer was Ameyoko, a shop exclusively for personal computers that opened 15 years ago. This lured other home electronics retailers to set up outlets, transforming the neighborhood into a bustling center of high-tech shops.
Osu boasts the biggest collection of appliance shops in Aichi. The streets are full of shoppers carrying large boxes of computers and other purchases.
Lately, the number of "low-tech" shops catering to the hoards of young shoppers has been growing as well. Here and there are stores selling jeans, used clothing, and other youth-oriented items. Even the tiny bars and food stalls from an earlier era, with their familiar storefront curtains and scents of mouth-watering rice dumplings, are thriving again. The festive mood is capped by charming performances that Aichi's mechanical dolls turn in at two locations several times a day. Osu is alive with people day and night.
"I've been coming for years, and I really love the atmosphere here," an elderly woman shopping for shoes explains.
"I'm looking to buy a T-shirt," claims a female college student. "I figured there was bound to be something I like here." Indeed, there is something for everyone in Osu, regardless of age or personal taste.
The cluster of appliance shops is still growing, with new outlets opening virtually every month. It features some of the fiercest retailing battles in the country, and there are constant price wars. The number of consumer electronics shops has grown to "around 50," says an official of the association of area merchants. "It's hard to keep up with all the new shops these days."
"I always make my computer-related purchases in Osu," insists a young businessman. "It's cheap, I can get what I'm looking for, and there's a lot of information floating around." Although he just dropped in to buy a replacement part today, he says he often spends an entire day hopping from one store to another. Judging by the scores of young people milling about, he is obviously not alone.
People really come out in droves, though, during the two bona-fide festivals Osu hosts each year: a summer carnival in August and a street performance extravaganza in October. The former is a popular samba jamboree featuring dancers from Brazil, while the latter is a unique showcase for around 40 street performers from around the country. The October festival attracts around 400,000 to 500,000 visitors, one highlight being a re-creation of an Edo-period (1603-1868) procession of top courtesans from the licensed quarters.
Osu offers a taste of the traditional as well as the dynamism of the leading edge. The faces of both the old and new generate a positive energy that seems to be the real source of this neighborhood's charm.