A change in elevation serves as a natural border for Abeno and Nishinari Wards here, and the change in the city's character is notable. In Abeno on the east, high-rise apartments and large shopping centers sit on high ground. While in Nishinari in the west, lies the Tobita area, once a large red-light district. Here the shops in the streets seem to reject modern style.
I was guided through this strange area by author Ritsuko Inoue, 56, who released a book last year encompassing 11 years of investigating the area. Getting off the subway and making our way through a shopping street, we arrived at a large gate at the entrance to Tobita. "See how it's an art deco design?" said Inoue. The Tobita red-light district was created in the Taisho Era, and Western-style design may have been a focus for the area's image-building strategy. A sign by the gate reads, "The Tobita red-light district was abolished in 1958 but the Tobita gate is enjoyed by locals for preserving the atmosphere of the past." One might think from the sign that the red-light district was completely wiped out, but even after the 1958 anti-prostitution law was put into affect, it has lingered on illegally under the guise of legitimate businesses. As we passed the gate and entered the area, wooden houses evocative of the Taisho era stood together with modern concrete buildings. Families on bicycles rode past, while what appeared to be tourists snapped photos. "During the day, it seems normal," I said while peering around at my surroundings. Inoue laughed and guided me to the southern part of the area. A stone monument surrounded by a fence stood there, put in place for sex workers who died here with no family to mourn them.