Local community space and outreach, welcoming and creative international guesthouse/cafe, experimental events, free university
2-3-3 Taishi, Nishinari-ku, Osaka-shi, Osaka 557-0002
Open every day, special events on-site and off-site at different times
Cocoroom is an established and fairly well-known NPO and guesthouse doing creative and practical outreach with the underrepresented local community. In Japan’s largest day-labourer neighbourhood (Nishinari-ku, Osaka), home to many famous uprisings of the ignored and isolated ex-day labourers, Cocoroom works with locals using creativity and a sincere attitude. While at the same time hosting Japanese and international guests to its guesthouse and regular events.
“Voice, Words and Heart” is the (translated) motto of Cocoroom. This approach is used by everyone to listen, understand and connect with the locals around them and the people passing through. Nishinari-ku has an infamous reputation with Japanese people as a “dangerous” area – potentially due to the media attention given to previous local riots. This area has been the cheap base for many day labourers (cash-in-hand, unstable work) for decades, but now they are elderly, with little work left, and very few, if any, family or other social connections. Many other people from around Japan who feel nowhere else to go turn up in Nishinari-ku (or “Kamagasaki”). This is aside from a large homeless population. Very cheap hotels, supermarkets, karaoke shops, bars and other businesses cater to this population, giving Nishinari-ku a unique atmosphere. From personal experience, there are few, if any, other places in Japan with this same atmosphere. As a guest in the Cocoroom guesthouse you will be ideally positioned to learn about and interact with this area and a side of Japan you may never have experienced before. (An article for more background to Nishinari-ku; tofugu.com/japan/nishinari/)
On a day-to-day basis at the Guesthouse, many local older residents stop by for the (free to everybody) cold or hot tea, the staff know these residents well and try to use “voice, words and heart” to make them feel welcome and have conversations – or simply let them quietly enjoy the relaxing space. Problems occur, unforeseen meetings, but these are part of the life of the area and the staff deal with each situation carefully. Each day the sweet, older cook of the guesthouse works to serve the healthy breakfast menu and the very large communal lunch and dinner. The home-style food is delicious. The communal dinners offer everybody the chance to feel surrounded by others, despite language or social barrier. The staff, management of Cocoroom, children, travellers, local elderly residents and passing visitors all take a tatami-seat together and share.
In my stay there, I had the chance to interact with many of the local elderly residents by simply being in the cafe’s open space. One older man who came to drink a beer, write in his notebook and take in the atmosphere, after some time, finally turned to me to talk, in formal English, about his study of Shakespeare in Junior High School. Later in the evening, an older (and grumpier) resident barged through to use the toilet without permission, the staff allowed him calmly while keeping attention to the rest of the people there. These kinds of problems (staff have had difficult moments before) are just part of the scenery of this area, take into account the isolated and difficult lives of the local residents before making a judgement here. For each difficult past event, there are many more positive and refreshing ones.
Cocoroom started as an art project nearby (in Shinsekai) in 2003, opening a “cafe” in 2008 and finally moving to it’s current location as a guesthouse and cafe in 2016. Ueda-san (Kanayo) is a poet who started Cocoroom, lives locally and continues to work there (with her family). You may see her there during your stay, in a brightly coloured kimono followed perhaps by her outgoing young daughter (very outgoing – may be hard to miss). She runs many of the events working with local residents – at Cocoroom or off-site, past and present. These include regular haiku workshops, amateur theatre productions, local festivals, calligraphy, the “Kamagasaki University of Arts” and other projects. “Kamagasaki University of Arts” is a recent experimental and DIY university open to anybody; guests, older locals, younger residents, visitors, staff. Professionals come to give lectures and hold discussions, artists may create workshops, all kinds of events (based on donation) happen. Regardless of who you are, your words and opinions will be valued. If you are interested, just drop by or check the facebook group for an event and turn up.
As always at Cocoroom, various staff members can speak with you in English, and many events can accommodate you (some more easily than others) to take part on an equal level as with the other attendees. Everybody has a voice. Myself and a friend (with a beginner’s level of Japanese, on his very first day in Japan) attended the Haiku workshop offsite nearby (at Hitohana Center) with local older residents and Ueda-san. Hilarious collaborative haiku were created as a group and interaction between ourselves and the residents made a memorable impression. In the guesthouse (which by the way, is very comfortable, friendly and imaginatively designed) there are many English-language resources around or passing people to have a conversation with. Cocoroom’s very abundant garden (speculated due to the ash from previous fires) is a great space to relax in and the open tatami-library can also double as a sleeping place.
To stay at Cocoroom, not only should you take advantage of the guesthouse but also explore the local area. You may be able to have a personal guided tour by a staff member, or you can use the very handy and interesting local map/guide produced by Cocoroom itself called “Kamap!”. Pick one up there and you can read about the unique businesses and practical info for the area. There are many sento nearby, extremely cheap bento lunchboxes, famous 50yen vending machines, all kinds of retro coffee shops, breakfast places and standing izakaya and even locations to experience “Nishinari-ku jazz”, a recent trend which seemingly takes advantage of the low-rent, casual atmosphere to host great (donation-based) live jazz (from my firsthand experience, it was one of the highlights of my stay). It would be hard, or probably not possible, to find another place in Japan like this – to experience another reality of Japan away from the stereotypes and sanitised images is a unique experience which is made accessible to non-Japanese speakers through the activities and resources of Cocoroom.
I highly recommend to visit Cocoroom if you are interested in community projects in any capacity to see an example of a DIY, creative spirit working with difficult social issues while using an open heart.
As an aside, the previous Community Gardener of HELLO GARDEN in Nishi-Chiba, Furuta-san (Sachiko), is now working daily at Cocoroom. She will be able to point you in the direction of many things, or maybe even lead a tour of the area for you.
To know more about Cocoroom or to even feel inspired by the ideas, you should read Ueda-san’s own (translated) words about the history of and philosophy behind Cocoroom;