ガスビル gasu biru—The Gas Building

I work in the Osaka Gas Building, an elegant pre-war building on Midosuji Avenue in the middle of Osaka.

The Gas Building was designed by Takeo Yasui and opened in 1933. It was painted black during the war and was one of the few buildings in the area to survive the bombing. The north half (seen in the above photo) is a later addition.

The Gas Building restaurant on the 8th floor is open to the public, and in 1933 was the first western-style restaurant in Osaka. It is a beautiful space with curved glass walls overlooking the city, and the original wooden décor. Their signature dish is the “Special Gas Building curry”, the name of which I find childishly amusing.

The building is a little bit Déco:

As is another, more familiar, Gas Building on the other side of the world (also, coincidentally, dating from 1933):

The Dublin Gas Building in D’Olier Street has some amazing interior features, but it doesn’t have a shrine on the roof. This shrine (complete with guardian foxes) is on the roof of the Osaka Gas Building, directly above where I work.

The entrance at street level is flanked by these gas-lights:

There are original period interior features, but I didn’t feel comfortable about taking photos inside the building.

Note on the word of the day:

Japanese shortens the English word “Building” to ビル biru. This despite the fact that there is of course a perfectly good word for building in Japanese: 建物 tatemono. A huge number of loan words are used in Japanese even when there is an existing Japanese word. Loan words from English are usually written in katakana, for example ガス gasu—gas.

But look at this:

I was amazed to see the word “gas” written in kanji like this: 瓦斯. This is an extremely rare case of a loan word from a western language being written in kanji. There are so few examples of this that the same examples are always used: tabako (tobacco) can be written as 煙草; peeji (page) as 頁. I also recently found out that there are kanji (rarely used nowadays) for the various SI units and their prefixes and suffixes. (Though consider that Roman-letter abbreviations such as cm or kg are kanji, when they are used in Japanese.)

By coincidence, the kanji 瓦 which appears in the sign above as the first character in gasu is also the character used for gram. Its original meaning is roof-tile, and it is in that role that I will return to it in a later post.

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