阪神 hanshin—Osaka and Kobe

I was strolling in the Umeda and Kita-Shinchi area of Osaka this afternoon, looking for geocaches, and came across some oddities.

First, this unusual structure.

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At first I thought it was an art work of some kind. But it turns out to be a 1400-year-old temple: 堂島薬師堂 Doujima Yakushidou. Now, I’m guessing the original temple building was not a mirrored-glass geodesic dome. Wikipedia says the current structure was built in 1999.

Next I saw this:

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Doesn’t this look like something from a fairy tale? As if time was suddenly frozen and then the house and van were overgrown with ivy.

And then I visited this urban wonder:

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This is the Gate Tower building. What makes it special (possibly unique in the world) is that an exit ramp of the Hanshin expressway passes right through the building.

Gate_Tower_Building_Umeda_Exit

(Picture file source: Wikimedia commons, author: Japanese wikipedia user ユニ)

I have often driven past the Umeda exit ramp on the expressway and seen where the road disappears into the building, but this was my first time to see it from ground level.

According to some accounts, the planning authorities mistakenly gave permission for both the building and the expressway without realising that the two plans shared the same airspace, and the compromise reached was as seen in the picture.

There are some better photos at the “buildingmybento” blog; I highly recommend you click on the link to better appreciate how strange this arrangement is.

A note on the word of the day:

Yesterday I wrote about the Hanshin Tigers baseball team. The Tigers are owned by Hanshin electric railway company, which also owns the Hanshin department store.

More generally, 阪神 hanshin means Osaka and Kobe, for example when referring to the 阪神高速道路 Hanshin Expressway that links the two cities, or the 阪神大震災 Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.

How can “Hanshin” possibly mean “Osaka and Kobe”? The word is formed by taking one character from the name of each city as follows:

大阪 oo saka -> 阪 (pronounced han)

+

神戸 kou be -> 神 (pronounced shin)

= 阪神 hanshin

where in each case the “Chinese” pronunciation or on-yomi is used.

There are several other examples formed along similar lines, such as:

  • 京阪 keihan = Kyoto and Osaka
  • 京阪神 keihanshin = Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe
  • 名阪 meihan = Nagoya and Osaka
  • 東名 toumei = Tokyo and Nagoya

[Edited to add: as explained by blogger buildingmybento in the comments section below, this mode of abbreviation is commonly used in China.]

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6 thoughts on “阪神 hanshin—Osaka and Kobe

    1. Meihan and Toumei are the names of expressways. I’ve driven to Nagoya a couple of times and to Tokyo once so that’s how I came across them. Not sure if similar words exist in other parts of the country.

      By the way, I appreciate your care to show long vowels when writing Japanese words in English. I try to do so myself with the exception of well-known places such as Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto, for which I stick to the conventional English spelling. But I slipped up in Saturday’s post by writing “Koshien”.

      No matter what you do, it is potentially confusing for readers. My preference would be to indicate a long vowel with a horizontal line over the vowel, but that’s not readily available in wordpress.

    2. I’ve given this a lot of thought myself, and as far as I’m concerned, whether the word is well-known in the English-speaking world or not, I still can’t bring myself to spell it “incorrectly.” Because I can’t get over the idea that not indicating the long vowel in any way is just plain WRONG. For example, when I was first reading and learning about a certain former Prime Minister of Japan, I tried to find information on “Aso Tarou.” I couldn’t seem to find the stuff I was looking for in Japanese (though I don’t know why I was looking for information on politics in Japanese, I can’t really read that well anyway), and it took quite a long time to find out that the man’s name is “Asou Tarou.” Che. And it makes my soul shudder to write “Taro Aso.” Gwuh.

      Agreed, a horizontal line over the top would probably be the best for all, but I’m not gonna copypasta every single instance when one keystroke does the job. Of course I don’t really care how other people write the names – I’m not quite THAT neurotic – it’s just a point of preference when I’M writing.

      1. it took quite a long time to find out that the man’s name is “Asou Tarou.”

        When I read that, I wanted to reply, “Asou desu ka?” (あ、そうですか).But a year in Japan has mostly cured me of my proclivity for puns, as they are not much appreciated here!

  1. Thanks for the pingback, Dara! Glad to see you’ve taken an interest in the endless array of modern architecture in Japan too!

    The compound words that you briefly mention at the end of the post are commonly (and unsurprisingly) found in China too. Oftentimes expressways and railways between provinces and cities will be abbreviated, using either an historical character or the first/last character of the place name.

    1. Thanks very much for the explanation – it makes a lot of sense now to understand that this kind of abbreviation is Chinese and is in common use in China. So for example 阪神 Hanshin is written the same way in Chinese (pronounced banshen).

      I am certainly fascinated by (though not knowledgeable about) Japanese architecture, both old and new. As well as the soaring bridges and glass and steel skyscrapers, there are a few older structures still around in Osaka, including early 20th-century western-style brick buildings, mud-walled “dozou” warehouses with wooden shutters, scorched-cedar-panelled houses of merchant families, and of course shrine and temple buildings. Living here for a year I encountered these tucked away in various parts of the city. And of course the Osaka Gas Building, where I worked for a year, is a very fine building.

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