OSAKA – Tatsuo Morizawa, 44, a friendly man with a boisterous laugh, owns a popular izakaya bar called Hachifukujin (Eight Lucky Gods) that is located in the vibrant, working-class area south of downtown Osaka called Nishinari.
Inside, a long rectangular counter sits 25 comfortably. Mismatched stools and chairs and shelves full of manga and knickknacks give off a cozy, at-home feeling, and it’s not unusual to see salt-of-the-earth regulars chatting with tourists staying at one of the backpacker hotels in the area.
Spend time around Morizawa and it becomes obvious that he loves talking about Nishinari: its deep-rooted history, resilient community and, in particular, all of its wonderful food.
Morizawa and his wife, Miyuki, a Nishinari native, take pride in serving authentic local dishes at affordable prices. Hachifukujin, which opened in 2013, has close to 50 items on the menu, the majority in the ¥100 to ¥600 range, including kushikatsu (¥100), yakitori (three skewers for ¥200), tonpeiyaki (rolled pork omelette with sauce and mayonnaise, ¥300), dote-nikomi (beef sinew stewed in miso and mirin rice liquor, ¥350) and beef and tofu sukiyaki (¥550). Drinks at Hachifukujin, including draft beer, start at ¥300. The garigari chūhai (¥400), a fizzy shōchū cocktail that comes with a popsicle, is especially refreshing.
“A lot of our customers come here for our yakisoba (¥450), says Morizawa. “It has a very cheap taste that can be addictive. I think people are very sentimental about yakisoba because the flavor reminds them of, say, the time when they were kids and bought it from a night stall at a festival.”
Hachifukujin is also famous for its delicious mixed horumon (offal, ¥350). I ask Morizawa about a sign above the counter advertising a “Nishinari Horumon Roll” (three for ¥350), and he relays an interesting story about how the dish came to be added to the menu.
“A sixth grade student from (a nearby) elementary school had to create an original Nishinari-style recipe for a class assignment,” Morizawa explains. “He thought up the horumon roll (a pork offal, cheese and onion blintz) and went around to all the restaurants … but we were the only one that offered to make it for him. He’s in junior high school now, but we’ve kept it on the menu.”
Morizawa grew up in Osaka’s Kita Ward and began eating out in Nishinari when he first visited the area in his early 20s. At the end of 2018, he invited fellow travellers who also love the area to join a Facebook group called Team Nishinari Horumon 800, which ballooned to 830 members in less than six months.
In April of this year, Morizawa, with contributions from members of the aforementioned group, published the first print edition of Team Nishinari: a free 12-page guide to the area written by insiders who know it best. In addition to bars and restaurants, the guide includes information about hotels, public baths and local theater groups. The second issue of what Morizawa hopes to be a quarterly publication will be released next month, and an English version is planned for the near future.
“There are many Japanese people who have a bad impression of Nishinari,” Morizawa explains. “Sure, there are a lot of odd geezers here, but they’re not causing any harm. I would like to get rid of the old stereotype that Nishinari is dangerous, so I started Team Nishinari to spread the word that Nishinari is a fun town where you can drink cheaply and share a laugh with the customer sitting next to you.”
Last year, Morizawa was chosen to be the face of Nishinari Riot Ale, an American pale ale from Derailleur Brew Works, which is based in Nishinari. Morizawa, as a defiant-looking, hard-hatted laborer, graces posters displayed in shops all over town. Nishinari Riot Ale was so popular with his customers that Morizawa made arrangements with the brewery to produce 300 bottles of a limited-edition stout, which he named Team Nishinari Beer (¥1,000).
While Nishinari has recently become a haven for tourists for its relatively cheap accommodations, the area has been historically impoverished and one issue that cannot be overlooked is child poverty.
Morizawa has made taking care of neighborhood children one of his top priorities, and on the second and third Sundays of each month, he and Miyuki host a free children’s cafeteria at Hachifukujin, where anywhere from 20 to 70 children might show up. According to financial newspaper Nikkei, there are about 3,700 children’s cafeterias nationwide, 336 of which are in Osaka.
“We don’t want to turn anyone away, so we prepare 100 meals (each time),” says Morizawa. “All children in the neighborhood are welcome to attend, regardless of their (financial) situation.”
Morizawa prefers to operate out-of-pocket, and friends, customers, volunteers and local business owners donate food and help cover expenses.
“We want to build strong interpersonal relationships with the children of the neighborhood,” says Morizawa, “so they always have a safe place to go if they ever need help or guidance … I have two employees who used to attend the children’s cafeteria working for me now.”
Haginochaya 1-4-1 Nishinari-ku, Osaka 557-0004; 06-6575-9248; open 24 hours; closed second, third Sun.; nearest stations Shin-Imamiya, Dobutsuenmae; cash only; smoking; English, Chinese and Korean menus; Japanese spoken
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5