Osaka: Castle park stage nutures aspiring musicians

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Laph Roi Glenn performs at Shiroten in Osaka Castle Park in Osaka City.

OSAKA — Young people aspiring to become professional musicians are greatly encouraged by having their music heard live. For 32 years, Osaka Castle Park has served as a platform for such youngsters to perform live on the streets. Known as “Shiroten,” it has long nurtured the dreams of wannabe stars.

“Shiroten” is derived from the Japanese words “shiro” (castle) and “hokoten” (pedestrian zone). The name was taken up about 30 years ago, inspired by the hokoten in Tokyo’s Harajuku district, which is known as a hub of youth culture.

Outdoor music

On a Sunday afternoon in late September, a crowd of people thronged Shiroten — a large space in front of an Osaka Castle Park wall — to listen to rock band Nankanoyume, comprising vocalist Yayoi and guitarist Daishi. As Yayoi’s crystal-clear voice rang out, she encouraged the audience to wave their hands along with her and the spot became charged with excitement.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
People enjoy listening to live street performances.

Live performances are held two or three times a month at Shiroten. Among the six groups that performed on the day were four-piece band Laph Roi Glenn; ZaSAVAGE, a group of three elementary and junior high school students; and Undecorate, a quartet in their 20s. The sound of electric guitars and drums blasted through speakers on the stone pavement as the ensembles each performed a 30-minute set.

“I can enjoy my favorite music here in an open space and in close proximity to the musicians,” said a 50-year-old man from Osaka who often visits Shiroten when performances are held.

Launchpad to fame

Shiroten’s history dates to the 1990s. In 1990, amateur rock band Sharam Q — who later released such hits as “Single Bed”— began performing here. Street music events at Shiroten were initiated by the band’s vocalist Tsunku, now 53, and other band members before Sharam Q made its major debut. The group regularly performed at the venue and built up a fan base.

At one point, noise pollution became an issue, but the matter was resolved after event operators introduced clear rules stipulating that performances could only be held on Sunday afternoons. The operators have an agreement with the Osaka city government, which provides them with the space free of charge.

In addition to Sharam Q, Shiroten has also served as a launchpad for other popular groups, including Porno Graffitti and flumpool, who performed there in the mid-90s and 2000s respectively, prior to signing with major labels.

Hallowed location

Shiroten is managed by the musicians themselves. For example, for the past five years Laph Roi Glenn has recruited performers, managed schedules and loaned out sound equipment.

However, the band’s vocalist Elly, 33, said things do not always go smoothly as far as their performance is concerned. “I’ve asked passersby to listen to us, even if it’s just one song,” she recalled.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Osaka-jo Hall, where many musicians dream of performing, is located near Shiroten.

Four-piece girl band Scandal, who performed a solo show at Osaka-jo Hall in 2013, had similar experiences. The band performed at Shiroten for about two years until their major debut in 2008. Vocalist Haruna, 34, said there were no people to listen to their songs when they first started performing at Shiroten in their late teens, so they made flyers advertising the group and handed them out.

“Thanks to experiences like that at Shiroten, we were able to develop the mental strength to never give up, no matter what,” Haruna said.

Drummer Rina, 31, offered advice to aspiring musicians, saying, “Believe in your sound and always play your music with energy.”

In recent years, Shiroten has seen fewer performers as musicians increasingly turn to social media to share their music. Nevertheless, those involved with Shiroten are determined to keep it up and running.

“For longtime Shiroten fans and young musicians, we’ll protect this place that was passed down to us by our musical seniors,” Elly said.

Extend your trip!

Osaka Museum of History

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Osaka Museum of History

The museum is located on the southwest side of Osaka Castle Park. It opened in 2001 at the site of the former Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium. It is affectionately known as “Naniwa Reki-haku.”

The museum’s permanent exhibition introduces the history of Osaka using reconstructed models and archive films, among other methods. Smaller exhibitions on different themes are held every two months.

How to get there

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Shiroten is located at the northeast end of Osaka Castle Park and close to Osakajokoen Station on the JR Osaka Loop Line. It is a seven-minute walk from Osaka Business Park on Osaka Metro’s Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Line. It is also easily accessible from the Morinomiya Exit on the Hanshin Expressway