Friday, 2 March 2012

Leading Kansai Development for 102 years

Newly arrived visitors to Osaka from abroad soon remember the name Hankyu. The name is seen everywhere in Umeda. Hankyu even gave Umeda its name.  Originally a swamp, Hankyu Railway’s predecessor bought the area, filled it in (umeru, in Japanese) and called it Umeda, using the characters for fill and field (埋田). The first character was later changed to the more romantic plum (). The area was subsequently developed by Hankyu, with hotels, department stores and shopping complexes in the area bearing the Hankyu name, today.

Established in 1907 by Kobayashi Ichizo, Mino-o Arima Electric Tramway actually began operations with two lines—the Takarazuka and Mino-o lines—on March 10, 1910. In 1918, the company was renamed Hanshin Kyuko Railway, from which the current name Hankyu was derived in 1973. The Kobe Line, which opened in 1920 and was extended to Sannomiya in 1936, was a direct rival to Hanshin Railway, which also operated between Osaka and Kobe. The rivalry continued until Hankyu acquired Hanshin in October 2006 to create Hankyu Hanshin Holdings, Inc.

Hankyu briefly merged with Keihan Electric Railway, another private railway in 1943. When Keihan spilt away in 1949, Hankyu retained what today are the Kyoto, the Senri and the Arashiyama lines. It was the first railway company in Japan to install automatic ticket machines at Kita-senri Station in 1967.

To ensure the company’s prosperity, Kobayashi developed the real estate along its lines. In particular, he established the Takarazuka Revue and the Takarazuka Family Land amusement park, which closed in 2003, to draw passengers for the Takarazuka Line. Today, the real estate along most of the Hankyu lines has a prestigious image, with the real estate north of the Kobe Line between Nishinomiya-Kitaguchi and Rokko Stations being one of the most expensive areas in the Kansai.

Text and photos by George Bourdaniotis. Originally published in Kansai Scene #120, May 2010 as "Leading Kansai development for 100 years".

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