Photo/IllutrationHankyu Corp.’s Umeda Station in Osaka’s Kita Ward will be renamed “Osaka Umeda Station” on Oct. 1. (The Asahi Shimbun)

"Happyakuya-cho," which translates literally as "808 municipalities," is an old idiom that denoted the sheer size of Tokyo back when it was called Edo.

The city of Osaka, on the other hand, earned the sobriquet of "happyakuya-bashi" (808 bridges) for its numerous bridges which, as the locals proudly point out, were mostly built by the citizens themselves.

Unlike Tokyo, which was planned and developed by administrative authorities, Osaka evolved thanks to the private sector, which seems to explain its citizens' spirit of independence that is tinged with a defiance of authority.

Historian Takeshi Hara maintains that Osaka's private railway companies symbolize this "personality" of the city.

According to his "'Minto' Osaka tai 'Teito' Tokyo" ('People's Capital' Osaka versus 'Imperial Capital' Tokyo), many of Tokyo's private railway stations are connected to former Japanese National Railways (present-day JR) stations, whereas Osaka's private railways developed independently of the state-run railway.

This fact is all too clear when one looks at Umeda Station of the Hankyu Corp.'s railway line.

Once famed for its vaulted ceiling, this terminal station is located within steps of JR Osaka Station, but the two are completely separate entities.

Umeda Station of the Hanshin Electric Railway Co. line is so named for the district where is stands.

But the names of these two stations will be changed to Osaka Umeda Station in October.

Although there have been complaints that having three stations with different names in close proximity was confusing and inconvenient, nothing was done about it for years.

So, why this change now?

As I understand it, the decision owed to the recent influx of foreign tourists. One might call this the "magic of inbound tourism."

But even for first-time Japanese visitors to Osaka, the situation is confusing enough. They would typically wonder, "Where's Umeda?" and "Is there a Kita Station and Minami Station?"

Personally, I used to think that even this chaos was somewhat in character with this quirky city, and I didn't see any real need to change the station's name.

But that, perhaps, was just an irrelevant view of an outsider.

In Kyoto, Hankyu's Kawaramachi Station will also change its name to Kyoto Kawaramachi Station.

I totally welcome more signage in foreign languages around Japan.

But I'm not thrilled to see ninja goods flooding souvenir shops, nor to hear authorities insist that foreign tourists can't do without casinos.

I feel like saying, "No need to go that far."

--The Asahi Shimbun, Aug. 1

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.