by Bryce Marley-Jarrett
Tokyo is famous the world over for it’s neon soaked street with never ending districts of nightlife with the lights never dimming. But how about when you get out of Tokyo? Today we take a look at the famous Dotonbori district in Osaka, where you can walk along the Dotonbori Canal, and take in the sights, the world famous food and have a night out you won’t soon forget.
The Dotonbori district is one of the busiest areas in Osaka, anytime of day. With a history that dates back to 1612, when a local entrepreneur, Yasui Doton, began expanding the Umezu River with the canal to increase commerce in the region by connecting the two branches of the Yokobori River. Sadly Yasui died in the Siege of Osaka before he got to see the completion, however his cousins finished the canal in 1615. It was named by the lord of Osaka Castle, and it’s corresponding avenue Dotonbori, in the memory of its creator.
From this naming, the character of the Dotonbori was defined. Designated as the entertainment district of Osaka, by 1662 the avenue boasted the most theatres in the region, with six kabuki theatres and five bunraku theatres, as well as a one-of-a-kind mechanical puppet theatre.
Naturally, with the build up of this entertainment district, many restaurants and cafes followed to help accommodate the flood of tourists and locals coming for a night of theatre.
Today the district is lined with restaurants, shopping, attractions and flooded in neon from the bright advertising and restaurant fronts you have come to expect from Japan, and nightly is filled with tourists and locals alike.
Let’s take a look at some of the must do’s around the Dotonbori.
The great thing about the Dotonbori district is that you can come with absolutely no plans other than to walk around. The sights everywhere are enough to give you a sensory overload of colour, sounds, smells and more, and memories for a lifetime.
Be sure to walk down the Dotonbori avenue and check out the many large and animated signs for restaurants. From the giant animatronic crab, to the giant fugu balloons, you don’t have to walk far to see a more elaborate sign then the last.
The must sees along the Dotonbori-
Glico Running Man: be sure to stand on the boardwalk along the canal and find the Glico Running man sign. Originally installed in 1935, his is the symbol of Japanese giant Glico Candy, and is so high tech now you would think it was just a video screen. This whole area of the boardwalk is makes Times Square look dull. Japlanning Tip - Grab a spot on the Ebisubashi bridge for the best pictures of the area.
Kuidaore Taro: along the Dotonbori avenue you will find this mechanical clown banging his drum, he is one of the area's most famous residents. He was installed in 1950 outside a famous restaurant that has now sadly closed. However Kuidaore Taro was saved and moved to a souvenir shop, which is a great spot to pick up some great Osaka treats to take home.
Kani Doraku Crab: Resident of one of the most famous restaurants in the area, this nearly seven metre animatronic crab has moved above the establishment since 1960. It is said to be the reason so many imitations and animatronic signs have sprouted up along the Dotonbori.
Don Quixote's Crazy Ferris Wheel: Almost opposite the Glico Running Man, is a giant, 24 hour Don Quixote; This famous chain of shops around Japan that are chaotic and seem to sell everything is unique in the Dotonbori as it has a massive oval shaped ferris wheel.
You can easily spend an entire night eating street food, walking around the Dotonbori and suddenly find yourself being lost in it all for several hours.
One of the big reasons people descend onto the Dotonbori each night is because it is one of the food meccas, not only of Osaka, but also Japan.
Here you will find street food, and izakaya's with beer flowing and the food never ending, to high-end restaurants serving the finest seafood and kobe beef and everything in between.
Here are some of the most famous restaurants you can check out around the Dotonbori-
Otakoya: This is the most famous place to get Takoyaki, a famous dish of Osaka origin, that is fried balls of batter and usually octopus, in Japan. This is a great street food option to really take in what the Dotonbori is all about.
Hariju: This legendary Beef restaurant originally opened it’s doors on the Dotonbori in 1924. Since then, they have become known as the stand out place in the area to get the best Japanese Beef, they exclusively use only domestic, Japanese beef.
Kinryu Ramen: With three locations along the Dotonbori they are easily noticeable by the giant golden dragon atop them. They are easy to find, and offer delicious ramen 24 hours a day!
Zubora-ya: We have previously talked about this famous restaurant in our Fugu article. This restaurant specialises in dishes with the notoriously dangerous fish. You can easily find it by the beautiful fugu lanterns floating above the entrance.
Kani Doraku: We have already spoken about this one and its iconic sign, however if you're looking for the most famous Crab to eat in Osaka this is the place to be.
Dotonbori Ramen Taishokudo: This Ramen Restaurant is famous across Japan, as it was formed by eight of the most famous ramen restaurants across Japan coming together to open this establishment on the Dotonbori.
As you can see this is just a glimpse into the countless food options around the Dotonbori, come hungry and don’t be afraid to try more than one place during the night!
The Dotonbori is an attraction unto itself, however it has plenty in the district to offer, day or night.
Some of the stand out attractions to experience are-
Amerikamura: Just a short walk from the Dotonbori is another quirky area of Osaka that is a must see, Amerikamura. It is seen as Osaka's answer to Harajuku, with the latest fashions and pop culture bursting at the seams. It is filled with shops, cafés and clothing stores, as well as come crazy store fronts too. Be sure not to miss the Uncle Sam clown!
National Bunraku Theater: At the National Bunraku Theatre, they have an exhibition that has a wealth of knowledge about this quintessentially Japanese art form, from its rich history, to the process of how the puppets are made, in fact you can even have a play with the puppets yourself and see if you are suited to the Bunraku life. The theater is considered the most prestigious theatre in the country.
Shochikuza Theater: Being the former theatre district of Osaka, there is still a couple around that have been rebuilt since WW2. The Shochikuza Theater is located right on the Dotonbori and the number one place to experience the traditional Kabuki theatre performed in Osaka. The theatre performance happen about five times a year, and have runs of about a month each.
The Dotonbori area is located in the Minami area of Osaka. With the best access being around Namba Station, which encompasses Nankai Namba Station, JR Namba Station, and the Kintetsu Osaka Namba Station. Other subways of Osaka also have Namba stations right by the Dotonbori.
From Shin-Osaka Station and Osaka Station
- From Shin-Osaka take the Midosuji Subway line to Namba Station. Travel Time - 20 minutes.
- From Osaka station take the Midosuji Subway line from Umeda Station to Namba Station. Travel Time - 13 minutes.
From Kansai Airport
From Kansai Airport Station take the Nankai-Kuko Line and disembark at Nankai-Namba Station. Travel Time - 56 minutes.