The Beating Heart of Osaka: Dotonbori AreaArea Guide
A sliver of a neighborhood, roughly nine blocks long, in the city’s Namba district, Dotonbori runs between Dotonbori Bridge and Nipponbashi Bridge. Since the 17th century, the area has been known as a nightlife district, although the bunraku and kabuki theaters have been mostly displaced by more modern attractions.
A walk along the Tonbori Riverwalk is the best way to get the feel of the neighborhood. At dusk, as the high powered signs are lit up, the river reflects them back up into the sky, turning the Riverwalk into a valley of light. For a trip out onto the river itself, visit the massive Dotonbori branch of Don Quijote to buy tickets for the Tonbori River Cruise. The boat departs from the nearby Tazaemon Bridge Boat Dock and cruises on the river for about half an hour.
Coming up on its hundredth anniversary, Osaka Shochikuza is one of the remaining theaters in the neighborhood. Even if you are not attending a performance, the elegant stone architecture and people watching opportunities make it worth a visit. Depending on the performance, tickets are quite inexpensive but neophytes be warned: a kabuki play can last several hours and is anything but fast paced. Check the listings for performances of shosagoto, which tend to be shorter and breezier, as they are essentially excerpts from full plays, focusing on the dance elements.
The alleys of Dotonbori
Unlike the more staid Tokyo or elegant Kyoto, Osaka is known as a city that likes to enjoy itself. The Kansai love of excess and gluttony is in evidence in the alleys of Dotonbori where stalls and kiosks do a steady business, preparing the local classics, like okonomiyaki and takoyaki and kushikatsu, but also exotic and newfangled street treats that rival a Midwestern carnival midway.
Kinryu Ramen is one of the more outstanding and iconic offerings in Dotonbori. Kinryu operates five shops in the area, all within walking distance of each other and with roughly the same setup. The have a basic kitchen within sneezing distance of pedestrians, and serve up simple and quick ramen 24 hours a day.
Hozenji Yokocho is a millennia old alleyway in the neighborhood that leads to a 17th century temple, and it has become a culinary destination. Apart from authentic local institutions selling okonomiyaki and kushikatsu, the area is also home to the Michelin starred Wasabi. Despite the name, which evokes mall food court Japanese food, the shop offers Franco Japanese riffs on the local kushiage (deep fried vegetables, meat and seafood, served on a stick), earning its Michelin star through attention to detail and obsessively sourced meat and produce.
Proud symbol of the city, the mighty Glico Man has been locked in his triumphant pose since 1935. The billboard itself has been changed out over the years but the Glico Man abides. Don’t miss your chance to snap a picture from Ebisu Bridge. The bridge itself has an interesting history, including this tidbit: it was from Ebisu Bridge that fans of the Hanshin Tigers baseball team chucked a statue of Colonel Sanders in 1985, resulting in a supposed 18 year losing streak that was the result of the deceased chicken magnate’s curse.