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Navigating Neon Osaka: A City Guide

May 26, 2020
Main Image Credit: @itsyourjapan

Typically, there are two very differentiating sides to Japan. The historical, peaceful, and cultured side where Buddhist temples, gardens and forests force you to slow down and take in the nature and artistic scenery; and the fast paced, bright lights, mania of the modern city. Whilst Osaka does offer the former, with the famously stunning Osaka Castle for instance, the latter is where the city’s pulse is at. Maybe store your cultured visits for during the day but at night is the time to indulge in the youth culture of shopping, eating, and drinking.

The heart of Osaka is Dotonbori Street and the Namba District. Dotonbori is a famous street lined with neon lit shops and restaurants with a canal running straight through it. It’s a buzzing place at night, with many tourists crawling the streets, taking photos on the famous Ebisu Bridge, and boats sailing up and down the canal. 

The canal actually runs from Dotonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge in the Namba District and boat rides to and from are available and offer a kaleidoscopic, luminous tour of this bustling area. From here, you can explore within or tread your way further afield to discover more of this dynamic city.

Here is an easy and simple guide on where to shop, eat and drink in the zestful city of Osaka. 

Shopping

As the third largest city in Japan, Osaka still hosts an energetic, city-like atmosphere but at a discounted price of Kyoto and Tokyo! Save all your pennies for the shopping here as this city offers cheaper souvenirs, amazing vintage finds and all the Japanese high-street and designer shops you need -

Tenjinbashi-suji shopping street is the longest shopping street in Japan. Packed with hundreds of shops, from high-street to vintage. In this street you can find exclusive shops such as AE-SOP - a quirky vintage clothing store for women, stocked with vintage postcards and posters. Another one of my favourite discoveries is Simple House Lettuce,  a flagship interior design store, featuring Scandi inspired homeware that you won’t find anywhere else. Finally, Tengyu Bookstore Tenjinbashi is one bookstore that you must pop into – selling hand drawn maps, vintage magazines and 80’s travel guides.

Tenjinbashi-suji Shopping Street | Picture Credit: @walkthisplanet

If Tenjinbashi-suji wasn’t quite enough, Shinsaibashi Shotengai is essentially Tenjinbashi-suji’s younger sibling. This street is a lengthy 600 metres long and hosts many tax-free retailers for some discounted bargains and many other independent shops as well.

Last but not least, Shinsekai is a charming, retro shopping street where the exterior design has been caught in the 80’s. It is well known for being a little behind in comparison to the modern, Japanese highstreets but the retro neon lights bring a unique charm and it is certainly not seen as a bad thing. Shinseki is a unique photo opportunity. It feels as if you have walked into a time capsule of 80’s Japan, plus there are plenty of stores to browse down here too.

Fluroecent Lights of Shinsekai | Picture Credit: @livibautistaa

Food

Osaka is well known for being the ‘country's kitchen’. In fact, Osaka residents have managed to make a name for themselves – kuidaore. Which actually means to eat yourself broke but is highly associated with Osaka as the food here is, in essence, the soul food of Japan. Here are the top foodie must-haves of Osaka and where to eat them - 

Takoyaki is a ball shaped snack made from minced Octopus, tempura, green onions and  pickled ginger coated in a wheat based batter. It is a classic Osaka snack and was actually invented in a restaurant that still stands - Aizuya. Take a visit here, or if you’re in Dotonbori and you’re wondering why everyone is queuing up outside a stall with a huge octopus on top, that would be Kukuru which is famously well known for their tasty Takoyaki.

Takoyaki at Kukuru | Picture Credit: @eliseaki

Okonomiyaki is a savoury pancake made from eggs, flour, grated yam and shredded cabbage. You’re free to add whatever you like, have it be squid, shrimp, cheese, tomato...anything! Okaru is the quirkiest place to go for a good Okonomiyaki as the chef will serve you your dish and draw a character with mayonnaise on top of it, such as Snoopy or Mickey Mouse!

Fugu is pufferfish and has been a Japanese delicacy for centuries. Only certified chefs are allowed to prepare fugu dishes as parts of the pufferfish are lethally poisonous. If you’re willing to try it, (and you should!) the restaurant Takoyasu is situated in a charming building that resembles an old traditional house. It has a comfortable dining space with tatami seats. Reservations only, and a little more pricey than other restaurants in Osaka, but worth it for the best quality Fugu. Zuboraya Dotonbori Store is a cheaper place to sample some fugu and easy to locate, with a pufferfish lantern adorning the exterior.

Fugu at Zuboraya | Picture Credit: @mike_regaspi

Kushikatsu is skewered kebabs of meat, seafood or vegetables which are breaded and deep fried to a crispy golden finish, served with salt and dipping sauce. Pork, beef, shrimp, pumpkin, sweet potato, onion, lotus root or quail eggs you have plenty of choice for a scrumptious breaded kebab. Believed to originate from Osaka, Tengu is one of the best spots to grab this.

Finally, Yakiniku is barbequed beef. Cooked by yours truly, you grill the bite sized pieces yourself over a griddle and dip them in a special yakiniku sauce - if this sounds similar to a Korean BBQ it’s because it is believed to have been made in Osaka by Korean chefs. Mitsuru is the place to go as this three-story restaurant caters to any party, whether it be a large group, family or as a couple. Plus, of course, their meat is of an amazing fresh quality at an affordable price.

 

Drink

Finding a place to enjoy an after-dinner drink is not difficult in Osaka. In fact, their drinking culture is like no other.

Join the Japanese and duck in and out of local Izakayas (traditional Japanese bars) in the Namba area. Bring cash with you and, on this occasion, it’s definitely worth booking in with a guide that can show you the ropes.

Otherwise, wander around the Tachinomi bars of Tenma neighbourhood for a bar crawl. Tachinomi bars are standing up bars that are super cheap and have a friendly atmosphere

Or, if you feel like heading to some fun novelty bars then here are just a few -

The Sound Garden  - Situated directly on the Dotonbori canal this is a lively, trendy spot to grab a drink and listen to cool music. With many fun events featuring local DJs and even drag shows.

Rooftop Bar OO – Located on the 7th floor of the New Japan Building, Rooftop OO has a great atmosphere, delicious drinks and an amazing view. The indoor area has cosy sofas, dim lighting and board games for a relaxing night. The outdoor patio is much more upbeat, with a live DJ and a mini dipping pool where you’ll find people dancing and enjoying the rooftop views.

Shinka – You can’t name bars in Osaka without highlighting this submarine bar. Constructed partially out of actual submarines, this is an atmospheric and photogenic place to enjoy some cocktails in an interesting venue.

Hana Sake Bar – Sake may inarguably be Japan’s most famous liquor, but it can be difficult to take your first steps into the world of sampling it. Stocked with sake from all over Japan, including ones from small breweries. Sake tasting here is a casual and intriguing experience in a quaint little setting.

Space Station – A novelty video gaming bar one can not miss out on whilst visiting Osaka. It has a buzzing atmosphere with locals and tourists alike enjoying a Japanese beer and playing some Japanese games. To find it, just look for the flashing, animated LED staircase just off of Dotonbori river and head on up.

Gaming at Space Station | Picture Credit: @snapxcity

Whilst visiting Osaka, remember to bring cash as not many places or bars take credit/debit cards, comfy shoes for lots of walking and plenty of suitcase space for all your purchases. This city is the place to be for ultimate indulgence and brings you modern Japanese culture like no other. Save this guide for some dependable tips and tricks for getting the most out of your trip to Osaka.


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