Everyone who visits Osaka needs to visit the the Dōtonbori area. It is the principal tourist destination in Osaka, Japan. The main area runs along the Dōtonbori canal from Dōtonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge in the Namba district. It’s usually crowded, full of bright lights and its air smells of delicious takoyaki and various grills, from seafood to beef.
Historically, Dōtonbori was a theatre area and there is still a kabuki theatre if you are interesting in watching tradition Japanese theatre. There are plenty of little nooks to find if you are adventurous. While the main street is worth the walk, you should just get lost in the labyrinth of shops and alleys.
The main street in Dōtonbori is a known food destination. It is lined on both sides with various restaurants, including iconic restaurants serving takoyaki, ramen and okonomiyaki. If you want to venture off the main street, you may find yourself at some of the finest restaurants and shops in the area. There are alley ways in both the south and north for any adventurer or shopaholic, e.g. in the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade.
One of the obligatory photos you need to take is the iconic Glico running man sign. It is a well known and lit landmark in Osaka and has been there since there since 1935. (The best time is to come at night when the lights come out.) The billboard had a makeover in 1998 to what it is today. Glico is a popular Asian company that sells the famous Pocky snack and a whole assortment of confectionary. (You might now start noticing the Glico branding on Pocky in the bottom corner.)
Another iconic restaurant and landmark are the various Kani Doraku crab signs. These are the big red crabs, with sometimes moving legs, on the top of restaurants. There are several outlets in just Dōtonbori. If you see them, you will know that these are the famous longstanding restaurants that serve seafood. (I have never been in one myself, but they don’t normally seem busy.)
As you walk around Dōtonbori, you should be able to smell some delicious food. In fact, right in the middle of the main street is a famous takoyaki stall, Acchichi Honpo, with its famous octopus sign and octopus balloon out front. Takoyaki literally means grilled octopus in Japanese. In actuality, takoyaki is a piece of octopus surrounded by delicious batter.
There is normally a crowd to buy the pipping hot and delicious takoyaki Acchichi Honpo. You can expect to wait around 10 minutes at least. For 500 yen, you get eight balls with a serving of spring onions, pickled radish and a good helping of kewpie and takoyaki sauce. It’s also made right in front of your eyes.
The view of the canal while trying to order some takoyaki at Acchichi Honpo shows a pretty busy canal with tourists waiting to get into a boat or Ichiran Ramen. (I am not sure why this particular Ichiran Ramen draws a crowd, since there are so many outlets around, including one directly on the other side.)
If river cruising is your thing, you can catch the Tobori River cruise, which is a 20 minute cruise starting near Namba Station, taking passengers along the length of the canal. It’s a good way to see the street from afar. You may spot a few landmarks and restaurants to visit for when you get off.
There are plenty of vendors lining the streets in certain areas. I remember seeing a melon pan ice-cream truck. I was so keen to grab what looked to be a delicious crispy melon pan with matcha ice-cream. I thought I could come back to it, but time and my faded memory didn’t help. One thing you will notice is that people don’t walk while eating. It’s best to standstill or sit down before moving on.
For dinner, we had Ichiran Ramen, but not the one in the above photo. We went to the outlet across the canal. There was barely a crowd and we got into our private booths within 5 minutes. Here is my experience at that restaurant on YouTube.
Dōtonbori is located in the heart of Osaka. The most direct way to get there by public transport for people with a JR Pass is getting off at JR Namba Station. Otherwise, there are plenty of subways that go past the area.
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