Summer is always one of the happiest times of year for me, and I’m sure many of you can relate. As a child, I recall playing football in the garden, before enjoying one of my dad’s legendary patio barbecues, with his famous barbecued bananas for dessert.
In Japan, homes with gardens are far less common, particularly when you live in a large city like Osaka. Back in Scotland, in the absence of a garden, the next best option was to go to a local park. However, even that isn’t always a viable option here.
Parks and gardens in Japan are far more heavily regulated than they are in many other countries. As reported by Japan Today, a big reason for these restrictions is that neighbors residing in nearby parks tend to complain — a lot.
As a result, you will probably find that the majority of parks in your immediate area do not allow barbecues. Or, if they do, the activity is only allowed within a restricted area that can fill up quickly during peak summer times.
For your summer cookout fix, here are three different options in Kansai. Based on the atmosphere you want in a barbecue — from that low-key feel to an all-you-can-drink meltdown — this article should give you all the information you need to enjoy your next outdoor grill in style.
1. Cozy, cheap barbecue in the park
The first option is the most simple and cost effective: Go to a local park, bring your own food and utensils, and have a great afternoon with friends. For a small-to-medium sized barbecue gathering in central Osaka City, this is the place to be.
Probably the best place to do this in central Osaka would be the Sakuranomiya riverside area. A stellar place, Kemasakuranomiya Park, is just a short walk from JR Sakuranomiya station, on the Osaka Loop line. (Map)
This park, on the banks of the Okawa River, offers a mix of urban and rural splendor. As you bask among the trees, you can hear the gentle sounds of the various cruise boats heading up and down the river. Despite being sandwiched between Umeda and Kyobashi, two of Osaka’s most populous areas, Sakuranomiya is a bit quieter than either of them.
Yodogawa Kasen Park
Another option, if you don’t mind traveling a little further out of town is the large park near Nishinakaji-Maminamigata station. (Try saying that fast after a couple of beers!)
This station is on the Midosuji line, Osaka’s main subway line, and lies between Umeda and Shin-Osaka. Take the south exit. (Map.) This sprawling park, on the banks of the Yodogawa River, is a hidden gem and is typically overlooked by the locals in favor of the more popular, but busier, alternatives.
One thing about this park is that there are no trees to speak of. I made the mistake of going there without sun protection a couple of years ago, and I ended up looking like a cross between a boiled lobster and an extra from The Walking Dead. Sunscreen goes a long way, as the park provides little shade.
2. Outdoor tabletop barbecue
The second option is to go to a restaurant that has their own tabletop barbecues in an outdoor setting. In this case, for the best experience, I recommend taking a trip over to Kobe, about 30 minutes south of Osaka.
Kobe Fruits Flower Park
Kobe Fruits Flower Park (Map) is located on the outskirts of Kobe City and offers a hotel and amusement park complex, flower and fruit gardens and a distinctly European feel.
With heavy German and Swiss architectural influences, the place kind of feels like a bizarre Japanese-remake of The Sound of Music. It is home to a spacious, tented barbecue restaurant that serves up to 1,500 people.
Barbecue menu options range from decent to fancy.
- ¥1,900 per person for a generous individual meat and vegetable set
- ¥5,000 for the special couple’s set
- ¥9,000 for a family set
Getting to the park, however, can be a little tricky. I suggest going by car (Map), since neither taking the train nor walking are a viable option. Alternatively, from JR Sannomiya station (Kobe’s main transport hub) you can take Shinki bus #38 that takes approximately 35 minutes to get you to the park.
3. Party-people barbecue
Finally, there’s the “all-inclusive” option.
This is for you young party animals — or young at heart — who want to combine your refined taste for grilled meats with a side of binge drinking. Because, if you’re going to cast aside the pretense of healthy living for the afternoon, then why do it in half measures?
There are dozens of beer gardens, hotel rooftops and other establishments that offer all-you-can-eat-and-drink summer barbecues across all three of Kansai’s major cities. But in all honesty, that often means these venues can be sub-standard, overbooked and just a downright rip-off.
However, I was able to uncover a gem among the excesses of effluent. Nakanoshima Garden, (Map) located near Osaka City Hall, offers a dining and drinking experience with beautiful surroundings that make you forget you are in the heart of the city.
Their two-hour, all-you-can-drink barbecue course is a good deal. It includes as much wine, beer and spirits as you like, along with a very generous barbecue plate, which includes beef, pork, squid, king prawns, sausages and as many vegetables as you can eat. At ¥4,800 per person, it’s a little pricey. But, trust me — once you get there, you’ll realize that it’s worth it.
These are just a sample of some of the options this summer. As you can see, while parks near your area might be restricted there are plenty of options to get outside and have a delicious summer barbecue in Japan. While these are just a few from the Kansai region, the same general three types of barbecue locations are found throughout the country.
There is no substitute for exploring, though, so whether you’re a resident or a traveler passing through, get out there and find your own little piece of barbecue heaven.
Know of a noteworthy barbecue spot in Japan? Let us know in the comments!