The Neon Lights of Dotonbori
By John Asano
Dotonbori in the Namba district of Osaka is like talking a walk into a future world. The neon lights and Blade Runner-esque nightscapes are literally out of this world, and have to be seen to be experienced.
Dotonbori is the beating heart of Osaka’s nightlife and is filled with restaurants, cafes, bars, nightclubs, arcades and theatres. The area used to be known as Osaka’s pleasure district as it contained numerous kabuki and bunraku theatres as well as a geisha district.
Dotonbori can trace its history back to 1612, when a local entrepreneur, Yasui Doton, started expanding the tiny river in hope of increasing commerce in the area. Taking a look at the area today, I certainly think he achieved his dream.
The area is famous for its lively nightlife and entertainment, and really comes alive at night when the neon lights up together with the sounds and smells of the district. I highly recommend a night-time stroll along the banks of the Dotonbori Canal to soak up this amazing atmosphere. The banks of the canal have been turned into attractive walkways, which make a great vantage point for the neon lights. You can also take a cruise down the canal to further enjoy the stimulation of the senses.
A highlight for me was the Ebisu-bashi bridge with the famous Glico Running Man on one side and the Asahi Super Dry sign on the other. Be warned! This is a popular meeting point as well as tourist spot for photos, so can be extremely crowded. In fact, the bridge has gained the nickname (hikkake-bashi) which means “Pick-up Bridge”, as it’s a popular spot for young Japanese guys to pick up girls.
Walk along the Dotonbori Arcade, a strip of restaurants and theatres. This is the area of Dotonbori with the famous restaurants with familiar large elaborate signs out the shop front. Walking past, I was surprised that I knew so many of them. I must have seen them on TV or maybe a picture has passed my eyes before. From the famous giant mechanical crab of Kani Douraku to the Giant Golden Dragon of the famous Kinryu Ramen restaurant, they are pretty much all represented here.
Most people like to sample some of the local delicacies when they visit Dotonbori, as this part of Osaka is known for its food. A few favourites of mine are okonomiyaki (also fondly called Osaka Soul Food), takoyaki (octopus dumplings) and kushikatsu (deep fried goodness). These are just three that come straight to mind, but there is so much more to try here as well. The food is cheap and tasty and you won’t regret eating a meal or two here.
You may recognise Dotonbori from the movies. It has been a popular movie location for Hollywood films like “Black Rain”. Dotonbori is only a 5 minute walk from nearby Namba Station. You can get to Namba Station on the Midosuji Line.
If you can only see one part of Osaka, or just have a night to spare on a stop-over, I highly recommend a visit to Dotonbori. There is nothing like the atmosphere, sights and sounds of this place on the planet.