Ask any first-timer in Osaka and he will tell you it’s true: The hardest part of being in Dotonbori is deciding where to eat.
It was true the first time I was here. And it was true the second time around. Six months after my Dotonbori debut, I found myself in its chaotic embrace again. This time, I was still as confused as before. Even when I thought I had a craving for something, it went away as fast as my first relationship that I could barely remember what it was.
There is something mighty hypnotic about Dotonbori. The incessant grumbling of the empty stomach I was carrying magically stopped as soon as I set foot on the famed street. Perhaps it was the blinding neon lights. Or the inviting calls of the hawkers. Or the overwhelming crowd. Or perhaps it was the potent combination of all those that makes a walk here mesmeric, that makes everything else fade away.
As I marched down the street, squeezing my way through the flux of tourists, nothing else mattered. It was just me and a relentless bombardment of lights, colors, and food. All the things I love.
Dotonbori, also called Dotombori, is the center of food culture in Osaka, Japan. You don’t need to look at the the numbers to see that it is one of the most visited tourist attractions in the city. It used to be a “pleasure district,” but the theaters and the geishas can no longer be found here. It is now most famous for the food and shopping.
Running parallel the Dotonbori Canal, it stretches from the Dotonbori Bridge to the Nipponbashi Bridge in the Namba ward. It is a single street flanked with shops and restaurants, whose facades are adorned with massive, electronic displays. The narrower alleys that stem from it are also packed with dining places and souvenir stores.
We were there for dinner. It was almost 9pm and the last meal we had was our breakfast at Endo Sushi on the other side of the city. But in Dotonbori, picking a place to eat at was a task next to impossible. There were just too many to choose from. As we ran circles on its stone-paved alleys, we could not decide whether to have ramen, Kobe beef, crabs, sushi, or okonomiyaki. The many billboards that brightly illuminated the area were not helping, either. They were so magnetic and distracting. Every time we thought we had made up our minds, our attention would be stolen by another picture-worthy signage and we would forget what we had agreed upon. Blame the hunger. Blame Dotonbori.
Heck, we even raided some apparel shops. Well, actually we just window shopped.
At one point, we gave up and decided to just have a serving of takoyaki in the mean time, finish walking the entire length of the street, and then decide where to eat.
It was an amusing walk. We were conscious not to turn our stroll into a scurry, which was not difficult to do because the many recognizable landmarks (almost characters) of the district made us stop in our tracks and snap away! We spotted two three iconic sights — the Kani Doraku crab, the Glico man, and the Asahi beer. By the end of the night, we finally had our dinner, which came in the form of a Kyushu Shoyu Ramen.
There’s something mighty hypnotic about Dotonbori. There’s just too much happening and it can be a little bit too overwhelming, disorienting, confusing. But that’s the charm of it. That’s what makes it irresistible. It floods and drowns your senses with too much colors, lights, scents, sound, and tastes that captivate and dazzle. Together they create a symphony of pleasure that make for an unforgettable dining and shopping experience that is, without a doubt, truly Japanese.
How to get to Dotonbori: From any point along the JR Osaka Loop Line, take the train to Tennoji Station and transfer to a Midosuji Line. Alight at Namba Station. Dotonbori is just a 15-minute walk from here.