While Tokyo may be the most popular destination for many travelers visiting Japan, food travelers know Osaka is a serious hot spot for some incredible Japanese cuisine. You’ll find everything from casual street food eats to Michelin-starred restaurants like Pierre at the InterContinental Osaka.
One of the most interesting food districts in the city is Dotonbori, which runs parallel to the Dotonbori Canal. Head over to Dotonbori at night to see the neighborhood come alive.
History of Dotonbori
The Dotonbori neighborhood dates back to 1612, when a local businessman, Yasui Doton, began expanding in the region to help increase commerce. Unfortunately, he died during the Siege of Osaka several years later. Dotonbori became defined as an entertainment district in 1621 and, by 1662, six Kabuki (Japanese dance drama) and five Bunraku (Japanese puppet) theaters had opened. With the influx of tourism, many restaurants and cafes started popping up.
Unfortunately, times changed, and as entertainment tastes changed, many of the theaters closed and the remaining ones were destroyed during WWII. Today, you’ll find hundreds of neon signs, countless restaurants, street food stalls, night clubs, and endless shopping options in Dotonbori.
Best Eats in Dotonbori
There are some notable restaurants and foods that people come to Dotonbori for. These include:
- Takoyaki: Bite-sized boiled pieces of octopus baked in round molds with a batter of flour, eggs, and dashi. Add spicy sauce, mayo, and some bonito flakes on top and consume immediately.
- Okonomiyaki: Sometimes called a “Japanese pizza,” okonomiyaki is made with flour and water, mixed with meat and/or seafood, vegetables, and even noodles, then fried in a round shape.
- Negiyaki: Much like okonomiyaki, minus the cabbage and meat.
- Kushikatsu: Deep-fried meat or vegetables on a stick.
- Fugu: The famous poisonous Japanese pufferfish. Dotonbori is home to certified fugu restaurants so if you’re keen to experiment with this exotic fish, visit one of these specialty restaurants.
- Izakaya: Japanese pubs that serve a variety of different specialties are the way to go in Dotonbori. They stay open late and have an endless selection of small plates of various Japanese specialties.
Aside from the great eats and eccentric nightlife, there are some notable landmarks you shouldn’t miss in Dotonbori. One of these is the Glico Man, a neon sign of a giant athlete on a blue track, which is the symbol of Glico Candy. One of the most notable Glico Candy products is Pokey, the chocolate-covered pretzel sticks. Just across from this sign is a giant Asahi beer sign along the Ebisu-bashi bridge. This area gets packed and is one of the most popular meeting spots in Dotonbori.
Another is the Kani Doraku crab from the restaurant with the same name. The crab is about 6.5 meters tall, so it’s really hard to miss as you walk down the street. There is also a gigantic blowfish lantern from Zubora-ya, a well-known fugu restaurant in town.
Getting to Dotonbori
Dotonbori is easily reached no matter what part of Osaka you’re staying in. You can take a cab, which are insanely expensive in Japan, or opt to use the Japanese metro system, which is extremely convenient. Hop on the Midosuji Line and get off at Namba Station, and it’s about a five-minute walk. Expect Dotonbori to be extremely busy on weekend nights, so if you can go on a week night, it will typically be a better experience. Get there as soon as the sun goes down — hit the food stalls that close early and then the izakayas and pubs that stay open until the early morning hours!
You’ll never lack for new experiences in Dotonbodi, so start planning your trip immediately.