Japan travel · Travel

Japan travel – Osaka’s vibrant Dotonbori and Shinsekai districts

Osaka, besides being Japan’s second-biggest city, is well-known for food. It has such a reputation for food that there’s a popular saying – eat till you drop in Osaka, spend till you drop in Kyoto. The best place in Osaka to experience this resplendent food culture is probably Dotonbori, which is a vibrant shopping and eating district filled with crazy neon signs and mechanized billboards. Meanwhile, another well-known district is Shinsekai, a notorious neighborhood full of restaurants also with attractive neon signs.

I went to these places on my first full day in Osaka. I went to Dotonbori after finishing with the history museum.

As Osaka’s most vibrant eating district, Dotonbori is specifically a canal filled with restaurants on both sides with fantastic neon billboards and mechanized octopuses, dragons, cows, crabs and even giant Chinese wontons, a great showcase of the city’s culinary extravagance. These objects are indeed what the restaurants inside serve, except the dragon (though you never know).

The Glico Running Man, basically a runner with his hands raised and a famous sign according to all the tour books and sites, can be seen. Another supposedly famous sight is the Kuidaore Taro, a robotic clown beating a drum.

Cutting through Dotonbori is Shinsaibashi, a long covered walkway with stores on both sides. Stores and shopping aren’t exactly my thing so I didn’t spend too long there. The signs and sights on Dotonbori were what I was there for.

Those are Chinese wontons on the left, which signify a Chinese restaurant, of which there were quite a few around. Even in Japan, Chinese food is popular.
It’s only after looking at these photos that I remember how crowded it was.

Glico’s famous running man

Shinsaibashi, covered shopping arcade that Dotonbori cuts across perpendicularly. Full of hip clothing, shoes, cosmetics stores and packed with people.

Later that evening, I went to Shinsekai or New World (it’s similar in Cantonese which sounds like sun-sai-gai). Like Dotonbori, it is filled with restaurants that boast great neon signs. It also features a landmark – the Tsutenkaku Tower, a rebuilt version (1956) of a tower that was built in 1912 after the Eiffel Tower. A bit old and not exactly so attractive up close, this tower is a sign of the area’s past glories, when it was developed during the early 20th century. It does look great lit up at night and there were tourist groups coming down when I walked by, though I didn’t go up.

However, Shinsekai has the complete opposite of Dotonbori’s ritzy and trendy reputation, being set among the working class district that, according to Wikipedia, is considered one of Japan’s poorest neighborhoods. Shinsekai was neglected after World War II and had a reputation for crime and prostitution. This probably is not as true nowadays though the stigma in Japan has remained. I certainly didn’t feel any apprehension walking around and the neighborhood did seem quite nice though there was a somewhat past-its-prime feel. My hotel was in that area, south of Shinsekai, and I didn’t feel any concern throughout though there were always a few homeless and drunks passed out on the street at night.
Not the prettiest tower up close, but it is cool to have this in one’s neighborhood.
Some kind of store with sumo wrestlers on the panels above. Can’t remember if I went inside. 

While I went to two famous eating areas in Osaka, I didn’t actually eat at Dotonbori or Shinsekai due to a combination of not being able to understand the menus, traveling alone, and having a delicate stomach. I’d heard Shinsekai restaurants had some good chicken dishes but I couldn’t identify which restaurants were serving chicken and I didn’t want to confuse fish, which was very prevalent, with chicken.
I did eat noodles at a restaurant near my hotel, where I experienced the convenience of the Japanese mechanized meal ordering system. You go up to a machine, pick your dish from the options that have pictures, and pay for it at the machine. You then get an order slip that you give to the waitress who then brings it to you. While it seems very impersonal, it does save you the hassle of having to talk to the waitress in a language you don’t speak and you get to choose the specific dish you want easily.
Exhibit of festival chariots in Shinsekai

DSC06998 DSC07001
Kuidaore Taro, the drum-beating clown who beats his drum in slow motion repeatedly. Not that special, but I just had to take a picture since it was famous.


6 thoughts on “Japan travel – Osaka’s vibrant Dotonbori and Shinsekai districts

  1. I had to set aside an hour after falling behind on my blog reading. I always enjoy the variety of your posts, from travel reports to book reviews and catching up on the goings-on in China and Taiwan. Thanks for a nice evening!


    1. Thank you, Bobbi. It’s always great to see your comments. Incidentally I was wondering if perhaps I write about too much things, but I’m really glad it appeals to you.


  2. I love Osaka! It was the first place I went to in Japan, even the first place in Asia and the first megacity (does NYC count?)

    After all these years in China I still remember Osama had a great impact…


    1. Cool, I really liked Osaka too, even more than Tokyo. Sure, NYC counts. I found that Osaka was a great mix of a prosperous, booming and gritty city with interesting and attractive sights.

      Liked by 1 person

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