Almost the signature landmark for visitors, Dotonburi is the place where Osakans come to celebrate the good times and to drink away the bad. When the sun goes down and the lights turn on, the whole area takes on a carnival atmosphere.

Osaka has always been a vibrant city and known for its good food and friendly people. It doesn’t have the refinement of traditional Kyoto, but it feels a welcoming place for foreigners who are encountering open minded Osakans with a taste for good things in life.

Dotonburi is just the place to be while in Osaka! The famous area is just a short stroll from Namba station, which is just massive. If you don’t want to find yourself spending an half an hour trying to get out of the station, it is wise to pick the right exit. even if your  Japanese resumes to basic words  you will not have major issues getting around. Just ask a random person, and you’ll find yourself having someone who joins you all the way to your subway exit, or wherever you need to go.

In front of one of the famous Dotonburi's shops - Kanidouraku. Photo by Mitsuhiro Munakata
In front of one of the famous Dotonburi's shops - Kanidouraku. Photo by Mitsuhiro Munakata

Dotonburi is offering almost everything from shopping, dining to bars, theatres or gaming. This is what Osaka is all about: endless restaurants, bars, nightclubs, thousands of people having a place to celebrate the good times and drink away the bad.

When the sun goes down and the lights come on, the whole area takes on a carnival atmosphere. I felt like my inner child was brought out with all the lights and signs. Giant moving crabs, big blow up balloons in the shape of puffer fish and octopus, ornate dragon or the famous Glico men, Dotonbori is got it.

In front of Glicomen sign, that lasted the longest, for more than 70 years. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng
In front of Glicomen sign, that lasted the longest, for more than 70 years. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng

So busy and lively, the excitement is palpable! I could sit around the various areas and watch the people for hours. There was a whole collection of locals and tourists alike, with many fashionable young people dressed up in their finery and beautiful women walking on the street like their catwalk. I have never seen such a high concentration of overly groomed people in my life.

I didn’t go shopping in Osaka station, but I know I could have done some important changes in my wardrobe if there.This underground city houses many unique Japanese fashion brands.

Umeda sky building, one of the tallest in Japan, has a luminous ‘floating sky garden’ on the top floor and it offers a panoramic beautiful view of Osaka, especially at nightfall.

On the rooftop of Umeda Sky Building there's a heart-shaped “deck” for couples to enjoy the view and seal their love. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng
On the rooftop of Umeda Sky Building there's a heart-shaped “deck” for couples to enjoy the view and seal their love. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng

But the more spiritual city’s ambiance  stays in the architectural masterpieces Osaka Castle and the Shitennoji Buddhist temple. It’s a visit for the history, the beauty, the art and the artifacts, but especially for understanding more the local culture.

Even today in modern Japanese customs, Buddhism (as well as Shintoism), can be observed in showing respect through rituals such the mannerism for exchanging business cards or purifying construction areas. There is a lot of rich history in these beautiful shrines and temples in Osaka that takes you in a peaceful step in time.

Osaka Castle. Photo by Mitsuhiro Munakata
Osaka Castle. Photo by Mitsuhiro Munakata

Osaka it’s a not only a visual but also a culinary feast. The food is simply great here, in both terms of quality and variety.

Food-wise, I wasn’t planning to go all “Kuidaore” (eat until you drop), so for my lunch I had Osaka’s famous takoyaki, (octopus balls) or okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake). These are a must try food, otherwise you have never been to Japan.

Okonomiyaki food. Photo by Mitsuhiro Munakata
Okonomiyaki food. Photo by Mitsuhiro Munakata

But at dinner time, while still in charming Dotonbori, I couldn’t stay away from one of the famous restaurants of the city – Ichiran restaurant, and it delicious ramen noodles.

After a long queuing, I entered the restaurant, I placed my order at a vending machine, then I took the slip with me to my table. There, I was given a sheet of paper to write down some details that would customize the noodles – the texture and tenderness of noodles, the amount of meat, how cooked and how much spicy I want them. Being a spicy lover, I choose level 4 of spiciness, thinking it wouldn’t be too much. Well, it turned out I was wrong, my noodles were really spicy.

My table was just a small cubicle like space, but enough for me and my ramen. The egg and the slice meat were heavenly. It really worth waiting for half an hour in the queue.

One of the many restaurants in Dotonburi. Photo by Mitsuhiro Munakata
One of the many restaurants in Dotonburi. Photo by Mitsuhiro Munakata

Regarding my accommodation in Osaka as elsewhere in Japan, I didn’t stay in any hostel, hotel or ryokan. I experienced the genuine local hospitality by Couchsurfing and all my hosts were absolutely great.

Not far from Osaka, in the small town of Tottori, I was hosted by Azusa, a Japanese guy I have met a few weeks earlier, in a trip in Mongolia. With all his lack of English knowledge, he invited me to stay with him and his parents. We even spend the weekend at his grandmother’s house outside the town, in a village near a mountain area. It was a memorable staying.

As for my transportation to Japan, a ferry boat took me from Shanghai to Osaka and two days later I reached my destination. The Shanghai Ferry Company operates a weekly service between the two cities and the price is about the same as a flight ticket, around 20,000 japanese yen. There was no need to make a real reservation, just to send them my name and the date of departure, with a few days in advance. For moving around in Osaka I used an unlimited day pass travel on bus, tram and subway system. This is pass it is called ichi-nichi-jōsha-ken.

The bus is the cheapest way of traveling between Japan’s cities, and allows you to sight some of the Japanese countryside. The buses seats are as comfortable as plane’s business class seats, and the driver really makes sure that all the passengers are on board before he takes off.

The famous JR or Shinkansen (Bullet Train) can be an interesting experience (as well a very expensive one),  but, not necessary, if you already tried the 350 km/hour speed, of chinese bullet trains.

With such an expensive transportation in Japan, some travelers might also considering hitchhiking. I heard nice stories about it, from other travelers, but myself I didn’t try it. Maybe next time…

At sunset. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng
At sunset. Photo by Ng Siew Cheng

The story related to how I got to Osaka, traveling from Shanghai, is just here – http://garlictrail.com/chinese-japanese-common/

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