Paul Fournier
By Paul

Dotonbori, Osaka: A Guide to the City’s Most Vibrant Entertainment District

Dotonbori is known as the entertainment hub of Osaka. It’s a canal-side stretch of colorful neon lights which is home to some of the city’s best bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. The area is also a street food lover’s paradise and the best place to sample Osaka’s famous bite-sized snacks.

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll cover what to do, where to stay and where to eat in Dotonbori, so you can make the most out of your visit to this vibrant heart of Osaka. 

About Dotonbori

Dotonbori is often called ‘The Time’s Square of Osaka’; it’s packed with gigantic neon light displays, flashy digital billboard ads, and futuristic signage. The most famous of the displays here is the iconic Glico Running Man, a 20-meter high digital advertisement for Glico Candy. The famous ad was first installed back in 1935, and over the years it’s become Osaka’s most iconic landmark and an essential photo stop for tourists. 

This central pocket of Osaka has been a vibrant entertainment hub since the 17th century Edo period when it was a thriving theater district. Nowadays you can still catch some great traditional Kabuki performances, as well as world-class operas and plays, but it’s the restaurants, nightlife, and shopping that really steal the show.

Foodies will love Dotonbori as its overflowing with sizzling street food stalls and some of Osaka’s best restaurants. There’s even a special word to celebrate the local’s love of good food: “kuidaore”, which means ‘to eat yourself into ruin’.

The Dotonbori district is in the heart of Minami, one of two major urban hubs in Osaka. It contains the Dotonbori River and the bustling parallel Dotonbori Street, which has a series of brightly lit, narrow little alleyways stemming from it.

The area is sandwiched between two other famous districts; Shinsaibashi and Namba, in fact, the Namba subway is less than a 5-minute walk away. Its super convenient location means it’s a great base for exploring the rest of the city

Things to Do in Dotonbori

Since this is the heart of Osaka’s entertainment scene, there’s a huge amount of things to do and see within a radius of just a few blocks.

Below, I’ll list some of the best things to do in the Dotonbori area so you can get the most out of your visit. 

Soak in the sights on a Tonbori River cruise 

This 20-minute mini-cruise is a great way to familiarize yourself with the Dotonbori area. It’s especially atmospheric at sunset when you can take in the views of the brightly lit neon surroundings and watch the crowds of people passing by.

Make sure to have your camera ready as there’s plenty of photo opportunities; they even make a stop in front of the Glico running man sign so you can tick that off the list of things to do. 

To buy your tickets, head to the first floor of Dotonbori’s ‘Don Quijote’ store. The boat leaves from the little dock just outside. It can get busy, so if you don’t want to wait, it’s a good idea to book your tickets ahead of time. 

Explore the famous Shinsaibashi- suji shopping street

This pedestrianized shopping arcade is one of Osaka’s longest and most historic shopping streets. There’s a huge amount of stores here, from traditional kimono tailors and handicraft sellers to well known international brands like H&M, Zara and Forever 21. If you’re on a budget, check out Uniqlo and GU; they’re not so well known internationally, but they’re huge in Japan and specialize in high quality yet affordable everyday fashion.

There’re also tons of restaurants, tea shops and street food stalls where you can try everything from local street food to western treats like Italian pizza and Belgian waffles. You can wash it all down with a warming cup of Sake at one of the super trendy bars here. 

The Shinsaibashi-suji shopping street is sheltered from the elements, so it’s the perfect place to explore on a rainy day. Bring your passport along as most stores offer tax refunds for foreigners.

Try Takoyaki at the Konamon Museum

Takoyaki balls are bite-sized street food snacks stuffed with octopus, coated with batter and either deep-fried or grilled. They’re one of Osaka’s most famous dishes, and there’s no better place to try them than at Dotonbori’s Konamon Museum.

Watch the chefs prepare them in the live kitchen while you sample the various flavors, then head upstairs to learn about the history of this popular dish in their mini-exhibition. There’s even a station where you can make your own Takoyaki wax replicas to take home as a unique souvenir!

Down in the basement, there’s also a more upscale dining area where you can pair your Takoyaki with specially selected wines and champagnes. 

This place is pretty easy to find; look for the giant red octopus climbing up the front of the building, singing catchy jingles to passersby. 

Learn about woodblock printing at the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum

This private museum is dedicated to traditional woodblock printing methods dating back to the Edo period. The building itself used to be a residential home, but it’s since been transformed into 3 floors of exhibits documenting the artistic process.

On the top floor, there’s a hands-on workshop where you can try the woodblock printing method for yourself. These classes are mainly in Japanese, but don’t worry if you don’t speak the language; the instructors are used to foreign tourists and will demonstrate the whole process.

The museum is also a great place to learn about Kabuki, the classical Japanese dance-drama. Many of the prints here were once used as advertisements for the neighboring Kabuki theater, and there are detailed explanations of the stories behind these traditional performances. 

Share a drink with the locals on the Osaka Backstreet Night Tour

The Osaka Backstreet Night Tour by Taste Osaka takes you on a bar-hopping adventure around Dotonbori. It’s a great way to meet fellow travelers and the group sizes are capped at 8 people so you won’t feel lost in the crowd.

Instead of the usual tourist spots, you’ll visit hidden local taverns and ‘izakayas’; cozy tapas-style bars serving traditional drinks and snacks. The friendly guide will fill you in on some of the area’s interesting history and customs as you wander from bar to bar. 

The evening ends at one of Dotonbori’s famous karaoke joints, where you and your fellow tour buddies can stick around for an after-party.

Enjoy a hilarious night at the ROR Comedy Club

Every Friday and Saturday at 9 pm, the ROR Comedy club puts on shows from some of the world’s funniest international stand up comedians. The shows cost 1000 JPY (~$9.22) and are entirely in English; in fact, this is one of the only all-English language comedy clubs in the whole of Asia. 

As well as the weekend shows, ROR also put on an open mic night every Tuesday. For only 500 JPY (~$4.61), you can laugh (or squirm) as amateurs try their hand at stand up and more established comedians test out their new material. As a bonus, the bar is surprisingly cheap considering it’s in such a prime location. 

The Best Restaurants & Must-Eat Foods

Nowhere is the Kuidaore ‘eat yourself into ruin’ motto more fitting than in Dotonbori. There’s a huge concentration of delicious restaurants packed in amongst the busy neon streets. 

Here, I describe 3 of the best places to try some of Osaka’s most famous local food; Kushikatsu, Udon and Okonomiyaki.

Kushikatsu at Daruma Dotombori

Kushikatsu is a crispy deep-fried skewer of tender meat and vegetables. It’s now a popular snack all over Japan, but its birthplace is right here at the legendary Daruma restaurant, which has been serving up Kushikatsu to the local laborers since the early 20th century. 

You can’t miss Daruma; its facade is a huge sculpture of an angry looking man holding a big digital billboard display. Inside, it’s a pretty casual set up, with booths and counter-style seating. It’s a popular place, so sometimes there’s a queue, but you can use the automated ordering machine to speed things up. 

It’s worth noting that it’s local etiquette here to never double dip your skewer in the tangy black sauce; it’s shared by all the customers, so for hygiene reasons, it’s a big no-no. 

Udon at Dotombori Imai Honten

Udon is a type of Japanese noodle, and one of Japan’s favorite comfort foods. Although it’s made from wheat flour, it’s quite different to Ramen…these noodles are generally thicker, chewier and softer.

The simple and friendly Dotombori Imai Honten specializes in wholesome bowls of Udon. Once inside, you’ll find the place is usually packed with locals. Don’t worry; there’s an English menu if you don’t speak the language. The prices are also super reasonable considering its prime location.

It can be a little hard to find; look for the willow tree outside, just across the road from the ‘Japan tax-free-shop’ on the main Dotonbori street.

Okonomiyaki at Mizuno 

Okonomiyaki is another classic Osaka staple dish on the long list of must-try foods in this city. It’s a type of savory pancake made from wheat flour, stuffed with shredded cabbage and various protein-based fillings. 

The Michelin starred Mizuno restaurant is the oldest, and arguably most famous Okonomiyaki restaurant in Osaka. It can get busy, but once you’re seated, you can choose from the English menu and watch the chef prepare your food on a hot plate right in the center of your table.

Don’t miss their famous signature dish, the tender yamaimo-yaki, made with yam instead of wheat flour. The dough is softer and sweeter; it’s a unique twist to this traditional meal that can’t be found elsewhere.

Where to Stay, from Budget to Luxury

There’s a huge amount of accommodation dotted around Dotonbori, so there’s something to suit every pocket. To help you decide where to stay, I’ve listed some of the area’s best hotels, from budget to midrange to luxury. 

Budget: Capsule Hotel Astil Dotonbori

Capsule hotels tend to be some of Japan’s most economical places to stay, and the Astil Dotonbori is no exception; you’ll be hard-pressed to find a cheaper bed in this sought after area.

The capsules themselves are clean, comfortable, and surprisingly spacious once you’re inside. They even come with your own pair of PJ’s and a special cell phone to use free of charge for browsing the internet and making long-distance phone calls. 

Like most capsule hotels, men and women stay on separate floors, and you’re provided with a secure locker to store your bigger personal items. 

The location couldn’t be better; it’s just around the corner from Namba Train station, as well as being right in the heart of the Dotonbori action. Don’t worry about noise though, the building is well soundproofed, giving it a quiet and peaceful ambiance. 

Midrange: Cross Hotel Osaka

The Cross Hotel is a simple but stylish hotel right in the heart of Dotonbori. The modern, spacious rooms come with air conditioning, a mini-fridge and an all-important Nespresso machine for that first morning cup of coffee. 

The breakfast buffet is like an international gastronomy adventure, with a huge amount of both Asian and global cuisine to fill up on before heading out for the day.

It’s in a really convenient location, just a 3-minute walk from Namba Subway Station and 5 minutes to Shinsaibashi Subway Station. It’s also less than a minute walk from the Shinsaibashi- suji shopping street, as well as the famous Glico Running Man sign. 

Luxury: Konjaku-So Dotonbori Garden SPA Stay

These luxurious 5-star short stay apartments at Konjaku Dotonbori-So will give you a true ‘home away from home’ experience.

Each air-conditioned apartment has elegant Japanese design features and comes with its own kitchen and dining area. There’s even a terrace with beautiful views over the Japanese gardens which you can admire from your own private outdoor hot tub. 

Despite the tranquil and calm atmosphere, you’re still in the center of Dotonbori, and just two minutes’ walk from Nippombashi Metro Station. 

How To Get There from the Airport

Kansai International Airport, the main airport serving Osaka, is around 50km away from Dotonbori. 

There are several ways to get to Dotonbori from the airport but I’ve listed the 3 best options below. Out of these, the cheapest and best value for money is the Nankai Airport Express train, while the Nankai Rapi:t is the quickest and most convenient way.

By Nankai Rapi:t train

The fastest way to get from the airport to Dotonbori is to take the Nankai Rapi:t train which you can catch from the train station by terminal 1. Trains leave every 30 minutes and a ticket costs 1450 JPY (~$13.40). It takes around 35 minutes to get to Namba station, and once you arrive, you’re less than 10 minutes away from Dotonbori on foot. 

By Nankai Airport Express train

The Nankai Airport Express is a slightly slower, yet considerably cheaper way to get to Dotonbori. It takes 45 minutes from the train station next to terminal 1 to get to Namba station, and it costs 930 JPY (~$8.50). These trains depart every 15 minutes. It’s worth noting that the Nankai Airport Express also doubles a commuter train, so it can get a little crowded at peak times. Keep this in mind if you have a lot of luggage.

Limousine Night Bus

Most trains and shuttles from the airport to Osaka stop running during the night, so if your flight arrives after 11 pm then your choices are limited. The best option is to take the Limousine night bus from the departure point outside the 1st floor of terminal 1. 

These buses run once an hour throughout the night and the early hours of the morning and cost 1600 JPY (~$15) per person. You can buy a ticket from the vending machine at the pick-up point. The bus takes around 1 hour and drops you at Osaka Station. The metro is closed from 12 am to 5 am, so from here, you can take a taxi to Dotonbori, which is about 15 minutes away. 

NB. It’s important to note that since the airport is quite a distance from downtown Osaka, taxis can be pretty expensive. It takes around 50 minutes and costs around 20,000 JPY (~$185) to reach Dotonbori, or even more at night when the rates are higher. 

Dotonbori Map

Conclusion & Summary

The Dotonbori area is perfect for strolling around and soaking in Osaka’s colorful and vibrant culture. It’s the city’s party capital, so the streets are alive all night long. It’s also the best place to try Osaka’s famous street food snacks. 

I hope this guide helps you make the most of your time in Dotonbori. Enjoy, and “Kuidaore”! 

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