It’s impossible to make an Osaka itinerary without including Dotonbori. Though it’s known as the city’s tacky tourist trap, there are actually many culinary and cultural delights to discover, especially by meandering away from the kitschy main drag and into the enchanting side streets. While many are drawn to the Dotonbori’s explosive nightly neon displays, the waterfront district is equally lively and vibrant during the day. Take an afternoon stroll with us through the neighborhood that truly defines Osaka.
Start on Tonbori Main Street, where visitors are warmly greeted by the famous giant moving crab perched above Kani Douraku and the familiar site of Starbucks (handy if you need Wi-Fi or a pick-me-up). This street is home to both international and national chain shops and restaurants, as well as local street stalls selling Osaka favorites like takoyaki (fried octopus balls) and kushikatsu (deep-fried skewered meat and vegetables).
After enjoying the massive, gaudy displays of food like fugu (pufferfish) and gyoza (dumplings) and maybe popping into a souvenir shop or two, head to Soemon-cho. Notable as the Dotonbori’s nightlife hotspot (after dark it’s common to spot hosts and hostesses outside soliciting customers), this is a bustling spot to dine, do karaoke, or simply walk through by day.
Adjacent to the entrance of Soemon-cho is the Shinsaibashisuji shopping arcade, possibly the busiest covered shopping street in the nation. Simply walk by and marvel at the constant packed stream of shoppers, or bravely dive in to browse shops selling everything from candy to costumes to cosmetics.
Once you’ve had your fill of the crowds, head towards Midosuji, the nearby main road, to glimpse some of the area’s local architecture, which somehow – in the midst of rapid modernization – manages to retain some of its traditional charms. Dotonbori has been Osaka’s entertainment and culinary center for centuries, and it’s incredible that its structures (many of which were destroyed by firebombing during WWII) still attempt to cling on to that old-timey feel. Shochikuza, Osaka’s kabuki theater, is the best to marvel at.
Now that you’ve enjoyed the main sights, enter the Dotonbori backstreets, the most charming being Hozenji Yokocho. This cobbled road is lined with restaurants and izakaya (Japanese pubs) that truly evoke that Showa Era (1926-89) vibe.
After a hearty lunch of food and drink (because there is no other kind in Osaka), peek into Hozenji, a quiet Buddhist temple that somehow serves as a peaceful refuge in the midst of this tangled touristy maze.
Feeling refreshed from the quiet reflection, wander back towards the area’s busy namesake, the Dotonbori Canal. The riverwalk is full of sights like the large Glico Man sign (where you can take your signature vacation photo) and Ebisu Bridge spanning over the water. Here you can pause for a rest after your long walk. Simply enjoy watching the myriad of people who pass on foot and by boat as you wait for the sun to go down, so you can enjoy Dotonbori all over again.