The Best Things to Do in Dōtonbori, Osaka

Dōtonbori is the heart of Osaka's entertainment district
Dōtonbori is the heart of Osaka's entertainment district | © Asia / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Brooke Larsen
Osaka Hub Writer3 August 2021

Vibrant Osaka is Japan‘s third-largest city, and Dōtonbori is its dazzling entertainment district. Best known for its brightly lit signage running along the canal, the gaudiness entices you to hit the late-night shops and karaoke clubs, and then eat dinner – of ramen or takoyaki – at dawn.

Stroll along the Tonbori Riverwalk

Bridge
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Dotonbori-Osaka-Japan
Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip

Dōtonbori comes into its own at night, as the canal reflects its neon lights. A hub of social activity, this waterway cuts through the bustling Namba district. Walk along its adjacent Tonbori Riverwalk for plenty of shops, al fresco restaurants and live music performers. Stop at Dōtonbori Bridge to marvel at the giant, garish digital adverts, like a watery version of New York’s Times Square.

Take a Tonbori River Cruise

Natural Feature
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Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip

Walking along the Dōtonbori Canal, you’ll see a steady stream of yellow, open-air tourist boats. These are the Tonbori River Cruises, which take just 20 minutes to whisk you around the canal, so you can see the famous sights – such as the Glico running man sign (see below) – from a new perspective. You embark near Namba Station, where cruises depart every hour on the half hour.

Shop in the Shinsaibashi-suji shotengai arcade

Market
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Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip
The Shinsaibashi shotengai shopping arcade has been around for hundreds of years in some form. And it feels it: the covered walkways often make it feel more like an old-fashioned marketplace – especially when you tuck into a chocolate-smothered crepe on your way to the kimono and tea shops. Although parts of the arcade seem traditional, you’ll also find well-known international brands, such as H&M, Zara and Forever 21.

Dine in the early hours at Sōemoncho

Shop
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Dotonbori-Osaka-Japan
Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip

Sōemoncho is the heart of the Dōtonbori area’s evening exuberance, with its plethora of bars, clubs and karaoke joints. Most of the restaurants are open until the early hours of the morning, so join the locals by recharging with traditional fast foods after you’ve worn yourself out singing and dancing. Slurp an early morning meal at Ramen Zundo-Ya Shinsaibashi, which is open round the clock.

Travel back in time on Hozenji Yokocho street

Shop
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Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip

The Hozenji Yokocho is a narrow, stone-paved street that leads to Hozenji Temple. In stark contrast with the rest of Dōtonbori, this lane evokes the ambiance of Osaka as it was in the Edo Period (1603-1867). It’s lined with 60 tiny family-run cafes, serving traditional Japanese food. Order okonomiyaki at Hozenji Sanpei for an authentic taste of Osaka – a patty of cabbage, flour and egg with your own meat and vegetables of choice.

Pause in the Hozenji Temple

Buddhist Temple
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Dotonbori-Osaka-Japan
Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip

This tranquil temple seems out of place in busy downtown, and makes a peaceful escape from the bustle. It was built in 1637 and is one of only two buildings in the area to have survived the Second World War. Pay a visit to Fudo Myoo, a moss-covered sculpture of a deity said to protect people against evil, conquer all demons and grant all wishes. You’ll see locals praying for their prosperity and splashing water as an offering to the deity.

Watch traditional kabuki plays at Shochikuza

Theater
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Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip
Kabuki is a Japanese form of traditional theatre that’s combined with dancing – an art form you can witness at the Osaka Shochikuza Kabuki Theatre. Although performances are only in Japanese, the visual spectacle makes the storylines easy to follow, so you’ll find yourself invested in the plot and laughing along with the characters in no time. The building itself is impressive, too, having been modelled on the Teatro alla Scala in Milan when it opened in 1923.

Marvel at the gaudiness of Chinese Cafe 8

Restaurant, Chinese, $$$
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This weird and wacky Chinese restaurant just off the Dōtonbori Canal is a must-visit for two reasons: the food is fantastic and the decor is… unique. Its walls are covered in moulds of body parts – breasts, bottoms and other things, including a shrine to the male member. If all that hasn’t put you off, you can delve into the menu of hundreds of authentic Chinese staples, served 24 hours a day.

Learn about takoyaki at the Konamon Museum

Restaurant, Japanese, $$$
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Dotonbori-Osaka-Japan
Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip
If you’ve got a taste for takoyaki (griddle-cooked octopus balls), the Konamon Museum is for you. It’s entirely dedicated to the popular Japanese street food, with interactive sections that allow you to watch takoyaki masters at work, or make your own takoyaki wax figurine to take home. The lower floor contains a takoyaki restaurant with selected wines and champagnes for pairing with your meal.

Pose in front of the famous Glico sign

Building
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Tatsuya Suzuki / | © Culture Trip

The Glico Man is the symbol of south Osaka. This sign, advertising popular Japanese snack maker Glico, was put up in 1935 and remodelled in 2014, maintaining the old design but adding new LED lights and animations that change with the time of day. The best photo-op spots are on the adjacent Ebisu Bridge or across the river on the Tonbori Riverwalk.

These recommendations were updated on August 3, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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