Osaka’s Famous Dotonbori Lights Up the Night

A couple of months ago, I spent the night in Osaka. I had to leave the next morning, but made the most of the time I had with an evening trip to Dotonbori – an entertainment district not far from Osaka Namba Station that’s famous for good food and over-the-top neon lights.

The entrance to Dotonbori

Most people know Dotonbori as a tourist attraction–and they’re not wrong. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan. In fact, it’s been drawing visitors of one kind or another since the 1600s.

Dotonbori, lit up by night

The area takes its name from a 17th century merchant named Yasui Doton, who planned and began construction of the canal that runs through the center of the district. He died before it could be completed, but his relatives finished the work in 1615 and named the canal “Dotonbori” – Doton Canal, in Japanese.

No question what they’re serving here…

The canal brought lots of trade to the area, and restaurants sprang up along the bank to serve the traders. Since the clientele was mostly working people, the restaurants catered to that audience: hearty, cheap food, served quickly. That’s still the case in Dotonbori today.

A giant takoyaki – fried octopus ball – on one of the many takoyaki shops

Today, the restaurants spread away from the canal, for a couple of blocks in each direction. After dark, the neon lights on the shops make it as bright as day.

Another take on takoyaki signage

Many of the restaurants have both sit-down and takeaway options, and giant illuminated signs make it easy to tell what the restaurant has on offer.

The scowling face of kushikatsu…

While you can find just about anything to eat in Dotonbori, the area has a huge number of shops selling takoyaki (fried balls of dough with octopus inside) and kushikatsu (bite-sized meat and vegetables, breaded, fried, and served on skewers). I love kushikatsu, and Osaka is famous for it, so that’s what I opted for that night.

Another kushikatsu shop (on the left) beside the giant crab

It was fun to walk around Dotonbori–especially since the walk was long overdue. On my first solo trip to Japan, almost ten years ago, I also overnighted in Osaka, en route to Koyasan. (History repeats itself: that’s exactly what I was doing this time, too.) On that trip, I wanted to visit Dotonbori, but I got lost when I left the hotel. (The tall buildings in Osaka sometimes interfere with GPS, and I was too shy about using Japanese to ask the way.)

The famous Glico man

It was great to finally get there.

Doton Canal

Hopefully it won’t be another decade before I get back!