ENTERTAINMENT AREAS IN OSAKA
The main shopping and entertainment districts are Umeda (in Kita), Namba (in Minami), Dotonbori (part of Namba) and to a lesser extent Tennoji. These areas also have a lot of nightclubs, bars, pubs, restaurants, cinemas and theaters. Soemoncho and Hozenjiyokoncho are areas within Namba that have a lot of restaurants and bars. Shinsaibashi, across the Dotombori River, is an extension of the Namba entertainment area.
Street musicians play on the pedestrian bridge in front of Hankyu Railway's Umeda Station and the adjoining JR Osaka Station. Acts that have appeared here have included a jazz quartet, a three piece rock band, a homeless female dancer, a violin-guitar duo, and a pair of young girls that play ukeleles and sing Hawaiian songs. The Hankyu Fortune-Telling Center, below the elevated rail lines of Hankyu Umeda Station, is a center of Osaka fortunetelling.
There are many good eating area in and around Umeda, Namba and Dotonbori. There is a particularly good selection of cheap restaurant in the underground shopping centers and covered shopping streets at Umeda, and the streets in Minami south of Nagahori-dori around Osaka Tower. Osaka has a large Koreatown with a lot of Korean restaurants.
Umeda (Umeda subway stop) is one of the main business and entertainment centers in Osaka. Lively during the day and at night, it has department stores, office buildings, theaters, restaurants, bars and underground shopping malls that are so vast and complex even long-time residents get lost. Umeda is part of Kita Ward.
A Ferris wheels protrudes from the top of the 10-story-high Hep Five shopping mall. It has 56 gondolas and tales people 106 meters off the ground. At the entrance to the shopping area area is a huge red model of a sperm whale. The Umeda Sky Building is a twin tower complex with an indoor observation area and outdoor observation deck that is reached by a dizzying glassed-in escalator that ascends the final five stories to the top, where there is also an expensive Chinese restaurant and bar.
In 2004, the new classy 28-story Herbis Ent shopping complex opened up next to the Hilton. It has a Hermes, Luis Vuitton, Tiffany, Yves St. Laurent, Gucci, Max Mara, Bulagri, Coach and Maserati dealership and is home to the Osaka Shiki Theater and the Shiki Theater Company. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; JNTO japan.travel Osaka Station Map: osakastation.com ; Umeda Area Map osakastation.com;
Whity Umeda is the largest underground shopping mall in Japan. Spreading out under three streets off Umeda, it is divided into 3 zones. All the concourses are lined with restaurants, boutiques and novelty shops. There are entire sections devoted to fashion dress shops, tea houses and bars. Nearby are the Hankyu, Hanshin and Daimaru department stores. West of Whity Umeda is Dia Mor Osaka, another large underground mall. The Big Man large screen television is a popular meeting place.
Grand Front Osaka
Grand Front Osaka (in Umeda, north of Osaka Station) is a large commercial complex that opened in 2013. The complex stands on a seven-hectare site once occupied by a freight station. It comprises four high-rise buildings containing office space, a shopping area, hotel and residential space. The 266 shops occupy about 44,000 square meters of floor space. Elevated walkways connect the multiple buildings of Grand Front Osaka to each other and to Osaka Station. Grand Front Osaka is the first part of the Umekita (short for "Umeda North") redevelopment project to transform a large former freight railyard north of Osaka Station into a new, modern city district. The rest of the railyard is expected to be redeveloped and opened to the public by 2025. [Source: Japan Guide]
Grand Front Osaka consists of a sequence of four towers which stretch out in a direct line from Osaka Station’s North Gate Building. The first of these is the South Building which is essentially a shopping mall. Then there is the North Building which has two towers; one contains a large “infotainment” venue called “Knowledge Capital” and the next tower is occupied by the Intercontinental Hotel Osaka. The final tower in the sequence is a residential building named the “Owner’s Tower”. In this article we will introduce the services, shops, and dining facilities available in the first two towers of Grand Front Osaka. [Source: osakastation.com]
The South Building of Grand Front Osaka is connected to Osaka Station by a walkway at the 2nd floor level. There are information counters inside the entrance at both the 2nd floor and 1st floor levels. A large section of the lower floors in this building are occupied by the Panasonic Center which is basically a home improvement and interior design store. This store occupies part of the basement level and the 1st and 2nd floors. The center showcases the latest Panasonic products and suggests ways in which they can be used to brighten up your home interior. Be sure also to check out the interactive showroom where you can experiment with different room types and lighting effects.
Other than the Panasonic Center floors 1 – 6 are largely occupied with men’s and ladies’ fashion stores. There is also a large bookstore on the 6th floor with stationary, CDs, and DVDs. Here are some highlights. Demiluxe Beams is a high grade clothing store aimed at ladies in their late 20s and 30s selling classic design, comfortable clothes for both work and play Rosebud Couples is a store for ladies and men selling good quality, long-lasting clothing, shoes and accessories Mathematics is a high fashion design brand founded in Kyoto which stocks a playful mix of traditional, working, and street style clothes. Many items are one-of-a-kind and not to be found in any other store
On the 5th floor you can find a number of stores selling sportswear and outdoor goods Floors 8 and 9 are the Umekita Dining section. Here you can find 36 different restaurants, cafes and bars serving sushi, tempura, deep fried kushiage kebabs, Osaka style okonomiyaki pancakes, Okinawan dishes, an oyster bar, Italian pasta, Chinese cuisine, Korean barbecue, a French Bistro and American style seafood. There is also an exterior terrace garden on the 9th floor with views over Osaka Station and the Umeda Sky Building.
The North Building is directly connected to the South Building by a 2nd floor walkway that crosses the road between. The first tower of this building is mostly devoted to an “intellectual entertainment ” area called Knowledge Capital. The facility is built around the central Knowledge Plaza which is used for a variety of interactive workshops and events. Around this on multiple levels are 21 showrooms in which a wide variety of companies exhibit their newest products and most cutting edge technologies. There is also a Knowledge Theater on the 4th floor which can be used either for stage performances or business presentations.
In addition to Knowledge Capital there is another restaurant and bar section on the 9th floor which is called the Umekita Floor. This is not to be confused with the similarly named Umekita Dining section in the South Building. While Umekita Dining closes at 23.00, the Umekita Floor is an all-night venue that stays open till 4.00 in the morning. Between the 6th and 9th floors the building is occupied with offices, but there are also a series of very nicely laid out terrace gardens on the upper floors which you can access from the 9th floor. Grand Front Osaka has parking for 330 cars in the B2 basement level of the South Building from 9.00 – 24.00 and the B3 level of the North Building from 7.00 – 24.00. The fee for parking is 600 yen for the first hour and thereafter 300 yen every 30 minutes. Hours Open: Shops:10:00am–9:00pm; Panasonic Center: 10:00am–8:00pm Knowledge Capital: 10:00am–9:00pm; Umekita Dining (South Building): 11:00am– 11:00pm; Umekita Floor (North Building): 10:00am–4:00am. Getting There: Grand Front Osaka is directly connected to the north gate of Osaka Station by a 2nd floor walkway.
Minami Area: the Real Osaka
Osaka is divided into two lively, vibrant areas, the Kita (northern) and Minami (southern) areas. In the Kita area, you’ll find shopping streets packed with huge, brightly lit stores and scores of people moving at a dizzying pace through the many arcades. However, it’s in the Minami district that the bustling, vibrant character of Osaka can be seen, smelt and heard.Go due south from Nippombashi Station and head over to the Kuromon Market. There, you’ll be overwhelmed by the myriad tastes and smells coming from lively stalls selling foods from all over the world. The stallholders call out in the typical, cheerful Osaka style, urging you to purchase some of their bizarre-looking and-smelling items. [Source: JNTO]
A little further down, past Takashimaya Exhibition Hall, is Den-Den Town. This is the place to haggle for electrical bargains. From here, back to the street, to the west of Kuromon Market, you will find Sennichimae Doguya-suji. Traders in this street sell everything you need to turn your purchases from Kuromon Market into an exquisite meal. There’s also a dazzling array of pots and utensils, and even plastic food.
Stroll down the narrow, dimly lit alleys of Hozenji-yokocho for a taste of old Osaka, then visit the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum, where beautiful woodblock prints depicting life in Japan are on display, before heading off to the Dotombori area. The various foods and reasonably-priced restaurants surrounding you here are sure to make you hungry.
Namba is busy shopping and entertainment area, containing the Shin-Kabukiza Theater, the Koysan Monastery, Sennichamae nightlife area (noted for its bars, cabarets, shops and cinemas), and Asashiza theater (famous of its Bunraku puppet shows). The Shinsaibashi Shopping Street (the busiest in Osaka, with department stores on one side and many old established shops on the other) is across the Dotombori River and regarded as an extension of the Namba entertainment area.
Namba is located in Chuo and Naniwa wards. Regarded as the center of the Minami area of Osaka, its name comes from the old name of Osaka: Naniwa. Namba is best known as the city's main south-central railway terminus: JR, Kintetsu, Nankai, Hanshin, and three Osaka Metro subway lines have stations there. Some of the most famous images of Osaka, including the Glico Man and the Kani Doraku Crab, are located around the Dotonbori canal in Namba. Namba is also known as an entertainment district, and hosts many of the city's most popular bars, restaurants, nightclubs, arcades, and pachinko parlors. For shopping, there is the Takashimaya department store and the sprawling underground Namba City shopping mall.
Namba Parks is a new development consisting of a high office building, called "Parks Tower," and a 120-tenant shopping mall with rooftop garden. Various kinds of restaurants (Japanese, Korean, Italian, etc.) are located on the 6th floor, and shops on the 2nd to 5th floors. Parks Garden features enough greenery to help visitors forget that they're in the middle of the city. There is also an amphitheater for live shows, as well as space for small personal vegetable gardens and wagon shops. The popular girls idol group NMB48 is based in Namba.
Tsutenkaku Tower (near Dobutseun subway station) is modeled after the Eiffel Tower and decorated in multi-colored neon lights. Rebuilt in 1956 are being damaged by a fire and dismantled in 1943, it stands 103 meters tall and has become a symbol of “Deep Osaka.” There are good views from the observation deck. The tower also features a statue of the pointy-headed Billiken god. In Deep Osaka there are lots of good small restaurant and food stalls.
Dotonbori (southern side of Dotonbori Canal in the Namba area) is a huge entertainment area with restaurants, shops, drunks, game arcades, pachinko parlors, side-alley sex clubs, fashionistas, schoolgirls and gaudy signboards with neon lights. This area is also called Shinsaibashi. It lies in Minami.
During large celebrations such after Japan’s victories in the World Cup and Hanshin winning the pennant revelers gather and jump in the filthy Dotonbori Canal. Ar one celebration 800 people leapt into the canal. On another occasion, a man who was pushed in died.
America Mura (Americatown) and Yorappa Mura around Tower Records in Shinsaibashi are places where young Japanese come to be seen and check out the latest fashions and trends. The area contains a large Tower Records, a popular Disney store, boutiques, used clothing stores, bars and restaurants. It has been estimated that 200,000 clothes-crazy young people descend here on the weekends.
Nostalgia Museum (in Amerika Mura) is now closed. It contained an extensive collection of toys and kitsch items collected by a single man, Tatsuyuki Fuji, President of a toy retailer. Among the items on display are numerous items connected with Astroboy, Ultraman and Godzilla, antique Barbie dolls, Star Wars figures, tin toy robots from the 1940s and other stuff.
Glicoman and Other Cool Stuff in Dotonbori
Some of Osaka's most well-known landmarks can be seen here. These include the huge, moving mechanized crab above a seafood restaurant, and the illuminated Glico Man runner, the famous sign for a confectionary company. The area is best visited at night when the signs are illuminated.
One of the fixtures of the Dotonbori is Cui-daore Taro, a drum-playing robot clown that had stood in front the Cui-daore restaurant since 1950. In 2008 the restaurant closed and Taro was removed. A big deal was made about his departure and what should be done with him. In the end he was brought a year or so later and placed in front of new restaurant not far from his former home. Websites: Wikipedia Wikipedia ; JNTO article JNTO ;
Glicoman is best viewed from Ebisubashi Bridge. He is usually decked out in running shorts. Occasionally his outfits are changed to reflect some event such as te World Cup or World Track and Field championship in 2007. During the World Cup soccer tournament in 2002, he was given a Japanese national team soccer uniform. When the local baseball team, the Hanshin Tigers, are doing well he is sometimes clad in a Tigers uniform.
The iconic Glicoman sign has been around since 1935. In 2014 its neon lights were replaced with 140,000 LEDs. TV Asahi reported. The LED version is the sixth time the sign has been redone—the previous makeover was in 1998. Glico sign shows a running man. Glico is a food and candy company. The LED version is 20 meters tall and 10 meters wide. It is lit up from 6:00pm until 1:00 midnight. The change to LED lights occurred the same year three Japan-born researchers won Nobel Physics Prize for their work developing LEDs.
Tobita: Osaka's Brothel District
Tobita (15 minute walk south of Kintensu Abeno station) is Japan's last traditional brothel district. Covering an area of nearly 12 blocks, it is discreet places with rows of Kyoto-style teahouses that offer a variety of services in their back rooms.You won't find flashy soaplands or image rooms here. Maps generally don't even have Tobita on them.
Nobody is sure exactly when Tobita was established. In the Meiji period, it provided jobs for impoverished farm girls who came to Osaka in search of work and wives fleeing abusing husbands. After World War II, several thousands women worked in the district and U.S. first lady Eleanor Roosevelt even toured the area to check on the women's heath.
There are currently about 100 brothels here. Prostitutes charge about $120 for 30 minutes. The younger ones are on the west side of the district and with the prostitutes generally getting older as you move east. Foreigners are generally not welcome.
Tobita customers are asked to abide by certain rules and follow a certain etiquette. They are, for example, supposed to ask for "company" not "sex" and not inquire about what they get for their money until the bedroom door is closed. Those that ask for "sex" or ask what is available are refused admission. Websites: 21 or Over,com Old 21orover.com ;
Martin Fackler wrote in the New York Times, “Kitashinchi is Osaka’s premier entertainment district, a three-centuries-old playground where the night is filled with neon signs and hostesses in tight dresses, where just taking a seat at a top club can cost $500. But in the past 15 years, the number of fashionable clubs and lounges has shrunk to 480 from 1,200, replaced by discount bars and chain restaurants. Bartenders say the clientele these days is too cost-conscious to show the studied disregard for money that was long considered the height of refinement.” “A special culture might be vanishing,” said Takao Oda, who mixes perfectly crafted cocktails behind the glittering gold countertop at his Bar Oda. [Source: Martin Fackler, New York Times, October 16, 2010]
Image Sources: 1) 2) 5) Ray Kinnane 3) 7) 9) Wikipedia 4) 6) 8) Osaka Visitor's Guide
Text Sources: JNTO (Japan National Tourist Organization), Japan.org, Japan News, Japan Times, Yomiuri Shimbun, Japan Ministry of the Environment, UNESCO, Japan Guide website, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Compton's Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.
Updated in July 2020