Namba: The Heart of Osaka
By Eric S. Tessier on 11 Oct 2016
The Kansai region is home to some of Japan’s most marvelous places. Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan, is here as well as the historically rich Nara and the port city Kobe. Arguably the heart of the Kansai region is Osaka. This City is the second largest in the country and is quite different from its rival Tokyo. Being second-largest doesn’t make it second-best, but still Osakans hate losing to Tokyoites. Osaka’s baseball team’s, the Hanshin Tigers, chief rival is Tokyo’s Yomiuri Giants. In Tokyo people stand to the left on escalators, in Osaka the right. Osakans are said to be straightforward and warm while Tokyoites are rumored to be indirect and cold. The list goes on.
For those who are willing to venture away from Tokyo, there’s plenty to experience in the Osaka mega-metropolis. Seasoned travelers and locals will tell you that Osakans love to eat. Delicacies such as Tako-yaki (battered and fried octopus), Okonomi-yaki (A batter, cabbage, meat, and seafood pan-fried cake), Udon noodles, and Oshizushi (a style of sushi specific to Kansai) are said to be at their best in Osaka. In fact, the unofficial slogan of Osaka is “Kuidaore,” which translates loosely to “Eat till you fall down,” or “Ruin yourself with food.”
Even if you plan on eating yourself to ruin you may want to check out some of Osaka’s sites and sounds between meals. Perhaps the best place to get a concentrated dose of Osaka flavor is the Namba area. Namba is the center of Minami, or the south side of Osaka. Its name is a nod to the 10 year period when Osaka was briefly the capital of Japan. The area is bustling with activity and has some of Osaka’s most iconic and interesting places.
If you’ve ever seen a picture of Osaka, it was probably of Dotonbori. The iconic Ebisubashi bridge can be found here which allows views of neon madness all along the Dotonbori Canal. This spot is best seen at night. Famous signs, such as the Glico Running Man and the Kani Doraku Crab, are fully lit and ready to dazzle in the evening. On either side of the bridge there are long covered shopping streets that stretch for hundreds of meters. The most famous of these is the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade. With countless stores and eateries this shopping street is a fun place to get lost in.
If you walk south long enough you’ll encounter Namba Parks, a beautiful shopping center that will please design and architecture buffs. The color scheme and shape of this structure resemble a canyon. Designed to be an escape from the city streets and a tribute to nature, it’s a one of a kind mall. The top floor has open air gardens and a variety of restaurants with outdoor seating. If you need to escape the crowds and the sounds of the city, this is a good option.
Nearby Namba Parks is Den Den Town, a former electronics hub that is now Osaka’s center of Otaku culture. Tokyo’s Akihabara is often criticized for having sold-out and having lost it’s true Otaku roots. Den Den Town, however, still feels genuinely geeky. Here you’ll find maid cafes, vintage video game stores, figurines from all eras of geekdom, and arcades galore. If you are looking for an original copy of Rockman (Megaman) or the perfect model of Evangelion Unit 01, this is the spot. It’s a fun collection of streets and a great place to be if you are a video game or anime fan. Heck, it’s fun even if you aren’t.
On the opposite side of Dotonbori, to the north, is Amerika Mura. Nicknamed Ame-Mura this is the area to find Osaka’s cool kids and street fashion. If Den Den Town is Osaka’s answer to Akihabara, then Ame-Mura is its answer to Harajuku. Here you’ll find boutiques, bars, and hip clothing shops to name a few things. Ame-Mura’s iconic landmark is a Lady Liberty statue which looms over the neighborhood from its perch atop of a building, but the humanoid lamp posts are also quite interesting. Rumored to be a favorite haunt of expats, Japanese who are interested in an international vibe gather here to show off their styles and hangout in the famous Triangle Park in the center of the area. If you are looking for a good cup of coffee check out Lilo Coffee while you’re there. Lilo offers third-wave style coffee, which is still rare in Osaka.
Osaka is an amazing city with a lot to see and do. If you are interested in the urban side of Japan, consider spending some time in Kansai’s most happening city. After spending some time in Namba you too might feel that Osaka deserves to be called number-one.
Eric S. Tessier
Eric is a coffee enthusiast stranded in Tokyo. He enjoys wandering around the city aimlessly and discovering interesting places that lie off the beaten path. When he isn’t walking or drinking coffee he enjoys writing as well as binge watching streaming videos.