Ebisubashi Bridge was built around the same time the digging out of the Dotombori River (canal) it passes over was completed, the year 1615. The current Ebisubashi was completed in 2007, and was built to replace the former 1925 incarnation. While some theorize that the name Ebisu comes from the long-established Imamiya-Ebisu Shrine, located south of Namba, this has not been proven. It has acquired numerous names throughout the years: in the Edo Period, it was called Ayatsurishibai-bashi (puppet show bridge) because of the small puppet theatre supposedly located on the south end; it was changed in 1867 by the Shogunate government to Naganari-bashi, a very typical name, because the word “ebisu” carried the negative meaning of “foreign barbarian” at the time; today, it is often called “nampa-bashi” (“nampa” means to pick up/hit on girls, and sometimes vice versa), but its most common nickname–more commonly known than the bridge’s actual name, in fact–is “hikkake-bashi” (literally “ensnare/trap,” but in reality it has a similar connotation to “nampa”), in reference to the decked-out “hosts” who attempt to woo girls for business purposes or to hire them for temporary jobs.
Besides acting as an important bridge connecting the famous Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade and the other shopping arcades and entertainment and gourmet venues of Namba, this bridge itself is a tourist attraction. The Dotombori River area centers on Ebisubashi, and such famous sites as the Glico “Running Man” neon signboard (one of the three symbolic sights of Osaka, along with Tsutenkaku and Osaka Castle), the Shochikuza Theatre (originally built in 1923, and the last of Namba’s old theatre buildings), Osaka’s beloved Kani-Doraku restaurant complete with mechanical moving crab on top, and of course the Dotombori arcade and river cruises. The bridge was designed in a plaza-like fashion, which encourages street performances and enables a large number of people to cross (and a large number of tourists to take pictures) at the same time. And with recent riverside boardwalk renovations, you can now walk down gently sloping ramps from the bridge and sit along the famous riverside, perhaps with a chu-hi and some okonomiyaki or takoyaki bought from one of the many food stalls nearby. This is also a great area for people-watching, especially if you can get a window seat at the Starbucks located at the south end.
Despite popular belief among expats new to Osaka, this is not actually a good place to pick up girls, despite the nicknames. So don’t waste your time
Blow Bar is a reggae bar tucked away in the heart of Minami。 It’s ideal for going out with friends in groups of any size, and also for parties. The laid-back island atmosphere will put you at ease, and the reasonably priced food and drinks won’t empty your wallet. Blow’s only disadvantage is that it doesn’t provide a good atmosphere for solo bar-hoppers, at least on non-event days. Keep an eye out for DJ events, live music and seasonal parties, which are held often at Blow. If you are thinking of dropping by for the first time, check out their 16th anniversary party this coming weekend (April 2-4, 2010).
Blow Bar is a 5 min. walk north from exit 25 of Namba Station (subway), or a 5 min. walk south from exit 7 of Shinsaibashi Station: walk along Midosuji until you reach the Midosuji-Mitsuderacho intersection, walk one block west, turn left, and the bar will be right in front of you. My Google Maps directions are here. Blow is open 6 pm to 5 am every day, and their phone number is 06-6211-4300. You can also view their website here (some parts, including the menu, are in English).
First opened in 1933 between a temporary Umeda Station and Shinsaibashi Station, the Midosuji Line is Japan’s second oldest subway line (after Tokyo’s Ginza Line) and the first state-operated subway line in Japanese history. Coinciding with a massive widening and redevelopment of Midosuji Boulevard–transforming it from a narrow street into a sweeping boulevard, and the first north-south street capable of handling modern traffic in the city–this first section of the subway line was dug by hand. The project was intended not only to further modernize Osaka’s transportation and communications infrastructure, an important step in a fast-rising interwar Japan, but it was also meant to give jobs to the laborers of Osaka as part of wide-ranging efforts to improve the lives of and provide more opportunities to the city’s working class. By the outbreak of war in Asia and the subsequent Pacific War with the United States, the line had been extended through Namba down to Tennoji.
The following is video footage from the 1930s, starting with the construction work on Midosuji Boulevard from 1930 and concluding with the launch of the subway itself in 1933.
The current Midosuji Line, operated by the Osaka Municipal Transportation Bureau, spans 20 stations, running from Suita City in the north, southward to Nakamozu in Sakai City. It is the most heavily used subway line in Japan, which may be because Osaka has the most dramatic daytime/nighttime population change of any city in the country–the amount of commuters from outside is so great that the daytime population increases by about 50% on weekdays. The subway line runs along Osaka’s the most important boulevard, through the most developed areas, and its ten-car trains (a huge contrast from the almost comical single-car trains of 1933) come at intervals of approximately 30 to 60 seconds during the rush hour, packed wall to wall. The crowded Midosuji Line was also where the concept of the ladies-only car started in response to groping incidents on crowded trains: this innovation has reduced the number of incidents greatly and is used throughout large cities in Japan today.
While Japanese people tend to be very polite for the most part, don’t expect anything of the sort when riding the Midosuji Line during rush hour. Here you will encounter a wide variety of bad manners as people pack into the stifling train cars and shove their way through stations to get to work in time. For residents such as myself, this is nothing new, as I long ago learned to sleep standing up with someone’s elbow jammed into my back; for tourists, I urge you to avoid the peak hours. I’m sure you will otherwise find the Midosuji Line to be a convenient, quick, and even enjoyable way to get around Osaka.
Photo by WikiCommons
Bar Zerro (map here) is a sure place to go on a Saturday night (or Friday, if it’s late enough) to find drunken fun in Osaka’s Minami district. It advertises itself as falling somewhere between a bar and club, but I would call it more of a bar that knows how to cut loose. They host DJ events every Saturday night, as well as a number of other events and parties. They also have a Fussball table (no longer for free, unfortunately) and celebrate foreign holidays such as Halloween…speaking of which, Zerro offers “roast dinners” (turkey, gravy, mashed potatoes, etc.) on Sunday nights, so if you are an expat sad about missing your Thanksgiving eats this year, drop by next weekend! The drinks are not cheap here, but the customers are always varied and friendly, and the bilingual bartenders help create a great atmosphere.
Zerro is conveniently located near Dotombori, Shinsaibashi, Minami’s Hub Pubs, and other bars such as Blow and Balabushka. The closest stations are Shinsaibashi and Namba subway stations. Zerro can be contacted by phone at 06-6211-0439.
Hub British Pub (英国風ハブ) is a chain of friendly bars where you can meet people, whether you are from Japan or abroad. I have met more people from other countries at the Hub than anywhere else. There is fairly tasty food, as would be expected of a pub, especially the Hub Premium Cheeseburger (comes with fries) and the spinach gnocchi. But most of all, the drinks are good, and they don’t rip you off by using cheap liquor. The long island iced teas are delicious and perfectly balanced, and the original cocktails are superb–I personally like the “Tarantula,” which has quite a kick despite its smooth taste, and the one-liter tower of beer is always fun. Happy hour, which goes until 7:00 pm every day, means cocktails as cheap as 190 yen each, which is probably the lowest price I’ve seen outside of Blue Moon Bar. Hub Pubs are generally open until around 1:00 am on weekdays and 2:00 am on weekends. They can be reserved for private parties, and they often show sports events involving local or Japanese national teams (with soccer being shown most often). Most of all, the atmosphere is casual and relaxed.
Despite being a large chain, the Hub provides consistent quality and good times, and whether you are new in town, looking to meet new people, or just searching to a place to kick back after work, check out on of Osaka’s four branches (two in Namba, one near Shinsaibashi, and one in Umeda’s Chayamachi district).
If you are looking for trendy restaurant and bars and you don’t mind you wallet becoming a bit lighter, check out the Horie neighborhood in Osaka, located within walking distance of Namba, Shinsaibashi and Amemura. Many establishments here offer top-class gourmet cuisine and excellent drinks, and each shop has its own unique style. If you only plan to splurge once when you are in Osaka, come here.
One of my favorite restaurant/bars in the area is Cafe Absinthe. It specializes in Mediterranean fusion cuisine (the cooks here are amazing), and it also sports a wide selection of imported European absinthe. Drinking absinthe here was not my first experience, but Cafe Absinthe’s drinks tasted great and nearly had me out cold after two drinks–one straight, one in cocktail form mixed with Midori–despite my huge dinner and relatively high tolerance. Another great thing about Café Absinthe is the food is up to Horie standards, but the prices are quite reasonable in comparison to many other places nearby. The service is also stupendous.
Cafe Absinthe is open from 11:30 am to 3:00 am, every day except Tuesday. It is located a short distance from Nishiohashi Station (Nagahori Tsurumi-ryokuchi Subway Line) or Yotsubashi Station (Yotsubashi Subway Line). The Cafe Absinthe website can be found here (directions are listed, you can look at this Google Maps link).You can call them (06-6534-6635) if you get lost walking from the station (they speak both English and Japanese well).
If there’s one thing that Osaka has more of than any other city in Japan (in fact, there are many things), it’s underground. First of all, let me remind readers that Japanese cities developed differently than many cities in the West, and there is generally more than one “city center” or “downtown.” In Osaka, the two largest are called Umeda and Namba, often called Kita (“north”) and Minami (“south”) by locals because of their geographical locations.
Even Frommer’s claims that “Osaka must rank as one of the world’s leading cities in underground shopping arcades.” According to Wikipedia numbers, of the top five underground shopping districts in Japan, two are in Osaka (Crysta Nagahori at 81,765 m² in size and Japan’s biggest, and Diamor Osaka at 42,977 m²), and the total number of underground shops/restaurants exceeds 1,200. Namba and Umeda have at least as much, if not more, underground as they do above ground and in the sky. Almost any main street has corridors running underneath it with restaurants, arcades, cafes, bars, and shops of all varieties, and layered underneath those are subway lines, rail lines and parking lots. If it’s raining outside, or if you are in the midst of a sweltering Kansai summer there’s really no need to worry because you can often get from the train station to your destination without ever seeing the sky.
Some of the larger underground complexes include Whity, Diamor, Dojima, Gare, and the Hilton shopping complex in Umeda, Namba Walk and Nan-Nan Town in the Namba area, and Crysta Nagahori running between Shinsaibashi and Nagahoribashi Stations (underneath Nagahori-dori). Other complex such as OCAT, Namba City, and Hankyu Sanbangai have portions above- and below-ground. There are also a number of ground-level, outdoor, covered shopping arcades, the most famous being the Shinsaibashi, Tenjinbashi, and Hankyu Higashi-dori shopping arcades and the Kuromon fresh food market. The outdoor Shinsaibashi arcade is so crowded that it is air-conditioned in the summer.
These trends follow the general theme in Osaka: many of the best things about this city are not readily visible, but if you are willing explore a little, amazing experiences are waiting just below the surface.