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 😉
I am often asked what I like about living in Osaka. And because I have also lived in Tokyo, I am also asked whether I prefer Osaka or Tokyo. Besides the fact that my job and life are here, there are four primary reasons I prefer to live in Osaka over any other place in Japan:
1. The People
This is the number one reason Osaka is the most livable place I have found in Japan. People here are the most open-minded (including their attitudes toward foreign residents), are willing to help out strangers, and are basically warm and approachable. It is easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger almost anywhere you go, and if you need help because you are lost or unsure of something, just ask someone nearby and you will almost never be ignored. The “people” factor is not only my top reason for staying here; ask anyone here and you will likely hear the same thing.
With a metropolitan population of approximately 3 million, Osaka City is big but not too big, and despite the tri-city metro area population of approximately 20 million, it does not (for the most part) have the hellish commutes, snail-like traffic and infuriating crowds of cities like Tokyo or Seoul. There are many of small shops and businesses mixed in with department stores and chain stores, so you can easily find something that suites your tastes — the inexhaustible number of hidden places to explore is one of the city’s best features. Unlike its historical rival, Tokyo, Osaka is planned well, so you won’t get lost wondering the streets (I dare you to try explaining the order behind the urban planning and subway system of the capital). The cost of living is also more than reasonable in comparison. Finally, Osaka has many well-designed parks and waterfront spots, making for a pleasant urban environment. Despite its past reputation as a dirty, industrial city, Osaka has become a massive commercial center and one of the cleanest and most livable cities you will find.
3. Rich Culture and History
Osaka has played many roles throughout its history, including that of the imperial capital (as Naniwa-kyo), an important trade port and point for importing cultural innovations, a diplomatic host for Chinese and Korean visitors when the capital moved first to Nara and then Kyoto, the base of Toyotomi military power, the prime economic center and site of the world’s first futures market during the Edo Period, a major manufacturing center during the early modern period and period of high-speed growth, a temporary capital when Tokyo was burned to the ground in the fires of the 1923 earthquake, a primary commercial and trade center since the postwar period, and now an increasingly international city and central hub for Japan and East Asia. This rich history has given rise to a unique culture and a number of rich, deep-rooted traditions. Osaka is also the transportation hub of Kansai, the cultural center and birthplace of Japanese civilization, so you can reach places such as Nara, Kyoto, and Himeji in no time.
4. The Food
Osaka is historically known as “the nation’s kitchen” for its role in supplying and acting as a hub for the food industry. It is also famous for its cuisine — not luxury cuisine, mind you, but “B-level” (B-kyu) cuisine. The quality of okonomiyaki, takoyaki, ramen, soba, kushikatsu, sushi, and other foods people eat on a regular basis is outstanding. In addition, the large number of non-Japanese living in the city means there is a huge selection of international cuisine, too — Korean food in Tsuruhashi, for example. Delicious food at surprisingly low prices is definitely one of the city’s strongest points.
Takoyaki, which is often humorously (and unfortunately) translated as “octopus balls,” are dumplings made of batter, picked ginger, tenkasu, and green onion, with octopus meat in the middle and sauce, aonori, mayonnaise, and bonito flakes sprinkled over the top. Now, as a non-Japanese, and I know that octopus can sound quite unappetizing at first, but these little snacks are so good that you’ll find yourself popping them into your mouth one after another. These can often be found at stalls at festivals and anytime on the streets, in restaurants, and even in people’s homes (you know you are an Osakan if you have a takoyaki cooker in your home). Furthermore, almost anything can be substituted for octopus when you make it on your own, including squid, kimchee, cheese, vegetables, or whatever else you can think of. Along with okonomiyaki, takoyaki is one of the representative foods of Osaka’s food culture, and apparently this incredibly popular dish has even made its way over to a few restaurants in the United States in recent years.
I personally recommend Takoyaki Doraku Wanaka (たこ焼き道楽 わなか 千日前本店), a restaurant opened in 1961 on Sennichimae in Namba (easy to get to from Namba or Nipponbashi station). It is actually right next to NGK, the famous comedians’ theatre, and television and comedy stars are sometimes known to drop in for a bite to eat. It costs 400 yen for 8 dumplings, and it is open from morning until 11:45 pm.
Here’s a video of takoyaki being made at an outdoor food stall in Osaka, in case you want to see a cook in action 🙂
Ah yes, one of my favorite spots to go eat or just stroll around. This is Osaka’s own little slice of Korea. Tsuruhashi is populated by a large number of immigrants and family members of past immigrants, and as a result it is home to a large number of unique shops selling traditional Korean apparel, sweets, and other goods. But the main attraction is the food: not only are there a large number of fish and vegetable markets (be forewarned about the smell if you have not spent much time in fish markets), but there are many unbelievably delicious and reasonably priced restaurants serving popular Korean dishes. When you leave the ticket gates of the JR or Kintetsu station, your senses will be treated to a barrage of smells, sights, and sounds as you wander through the almost unbelievably cramped passageways between shops and buildings. This is a unique neighborhood to Osaka and Japan in general, and I recommend taking at least one meal here (give the chijimi a try, it is a delicious Korean food that is also popular in Japan).
One restaurant that I love in particular is Takohachi, a shop that manages to pull off some of the best okonomiyaki and chijimi I’ve had, among other great dishes, and all for more-than-reasonable prices. The staff are cordial will make you feel right at home in this cozy little shop. It’s just a step or two outside Tsuruhashi Station on the Kintetsu Lines and JR Osaka Loop Lines, and it’s close to the same station on the Sennichimae Subway Line as well. Be forewarned that Takohachi closes early.
Dotombori is one of the three spots most symbolic of and well-known in Osaka–possibly the most famous of them. It is order in chaos, a maddening mix of people and lights and sounds that will assault your senses. Lonely Planet went as far as comparing it to the futuristic cityscape of Blade Runner.* But in my opinion, Dotombori has no comparison, because it is simply the City of Osaka unapologetically being its over-the-top self.
The name comes from the Dotombori River, a canal that runs east to west through the middle of the Dotombori district. A theatre district starting in the 17th century, Dotombori is primarily a nighttime entertainment district today, so there are numerous bars, izakaya, restaurants, food stalls, and entertainments facilities (karaoke, bowling, pool, etc). The city has recently been doing construction work to boost tourism in the area, focusing on beautifying the canal-side boardwalks. Namba’s “love hotel” district can be found on the west end of Dotombori (near Yotsubashi-suji), if that’s what you’re looking for.
Famous landmarks include the giant crab with moving pincers (there are actually three, but the center-most one is the most popular) and the surrounding lights and buildings, the night view of the Glico “running man” billboard, Ebisubashi Bridge (informally known as Hikkakebashi, meaning “pick-up bridge,” as it is a popular spot for hosts who attempt to pick up girls passing by), and the Ferris wheel attached to the side of the Don Kihote shop. There is a Starbucks at the most crowded point in Dotombori, which offers a great view if you like people-watching or just want to take a breather. There are boat tours that go along Dotombori River and connect to other parts of Osaka, as well. And finally, don’t forget to stop at Kinryu, the famous ramen shop that has multiple shops in the district, followed by some cheap and delicious okonomiyaki and takoyaki (fried dumplings with octopus in the middle) from the outdoor food stalls near the river—both of these are Osaka specialties.
The best way to reach the center of Dotombori is from Namba Station (Sennichimae and Midosuji Subway Lines, Kintetsu Lines, Hanshin Namba Line, Nankai Lines), but you can also get to the west part of Dotombori from Namba Station on the Yotsubashi Subway Line, and to the east part from Nipponbashi Station (Sennichimae and Sakaisuji Subway Lines). Dotombori is a 3-5 min. walk from Namba Station on the Midosuji and Sennichimae Subway Lines.
*Lonely Planet: Japan 8th edition, p. 387.
Today I thought I would write a little about Japanese food. I found another interesting blog with a good description of okonomiyaki, one of my favorite foods and also one of the most famous foods of Osaka. As described in the page I linked to above, onokomiyaki (which can be literally translated as “cook what you like”) is shaped liked a large pancake and contains eggs, dashi, cabbage and other vegetables, and usually pork or seafood of some sort. It is topped with mayonnaise, sauce, aonori (dried seaweed flakes), and katsuo dashi (bonito flakes), and sometimes cheese. This is Osaka-style okonomiyaki.
The two places that are known for their okonomiyaki are Osaka and Hiroshima (sometimes Tokyo, but I don’t think Tokyo’s monjayaki can compare to these other two). Hiroshima is also quite good, and debates can become intense when comparing the merits of Osaka- and Hiroshima-style okonomiyaki (personally, I go with the former).
If you are in Osaka, I personally recommend eating at Bonhan (ぼん繁), which has shops in Tenmabashi and Kitahama. Bonhan also does take-out orders.