Osaka is a bustling metropolis famed for its unique entertainment district and principal tourist destination, Dotonbori. Set along the Dotonbori-gawa canal, this neighborhood is the place to go in Osaka for fantastic food, theater and entertainment.
Dotonbori dates back to 1612, when a local businessman named Yasui Doton began the project of expanding the Umezu River with the hope of increasing commerce in the area. The project was interrupted when Doton died during the Siege of Osaka, but his cousins took over the project and the canal was finally completed in 1615. By 1662, the area was well known for its Kabuki and Bunraku theaters as well as several restaurants and cafes that cropped up to cater to the tourists and theater goers.
Today, the traditional arts theaters are gone but the area continues to be a popular entertainment and nightlife district characterized by its eccentric atmosphere and large illuminated signboards. The most recognizable of these illuminated signboards is the Glico Confectionary Company’s display of a runner crossing the finish line. It is considered an icon of Osaka and recently underwent an update where the historic neon lights were replaced by LED lights. The sign has been updated six times since its initial installation in 1935.
Like the Glico running man display, the Kuidaore Taro or Kuidaore Ningyo, as it is sometimes known (a mechanical drum playing clown) is an easily recognized icon of Dotonbori. It once stood in front of the now closed Kuidaore Restaurant providing the perfect photo opportunity for visitors to Osaka’s famous neighborhood. Kuidaore Taro was first placed in front of the restaurant in 1950 and remained there until after the restaurant’s closing in 2008. For a period of one year after the closing, it was loaned out for various events across the nation. When it was returned to Osaka in 2009, it found a permanent home in front of a large commercial complex, which stands near the former Kuidaore Restaurant location.
Other well-known signs in the area include the Kani Doraku Crab, a six and a half meter mechanical crab in front of the Kani Doraku Restaurant, which moves its arms and eyestalks, a squid that puffs steam and oni (demons) that are illuminated at night.
Dotonbori is a great place to visit if you are hungry, its streets are lined with countless places to eat and drink. The local specialties consist of takoyaki (battered balls filled with diced or minced octopus ) and okonomiyaki (a pancake like indulgence packed with pork, vegetables or seafood). Both items can be purchased fresh from street stands for only a few hundred yen. Another item, which Dotonbori is known for is fugu (blow fish). This poisonous and potentially lethal fish is served in many restaurants as a delicacy and if it isn’t prepared properly can result in severe illness or even death. However, this danger doesn’t stop the locals from eating it. Some of the restaurants which serve fugu on their menus display a giant blow fish outside their shop.
At night Dotonbori really comes alive with an amazing mixture of light and sound as thousands flock to the area to enjoy a bite to eat, sing a little karaoke, play video games or visit one of the many pachinko parlors. No trip to Osaka would be complete without experiencing this amazing place. Dotonbori is easily accessible by train via the Midosuji Line to Namba Station.