Osaka is Japan’s third largest city, and at the heart of Osaka is Dotonbori. This is the only area of Osaka that you absolutely have to visit. I don’t even have a to-do list for Dotonbori, I loved it so much. Dotonbori has been Osaka’s entertainment district since the 16th century and it only gets better with time. Its lights, lively nightlife and mouth-watering dishes attract thousands of visitors every day. Here are the best things to do in Dotonbori, Osaka.
An impressive array of giant billboards and neon lights line the streets. The tantalizing smells of street food vendors are present on every corner. This is the best place to eat in Osaka and you really won’t be disappointed. Dotonbori can be visited in the evening and on foot.
Dotonbori runs along the Dotonbori Canal from Dotonboribashi Bridge to Nipponbashi Bridge in the city’s Namba district. The entire area spans about 8 blocks. Come hungry as there is food everywhere you look in Dotonbori. A future article will guide you through all the food available – from street food to elegant riverside restaurants, Dotonbori has it all!
How to get to Dotonbori:
If your hotel is not in Dotonbori or you are visiting Osaka for the day, it is still very easy to get there. If you have a JR Pass, go to JR Namba Station (Yamatoji Line) and it’s about a 5-minute walk. JR Namba Station is accessible from Shin-Osaka Station. Read my guide to using the JR Pass here. If you’re worried about how to use the train in Japan, don’t be – it’s very easy! You can also take a taxi or an Uber to from any place from Osaka at a reasonable price.
Here is your guide to things to do in Dotonbori:
This is something that might seem a little weird if you don’t know the story. What’s wrong with a neon running man? Well, it’s the symbol of Osaka – that’s why it’s so important. The original sign was placed in 1935 and was not neon. In 2014, the Glico man was replaced by an LED screen. Join the party and take a photo with both hands up to show how much you love Osaka.
Shopping in Doton Bori
What’s an entertainment district without shopping? From independent local businesses to the multi-storey Don Quijote store, shopping in Dotonbori is like nothing else. You can find something for everyone – from kawaii souvenirs to traditional Japanese snacks to clothes! Get lost in the hustle and bustle of the crowd and stores is one of the best things to do in Dotonbori.
The Shotengai Mall is about 600 meters long and runs north to south across the Ebisubashi Bridge (under which you pass on the cruise!).
Visit the Kamigata Ukiyo-e Museum to experience traditional culture.
Ukiyo-e is a very popular type of Japanese art in the 17th and 19th centuries. Art was produced by woodcuts and paintings. The subject of the art included female beauties, sumo wrestlers, and scenes from history. In this museum, you can walk among the Ukiyo-e of the Edo era. You can even join a hands-on experiment and try to make your own!
Americamure & Triangle Park
The only “American” thing about this place is its name and the Statue of Liberty replica. This area is not really designated. Here you will find the latest clothing trends and vintage stores next to each other. It used to be focused on importing Western-style clothing, but today you’ll find alternative clothing and funky fashion. Triangle Park is named after the concrete triangle located in the middle of Shinsaibashi. The park has been a hangout for the alternative crowd and the best place to research fashion trends.
Hozenji Yokocho Lane
A quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of Dotonbori, this lane is like stepping back in time. Discover what Osaka was like hundreds of years ago. Stroll down the alley and enjoy the little shops and cafes that serve traditional Japanese food.
Although the alley is fun to explore on its own, you have to keep walking down the alley until you see this temple. One thing you will quickly learn in Japan is that there are temples in even the most unlikely places. The temple was built in 1637 and honors Fudo Myoo, one of the Five Guardians of Buddhism. Make a wish for good luck by sprinkling water on the statue of Fudo Myoo. If you are heading to Dotonbori a little early, this place should be your first stop as the lanterns light up a little before sunset giving a peaceful glow. There is also a Daruma Kushikatsu near the temple so you can start tasting Dotonbori’s delicious dishes.
Take a cruise on the Tonbori River
There are two options for a river cruise in Dotonbori. A 20 minute tour with a tour guide or a 40 minute tour with a live jazz performance. We opted for the tour to learn a bit more about Dotonbori. Our guide was very knowledgeable as he has lived in Osaka for most of his life. You can buy tickets at the pier or here for just 1000 yen ($10).
Look up, Dotonbori has more neon signs than Times Square.
This is one of the easiest things to do in Dotonbori. You also don’t want to miss everything that’s happening above you! Not only will you see the neon lights, but you’ll also see lots of interesting signs, like a giant singing octopus, a big hand holding sushi, or the famous Kani Doraku moving crab billboard!