The lively Dotonbori entertainment district is Osaka’s most famous tourist destination, famous for its bright neon lights, quirky signage, and a huge variety of restaurants and bars. The name “Dotonbori” refers to both the Dotonbori Canal and Dotonbori Street, which runs parallel to the south bank of the canal. It is one of the most colorful areas in Osaka and a must see when traveling in the Kansai region.
The history of this area dates back to 1612 when a merchant named Yasui Doton invested all of his personal capital in an ambitious local development project. Doton’s plan was to divert and expand the Umezu River into a new waterway that would link the local canal network with the Kizugawa River. Unfortunately, Doton’s project was interrupted by the war and he himself was assassinated during the siege of Osaka in 1615. That same year, Doton’s cousins completed their work and in his memory the new canal was named Dotonbori or ‘Canal Doton. ‘
The new canal brought with it an avalanche of commerce and, from 1626, the area began to flourish as an Entertainment District as well after theater companies and playhouses began moving to the area on the south bank of the canal. At the same time, the north bank of the canal began to flourish with restaurants and teahouses that provided food, drink, and entertainment to theatergoers after they left performances.
Today Dotonbori’s theatrical culture is very much in decline. In World War II, the bombings destroyed all the theaters except Shochikuza. However, there are still a number of small comedy clubs in the area and the Shochikuza continues to host classic kabuki, opera, modern dramas, and musicals. However, these days, Dotonbori is better known as a gastronomic wonderland filled with restaurants, street food stalls, and bars. Osaka’s obsession with food is often summed up by the expression “kuidaore” which is generally interpreted as “eat till you drop” but actually means spending so much on food that you fall into financial ruin.
Dotonbori is said to be the best place in Osaka to experience this extreme love of Kuidaore-style food. The most famous restaurants in Dotonbori include the following:
Hariju has been serving Japanese beef shabu shabu and sukiyaki in Dotombori since 1948. Zubora-ya It is a restaurant specialized in fugu or puffer fish. Kukuru It is a takoyaki octopus meatball shop. Kushikatsu Daruma has been serving fried kebabs with skewers of meat, fish, and vegetables since 1929. Kani Douraku It is a super popular crab restaurant. Kani Douraku It is easily recognized by the giant crab on the move in your shop, but if you want to eat there it is a good idea to reserve a table in advance, as the wait time can be up to 3 hours. Dotonbori It is famous for its eye-catching posters and billboards featuring a giant puffer fish, octopus, clown, Kani Douraku crab vying for your attention and creating an amusement park atmosphere. However, of all these signs, the most famous is that of the Glico corridor over the Ebisubashi Bridge.
An advertisement for Glico sweets, the 20 meter high and 10 meter wide poster shows a man running on a blue track with his arms raised in victory. This is actually the sixth version of the sign that was last renovated with LED lighting in 2014. However, the first Glico sign was installed here in 1935 and over the years it has become a much loved landmark of the Minami area. from Osaka. In fact, the Glico corridor and, the Ebisubashi bridge below it, is the focal point of Dotonbori. It is a popular meeting place, an essential photo stop for tourists, and the site of wild celebrations when local sports teams are victorious.
Dotonbori is a must see while in Osaka. It’s fun, quirky, and full of delicious dishes to enjoy.