A colorful sign reading Dotonbori at the entrance to the area

Dotonbori: Osaka's Vibrant Foodie Paradise

As we’ve said over and over again, Osaka is an amazing place for food. And although you can find good food all over the prefecture and Osaka City, one vibrant area acts as a foodie’s paradise. That area is Dotonbori and it’s packed with restaurants and shops full of both Osaka originals and dishes from all over Japan.

Read on to learn all about Dotonbori, its food specialties, its attractions and its history—all from our team living and working in Osaka!

What is Dotonbori?

Dotonbori canal and all of its shops during the day as a boat travels the canal
Dotonbori, for most Osakans, refers to both the massive road of shops and the canal that runs through it. Image via Unsplash

Dotonbori is an area located within the Namba district of Osaka’s Chuo Ward and is a very popular tourist destination. What makes it so popular is the iconic canal, the night atmosphere, nightlife, and most importantly, its massive selection of restaurants. The amount of restaurants in the area make this place a foodie’s paradise.

The restaurants in the area also make this great for tabearuki. Tabearuki is when people go to different shops, have some food and drinks and go on to the next shop. People often meet up with their friends and do this in order to have all of their favorites. In extreme cases, this turns into kuidaore, or eating yourself broke, a common occurrence in Osaka.

Many bright lights and signs shine as people walk down Dotonbori Street
While we love this area during the day, Dotonbori lights up and livens up when the sun goes down. Image via Unsplash

The Dotonbori Canal has two bridges, Dotonboribashi and Nipponbashi Bridges, that connect either side of the canal and provide great photo opportunities. Speaking of photo opportunities, the canal and streets are also lined with tons of both illuminated signs and 3D signs. While their purpose is to point out the tasty restaurants waiting to serve you, they double as backdrops for selfies or fun photos.

It also has a history as an entertainment district with traditional Japanese performance arts thriving in that area. These days, there is only one major theater, but it’s still a famous venue in Japan.

What to Eat in Dotonbori

Osaka is a foodie town and these items barely scratch the surface of all the amazing food offered in this area.

Shabu Shabu & Sukiyaki

A pot of sukiyaki boils on a table with meat floating at the top
This dish is great for a cold day, but tasty enough to just dig into even when it's warm! Image via Instagram (@nambamarutto_gourmet)

Shabu shabu and sukiyaki are two delicious hotpot dishes that are perfect for colder weather and for a small group of people. These dishes involves cooking meat and vegetables in a hotpot of soup or sauce. The great thing about Osaka is its proximity to Kobe, famous for its beef. That means that Dotonbori is a great spot to eat beautifully marbled Wagyu beef in sukiyaki or shabu shabu form.  

Fugu

A spread of fugu sashimi, hotpot and fugu roe on a table
Fugu is known to be extremely delicious, but it might be better suited to more adventurous foodies. Image via Instagram (@hotelgajoentokyo)

We’ve talked about fugu here on this blog, so we won’t bore you with the details. Just so you know, fugu is pufferfish and is very poisonous to humans. However, cities all over Japan have trained and certified chefs who know how to prepare, cut and cook fugu in a way that is both safe and delicious. Osaka, Dotonbori in particular, actually has several shops where you can enjoy this tasty, adventurous delicacy as sashimi, shabu shabu, fried and more.

Kushikatsu

Fried sausages, vegetables and more sit on a metal tray
Who doesn't love fried food on a stick? Image via Instagram (@momonomamo)

Kushikatsu is an Osaka specialty, so of course this foodie paradise would include it. This tasty dish sees plenty of vegetables and meat skewered onto a bamboo stick and then deep-fried. This dish is especially popular for folks looking to enjoy some Osaka food while drinking. Plus, it’s affordable, making it great for doing kuidaore on a budget.

Crab

A giant mechanical crab sits above a restaurant
This crab restaurant has made sure that it'll stand out with a giant moving crab over the shop. Image via Unsplash

Although Osaka itself isn’t famous for crab, there are shops in Osaka that are. Kani Doraku is the more famous, having three locations in the area and tons of interesting crab dishes. Their original location stands out thanks to the giant moving crab sign above the shop. Of course, there are others, but they probably have a hard time competing with the literal giant crab.

Ramen

A bowl of ramen with chashu pork, egg and more from a Dotonbori shop
With Osaka's high standard for food, it's no wonder that the city is full of amazing ramen shops.

Our favorite! Ramen is all over Japan, and Osaka is no different. While Osaka doesn’t necessarily have its own regional ramen variety, the standard for food, including ramen, is very high. From the ramen shop with the green dragon on top and a world-renowned shio (salt) ramen shop to the new Osaka Ramen Building, there’s plenty of options in this area.

Takoyaki

A hand holds takoyaki in front of a Dotonbori shop with a giant takoyaki over it
Takoyaki is great because it cooks quickly, meaning most shops will cook it nice and hot right on the spot for you. Image via Instagram (@rentarokun_2nd)

Takoyaki is one of Japan’s most popular street foods and another Osaka original. These tasty octopus dumplings are all over Dotonbori with plenty of grand signs showing you where they are. You can enjoy both typical takoyaki and more gourmet options like the ones served at Creo-Ru on Dotonbori.

Okonomiyaki

A plate of Okonomiyaki cut up with yakisoba on the bottom
With a variety of shops offering tons of toppings and fillings, you're bound to find an okonomiyaki place worth trying here. Image via Unsplash

Okonomiyaki is another Osaka classic that we love. This dish between a pancake and a pizza is also available all over the canal area, with different toppings and fillings at each shop. Just make sure not to fill up too much if you’re doing kuidaore.

Kitsune Udon

Chopsticks hold up a slab of fried tofu showing the udon underneath
If you want noodles with a traditional Japanese feel, try out this tasty dish in Dotonbori. Image via Instagram (@hokurikuguuru.etochin)

Osaka is also famous as the birthplace of kitsune udon, an amazing dish of fried tofu over a delicious bowl of udon. Dotonbori Imai's main shop is particularly popular for those who frequent Dotonbori. This shop has been around since 1946 and sticks out with its traditional-style building and the tree growing in the middle of this very urban area. 

What to See in Dotonbori

Dotonbori has plenty to eat, but it also has plenty to see. Here are some of the spots we have a soft spot for.

Glico Man

Many signs illuminate Dotonbori Street with Glico Man in the background
Glico is best known for the iconic Pocky snack. However, the Glico Man (on the right) runs through the mind of all who visit this area. Image via Unsplash

The most famous symbol of Dotonbori is the famous Glico Man. Glico is one of Japan’s largest confectionary companies and it has a massive, bright sign that has been here since 1935. The running man on the sign is now an unofficial mascot of the company and the perfect selfie partner for your Osaka travels. If you don’t get a Glico Man photo, did you really even go to Dotonbori?

3D Signs

A giant octopus lantern hangs from a building advertizing takoyaki
These signs don't just advertise. They also add to the distinct Osaka aesthetic that's hard to find anywhere else. Image via Unsplash

What’s so special about a sign? Well, Osaka is a city of big personality, so the 3D signs of this entertainment area have to be big too. These signs are huge and jut out over their establishments, grabbing the attention of people walking down the street. You can see things like giant crabs, giant Takoyaki and even a giant dragon.

Ebisu Tower

It might not be quite as famous as Hep-5’s Ferris wheel, but Ebisu Tower’s Ferris wheel is plenty of fun. Ebisu Tower also doubles as a big and very vibrant branch of the shopping experience that is Don Quixote. It even features a 3-D sign of the Don Quixote mascot and Ebisu, the god of commerce. This Ferris wheel is 77 meters tall and provides a fun view of the area. Also, because of its appearance, many people don’t actually know it’s a Ferris wheel, so it’s not as crowded as Hep-5.

Shochikuza Theater

The area of Dotonbori used to be full of theaters for traditional Japanese arts, but Shochikuza is the only major theater still standing. This theater was built way back in 1923 as a Western-style theater that specialized in Kabuki. Kabuki isn’t for everyone, but watching a Kabuki show is something you should at least try once, with male actors in incredible makeup and costume. The style of story-telling is truly unique, and this venue is a grand place to enjoy it. Just know that they don’t offer interpretation, so if you don’t speak Japanese, you’ll have to rely on the English brochure for an outline of the show. Or you can just take photos outside.

Hozenji Yokocho

Hozenji Yokocho is an 80-meter stretch of cobblestone alleyway, and like Japan’s other famous yokochos, it offers plenty of tasty food experiences. Hozenji Yokocho offers a more relaxed atmosphere than the rest of Dotonbori as well as plenty of food shops. For more casual food, okonomiyaki and kushikatsu are perfect. For a relaxed yet upscale experience, try one of the Kappo cuisine restaurants lining the street. You can also enjoy Hozenji Temple, located on this street.

River Cruise

A boat of people on the Dotonbori Canal taking photos of Glico Man
This attraction is quite popular at night for its amazing photo opportunities. Image via Unsplash

This river cruise is a quick and easy way to enjoy views of Dotonbori from the canal itself. This river cruise is actually only 20 minutes and happens twice every hour. That makes it easy to fit into your schedule and is great as a quick start to your Dotonbori experience.

History of Dotonbori

A Meiji era phto of Dotonbori, busy with many people walking the dirt road
Dotonbori actually has a long and interesting history as an entertainment district. This photo dates back to the mid-Meiji era. Image via Dotonbori Official Website

The history of this area dates back to 1612, when Nariyasu Doton, a local canal administrator began constructing the canal. However, Doton died in 1615 during Siege of Osaka, a battle between the Tokugawa shogunate and regional lord Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Doton was unfortunately fighting on the losing side (Toyotomi’s), but the canal was still named Dotonbori after Nariyasu Doton. In 1621, the Tokugawa Shogunate introduced urban planning and turned Dotonbori into an entertainment district.

An alternate story exists saying that a local entrepreneur, Yasui Doton, was responsible for the canal. He also died during the siege, with his cousin finishing it in 1615 instead. However, there was an ownership dispute between the Yasui family and the government, known as the 1965 Dotonbori Trial. During the trial, the courts observed the Yasui family records all the way back and found out something interesting.

Yasui Doton never existed, despite there being a statue for him since 1915. For clarification, the Yasui family does exist. Yasui Kuhe, a real human, was really important in Dotonbori’s development after it was build. He invited playhouses and performance tents to the area and bringing theater to the entertainment district.

Dotonbori in 1929 with tons of people in kimonos or suits walking in front of the Nakaza Theater
Thanks to the theaters, this area became a bustling area with tons of people looking to appreciate the arts even back in 1929. Image via Dotonbori Official Website

At one point, this street had 11 theaters just for traditional arts like Kabuki and Bunraku. Savvy entrepreneurs created restaurants and teahouses all over the area to serve all of the tourists coming to see the shows here.

However, the popularity of traditional theater started to decline and several theaters closed, and World War 2 saw the rest of them destroyed (except for Shochikuza). In the 1960s, the area was redeveloped, taking the street from a theater spot to the foodie’s dream we know today!

Tons of people walk under the bright lights of Dotonbori street
The theaters may be mostly gone, but the shops, restaurants and nightlife still make this place popular for many. Image via Unsplash

And that’s our guide to Osaka’s famous Dotonbori area! It really is an amazing place to enjoy some good food and good times during your next trip to Osaka. Is there anything else you want to know about Dotonbori? Let us know in the comments and we’ll try to get back to you!

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