Osaka generally is known for its nightlife, and in Osaka one of the best places to spend an evening is Dōtonbori. This single street draws both locals and tourists in their thousands to eat, drink and play, and has done so for centuries. First built in 1612 as part of a development programme in this part of the city that also saw the construction of the nearby canal of the same name, it was declared the entertainment district of Osaka in 1628 by the newly established Tokugawa Shogunate. Within 35 years the avenue offered as many as six Kabuki theatres and five Bunraku theatres, plus the unique Takeda Karakuri mechanical puppet theatre. Many restaurants and cafés sprung up to cater to the hoards of people who thronged here nightly.
But interest in these traditional forms of entertainment declined and with the interest, the theatres themselves. The five that were left at the time of the Second World War were all lost in the bombing raids. The restaurants, bars and cafės however remain. In Japan, Osaka is famed for its cuisine, and Dōtonbori is the main destination for food travel in Osaka. You can get anything here, from local specialities through fast food to high-quality meat and fish.
But even if you’re not coming to eat (though we did!), it is worth a visit for an evening stroll of people-watching and night photography. Many of the establishments have become known for their extravagantly large decorative features that aim to lure diners, such as the giant crab of Kani Doraku – see photo two. I also spotted giant sushi (photo three, on the left), a huge dragon (photo four) and a rather fierce looking chef (photo five). There are neon lights everywhere and a real buzz in the air from all the people out to enjoy themselves. This is definitely a great place to see Japan at play!
Next tip: a local delicacy
The energy level amps up one the neon lights turn on at Dotombori. A cross section of Japanese society and visitors converge in this popular area - to dine, drink, window shop, gawk and simply chill out.
Random bar/cafe in Osaka. About 10 minutes NW of Dotonbori, there is Cafe Absinthe, with a really tasty selection of Mediterranean food. The interesting allure of this bar is it's absinthe. With an assortment of 18 types from throughout Europe, they will undoubtedly have something new to try. The bartender was also really good in his selection of absinthe cocktails for our night there.
Ola is my favourite place to go to escape from the standard Shinsaibashi bar circuit. It's a tiny bar (6 people will fill it!) but the staff and (astonishingly loyal) regulars give it a great atmosphere.
Prices for drinks are about average for the area and they offer a wide range of tequilas if you want to give your night a kick. Sen-san also whips up some great Mexican food if you're feeling peckish.
The first Irish bar to open in Japan has now been going strong for 15 years. Check out the paint work - it's so old it's becoming antique ;)
Murphys is the traditional starting point for a Saturday 'Osaka All Nighter' and is usually lively across the weekend, staying open til around 3-4 am on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The bar has a good selection of food and drink and also offers free internet access with a purchase. There are 4 TV screens showing live Premiership football, international rugby and super 12s and a wide range of music (which is usually overlooked in favour of U2!).
Keep your eye out for the different promotions and events that are offered throughout the week. For example, every friday sees 400 yen cocktails for the ladies, while wednesday evenings have live performances from a Japanese Irish band.
Dress Code: England shirts are de riguer. Nah...wear what yer like, it's a pub....
Playpen is one of the wise old heads on the Shinsaibashi bar circuit and continues to draw in the crowds in their masses over the weekends. It still proves popular with the Gaijin community and younger Japanese revellers alike.
The bar neatly combines a comfortable seated area for those who want to chat and drink with a dance floor for the disco devas, while offers a wide range of music (live djs) and drinks and a set of staff who are always looking to party!
A word of warning though...it can become uncomfortably full at times, especially on saturday nights - and has been known to feel 'meat market-esque,' on occasion. Being in the basement, it always gets very hot. But despite this, it's usually a fun drop in on a night out in the area.
Dress Code: Slip on those dancing shoes...
A tiny place with a good atmosphere and a reasonable range of music (which is louder outside than in).
American Beauty is ideal for a beer and a natter with a couple of mates or the friendly bar staff. Just be wary of the dangerously strong Long Islands!
Dress Code: Come one, come all. Send us your poor, your unwashed and unwanted....for we are the land of the free.
Cinquecentos (or simply "cinqs") is one of the most popular new bars in the Dotombori/Shinsaibashi area.
Open 7 days a week until at least 5 am everyday, a simple marketing ploy of "everything 500 Yen" sees the bar consistently full and lively.
A martini bar by design, they offer a full range of martinis, cocktails and spirits and beer as well as a large selection of snack foods. All at one simple price.
A standard drop in on any bar crawl around the area, but the true alcoholics should get there early and attempt the cinquecentos challenge. 11 drinks to win a t-shirt.
It's your round I think...
Dress Code: Anything goes.
Dotombori entertainment district is a great place to spend an evening strolled under the neon lights
Think Dotomburi is exciting by day? Wait til you see it in the evening, all glammed up.
Very colourful, crowded, lively, invigorating.
Dress Code: Who cares - come in your yukata if you want to.