Japan’s spirited third city
Tokyo may be known for its neon and nightlife but Osaka has its own slice of madness -- and it is called Dotombori. All the action in this southern district concentrates around the Dotombori canal, Dotombori street and on the Ebisubashi bridge. It is best explored on a weekend once the sun goes down, when it takes on a B-grade horror movie atmosphere with giant mechanical moving crabs, oversized hot dogs, puffer fish and cows hanging overhead from buildings among flashing neon and coloured billboards. On ground level, crowds wander the strip taking snaps of convincing plastic food models in front of restaurants, hawkers squeal about meal deals and spiky bleached-blonde Japanese men in suits attempt to woo young women to the “host” bars nearby (male versions of the hostess bar). Come here to take it all in, grab a cheap ramen (noodle dish in broth) from the open-air 24-hour Kinryu Ramen street stall (Dotombori 1-7-26; 06-6211-3999; you can’t miss the giant dragons on the roof) and people-watch for hours.
Beer and baseball
Two things close to many Osakans’ hearts, and essential pursuits for any stopover in this town, are beer and baseball. The summer season from June to September sees beer gardens popping up all over the city, typically located on rooftops of hotel buildings like the Ramada and department stores like Hanshin. Usually the offer is all you can drink (nomihodai) (beer and spirits, but most opt for large frothy lagers) and eat (tabehodai) for about 3,500 yen – guaranteeing a rowdy night out.
Another good spot for experiencing the city’s spirit is at a baseball game during the March to October season where locals are at the height of their boisterousness. The majority of Osakans are Hanshin Tiger fans and are known as the country’s most dedicated and fanatical fans. Catch baseball fever at a game at Koshien stadium, a 20-minute train ride from Osaka on the Kobe line, and hang out with fans amid of barrage of chants, trumpets, Tigers flags waving in the air and thousands of balloons being released at the seventh inning.