Friday, October 22, 2010

Dotonbori or Bust...

2nd November 2006 - After our visit to Sumiyoshi Taisha, we made our way back into the city... our first stop was Amerika mura. And you might think that with a name like that, we were there to enjoy a vibrant pop culture. And you'd be partly right. It's great walking around Amerika Mura... and yes, it's reputably the centre of youth culture in Osaka... great cafe's, great fashion shops (OK, I don't even pretend to be fashionable, but my wife is a little more so inclined) - and it's great even for the ambience alone.

It was also - and I feel somewhat embarrassed to say it - the location of one of the best Takoyaki stalls in Osaka... possibly Japan... maybe even the world. Beyond that, the universe is a thin veil of atmosphere away. The shop is known as Kougaryu, and was highly recommended by my brother-in-law (H-kun)... but is apparently also quite famous in it's own right... even having a write-up in the NY Times of all things...Note: Takoyaki is predominantly pieces of octopus in a batter (made up of lots of goodies) that's been deep fried; the thing on top is Katsuobushi... (often called bonito)... that is amazing when it heats up (wriggles around like it's still alive).

Google Streetview of Kougaryu in Amerikamura
Now - once again.. imagine what life would be like for a homesick Japanese (recently pregnant) bride having returned home after too long away, and visiting world famous eating establishments - without being able to taste a thing. If the camera that took the photo below had turned around at the moment, I suspect a lone tear would have been making a silent protest as it made it's way down T-chan's cheek.

So how was the Takoyaki? Actually, it was... not surprisingly... very yummy. It was also very hot. I suspect I cooked off several layers of skin from the inside of my mouth eating these little babies. The good thing about this shop is that whilst it has no seats, it's located just across from the park (check here for a better map) that acts as one of the main gathering places in Amerika mura...

Not far away to the east is Shinsai-bashi Suji... one of the main shopping areas in Osaka... and a good place to get lost. However, there is no shortage of other people who are likewise lost, so it's quite convenient for meeting people who share some of your interests.

To the south, about 600-700m, is another of the famous locales in Osaka.... Dōtonbori (pronounced Dotombori). This area is named after the street that runs down the canal by the same name. It's origins apparently (according to Wikipedia) stem from a local entrepreneur by the name Dōton Yasui... hehehe... in Japanese, yasui can mean cheap... but it's also a surname. He started the project to artificially extend one fo the local rivers as a way of developing commerce traffic.. but died in the Siege of Osaka-jo (hint... we might be seeing that sometime soon) in 1615. It then was turned into one of the pleasure/cultural districts. Anyhow, now the street is famous for it's canal... but only at night.

Dōtonbori Canal
Dōtonbori is indeed best enjoyed as the sun sets, and the neon rises. It's often been described in terms of the Blade-Runneresque street cacophony of light, sound, people and cultures. However, it's best not to go there with any pre-conceptions. It's a great place to grab a meal (and there's a lot of competition out there). More importantly, it's a nice place to enjoy a quintessential Japanese nightscape.

Ebisu- why are you so happy? Ah that's right, coz your rolling in the money. Fair enough. T-chan looks around for somewhere to eat. Sometimes, you can have too many options....

After much though, and considering T-chan's pregancy... we decided to eat a plate of meat. yakiniku style. Hmmm... grilled meat.... Yummy (appologies to any vegetarians out there...)

There are a few sights that greet the visitor in Dōtonbori... and the running Glico man is one of the most famous. It's an advertisement for... isn't it obvious... candy. And it's been shining it's sweet light upon the canal since 1935.

And now we come to the moment in any trip where we need to pause, and reflect on those that have passed before us - but are no longer with us. Kuidaore Taro. Well - he's not quite gone for good... but it was a close run thing. Now Osaka is known for kuidaore... the act of gorging yourself silly, and generally falling over dead... and this somehow came to be symbolised by good ol' Kuidaore Taro who drummed his mechanical drums out the front of a local tourist trap restaurant known as Cuidaore - a restuarant that is now defunct (for good reason, it's food sucked). An ex-restaurant.

Still Kuidaore Taro came to be one of the symbols of Osaka; patiently drumming whilst horde after horde of tourists and clown-fetishists alike stopped to have their photo taken with the icon.
Kuidaore Taro... and another clown

As the restaurant to which he belonged (but had long since outgrown) finally closed it's doors in the late 2000's... there was a good chance that our Dorian Gray-like bespeckled clown was going to find himself destitute and on the street, selling himself instead of a second-rate restaurant. Times were looking hard indeed. Thankfully, the city of Osaka came to it's senses (and found enough cash to pay the likely exorbitant asking price) to relocate Kuidaore Taro to a healthier home. So if you were in the market for a mechanical clown (who, let's face it would have been up for anything) then you've unfortunately missed your chance.

Not far away is an amazing Don Quijote store- or Donki for short. This is a discount chain store that sells a lot of different things. Yes.. a lot of crap... but also a lot of interesting things at a good price. In this case, the thing that really defines the shop (and I think that I mean this literally) is the Ebisu Ferris Wheel that actually does physically define the shop. We saw the god Ebisu above - but not sure why he's come to be installed as a Ferris Wheel. And yes... the 32 gondolas do actually go around - and do take passengers.

And with that, we bid "fare ye well" to Dōtonbori, with it's crazy night-lights, it's Canal to no-where in particular, and it's overall vibe and pulse.  It was fun whilst it lasted... but now we're off to sleep... our last night in Japan for this trip.

Sweet dreams... and don't forget to pay the electricity bill.
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