For shame if you come to Osaka only for Universal Studios Japan. With fantastical street scenes and landscapes worthy of a studio backlot awaiting you in Namba, there is no need to employ the help of Hollywood to tweak your reality. Namba is conveniently located fifteen minutes by subway from nearly anywhere in central Osaka, and roughly forty years back in time at its periphery. No admission fee or queues either!
Exit stage right
Walking north along the covered shopping street from Namba Station, within a few minutes you will come upon 551 Horai (pictured above) on your left. 551 Horai is an Osaka institution known for its Chinese dumplings and stuffed buns. Pick up a tasty treat or two either for later on or for munching on the go, then head east down the covered shopping street to the right.
Not a bar per se, but a place to imbibe
You have left the main shopping street, and are heading into the seamier – but still very safe – side of Namba. A commemorative drink is in order, and is at your fingertips at the street-side outdoor bar. You will have no language impediment issues when ordering a drink, since they all come out of vending machines! (Tip: Any beer-like beverage that costs less than 200 JPY (1.6 USD) is not beer, it is malt liquor.) Japan has no “open container” laws, so you can circumspectly sip here, or continue the walking tour as you enjoy your beverage.
The streets are getting narrower, and more flavorful too
Keep walking east, and when the covered road ends, turn right onto another covered street, then left onto one more covered street. Walking straight, about fifty meters after that shopping street becomes al fresco, you will see a narrow street at right as pictured above. Take a gander at and then a slink down this retro corridor of tiny bars and restaurants. Note the barely post-war architecture and amusing signage. Loaded with character, come nighttime these establishments will also be loaded with regulars.
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The granddaddy of Namba bar complexes, Misono
The year is 1956, and Osaka, like other parts of Japan, is coming back strong from war-time devastation. Enter: Misono. A gleaming tower of modernity, it most certainly once was. Now, it is a living museum. Before ascending the grand dame of a water feature-enhanced, spiraling ramp up to the second floor, be sure to observe all the architectural elements that – all facetiousness aside – make this pleasure palace such an enduring and endearing landmark. The period iron work is fabulous, as is the signage in general. The water features transcend kitsch. The building’s gargantuan proportions house everything from a 500 person+ capacity dinner party space to a live music hall, massage parlors, and, of most likely foremost interest to the casual tourist, an arcade of bars and clubs running a ring around the second floor. Even in daytime you can walk up the fawned-over ramp to the second floor and have a look. At least a couple of these bars are oriented towards foreigners, but even the others are often accessible.
Rinse and repeat
For the benefit of visual clarity and anthropological objectivity, this tour has been presented as it exists during the day. For an altogether different delving, consider coming back again at night, walking the lanes, and perhaps even entering one of these bars that make Namba’s backstreets so special.
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