When I first planned my trip to Japan, Osaka was simply the point of arrival, a modern city that wouldn’t normally make the list. So, when I arrived, I didn’t think twice about jumping on the first train to Kyoto. However, on my way back to Europe, I had to spend a couple of days in Osaka due to a change in travel arrangements and this is when I found out that “airport town” was actually shopping heaven!
THE ARCADE SHOPPING EXPERIENCE
In the two days I spent in this vibrant city, I had fun exploring the neighbourhoods, eating the most amazing street food ever – Osaka is known as the nation kitchen for a reason – and discovering the magic of Osaka Arcades. What’s an arcade you may be asking yourself?
An arcade is actually a pretty clever notion. To give you an idea, it’s a similar concept to the Italian portico. It’s a maze of streets that are covered by a roof that protects from the elements. It’s a mix between an open-air market and a shopping-mall alley. It’s sheltered and off-limits to cars. Shops don’t necessarily need to have a window because they can extend their open display of goods right to the walking path, resulting in the most colourful and enticing market feel you can imagine.
There is so much I could say, but for now, here are my top four destination markets that I highly recommend for those wanting to enjoy a brief, yet authentic encounter with the heart and soul of Osaka – with its old merchant-town vibes. It has the greatest offering of food and drinks, fabrics, shops and restaurants. It’s unpretentious, outgoing, easy and oriented to the future.
Located beside Dontonbori, Shinsaibashi is known to be the best shopping district in Osaka. It’s an eight block long area that runs from the Shinsaibashi Bridge to Mido-Suji Avenue, the so-called Champs Elysées of the East because of the concentration of luxury brand stores. The high street, Shinsaibashi Shopping Street, is a 600 meter long arcaded street where little shops and trendy boutiques, luxury department stores and designers’ outlets are laid one after the other, providing an incredible mix of Western and Eastern products. Here you can find the latest Adidas trainers, a traditional Chinese medicine chemist, tea shops, and pretty much anything else in between.
This neighbourhood, stretching along the Dotonbori Canal, covers the area between the Dotonboribashi Bridge to the Nipponbashi Bridge and is known for its restaurants and neon lights which are considered the best of Asia! On the bridge, you actually get the feeling of being in a mini Time Square. The number of shopping arcades is countless and some of the best street food is being served at every corner. It’s no wonder that this area is often used in movies to depict Osaka.
For the best takoyaki (Osaka’s speciality octopus meatballs)
The best crab menu – KANIDORAKU 1-6-18 Dotombori, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0071, Osaka Prefecture, Japan
Baby Octopus-like lollipops – Asian street food is a cultural experience in itself
KUROMON ICHIBA MARKET – THE FOOD MARKET
If you want to shop food, there is no better address in town! And it doesn’t really matter if you have a place to cook or not. This is because most shops prepare delicious bites that can be enjoyed right at the stand, straight from the stove and still steaming. The market is in Chuo Ward and is nearly 200 years old. You will find approximately 170 shops, mostly groceries, butcheries, fishmongers and spice shops. The market is the daily pilgrimage of chefs and housewives. Tourists have made their way here too, but the market has not lost any of its charm or atmosphere.
Japanese cuisine is based on freshness and seasonality and the groceries stands are sooo interesting!
Pickled vegetables are a staple food in Japan, served with every meal. All sorts of vegetables and roots are seasoned and preserved to be eaten as pickles.
A variety of pickled veggies can be bought already packaged and ready to enjoy. Unfortunately, they need to be kept refrigerated. So, if you are planning to buy them, be sure to eat them before you travel home!
What I love about Japan is that you can taste anything before you buy. Nothing is sold in a closed box. Just go ahead and taste, there’s no better way to choose that which you prefer among the endless variety.
Fresh pickles, no need to refrigerate.
Snacking while shopping is a must when visiting this market. This is one reason why it’s not important to stay in a hotel with a kitchen. As you look around you can almost taste all the delicious items being sold.
Never eat before you go to the market. I promise, you will regret it!
Rice varieties on display.
If you have a sweet tooth, Japan will be a blissful voyage into unknown flavours.
SENNICHIMAE DOGAYASUJI SHOPPING STREET – THE KITCHENWARE MARKET
Near Namba station, this market is known as the Kitchen Street, the name translates into something like “cooking tools street”. It is a 150 meter long shopping arcade, similar to Tokyo’s Kappabashi, where you can find anything you may need or wish to have for your kitchen: pots and pans, donabe and takoyaki grills, plastic food and neon signs, paper lanterns and Noren split curtains, chopsticks and chopstick rests, rice makers and sake flasks, nabe hot pots and sushi plates, the best knives and bowls, cups and mugs…. You name it, it’s there and for a very reasonable price.
If you are a kitchen enthusiast, a food lover or as props obsessed as I am, I recommend a few hours here. The shops are crammed with goods and if you have the patience to look carefully, you can spot the most amazing ceramics and lacquerware for a bargain price!