Namba (難波) is Osaka’s unapologetically raucous manifestation of its residents’ ardor for things that make life colorful. It is the heart of the southern nexus of activity in the city, the counterweight to Umeda in the north. It is a dense web of establishments for eating, drinking, shopping and entertainment, including and reaching far beyond the popular tourist stop Dōtonbori-dōri, making it both a lively daytime destination and the city’s top nightlife district. Moreover, all of this is nestled among multiple train stations on the municipal subway and regional trains that terminate at Namba Station, the main hub in this part of Osaka.
This post is a focused look at just one slice of this neighborhood, its many covered pedestrian shopping arcades, or shōtengai. I knew of a few of these from a previous visit and searched for more using Google Maps satellite images and Street View. No doubt there are more of them, though this should hopefully be a good representative sample of the larger ones.
Ebisubashisuji Shōtengai (戎橋筋商店街) continues south along the same vertical path as the Shinsaibashisuji Shōtengai, beginning on the opposite side of Dōtonbori-dōri and completing the route to Namba Station and the Takashimaya department store and headquarters. When I visited, the cover was undergoing renovation along its entire length. Scaffolding blocking the natural light from above gave the arcade a cave-like feeling.
The vendor mix is fairly eclectic. Pharmacies, mobile phone distributors and konbini sit alongside artisan bakers, low-end and mid-grade clothing shops, fast food, and even a karaoke parlor.
Sennichimae-dōri separates this shōtengai into north and south segments, but a wide zebra-stripe crossing and traffic signal facilitates easy crossing.
You can peer down the intersecting Namba Center-gai Shōtengai, which we’ll return to after completing Ebisubashisuji.
Just outside the southern mouth is one of the many entrances to the Namba Station underground concourse. Takashimaya is just beyond, on the other side of the street.
Official website: http://www.ebisubashi.or.jp/
Namba Hon-dōri (難波本通) is a very short spur running to the west from Ebisubashisuji. Though a covered arcade, it doesn’t refer to itself as a shōtengai in signage.
The short strip is predominately DVD shops and restaurants.
And that’s it!
Namba Center-gai Shotengai
From Namba Hon-dōri, cross over Ebisubashi and continue into the Namba Center-gai Shōtengai (難波センター街商店街).
Other than this cloth seller Toraya and a handful of other specialty shops, this arcade is mostly fast food and casual dining.
Official website: http://www.nambacentergai.jp/
Minami Sennichimae Shotenkai
The east end of Namba Center-gai empties into Minami Sennichimae Shōtenkai (ミナミ千日前商店会), though here I’ve walked up to the north entrance to begin the walk.
The word shōtengai (商店街) refers to the actual street where vendors are located. Shōtenkai (商店会) usually refers to the business owner’s association, the body that makes collective decisions about the upkeep and promotion of the arcade. However, the distinction between the two is sometimes blurred, as an arcade may use shōtenkai in its public name, or use shōtengai to refer to the street itself but shōtenkai when referring to the association and on signage associated with events it sponsors. This occasionally leads to some confusion, even among Japanese speakers, which I noted in other bloggers’ writings on this particular arcade. I’ve tried my best to go with whatever name seems to be suggested by a preponderance of evidence. In this case, although the Minami Sennichimae official website uses shōtengai in the arcade name, shōtenkai is what appears in all of the signage actually there.
Minami Sennichimae is bright and loud, predominately entertainment establishments like video arcades, pachinko parlors, karaoke and a cinema.
Official website: http://m-sennichimae.com/
At the south end of Minami Sennichimae there are three possible directions to take. Turning east puts you in to the Namba Sennichimae-dōri (なんば千日前通).
The arcade is short and open on one side of the lane, but has quite a few unique restaurants that are a step or two up from the usual fare.
The street continues as an open air shōtengai headed out to Nipponbashi.
Namba Nankai-dori Shotenkai
Doubling back to the intersection and taking the west leg, you enter Namba Nankai-dōri Shōtenkai (なんば南海通商店会).
This arcade is also food-oriented, with take-away windows, chains and nicer sit-downs.
Amidst the neon and backlit signs, this newsstand/bookstore with its yellowing awning is a refreshing throwback to the later Shōwa period.
Looking out from the Takashimaya department store, across the wide pedestrian crossing and entrances to Ebisubashisuji and Nankai-dōri
Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shotengai
Returning back through the arcade to the previous intersection, we take the final route south, toward Sennichimae Doguyasuji Shōtengai (千日前道具屋筋商店街). The approach is not a formal arcade, but it is a pedestrian street, and inviting shopfronts on the large buildings that create the valley continue the spirit of the multiple shōtengai it links. In this part of Osaka, no urban space is left to waste.
Dogayasuji is roughly half the width of most of the previous arcades. Without the big red “道”, it might be mistaken for an alley.
Doguyasuji specializes in kitchenware and restaurant supply. If you need noodle strainers, soup density gauges, noren and lanterns, or industrial sized pressure cookers, this is your place.
Official website: http://www.doguyasuji.or.jp/
The southern entrance to Aiaibashisuji Shōtengai (相合橋筋商店街) is back up on the north side of Sennichimae-dōri.
Considering that it connects with the always-switched-on Dōtonbori-dōri, I had kind of expected there to be a bit more activity come evening time. Perhaps the rain and cool temperatures had kept people indoors. Though there were some people in the restaurants and bars, the arcade itself was all but deserted.
Though this photowalk mainly stuck to activity under the cover of the arcades, often the view down the side streets is equally rich in visual texture.
Our final leg for the evening takes us along a stretch of Dōtonbori-dōri to the north entrance of Sennichimae Shotengai (千日前商店街).
What’s a bit funny is how Sennichimae doesn’t really carry much of the flamboyance of Dōtonbori into the arcade, going with a stiff, angular roof and relatively restrained shopfronts with clean lines. It looks nothing like this:
Couldn’t not get one photo of the big moving crab sign belonging to Kani Doraku. No visit to Osaka would be complete without it.
Likewise, the outdoor seating and huge green dragon (see above) of this branch of Kinryu Ramen is a Dōtonbori-dōri institution. There are Kinryu locations at what seems like every block in Namba and the original location is a bit further east, but this shop is by far the most iconic.
I have a special affinity for Kamukura Ramen, which I wrote about in regard to the Shibuya, Tokyo branch. What I didn’t mention was that I was so happy to stumble into it again in Sennichimae many years ago that I stopped in just to see if it tasted the same. I commemorated this return visit with another bowl.
This is just a short alley between Sennichimae and Ebisubashisuji, but it feels like stepping into another world, or time.
Sennichimae and Minami Sennichimae face each other across Sennichimae-dōri.
Official website: http://www.sennichimae.com/
And we’re done! Go grab some takoyaki and a beer. These covered shōtengai are good places for observing the dynamics of how people interact with a bounded public space, and they’re certainly great for when you need to dodge the rain. However, it’s important to put them in perspective. For every covered arcade there are at least a handful of open air pedestrian and trafficked shōtengai that blend into their surrounding neighborhoods, and simple commercial (but walkable) streets beyond that. Altogether, they create very rich urban fabric that can only really be appreciated on foot and would probably take at least a week just to canvass everything once. If you hear of anyone with a research budget and interest in such an undertaking, I know a guy who’d love to help.