Ura Namba: The Entertaining and Welcoming Street

If you take a national survey about the
adjectives that best match Osaka, you will almost certainly get the word “entertaining.”
This town is known as the headquarters of Kamigata Rakugo (comedy), and has
produced numerous comedians who made their names in Tokyo. One of their charms
is the rhythmic Osaka dialect, which seemingly creates instant connection even
between strangers. Located near the center of such a town, the Namba
neighborhood has a long history of being an entertainment district. It’s said
that back in the day, their customer base was only men, but small bistros,
Spanish bars as well as homey comfortable bars have sprung up in recent years, the
district is now being referred to as Ura Namba, where even women can come and
drink by themselves. What are some of the cuisines beloved by the locals who
gather in this outskirt neighborhood? 

Night scenery of the outskirts of Namba neighborhood (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Sennichimae Doguyasuji shopping street (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Once you step inside Ura Namba by passing through Sennichimae from Dotonbori where all the tourists gather, you might feel as if you stepped into a completely different world. Sennichimae is a shopping street that is still referred to as “Doguya Suji” (tool alley), which is filled with a lot of kitchenware stores.

Sennichimae Shopping Alley (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

As a place that has supported the Osaka culture of “flour foods” represented by takoyaki and okonomiyaki, as well as the culture of artistic banquet halls and Japanese traditional cuisine, it’s a place that cannot be left out when discussing the Osaka food culture. When you take a single, small alley from there, you enter an area of rows of small stores that are completely different from the rest. You’ve then arrived at Ura Namba, which is the topic of this story!

"Kujira" (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Japanese junmaishu sake made by local sake brewery,Kujira,Gose-shi,Nara-ken (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Drinking Japanese sake (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

"Kujira"(inside) (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

After-work drinks at 4pm

As a retail store of a brewery, “Kujira” carries rows of colorful bottles all lined up. It’s great to be able to try a single, small dish of obanzai (light Kyoto-style dish) and oden, which pair well with sake. Mr. Takada, who guided me through Ura Namba, says, “It might seem like all Osakans are overtalkative, but some stores can read between the lines and leave you alone at times (laughs). The same is true here. Parties of more than 3 guests are seated outside to drink. You also see plenty of women out and about by themselves.” While having our conversation, Ueda (in picture), the store owner who looks seemingly grim at first, kept pouring our glasses with different types of sake to compare the taste.

"Teppo" (outside) (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

People enjoying sake at a counter in "Teppo" (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Pufferfish that has just been landed (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Pressed sushi (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

After quenching our thirst, we headed to “Teppo,” which specializes in pufferfish and sushi. Owner-chef Ishikura, who the customers call "Shin-chan," brings out the pufferfish from the outside fish tank. “Do you know why you refer to a pufferfish as a gun in Osaka? Because it’s a one-hit KO if you get ‘hit’ by it,” says Mr. Takada, who joyfully cracked an Osakan joke characterized with black humor.

Sake (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

I tried a glass of the rare “Hiyashi Hire Sake” (chilled fish sake), which gave off a soft, sweet aroma without any fishiness to it. While enjoying my drink, a nearby cheerful regular customer suggested a specialty item that “you have to try if you come to Osaka” called “battera,” which is not on the menu every day. Its sour taste is mild compared to a normal mackerel sushi, and the gentle flavor of kelp spreads in your mouth. Thanks to the at-home atmosphere of the restautant created by the owner-chef and the customers, we started naturally relaxing and smiling ourselves.

Cabaret "Miss Osaka" in Sennichimae,Osaka (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Ms.Sonoko:Cabaret "Miss Osaka" in Sennicimae,Osaka (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Paper lantern (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

This vast neighborhood comprised of Sennichimae and Ura Namba was once a cemetery during the Edo period. Because it also served as a prison, the name "Sennichimae” (one thousand days ago) seems to have come from the fact that the “chopped heads were dangled in mid-air for thousand days.” But it’s also a run-of-the-mill for great night culture to arise especially in such places with a complicated past.

Poster from the Showa era (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

One famous spot is “Misono Building.” With the launch of snack bars and dance halls, the place was once considered to be a sacred subcultural spot in Osaka in the 70s, like the Shinjuku Golden Street of Tokyo. One of its tenants called “Universe” is a cabaret whose history became widely known due to its film adaptation in 2015.

It closed its doors in 2011, but its culture lives on to this day. The oldest cabaret in existence, "Miss Osaka", founded in 1937, is where the ladies of up to 70s keep the tradition alive even now.

Yakiton-Jinnya (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Harada:Kobachi Sakaba"Tanto." (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

"Nankai Denki" (inside) (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

For those that enjoy cabarets but also want to eat a proper meal, they can head to one of the numerous small eateries in Ura Namba. Ever since the district began to be frequently taken up by the media starting about 7 years ago, various new stores started becoming launched by young entrepreneurs from regions outside Osaka, alongside their long-established competitors. Examples include yakitori shops, kushiyaki stores, seafood restaurants, Italian, Chinese, etc., which characterizes Osaka as a mixture of various cultures. Many bars and snack bars open until morning, and the conversation between customers never gets dull. Whether you had a bad day or not, it is guaranteed that you will feel welcomed anytime.

Osaka favorite: Kuidaore Doll (food-indolging doll) (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

Toasting with Japanese sake (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

The people of Ura Namba generously provides 20 answers to each question you ask. They would even tell you the secret to a happy marriage within 5 minutes of meeting each other. But there was one question that they were unusually shy about.

I asked, “how would you define the charm of Osaka?” As soon as they heard this, they all suddenly started to become shy, poking the elbow of their neighboring person, or started laughing out loud. They started thinking with a serious face while crossing their arms. And some even suggested that it’s probably the fact that you can drink even during daytime.

People enjoying drinks while standing in "Kujira" (2019/2019)Osaka Gastronomy and Culture

If there’s one thing I can teach them about, it’s this: The essential charms of Osaka are its strong service-oriented spirit, the thoughtfulness of looking out after their peers, and their capacity to enjoy themselves. But they’re bad at talking boastfully about themselves, and become surprisingly shy when they try to describe themselves. These are the adorable people of Osaka whom I've met on my journey. Their existence made the gastronomic tour of Osaka an unforgettable experience.

Credits: Story

Cooperation with:
Takamikura Corporation
Miss Osaka
Osaka Convention & Tourism Bureau

Photos: Misa Nakagaki
Text: Makiko Oji
Edit: Saori Hayashida
Production: Skyrocket Corporation

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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