Japan Travel: Famous Signs of Osaka

When I think of Osaka, the first thing I think of is how it’s known as a food city. The other thing I think of is all the big giant food signs of Osaka and bright lights by the canal. So those were my targets when we traveled from Kyoto to Osaka: to eat a few specialty foods and see the famous signs of Osaka.

We only spent one day in Osaka because I had a feeling that F wouldn’t like it. And, I was right. Osaka is a bit more aggressive than Tokyo, and things he liked about Japan – how patient people would be, no one crossed the street except at intersections, everyone formed orderly lines while waiting for trains, everything is clean – is not so in Osaka. If anything, you could say Osaka feels a bit more Western in that regard, more casual than normal Japanese formality, maybe even a bit grittier. It’s the equivalent of Manhattan (Tokyo) vs the Bronx (Osaka) I think in the feel of the cities.

Amerikamura

This neighborhood of Amerikamura is maybe a 10 minute walk from Namba, which is where our AirBnB was located. I think Namba is the most happening area to stay if you visit Osaka. Everything in this post is on walking distance of Namba.

We stored our luggage until check-in at one of the many luggage lockers in the Namba train station – though it took us probably an hour to find a large luggage locker that could fit our 2 carry on bags and 2 backpacks. Just as we were going to give up and take the train to Kyoto Station (where I know they have a luggage room with an attendant), we ran into a group of Japanese late teens/early 20s who were removing their luggage. Huge sigh of relief. If you plan to store luggage you can find a map online as there are multiple luggage locker areas in the station.

Walking into Amerikamura, we were then fully surrounded by many people in their late teens and early 20s. This area is full of trendy stores, especially of clothing, that reflect a love for American influence and American street fashion generally leaning towards sporty (Nike and Adidas like), hip hop (hoodies, printed graphic T-shirts, caps) or punk (black with metallic details or crazy prints or bright colors). It honestly did remind me of the East Village of New York the way the stores were narrow and packed with merchandise. At one point we even spotted Amerikamura’s own version of the Statue of Liberty overseeing this trendy youthful neighborhood (atop New American Plaza, established 1984!).
Amerikamura's own version of the Statue of Liberty looks down upon this American influenced trendy neighborhood of Osaka

This is definitely an area where you can find lots of funny uses of English, be it store names or on clothing. This one particular store, Baked Magic, cracked me up every time we walked by – they really did sell an interesting variety of pastry puffs of some sort but seemed to have overly complicated origins where it baked, but also is a result of wizard magic but also grows off a giant vine/beanstalk?
Punk teens co exist with hip hop style or sporty - think Nike and Adidas like - in Amerikamura, a trendy neighborhood in Osaka. This was taken at Sankaku Koen, a famous intersection. this one store, Baked Magic, cracked me up every time we walked by - they really did only sell a pastry puff of some sort but seemed to have overly complicated origins where it is a result of wizard magic but also grows off a giant vine/beanstalk

The main goal in Amerikamura was a famous intersection called Sankaku Koen, also known as Triangle Park because of the way the streets cross forms a triangular area in the middle where people hang out. Also, I had read from Matcha Japan Travel magazine that this street also has multiple takoyaki stands that flank the triangle park all within a couple blocks, all facing the park. Takoyaki are octopus dumplings, a street food representative of Osaka.
Sights of Osaka - Amerikamura and one of the takoyaki stands I considered, one of the famous 3 stands right around Mitsu Park, a little park by an intersection that is like a triangle so it's also nicknamed Sankaku Koen for Triangle Park. This is Kogaryu’s(甲賀流) that is known for its mayo sauce Sights of Osaka - Amerikamura, here you see the other two takoyaki stands on the same street by Mitsu Park, a little park by an intersection that is like a triangle so it's also nicknamed Sankaku Koen for Triangle Park Sights of Osaka - Amerikamura and Takoyaki Stand Shiranngana! (知らんがな!) that I considered is known more for its jokes (for instance, instead of yen it lists prices as ten thousand yen increments but really it's still regular yen- it just means you hear someone say it's 4 million yen but really it's 400). It's specialty is apparently salt flavored takoyaki Sights of Osaka - Amerikamura and Takoyaki Stand Ganso Donaiya that I considered... and then I saw the balls on top rotated. And the lady taking orders is wearing a hat. And there are photos from articles and a Tripadvisor sticker on it. I also liked that this one they spotlight the cooking right in the front and side so you can watch your takoyaki being made fresh in front of you.

I went for the takoyaki stand Ganso Donaiya with the famous rotating takoyaki sign almost like a slow-mo slot machine, but with the takoyaki balls instead.
I went for the takoyaki stand Ganso Donaiya with the famous rotating takoyaki sign almost like a slow-mo slot machine, but with the takoyaki balls instead. I went for the takoyaki stand Ganso Donaiya with the famous rotating takoyaki sign almost like a slow-mo slot machine, but with the takoyaki balls instead.

And the lady taking orders is wearing a hat. And there are photos from articles and a Tripadvisor sticker on it. And there’s a line and I see them making the food fresh (those two are key in eating foreign street food). Must be good right?
I went for the takoyaki stand Ganso Donaiya with the famous rotating takoyaki sign. And the lady taking orders is wearing a hat. And there are photos from articles and a Tripadvisor sticker on it. Must be good! I went for the takoyaki stand Ganso-Donaiya with the famous rotating takoyaki sign. And the lady taking orders is wearing a hat. And there are photos from articles and a Tripadvisor sticker on it. Must be good!

I also liked that this one they spotlight the cooking right in the front and side so you can watch your takoyaki being made fresh in front of you. The line also reinforced that it would be fresh, and must be tasty right? First you pour in a batter into special takoyaki pans, and then add the seasoning and the little bits of octopus.
Sights of Osaka - Amerikamura - while waiting in line for takoyaki you can watch them being made fresh. Here as the ones on the right finish cooking, he pours batter to start a new batch in the other takoyaki pan Sights of Osaka - Amerikamura - while waiting in line for takoyaki you can watch them being made fresh. First you pour in a batter into special takoyaki pans, and then add the seasoning and the little bits of octopus.

Then you turn them over to cook the other side, and when the balls are fully formed, expertly place them 2 at a time into containers before adding the sauces and whatever are the famous toppings of that takoyaki stand.
Sights of Osaka - Amerikamura - while waiting in line for takoyaki you can watch them being made fresh. First you pour in a batter into special takoyaki pans, and then add the seasoning and the little bits of octopus. Then you turn them over to cook the other side, and when the balls are fully formed, expertly place them 2 at a time into containers before adding the sauces and whatever are the famous toppings of that takoyaki stand Sights of Osaka - Amerikamura - while waiting in line for takoyaki you can watch them being made fresh. First you pour in a batter into special takoyaki pans, and then add the seasoning and the little bits of octopus. Then you turn them over to cook the other side, and when the balls are fully formed, expertly place them 2 at a time into containers before adding the sauces and whatever are the famous toppings of that takoyaki stand

I selected one with the takoyaki sauce, mayo, egg and green onion.
Takoyaki from takoyaki stand Ganso Donaiya in Amerikamura by Sankaku Koen with takoyaki sauce, mayo, egg and green onion Takoyaki from takoyaki stand Ganso Donaiya in Amerikamura by Sankaku Koen with takoyaki sauce, mayo, egg and green onion

Dotonbori

The most famous area of Osaka is beyond a question Dotonbori. This is both the name of a street and a canal, and is known for being a huge food destination full of gigantic signs, including mechanized signs.
Sights of Osaka - one street down from the Ebisu-bashi bridge, which is the closest crossing to the Glico man and Asahi beer sign and is always packed, day or night. Sights of Osaka - one street down from the Ebisu-bashi bridge, which is the closest crossing to the Glico Running man and Asahi beer sign and is always packed, day or night.

At night, Dotonbori is glittering with bright lights. Here you see the famous giant neon Glico Running Man, and along the street there is a smaller version with the time that you can pose with.
'Sights Sights of Osaka - giant neon Glico Running Man Sights of Osaka - giant neon Glico Running Man Sights of Osaka - giant neon Glico Running Man

If you’re wondering why a running man is the symbol of a Glico candy company, it’s because he is running a 300 meter race, and it so happens that a 300 meter run burns the same amount of calories as eating one piece of Glico caramel.
If you're running why a running man is the symbol of a Glico candy company, it's because he is running a 300 meter race, and it so happens that a 300 meter run burns the same amount of calories as eating one piece of Glico caramel. If you're running why a running man is the symbol of a Glico candy company, it's because he is running a 300 meter race, and it so happens that a 300 meter run burns the same amount of calories as eating one piece of Glico caramel.

You’ve probably seen the famous Kani Doraku crab sign with its mechanized legs slowly moving since the 60s, beckoning patrons to eat at this crab restaurant chain (there are a few other branches, but this is the original flagship restaurant with the iconic moving crab) right before the Dotonbori Bridge.
Sights of Osaka - the view down Dotonbori, including to the left the crab restaurant Kani Doraku that erected their giant mechanized crab sign back in 1960 and kicked off a craze of giant animated seafood signs Sights of Osaka - the view down Dotonbori, including to the the crab restaurant Kani Doraku that erected their giant mechanized crab sign back in 1960 and kicked off a craze of giant animated seafood signs

For instance, here’s another branch with the crab above its sign, though this one didn’t move. Next to it is another famous icon, Kushikatsu Daruma a kushikatsu restaurant (deep fried skewer restaurant) whose mascot is an angry looking Asian chef.
Sights of Osaka - Left, Kushikatsu Daruma a kushikatsu restaurant (deep fried skewer restaurant) whose mascot is an angry looking Asian chef with a fu manchu. And, to the right another location of crab restaurant Kani Doraku that erected their giant mechanized crab sign back in 1960 and kicked off a craze of giant animated seafood signs 'Sights

Kushikatsu is also known kushiage. It is battered meat and veggies which are deep fried skewered that you then you dip into a Worchester-like tonkatsu sauce. The sauce is in a communal container for every 2 people or so, and you better NOT double-dip. You can order your skewer one at a time, or purchase a set that has an assortment like the one I had.

When I ate at Kushikatsu Daruma, I selected the Shinsekai set menu that includes a side I could choose as well as skewers of classic kushikatsu (beef), all natural shrimp, quail egg, asparagus, rice cake, pork cutlet, pumpkin, cheese, and tomato. I picked Takowasa as the side included for the set I ordered, which is cold octopus with rice vinegar, sugar, and wasabi. Having as a side the chilled raw octopus (almost like a ceviche) with bit of acid and bite of spiciness was I thought a good counter for the deep fried fattiness of the skewers. You will also get a side of cabbage leaves to go with your skewers. There will be a container to use for disposal of your skewers each time – just watch the others along the counter with you.
Kushikatsu, is essentially deep fried food on a stick—or more specifically, battered meat and veggies which are deep fried skewered that you then you dip into a Worchester-like tonkatsu sauce. I ate at an outpost of the famous chain Daruma. Look at all the example kushikatsu on the boards! Kushikatsu lunch for me at Kushikutsu Daruma - I picked the Takowasa, which is cold octopus with rice vinegar, sugar, and wasabi as the included side for the set. Having as a side the chilled raw octopus (almost like a ceviche) with bit of acid and bite of spiciness was I thought a good counter for the deep fried fattiness of the skewers. This is part of the Shinsekai set menu that includes classic kushikatsu (beef), all natural shrimp, quail egg, asparagus, rice cake, pork cutlet, pumpkin, cheese, and tomato. The glass is NOT water - it's Kushikutsu Daruma barley shochu Kushikatsu lunch for me at Daruma - I picked the Takowasa, which is cold octopus with rice vinegar, sugar, and wasabi Having as a side the chilled raw octopus (almost like a ceviche) with bit of acid and bite of spiciness was I thought a good counter for the deep fried fattiness of the skewers Kushikatsu lunch for me at Daruma - I picked the Takowasa, which is cold octopus with rice vinegar, sugar, and wasabi Having as a side the chilled raw octopus (almost like a ceviche) with bit of acid and bite of spiciness was I thought a good counter for the deep fried fattiness of the skewers. This is part of the Shinsekai set menu that includes classic kushikatsu (beef), all natural shrimp, quail egg, asparagus, rice cake, pork cutlet, pumpkin, cheese, and tomato. Since they bring you the skewers while they are freshly fried, I got some on one tray, and then a second tray appeared with the rest.

As you walk up and down the street, you will encounter many other giant foods, which I visited both during the day and night.
Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori - here potstickers/gyoza Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori - here potstickers/gyoza Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori include an octopus cooking itself into takoyaki? Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori include an octopus cooking itself into takoyaki? Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori, including a giant sushi in a Big Hand that symbolizes Genroku Zushi and Zuboraya's fugu blowfish Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori, including a giant sushi in a Big Hand that symbolizes Genroku Zushi and Zuboraya's fugu blowfish Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori

Here, a huge blowfish lantern adorns Zuboraya, a fugu (deadly poison blowfish) restaurant.
Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori. Here, a huge blowfish lantern adorns Zubora-ya, a fugu (deadly poison blowfish) restaurant Sights of Osaka - the giant food signs of Dotonbori. Here, a huge blowfish lantern adorns Zubora-ya, a fugu (deadly poison blowfish) restaurant

Then there’s this Kuidaore Taro, the famous drumming clown. Kuidaore Taro a life sized mechanized doll of a young teen in a clown costume playing a drum and symbol that originated around 1950. You can see there is a sign that is pretty large with him in the first photo on the left… and then I found a shop dedicated to him that included the drumming statue and a whole bunch of stuff with his likeness.
Sights of Osaka - including to the left in this photo Kuidaore Taro, the famous drumming clown. Sights of Osaka - Kuidaore Taro, the famous drumming clown. Sights of Osaka - Kuidaore Taro, the famous drumming clown.

You are likely to see Kinryuu Ramen, which has a large dragon eating a bowl of ramen. It is a somewhat large chain of ramen shops, so you’ll see this a couple times. Kinryuu is a combination of the words “gold” and “dragon”, so it can easily be translated to be “Golden Dragon”.
Kinryuu Ramen, which has a large dragon eating a bowl of ramen as its mascot. Kinryuu Ramen, which has a large dragon eating a bowl of ramen as its mascot.

You will probably also run into Billikin, the god of ‘things as they ought to be’. Rubbing his feet brings luck, and oddly he is a charm character imported from St Louis but adopted into Japanese culture – he is still Saint Louis University’s mascot.
Billiken is the defining symbol of the area around Tsutenkaku but can be found in various places in Osaka and is the god of 'things as they ought to be'. Rubbing his feet brings luck, and oddly he is a charm character imported from St Louis but adopted into Japanese culture Billiken is the defining symbol of the area around Tsutenkaku but can be found in various places in Osaka and is the god of 'things as they ought to be'. Rubbing his feet brings luck, and oddly he is a charm character imported from St Louis but adopted into Japanese culture

There are lots of stands of takoyaki and other grilled meats throughout the streets – something F complained about because the aromas of the grills also added to our attire so much that F insisted we do laundry once we got back to the AirBnB.
Takoyaki and grilled meats at one of the stands in Dotonbori filling the air with their aromas

Although, to be fair, we also ate okonomiyaki at Ajinoya for dinner. Okonomiyaki is a kind of griddled Japanese pancake that includes batter, shredded cabbage, and other ingredients and toppings which vary but generally include okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, bonito flakes, and seaweed flakes. You usually have it prepared either by the chef or you make it yourself at the table. At Ajinoya it is made by the chef and if you sit at a booth they then bring it to your own grill.
our dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya - you usually have it prepared either by the chef or you make it yourself at the table. At Ajinoya it is made by the chef and if you sit at a booth they then bring it to your own grill where you can top it as you wish our dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya - you usually have it prepared either by the chef or you make it yourself at the table. At Ajinoya it is made by the chef and if you sit at a booth they then bring it to your own grill where you can top it as you wish

You get little spatulas at your seating to then cut the okonomiyaki into slices almost like pizza.
Our booth for two for a dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya. Our booth for two for a dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya. You get little spatulas at your seating to then cut the okonomiyaki into slices almost like pizza.

I chose Ajinoya because it had a great review on the blog Migrationology’s Osaka Food Guide: 11 Must Eat Foods (and Where To Try Them) post. Also, I had found out that they have a tomato and cheese okonomiyaki and you also top your own bonito flakes and amount of sauce at your table, so this seemed like a good choice for vegetarian F since he normally would not be able to eat okonomiyaki as it usually would include seafood,  and I could go crazy with the flakes and sauce here.
Dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya. He had the okonomiyaki with fresh tomatoes and cheese Dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya. He had the okonomiyaki with fresh tomatoes and cheese

Here’s my version – which was Hiroshima style as instead of mixing all the ingredients together it was layered with the batter being on top and bottom, and also included yakisoba noodles.
Dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya. This is the Hiroshima styled okonomiyaki which you can then top with as much additional sauce and bonito flakes as you want from containers on the table Dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya. This is the Hiroshima styled okonomiyaki which you can then top with as much additional sauce and bonito flakes as you want from containers on the table Dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya. This is the Hiroshima styled okonomiyaki which you can then top with as much additional sauce and bonito flakes as you want from containers on the table Dinner of okonomiyaki in Namba, Osaka at Ajinoya. This is the Hiroshima styled okonomiyaki which you can then top with as much additional sauce and bonito flakes as you want from containers on the table

How many of the famous signs of Osaka have you heard about or seen before? Which is the one you find most interesting? Have you heard of or tried the Osaka food specialties like takoyaki, kushikatsu, or okonomiyaki before?

Here’s a summary of my Japan Travel post series:

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Comments

  1. Wow, what a fun and interesting looking food adventure! Love the photos. I like the tip to look for food made fresh in front of you + plus a long line when choosing a street vendor. Thanks!

  2. Those signs are so great! I especially live the angry chef, he’s so cute! Also, love that you captured some punk rock street style. Very cool!

  3. Talk about sensory overload…in a good way! What a cool collection of colorful sights, smells, sounds, and tastes! The takoyaki sound really interesting and delicious.

  4. I am very impressed by your travel confidence and awareness! I get overwhelmed in new places and can’t imagine going somewhere where I can’t read most of the signs… sounds like you had a great experience!

  5. I have always wanted to visit Japan, and this post makes me want to go right now! I love absorbing the sights and sounds and culture of a place—and eating my way through street food, obvi!

  6. MMMMM… I am loving this series. I loved my trip to Japan but these photos and stories are making me A) crave for a second trip and B) wish I had tried more while I was there! Also, okonomiyaki is a personal fav. I love making it at home too!

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