The people of Osaka are fond of challenging the perceived Tokyo supremacy, believing that despite its position as a globally renowned city, Osaka is actually Japan’s best city. Nowhere is this belief better encapsulated than in Minami, the city’s premier shopping, dining and nightlife area.
Rivalling Shinjuku and Shibuya for its abundance of neon, Minami is actually a much more photo-genic hub than any of Tokyo’s modern cityscapes. With the Shirinashi River flowing right through the heart of Minami, the Dotonbori canal makes this is an unmissable area of Osaka and indeed, Japan.
History of Minami
Unlike the dated Shinsekai region to the south, and the uber-commercial district of Umeda in the north of the city, Minami embraces both Osaka’s past and its future. The central Dōtonbori canal was built during the Edo period of Japan’s history, when the country was first ruled from the town that would later become Tokyo.
From here, Minami grew and prospered in trade before becoming what it is today, the city’s premier spot for having fun. The best place to learn about the history of Osaka is here in Minami through a number of different locations such as the Kamigata Ukiyoe Museum or the National Bunraku Theater. The best place to see Osakan history is in Hozen-ji Yokocho, an alleyway that still looks as it did in the 17th Century.
Location of Minami
While ‘Minami’ is Japanese for ‘South’, the area itself is very centrally located, due in part to Osaka’s immense growth. The canal runs right through the heart of the main attractions here, while Dōtonbori is used to refer to the streets that run alongside it. These hectic roads are the primary focus for the Minami area and where the highest concentration of restaurants and best bars of Osaka are.
Namba Station is the most easily accessed station in the Minami area but is not the only one. The other two prominent stations are the JR Namba and Nanakai Namba stations, all three of which are just a short walk from Dōtonbori. Over the canal and further to the north is the Shinsaibashi Arcade which is the best spot for some shopping. The closest stations here are Yotsubashi, Shinsaibashi and Nagahoribashi, all of which will allow for easy access to Minami, just follow the crowds.
What to do in Minami
Minami is an incredibly busy area and a difficult one to navigate for first time visitors so get your bearing by heading straight to the canal. A good place to start is from the bridge over the canal, the location of Minami’s most famous symbol, the ‘Glico’ advertising board. Glimpsed in the Japanese gangster-Michael Douglas film ‘Black Rain’, the ‘Running Man’ is a great meeting point and a favourite tourist spot.
The Namba ‘Hips’ building is a uniquely looking building that contains an archery range, a golf course and countless other leisure pursuits. Don’t forget to check out the trendy Amerika-mura area which is Osaka’s closest equivalent to Harajuku in Tokyo, nor Nipponbashi’s ‘Den-Den Town’ which is an electronics district with a penchant for otaku culture.
Food is one of the best perks of visiting Japan and nowhere does Japanese cuisine like Osaka, and Minami has the most choice of all. The nearby Kuromon Ichiba Market is an undercover market that sells everything possibly related to traditional Japanese cooking, which makes it a great place for everything from stocking up your kitchen, buying souvenirs or simply nabbing a few free samples. There are limitless dining options here but try to taste local specialities such as okonomiyaki or takoyaki by some of the best chefs in the country.
How to visit Minami
The best time to see Minami is undoubtedly at night-time but consider arriving a few hours before dark to make the most of the (slightly) less crowded streets, soak up the atmosphere and perhaps even get a tour of the canal aboard one of the many speed boats that cruise the river.
Osaka hosts one of the major Sumo tournaments every year, typically in mid-March. The ‘Spring Grand Tournament’ is held in the Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium, just a ten-minute walk from Namba station so make sure to check it out if you arrive around then.
Even those who have been fortunate enough to spend time in Tokyo’s many entertainment districts will notice that Minami is a very special place. With its pedestrianised streets and intersecting canal, not to mention its hundreds of eating and drinking options, Minami is one-of-a-kind. It’s the perfect place to unwind after a busy day’s sightseeing and the best spot to weigh up all that Osaka has to offer.