Staying in Osaka’s Kita (Umeda) ward

Whenever I travel, one of the things I’m eager to see is the neighborhood where I will be staying. In Saigon, it was at the heart of the backpacker’s district where noisy, touristy bars and hole-in-the-wall cafes and eateries lined the street. In Hong Kong, it was along Nathan Road where all you needed was to roll off the bed and you’d find yourself shopping.

In this recent trip to Japan, we decided to stay in the Kita district. Also known as Umeda, this northern part of Osaka seemed relatively not as popular as the Minami area. With flashy Dotonbori in Minami luring droves of travelers especially in the evening, Umeda, the guides write, is more of a daytime destination with a few good department stores, countless restaurants, and the Umeda Sky Building one of its few attractions.

View of Osaka from the Umeda Sky Building in Umeda, Kita-ku

View of Osaka from the Umeda Sky Building in Umeda district in Kita-ku

Imagining Kita to be not as flashy or crowded as the area of Dotonbori or Namba, but still with a respectable number of places to see, I booked a hotel in its Doyama district. (It also helped that the major rail terminal Osaka Station is located in the area, which conveniently serves the JR Kyoto and Kobe lines and the Osaka Loop Line for those planning to make Osaka their base and see the other nearby cities.)

Once there, I realized that while it didn’t appear to be as overrun by fellow foreign tourists at the time (I admit, I tend to eavesdrop and I didn’t hear a lot of non-Japanese conversations while there), in the evening droves of salarymen (and women) make their way to the many restaurants, bars, and host and hostess clubs in the area. It has its own intriguing brightly-lit alleys and miles of shopping arcades. When we walked around on our first night, we saw local chains Coco Curry and Matsuya nearby. There were several sushi-ya, ramen-ya, and standing bars just a shop or two away from our hotel. In our last evening we discovered a branch of Ichiran, the ramen-ya with the long line in Dotonbori, near our hotel in the colorful Hankyu Higashi Dori Arcade. (And we finally got to try the ramen!) There’s a Club Sega and a batting cage. There’s a nearby mall with a whale hanging from a ceiling and a Ferris wheel on top. There’s an elevator ride to make your knees go weak, followed by an escalator ride that you want to forget is ‘hanging’ between two buildings.

In the evenings, on our way back to to the hotel, there’s always a group of overly stylized men and mini-skirt-clad women in the corner nearby animatedly chatting up passers-by to go inside whichever bar or club they work for. There wasn’t a dull second in our colorful street. In the mornings, whenever we leave the hotel and make our way to the train station for another day of exploring, our street would be fast asleep, the chatty bar folks are gone and replaced by restaurant kitchen staff unloading crates of fish and other produce for another day.

Higashi...

One of the covered streets near our hotel in Hankyu Higashi Nakadori arcade in Doyama-cho

Hotel Kinki

Hotel Kinki in Doyama-cho, a small and affordable business hotel surrounded by numerous restaurants and bars

Coco Curry

On two cold evenings, we decided to have some hot, delicious curry burger (with cheese inside!) at Coco Curry

The ferris wheel on top of Hep 5

The Ferris wheel on top of Hep 5, a mall in front of Umeda Station and Hankyu

Whale

A whale to welcome you inside Hep 5, a mall which seems mostly frequented by Japanese youth. There’s a Joypolis on the top floor.

To JR Osaka Station

To JR Osaka Station from the Hankyu Department Store concourse

Umeda Sky Building

Umeda Sky Building towering over other structures. I half-expected the two 40-story towers to transform into a giant robot.

After a ... escalator ride

After a vertigo-inducing ride in a glass elevator, you need to take an escalator (which crosses the wide space between the two towers) to get to the Floating Garden Observatory

Upon crossing the street

Every time we crossed the street from the shopping arcade to go to the train station, this golden baby greets us

Near the train stations

One of the restaurant-lined streets near the train stations

No lines! Finally got to try Ichiran

No lines! Finally got to try the ramen in Ichiran where each customer gets a tiny cubicle and a sheet of paper where you check the kind of ramen you want (how hard the noodles, how rich the broth, what topping you want). I picked a light broth with a little kick and I almost finished the soup!

Okonomiyaki and Sapporo for our last night

In a bar near Hotel Kinki: Okonomiyaki and Sapporo for our last night. The waitress and I couldn’t understand each other at one point so she asked one of the salarymen customers to help us order. We were so thankful, we kept saying Domo Arigato!

Heading back

One of the evenings we got to stroll around the shopping arcade where the hotel was. It’s not as flashy as Dotonbori, but it surely has its own bright spots.

Hotel Kinki: 17-8 Doyama-cho, Kita-ku, 530-0027, Osaka, Japan; tel. +81 6 6312 9117; fax +81 6 6312 5586
Aside from being conveniently located near the JR Osaka station, Hotel Kinki is a cheap business hotel (that’s their page title, too), which offers discounts if you book months ahead or stay for 4 nights or more. We booked a western-style semi-double room for JPY3,000 per person per night, a total JPY42,000 for 7 nights, but with discount amounted to JPY38,000 (PHP16,677 or USD372). Nearby spots: Hep 5, Ichiran, Coco Curry, Club Sega, Umeda and Osaka Stations, and numerous department stores

Umeda Sky Building: 1-1-88 Oyodonaka, Kita Ward, Osaka, Osaka Prefecture 531-0076
From the Osaka Station head toward the Grand Front Osaka (across Yodobashi and Hankyu) and take the pedestrian underpass, which will come out across the street from Umeda Sky Building. Entrance fee to the rooftop observatory: JPY700, 10 am to 10:30 pm

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6 thoughts on “Staying in Osaka’s Kita (Umeda) ward

  1. Awesome pictures and another great post. You really get a sense that Osaka is a MAJOR metropolis – massive urban sprawl with weird things to act as landmarks, like the Golden Baby and the horrifying whale.

    That elevator/escalator ride should be in a film – the lead actor/actress has to dash from one side to the other just before it collapses 0_0 The height in that picture is just crazy.

    Was the salaryman who helped translate a regular? That sounds like a fun encounter (especially since you got your food!

    • Thanks Jason! I think my knees almost buckled with that elevator ride–aside from the glass walls it didn’t help that it climbed the top in such a high speed.

      About the salaryman, yes I think he was a regular like the rest of the customers there, because the waitress and bartender were very familiar with all of them. The helpful salaryman translated the kinds of okonomiyaki for us and the one word he couldn’t translate at least we knew from years of ordering tempura… ebi! He asked us where we were from and he was very nice (though a little bit drunk).

  2. A great recount. Vertigo inducing outside lifts I can expect, but the escalator is unexpected. I am not fond of heights but it’s now on the list. Beats going to a theme park.

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