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.
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.
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