If you are coming to Osaka as a destination location, you might want to try a guided tour of the nightlife in the area. Osaka is very safe and you could definitely work your way around to places where your native language is understood. However, we wanted to experience it as a real local. We wanted a tour where the Japanese hang out.
You can read about our self-guided tours of Osaka in another post. This post is about a guided tour we took from Viator. We thought a tour that was all about Osaka small bars and nightlife would be remarkably interesting. Madeline and I knew quite a bit about Tokyo and where to go for drinks or food. We were tour guides for our family and friends when they’d come to Tokyo when we lived there on three separate occasions.
But this was Osaka, and we didn’t know the area very well at all. We booked a Viator tour for the evening for a drinks and dinner tour of some of the out of the way places in Osaka. Our tour started just outside of Temma Station, so I figured out how to get there from our hotel. We were staying at the Hyatt Regency in Osaka. You can read our review of that hotel in another post. The subway is a short walk from the hotel, and we took it to Bentencho. From there, we switched to the JR using our JR Pass and departed at Temma. The entire journey was about 45 minutes including the walk to the subway from the hotel.
Our tour was an all-inclusive food and drink night tour of Temma and Kyobashi, two of Osaka's most well-known local food and drink areas. The first thing we had to do was to find our tour guide. Our directions said to head out and find McDonalds.
That wasn’t difficult since the Temma station is small, and the McDonalds is very close.
We had an English-speaking guide in a very small group. The guide, Elliot, spoke both English and fluent Japanese. Finding Elliot was pretty easy.
Viator promised 6 people or less, but we only had 4. The tour promised typical Osaka food, a few drinks, and hanging out with the locals. Elliot also managed to appreciate our different palettes. Madeline is reasonably adventurous and will try many things, but she isn’t a real seafood fan and some of the Japanese dishes are not in her proverbial wheelhouse. However, Elliot asked what she liked to eat, and he easily navigated the menu to suit her. For me, I like sushi, sashimi, and seafood. I also wanted to revisit the famous Osaka area “pancake” called Okonomiyaki. This is a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients. The name is derived from the word okonomi, meaning "how you like" or "what you like" or "favorite," and yaki meaning "grill." Said another way, you can specify what you really like and don’t like, and the chef will take care of the rest. The dish can vary depending upon which region of Japan it’s made, but it can be found almost anywhere. Osaka-style okonomiyaki is made with all the ingredients in a single layer. Another widely known version is the Hiroshima-style, which is multi-layered. The savory pancake is quite tasty, and you might want to give it a shot when you’re in Osaka or neighboring Kyoto, Kobe or Nara.
However, Elliot explained that you can get okonomiyaki anywhere, so it wasn’t on the approved food list for the night. I do not want to spoil the food choices for you but there was a very large assortment at each of the three stops.
After getting our palette preference figured out, Elliot took us on a short tour of the area before we stopped at our first place.
We were on the Tenjinbashisuji shotengai walking street near Temma Station. A shotengai is a shopping street but there were no cars, just the occasional bicyclist.
You can see that it’s covered and there are shops, grocery stores, and restaurants everywhere
The Tamade Grocery is less expensive than other places and the place was packed.
The pachinko parlor was doing a very good business. We walked through the place and Elliot explained a little bit about pachinko. Pachinko is a noisy, smoky, time-consuming, and hypnotic form of gambling that plays a huge part in the Japanese economy. Small steel balls are shot into a vertical playing field by gripping a knob on the lower right-hand corner of the machine.
The object of the game, in the most simplistic terms, is to get the balls to fall through a maze of metal pins and to maneuver them to land in the center hole. When this happens, you can play a virtual slot machine and increase the potential of releasing more tiny balls directly into your winning basket.
Gambling is illegal in Japan, but the government has made exceptions for sports betting including horse, bicycle, motorcycle and motorboat racing, as well as some lotteries. So, gambling is illegal except for the above. Pachinko isn't officially viewed as gambling because what you win with your collection of pachinko balls is similar to what you’d get in an arcade game. They have stuffed animals and cute toys for children primarily.
However, near every pachinko parlor is a little shop where players can convert their noncash prizes into cash at windows. I knew about this practice from all the time I worked in Tokyo previously. I asked to see where a window might be, and Elliot knew just where it was. Notice how it looks almost covert?
It is officially not considered gambling because Japanese laws regard pachinko as an exception to the criminal code on gambling for historical, monetary, and cultural reasons. There are thousands of parlors all over Japan.
We arrived at the first stop which was a standup bar. Elliot ordered us food and beer. The service was fast and regular. The proprietress asked us if we liked each small course of food. Elliot was paying for everything, so I wasn’t sure what everything cost. It was all included in the tour.
At our second stop, Elliot was checking out the seating. These places are tiny and the group ahead of us got there late and had not vacated. So, Elliott took us on a little tour for a few minutes and then we returned.
On our way to our third stop, Madeline spied the statue of liberty on top of a building. We were not expecting that.
Our third stop had a little weather protection. It does rain quite a bit in Japan, particularly during the spring and the fall. It didn’t rain on us, but we brought rain gear just in case.
This was a gift from the second place. The proprietor took a liking to us and gave Madeline this jar of spiced wasabi salt. It is in our kitchen now!
This was a fun tour. Elliot explained many local customs to us. Even though I’d worked in Tokyo on three separate occasions, it was fun to hear about his view of Osaka which is the third largest city in Japan. It was like you met a family friend who gave you the inside scoop. I should know since I was the tour guide for our family in Tokyo on the weekends when I wasn’t working. Madeline was the tour guide during my workdays. This was a fun experience and I think you will enjoy it!