New Year’s Eve in Japan is known as Oshogatsu, and if you’re lucky enough to be in Osaka during Japanese New Year, you’ll find Dotonbori to be the craziest, liveliest place to celebrate the new year! I spent NYE in the high-rise cacophony of neon billboards, crushing crowds and outrageously decorated restaurants, and discovered giant crabs, video game dancing, naked swimmers, and much more!
With a splash, the first crazy reveller jumped into the icy canal from the arching bridge. A laughing cheer rose from the huge crowd in Dotonbori, the centre of Osaka’s entertainment district.
As the poor, half-naked, trembling human crawled out of the canal under the glare of neon lights, everyone must have wondered how spine-chillingly cold that freezing December water must have been. It was New Year’s Eve, and a great festive mood was in the air.
New Year’s Eve in Osaka
New Year’s eve in Osaka, just like the rest of the country, is a time for Japanese families to get together and see in the new year. For those that want a particularly electric atmosphere to count down to the new year, Dotonbori is the place to be.
Dotonbori in Osaka’s centre is often considered the entertainment centre of the city. Local food, from fancy restaurants to tiny alleyway noodle bars are there, as well as huge arcades of shopping streets, neon billboards, and even cute canals that bisect the high rises. If you’re in Osaka, this might be the equivalent of Times Square, or Sydney Harbour to count down the new year.
We arrived around lunchtime, and the area was already buzzing with activity. But before any celebrations could take place, we needed to eat!
Food in Dotonbori
Dotonbori is was a great place for food. We arrived a few hours early (T-6 hours to midnight!) to explore Dotonbori and the perfect restaurant for dinner. With so much choice, we were struggling to choose.
A massive robotic crab was crawling on the walls of one particular restaurant. A takoyaki restaurant had a gigantic octopus cartoon wearing a headband and dancing on a red background. Nearby, a colossal pufferfish.
More still had cartoon chefs wielding knives, or a row boat filled with fibreglass fishermen balanced above their shop (a restaurant where you actually catch your fish in the restaurant for your dinner!).
We found the perfect place after some time, a humble-looking soba noodle diner with an alleyway entrance and a very long line.
After a long wait, we sat opposite the chef at a high bench with just half a dozen lucky diners. The soup arrived; thick, salty and creamy broth, with sliced pork and plenty of soba. We slurped down our bowls of (one of) Osaka’s specialities, and headed back out into the excitement.
Activities in Dotonbori
Further down, an arcade had attracted a big crowd. One man was racking up unbelievable combos on a dance game, the crowd filming and cheering on his every step.
Another game had two friends locked in an epic electronic drum battle. Another VR gamer was swinging his arms around wildly, while the screen showed him as a warrior swinging a sword. The area felt like one big party.
Further down, two teenagers were trying to catch a prize at one of the many claw games. I walked up to see what theye were trying to win. One laughed, whilst the other looked embarrassed when I walked up – it was a pile of boob-shaped stress balls.
Young people challenging police
Other Osakans were having a less than pleasant time. A young, drunk man was trying to pick a fight with three towering police officers, whilst his mortified friends held him back. Another group was nursing a girl who drank too much too early, being sick in the bushes.
The new years countdown in Dotonbori
Finally, it was the countdown, and we found ourselves on one of Dotonbori’s bridges with a view of Ebisu Bridge.
As whistles blew to no avail, the police found themselves stuck in the crowd, white gloves waving. More rebellious partygoers celebrated the end of the year by launching themselves into the canal.
One of the billboards turned into a countdown of numbers, whilst the crowd shouted them out in Japanese. Everybody cheered, but the new year’s kiss was not really present. And that was it, new year’s had arrived!
We didn’t share the same bravery for the cold, so we settled for a new year’s ice cream instead!