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, a high-rise cacophony of neon billboards, crushing crowds and outrageously decorated restaurants.
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.
This 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. 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.
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. 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 embarrassed friends held him back. Another group was nursing a girl who drank too much too early, being sick in the bushes.
Finally, it was the countdown, and we found ourselves on one of Dotonbori’s bridges. As police whistles blew to no avail, more rebellious partygoers celebrated the end of the year by launching themselves into the canal. We didn’t share the same bravery for the cold, so we settled for a new year’s ice cream instead!