By Yunxuan Koh
The Shinsaibashi shotengai is a shopping street with a very long history! This covered arcade, site of some of Osaka's historical bridges, has been around in some form for hundred of years, and is still one of the city's most popular and famous spots. Osaka is well known for its covered shopping streets, and the Shinsaibashi shotengai is well travelled by residents and visitors alike. Limited to pedestrians, this strip is sheltered from the elements and provides you with everything from upscale department stores to fresh-from-the-griddle crepes to kimono and tea shops that look so authentically Kyoto, you'd think you were in the old capital itself.
Shinsaibashi is the perfect spot for window-shopping and strolling - not to mention a great escape from a rainy spring day! There's no shortage of places to shop in the south centre of the city, especially flanked by Amerika-mura and the Dotonbori, and Crysta Naghori underground, but this shopping arcade has a particular charm. Not only does it have a wide selection of stores sure to please anyone, but the southern end of the arcade is at the Dotonbori River, a great sightseeing spot and home to that famous 'eat-til-you-burst' Osakan cuisine.
Shotengai is a term used to describe any shopping street, and the Shinsaibashi area itself has several of these, so it can get confusing. The area officially known as "the" Shinsaibashi shotengai is officially only eight blocks long, stretching from just before Shinsaibashi, the bridge above Shinsaibashi Station on the Midosuji subway line, to Ebisubashi, the bridge over the Dotonbori River. Many people don't even realize they have left one shopping street and entered another as they stroll. To the south is Ebisubashisuji, and to the north, Senba Shinsaibashi, both popular shopping arcades in their own right. You'll probably notice when you cross the bridge and enter Ebisubashisuji, but the distinction between Shinsaibashi shotengai and Shinsaibashi Senba is particularly blurred; however, Senba is a little bit more run-down than its neighbour, so you can usually spot when you've transitioned from one to the other by the older signage.
My biggest problem with this arcade—and the reason why I gave it 4 stars despite the ease of access and selection of shops—is that it's crowded. All the time. At peak times, the crowd will flow (or muddle, depending) in either direction with an invisible line down the middle, and you'll be hard-pressed to dash through it to reach a store on the opposite side! Tourists with agorophobia, you really want to avoid this spot on a weekend or evening—but if you can handle the crowds, it's worth a look. Some of the shops even offer "walking maps" of the area if you need to duck out onto a side street to get to a certain store more quickly. But where's the fun in that? Relax and enjoy the unique shotengai experience!
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When I was young, I dreamed of going overseas and having a great adventure. By the time I was in university studying Japanese, I knew that place would be Japan. After three years teaching and learning Kansai-ben in the one and only Osaka, I returned to Canada. Lately I've enjoyed blogging and writing stories about my second home, so that others can share the places I knew and loved - I'll definitely go back there someday soon.