Osaka’s Shinsekai: Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (What to Do)
In our last article on Shinsekai, we looked at the history and major landmarks of this lively and unpretentious slice of Osaka. Following up on that, we’re going to introduce the best experiences the area has to offer, including a shockingly-massive hot spring complex, delicious local grub, and a peculiar but oh-so Osakan shrine.
Spa World: Magnificently Gaudy Onsen Goodness
There’s a class of spa facility in Japan called “super sento,” and for the most part the water for these baths is simply heated with boilers. Not so for Shinsekai’s 24-hour Spa World. This spa draws water from Tennoji’s Sekai no Onsen, which is a spring of exceptionally soft (only 1 ppm of “hard water” minerals), odorless, and flavorless waters. However, what makes Spa World truly notable is its baths. And baths are there ever!
On the 4th and 6th floors you’ll find the European and the Asian Zones respectively, each featuring a dozen or so baths themed around various countries. For example, the European Zone opens with a gorgeous Roman bath, has an outdoor waterfall bath based around the Spanish wilderness, and (not surprisingly) uses Finland as its inspiration for the sauna section. The Asian zone is predominantly Japanese-themed, though the entranceway bath is done in Islamic pillars and arabesques. Each zone is assigned as either the men’s or women’s bath, with zones usually switched over near the beginning of each month.
Onsen etiquette prevails at Spa World, but here’s some Spa World-specific things to know before you go:
- Tattoos are 100% forbidden. Sorry, travelers with ink!
- The baths are closed from 8:45 to 10:00 AM for cleaning.
- Once you’ve left, you’ll need to pay to be readmitted.
- Everything from towels and razorblades to toothbrushes and basic cosmetics are provided for free.
- It’s open at night, but if you’re on premise anytime between 12 AM and 5 AM, you’ll need to pay an extra 1,300 when you leave.
There are electronic valuable lockers, shoe lockers and clothing lockers available at no charge, but the last two are coin-return type, so make sure to grab two 100-yen coins from your purse or wallet first!
Kushikatsu: Down-home Deep-fried Cuisine
You’ve indulged yourself in the spa experience, but all that hot water and gaudy architecture has probably worked your appetite up! Osaka is a world-renowned foodies’ paradise, and you probably already know about delights like okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Though you can enjoy these city-wide classics here, Shinsekai has a menu all its own, and what dominates is kushikatsu, the Japanese word for near anything put on a stick, battered, and deep-fried.
“Near anything” isn’t an exaggeration, either. To touch on the list of ingredients available at even the humblest Shinsekai kushikatsu joint, you can enjoy pork, beef, chicken nuggets, or tsukune (chicken mince balls) for traditional meats; shrimp, scallop, squid, octopus, and whole smelt for seafood; and onion, shiitake, Japanese pumpkin, eggplant, and okra for vegetables. More unusual offerings include perilla leaves, mochi rice cakes, chunks of cheese, and even ice cream sandwiches.
Shinsekai’s kushikatsu probably got its start in the 1920s with the restaurant Daruma, which still does thriving business even now. Nowadays, the district is crammed with dozens upon dozens of kushikatsu shops open all hours of the day. You can hunt around for a deal, find one with a good English menu, or just pick at random and munch away! One quick note of etiquette: do not double-dip into the metal dish of Worcestershire-based dipping sauce on the table, as it’s shared by everyone. However, go ahead and dip the free cabbage that comes with your meal into it! You’ll need some greens to cut through the grease.
There’s one other Shinsekai food that deserves special mention, and that’s doteyaki. Available as a side dish at almost all the restaurants here, it’s held by some to be the ultimate Osakan soul food. Doteyaki is made by boiling off the excess grease on a cut of beef tendon and simmering it in a shallow broth of miso paste, sweet sake, skipjack broth, and sugar. In its earliest days, the meat used was pork, which was then stuck onto skewers and passed to the diner, but you’re most likely to receive it in a little bowl topped with green onions.
Shinsekai Shrine: An O-mikuji Oddity
Feeling energized and well-fed, you set out to explore the local area. Most people will confine themselves to the area immediately south of the tower, and the more curious might venture up the Shinsekai arcade, but just a short walk north from the foot of Tsūtenkaku is a most curious little shrine called, appropriately enough, Shinsekai Shrine (even though the torii gate reads “Fukunaga Taisha.”) Constructed in 1912 and dedicated to Inari, this little street corner shrine might seem at first completely unremarkable, but step into its precincts-in-miniature and you’ll find an interesting take on o-mikuji divination.
This little stone structure is actually a kind of roulette wheel: give it a spin and see what number comes up! Even if you can’t read the characters, turn to the weather-worn wooden signpost beside it and you’ll see, written in gold, what symbols on the wheel correspond to what kind of fortune.
- 大吉 = daikichi, “great luck”
- 吉 = kichi, “good luck”
- 半吉 = hankichi, “mixed luck”
- 凶 = kyō, “bad luck”
There are only four classes of future, so pretend like it’s a decoder puzzle and check it against the four possibilities above. Sadly, you won’t be able to tie the roulette wheel to a tree if you get a bad fortune!
That concludes our two-part special on Osaka’s Shinsekai, an area perfect for the laid-back gourmand in all of us. Getting here couldn’t be easier, with both Dōbutsuen-mae and Edobashi Stations in easy walking distance, so even if you’re just passing through Osaka, make sure to stop in for a breather and something deep-fried on a stick.