Osaka has long been famous for its food, its drinks and the generally hospitable, if occasionally uncouth nature of the locals. This has earned the city the moniker of “Japan’s Kitchen”. As such, people from across Japan and beyond have, for decades now, flocked to Osaka to sample the various food and drink delights the city has to offer.
However, these days it is not just the mere prospect of some tantalizing takoyaki or a yummy yakisoba that brings foreign visitors to Japan. An increasing number of foreign visitors, particularly those from neighbouring South Korea and China, come to Osaka to proverbially “shop til they drop
As any good Osaka native will tell you, if shopping is your thing then there really is only one district in Osaka to go to: Shinsaibashi, Osaka’s shopping Mecca.
hans-johnson on Flickr
Whilst many of those from China and South Korea who come to Osaka are what average working class people like me would consider “rich”, shopping in Shinsaibashi certainly doesn’t have to be expensive, and even in the high end stores that do cater to a more exclusive clientele, there are still plenty of bargains to be had.
yoshiju on Flickr
One of the popular locations for those hunting down cheap and cheerful souvenirs is the recently upgraded Don Quijote store, on the banks of the Dotonbori, the canal that runs right through the middle of Shinsaibashi. As well as offering the usual assortment of low price fashions, home electronics, cheaper cosmetics and fragrances, Don Quijote is also a great place to pick up those unique Japanese sweets. Green tea Kit-Kats, Kobe puddings, and even okonomiyaki flavoured crackers are just some of the treats your friends and family back home can look forward to receiving when you return from your Osaka adventure.
Kouki Kuriyama on Flickr
The main artery of Shinsaibashi’s shopping district is the world famous Shinsaibashi-suji: A street, running a few kilometers that begins near Namba Subway station and runs the full length of the Shinsaibashi District. It offers an eclectic mix of big Japanese brands such as Uniqlo alongside small independent traders selling things like handbags, watches, handmade jewelry, and as one would expect, kimonos and yukata too.
u dou on Flickr
At almost the exact geographical centre of Shinsaibashi Suji lies perhaps the most popular high end store in the area, the famous Daimaru Department store. If you fancy dropping a few thousand dollars on a new watch, paying huge sums for exotic fruits like Aomori apples or those legendary square watermelons, then Daimaru has got you covered. Good luck trying to get any of those through customs on the way home though. If you buy them, be prepared to eat them before your flight home!
Additionally, there are also a number of small, family run shops selling a variety of souvenirs, fashions and other handmade goods around the various backstreets and alleyways that bisect Shinsaibashi-suji. It is in these little alleyways that you can discover the true character of the area, and really engage with Osaka’s local shopping culture. You can also, from time to time, pick up a real bargain.
My father, who was a chef for several years, was fortunate enough, on his last visit to Osaka, to pick up a complete set of kitchen knives, made of stainless steel, and Teflon coated, for the tidy sum of only 7500 yen. A real bargain considering he would probably have to pay two or three times that price back in his native Scotland. As I touched on earlier, cosmetics are also a big hit with those who come shopping in Shinsaibashi. Top global brands such as Revlon, Maybelline and of course plenty of Japanese domestic producers too, have entire floors of some of the surrounding stores dedicated to their various products.
High-end electronics are also a staple of Shinsaibashi. The Apple Store, which opened in 2014, sits proud on Shinsaibashi Dori, and with the yen currently weakening against both the Korean Won and the Chinese Yuan, it’s a perfect time for visitors from those areas to snap up a bargain. Particularly for Chinese visitors to the Apple Store also offers some products that are not yet available in China, and given local restrictions may never be.
Toshiyuki IMAI on Flickr
You’ll also find the popular Bic Camera, a big name in Japanese consumer electronics, just off of Shinsaibashi-suji, heading up towards Namba Subway Station. Bic Camera has 8 floors of different electronics, toys, cellphones and even fashion too. Their second hand video game section is also a great place to pick up some bargains, provided you don’t mind playing your games in Japanese! Be aware however, when buying consumer electronics of the different power and wattage settings. Japanese devices may not be fully compatible with the main electrical supplies in your home country. Thankfully, a range of adaptors and transformers are also available at Bic Camera to minimize such inconveniences. Around the duty free shopping counter you will also find staff who can speak a variety of foreign languages ready to assist you.
Indeed duty free shopping is perhaps one of the big reasons why Shinsaibashi is so attractive to foreign tourists. Almost all of the shops, large, small and somewhere in between, offer duty free shopping facilities.
Asacyan on Wikimedia
The way that this works is as follows: you pay the full price for the item initially, but when it comes time to pay for them, go to the “tax free” cashier area rather than the regular cashier. Upon paying for your items you will be asked to present your passport, with tourism visa inside, to prove that you are just a short term visitor. You will then be given a special receipt. This receipt can be redeemed at the “tax reimbursement” counter at the airport upon your departure from Japan. Again, you will be asked to present your travel documents along with the tax receipts when you make your claims.
Shinsaibashi is one of Japan’s most vibrant and fastest-growing shopping venues. Be sure to drop by for a visit next time you are in Osaka!