Osaka Gay Scene
I have lived in Japan for a few years now, and I can say with certainty that Osaka has one of the most unique gay scenes in Japan. Tokyo’s Nichome is large and receives many visitors, but Osaka’s Doyama is definitely special in its character and scope. Osaka’s night life, including its gay scene, can largely be divided into two areas: the Kita (north) side including Doyama near Umeda Station, and the Minami (south) side with Namba and the Dotonbori Canal.
Osaka is known for having a tight yet diverse community, and there are a multitude of bars and spots to hang out at that are almost too numerous to count. However, my favorite bar where I always end up is Grand Slam because it is colorful and gaudy, everyone stops there, and is a great place to run into friends and regulars. There is also Explosion just around the corner, a small club that gets very lively at their frequent events, with at least one almost every weekend.
While these spots are a blast, there’s not much breathing space for chatting, so if I ever want a more laid-back atmosphere where I can actually hear people talk I head to Ducks! Osaka, where the owner is a gogo boy and is thankfully always dressed as such. Other regular spots I stop at with friends are J’s Osaka, a large bar with younger staff, and Yuntaku, frequented by the older, bear-ier crowd.
Recently, a new LGBT event causing a hubbub is the Gyag Reflex night from Haus of Kinki (a fun pun on the Kinki region of Japan, of which Osaka is but one prefecture). This performance troupe made up of local drag queens puts on a show where everyone is welcome every third Saturday of the month at the Sound Garden, a really cool (straight) bar right near the Dotonbori canal.
For before or after I am out at a bar in Doyama, one of my absolute favorite dishes to eat and something that I incessantly crave is the savory street food okonomiyaki. It is a widely-known dish in Japan, but is especially known as an Osaka specialty. It is a round vegetable-filled pancake cooked with some kind of meat or seafood (or just veggies) and topped with a special sauce and mayonnaise. Pretty much any self-respecting Japanese izakaya will serve okonomiyaki, but the best stuff is at specialty restaurants. It’s never difficult to find these restaurants anywhere in Osaka, but for an easier time consider the local Osaka chain Tsuruhashi Fugetsu (https://fugetsu.jp/en/okonomiyaki/index.html.) Don’t worry about cooking it yourself, the staff will either do the mixing and flipping in front of you, or serve it freshly cooked! Order some yakisoba (fried noodles) and kimchi with it for a well-rounded meal. If the menu is all in Japanese and you are unsure what to order, I recommend just ordering “futsuu no” or the normal one. Don’t be afraid to use Google Translate when ordering, the staff have always been accommodating for me, and definitely don’t be afraid to ask for more sauce or mayonnaise on top!
Osaka Hidden Gems
Doyama or Namba are great places to go out for a night, but if you are looking for a more relaxed Sunday-afternoon vibe with a light meal or coffee, consider stopping by the Temmabashi and Kitahama area. Truthfully, I am biased because I live here, but the area is just brimming with unique cafes to relax in as well as countless photo ops, and I don’t think travelers visit here enough. A main river runs through here, so the restaurants and cafes in the area all have gorgeous riverside views, especially in May when the Nakanoshima Garden’s roses are in bloom.
On the north side of Temmabashi bridge is RJ Cafe with the undeniably adorable ecopressos, cookie cups filled with espresso. The owners are always happy to speak with travelers in English. Near Kitahama Station along the river, there are many popular restaurants and cafes, but some of my favorites with great riverside seating are Moto Coffee and Brooklyn Roasting Company. Away from the river, but equally worth visiting is another favorite coffee place of mine, Haiku Coffee Roasters. It is right next to Nakazakicho Station and a 10-minute walk from Doyama. Some of the best-tasting coffee I have ever sipped is here, and the owners, a happy young couple, bake their own sweets to sell.
When using the train stations in Osaka and Japan, don’t forget to try and check ahead of time which exit you are looking for! Usually Google maps will show the number of the exit that’s closest to your destination, either in the directions they give or displayed on the map itself.
Knowing the exit number makes it much easier to follow the signs and exit the station, especially in the labyrinth that is underneath Umeda/ Osaka Station. Just remember that the closest exit to Doyama is exit M2!