The pedestrianized Ebisubashi (Ebisu Bridge) is Osaka’s equivalent of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus – and equally the center of New Year celebrations.
Known as Hikkake-bashi (Pulling Bridge) locally, it earns its reputation for the neatly dressed young men (below) trying to impress passing women. “They are not looking for romance,” says my friend Hiromi. “They want them to come to their clubs or restaurants and spend money.” Known as nampa, and strictly speaking illegal on the street, chatting-up women is a Japanese art form that has sparked, naturally enough, a series of cell-phone games.
The bridge stands under the Glico Man billboard, a symbol of the city after it became the first large neon sign erected after the destruction of World War II. This vast advert for a confectionary company, showing a runner about to breast the winning tape, is merely the best-known of a permanent light show of advertising signs in the heart of the Dōtonbori shopping district. Ebisubashi links two large shopping areas and is criss-crossed by a constant stream of shoppers bearing logo-heavy bags.
Nearby is another Osaka landmark, the massive red arm-waving crab atop the Kani-Doraku restaurant. It illustrates another Osaka obsession: food. The city is known as the kitchen of Japan. “We say people in Kobe spend all their money on shoes, people in Kyoto like clothes, and in Osaka we prefer food,” says Hiromi. “But it is also about sharing a meal with friends and enjoying good conversation. Hospitality, in other words, which was always good for business.”
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