With so much to do and see among the skyscrapers of downtown Osaka and Kobe, it’s easy to miss out on Kansai’s authentic local scene; hotspots off the beaten track where Japanese natives spend their time. Amagasaki is one of those hotspots. Located on the outskirts between Osaka and Kobe, the district is a hub for commuters looking for entertainment on their way home from work or on the weekends.
"Under City" Culture
Amagasaki is a true shitamachi (literally, “under city") neighborhood, meaning historically its residents were the Japanese working class. Today, the area has become a popular and relatively inexpensive nightlife spot. Socializing with friends and coworkers over food and drink is the norm, an easy goal to accomplish considering izakayas(Japanese gastropubs) abound and draft beers and highballs (whiskey sodas) are free-flowing.
Start your night off with some Kansai “soul food,” kushi katsu (deep-fried skewers). Teppan Asahi is popular spot just under the Amagasaki Station tracks. Everything from pork and beef to renkon (lotus pepper root) and green pepper are deep-fried in the greasy goodness of kushi katsu. Order what your heart desires or choose a set platter.
Most kushi katsu items are dipped in a thick, sweet sauce similar to the one used for tonkatsu (pork cutlet). At most kushi katsu places (except for Asahi,) you’ll find the sauce dish at your table but the same one will be used by the next customers, so there’s a strict double-dipping ban in effect. Enjoy this Kansai specialty with a tall mug of cold draft beer.
After you’ve filled up on kushi katsu take a stroll along the Genkigai shopping arcade. At night the pedestrian street is filled with the sounds of dozens of pachinko parlors—a form of legal gambling and crossbreed between slots and pinball. The rattling metal balls and the loud sound effects create a deafening mix. Still, pachinko remains one of the most popular forms of amusement in Japan and these parlors will be filled up late into the evenings.Once you’ve burned off a few kushi katsu calories, cut down a side street and stop by a local bar or izakaya to socialize with the locals and have a few more drinks.
Public Bath Culture
If drinking or gambling isn’t in the cards for your night or if you want to find another way to soak up the down-to-earth vibes of Amagasaki, try a traditional public bath or sento. Communal bathing is common throughout Japan and sento have long offered a place for locals to enjoy a convenient hot bath. Daiichi Shikijima-yu is a sento located a short walk from Kuise Station (less than five minutes from Amagasaki Station on the Hanshin Line). While it’s tucked away in the back streets of the neighborhood, it’s easily recognizable. The entranceway is covered by a traditional noren (Japanese split curtain) with a large image of Mt. Fuji. Sento etiquette is similar to going to an onsen, the difference is that public bath facilities are very basic and the water is not derived from natural hot springs. Like most onsen, you’ll store your clothes and valuables in a locker. Before entering the water wash yourself off with the water bucket while sitting at the provided bathing stools.
Once you’re inside, enjoy the beautiful architecture, murals and hot baths. Unlike your average onsen, towels aren’t available for rent, so make sure to bring your own (a small one to have while bathing and something a little larger to dry off afterwards). A towel borrowed from your hotel room should do.
A stop at Daiichi Shikijima-yu will leave you feeling refreshed after a long day of sightseeing and provides a clean start for the next day’s Kansai adventures.
Amagasaki Station is just ten minutes from downtown Osaka by train. Most bars and restaurants are within walking distance from the station. To access Daiichi Shikijima-yu take the Hanshin Line to Kuise. The bath is an eight-minute walk from the station.
There are also plenty of business hotels in Amagasaki if you’re looking for an affordable alternative to more expensive downtown Osaka establishments.
I’m an American journalist and editor based in Tokyo. After nearly 20 years living in Japan, I’m still discovering new and exciting places in Japan outside of Tokyo and off the beaten path, such as the ancient “Kumano Kodo" pilgrimage trails and the charming seaside fishing village, Kada.