Like many cities around the world, Osaka has a distinct north/south divide and Minami (south) is a neon-soaked metropolis with rivers of commuters, shoppers and travellers flowing through the narrow lanes and boulevards. You can stroll the canalside bars of the Dotonbori area, also known as Namba after its main train station, and copy the pose of the famous Glico running man (a building-high neon sign); discover the freshest sushi you may ever have had at the Kuromon Ichiba market, known as “Osaka’s kitchen”; or join the consumer frenzy at Ebisubashi-suji (Shopping Street) that has been a retail hub for more than four centuries. Located right above Namba station, the Swissotel Nankai is somewhere you could stay for a month, exploring only by foot and still just scratching the surface of this wonderfully chaotic city centre – and trains put Kyoto and Kobe within easy reach.
When you are surrounded by so much consumer clamour and nocturnal ado, it’s nice to have some old-school grandeur to fall back on and the atrium lobby at the Swissotel Nankai – with its grand pillars, multi-storey chandelier and gold trim – sets the scene. Around the lobby are floors of watch shops, fine diners and lounges to chill in before heading back out to the fray.
It’s a mammoth property with 546 rooms, 42 executive floor rooms and an executive lounge, and the building towers above Minami – Osaka’s party spot – like the Chateau Marmont in LA surveys the sin and spending of Sunset Boulevard.
My deluxe suite king has enough room to swing a sumo and is huge by any standard, let alone in Japan where hotel rooms can be a bit snug. There is an entrance way into the living room, where a Bond-villain chair sits by a window (BYO white cat) with an incredible view of Osaka, a hive of activity fenced in by mountains. Through to the bedroom and there is a cosy king and another super-villain seat to enjoy the sights – small hatches under the window also open for fresh air, a hotel rarity. The bathroom is stocked with L’Occitane products, and has a bathtub, shower and one of Japan’s famous high-tech toilets including warming seat. The feel is retro with knick-knacks that give it a homey vibe and the Swissotel’s complimentary Handy smartphone comes packed with local info so you can plan your domination of downtown Osaka as you gaze out the window.
There are seven dining options throughout the hotel, from the lobby-level Swiss Gourmet offering coffee and cakes to the 36th floor where Tavola36 offers Italian dining. Local restaurant standouts: Hana-Goyomi Japanese Restaurant has some of the best sushi you will ever taste, and this is the same trip that I sat next to the head of a freshly caught tuna in Kuromon Ichiba market eating sashimi. In Hana-Goyomi you get the same freshness but with artistry added to the plate. SH’UN Wine and Dine specialises in kushiage, a Japanese speciality where everything comes deep-fried on a skewer – it’s delicious, fun and not as heavy as it sounds.
… is all you need to do. The moment you set foot outside the Swissotel Nankai you are in the thick of it. Ebisubashi-suji (Shopping Street) is an obvious start with everything from T-shirts to robots selling freshly baked tsukigesho – bean paste covered in flaky pastry, a local delicacy. The pick of the canalside bars is Miyagawa where you can have a sho-chu highball with the best view of the Osaka Running Man; then go up seven floors nearby to Bar Zumi with lots of neon, a young crowd and corner booth with a DJ. Foodies have to try the ramen at Makotoya, a local haunt where the No.1 – beef bone soup ramen topped with a boiled egg – is the dish of choice.
Sitting calmly in the eye of the storm, the Swissotel Nankai is the perfect spot for exploring Osaka’s southern city hub, if you can tear yourself away from the in-house dining and your Bond-villain lair.
Classic queen rooms from ¥76,200, and the deluxe suite king from ¥63,900; 5-1-60 Namba Chuo-ku, Osaka; swissotel.com or book via travelassociates.com
The view over Osaka, taking in the Dotonbori canal and surrounds.
The bath and shower are showing their age a bit (next to the high-tech loo!)
Paul Chai was a guest of Travel Associates and Accor Hotels.