The idea of allowing time for a place called Amerikamura, literally “America Town”, while visiting Osaka may at first seem like a strange choice. If you’re looking to explore Japanese culture and the city’s history, going to a place with America in its name seems like a misstep. And yet, Amerikamura or Ame-mura to locals, offers visitors an interesting look at Osaka’s youth culture and its alternative influences.
Often likened to Harajuku in Tokyo for its trendsetting nature and chaos, it’s definitely worth a stop as you travel around Osaka. So, if cultural curiosity, vintage shopping and delicious food sounds good to you, head to this small but dynamic corner of the Chūō-ku District.
Brief Background to Amerikamura
To appreciate the nature of Amerikamura, it helps to know how this pocket of Osaka became known as “America Town”. The origins of Amerikamura are a little murky but seem to have begun in the late 1960s when local warehouses were rapidly converted into American goods stores.
Soon the area was also known for its cafes, another seemingly American import. It’s unclear whether it was this wave of Americana or the somewhat more independent - more “American” - mindset of those who hung about the area that earned the area the nickname Amerika-mura by the 1980s.
Back then the stores focused on specific trends related to the US like jeans and Hawaiian surf fashion, that were distinct from the more reserved Japanese mindset. The counter-culture trend is still alive and well today in Amerikamura, it’s just shifted with the times. You can tell that as it still has a strong youthful alternative appeal to it, just as there would have been fifty years ago.
What to Do at Amerikamura Osaka
Rather than being a place that tourists might go for sightseeing, visiting Amerikamura is all about getting a glimpse into the cute and alternative sides of the city’s youth culture. That said there are a few odd sights worth finding, from the mini Statue of Liberty atop a building to the special “Peace on Earth" mural.
Visit Sankaku Koen Park
Ultimately, the best place to start when visiting Amerikamura is with its iconic central square, Sankaku Koen Park. This all-concrete “park” is a triangular plaza at the centre of the neighbourhood, that will quickly give you a sense of what the youth scene here is like.
Around Sankaku Koen Park you’ll spot all manner of stores, clubs and cafes, not to mention every aspect of the city’s alternative character. But really, the best reason to visit the park is for its people-watching to get an idea of what the current youth subcultures are like.
Go Shopping for the Strange and Vintage
Seeing as shopping has been part of the identity of Amerikamura since its inception, it’s no surprise that shopping is one of the best things to do there. Shopping here runs the full gamut, but you’ll notice a distinct fondness for vintage, especially with second-hand clothing and record stores. You’ll even see flea markets in the area come the weekend.
Delight Your Taste Buds
You’d expect a place like “America Town” to fixate on American fast food, but that’s where this unique neighbourhood surprises again. Yes, it is known for Pop Sweet, who claim to have the tallest soft-serve ice creams in Japan. And there are a nice variety of cafes serving up some of the city’s best coffee. But you’re just as likely to find delicious Japanese fare like at Kogaryu Takoyaki, which serves up some delightful variations on the famous fried octopus dumplings.
Enjoy the Live Music and Nightlife
Things don’t die down when the sun sets on Amerikamura and the stores close. That’s because Amerikamura is home to a busy music and nightlife scene that sees the area just as busy after nightfall. Music tastes differ from one club to the next, with many open all-night if you’re looking to party until the following morning.
Visiting Amerikamura with the JR Pass
Those looking to visit Amerikamura while in Osaka will find it suitably easy to reach using public transport and the JR Pass. When travelling to Osaka with the JR Pass, you can travel to either of the Namba or Umeda stations.
From there, you have a choice of the Midosuji or the Yotsubashi subway lines where you can get off at Shinsaibashi or Yotsubashi, respectively. Unfortunately, the subway journey is not covered by the pass though.