Osaka: it’s all about takoyaki, the Glico Running Man, and… reggae? It’s more likely than you think. After Bob Marley’s first contact in 1979, Japan’s love of reggae began to bloom. This is especially true in Osaka. Famous reggae artist, Pushim, is from Osaka after all. In fact, reggae fans around the world note the similar vibes between Osaka and Jamaica’s Kingston. Jamaican vibes or not, one thing is certain: Osaka’s nightlife and bar scene is a perfect host for all music. Reggae is no exception.
But, with so many club and all-you-can-drink izakaya options, how do you find a suitable spot for reggae? Plus, given the rise and fall of trends, how can you be sure any reggae bar is authentic? Maybe authenticity isn’t the issue and it’s more important to find a great dancehall venue. Whether you want upbeat or chill, the vibes of Osaka reggae are always good at these four bars and clubs.
Good Times Reggae Bar is the one of the more well-known destinations on this list. Its reputation has even reached the ears of many foreigners. And for good reason: this bar is completely bilingual, with most staff speaking both English and Japanese. With an optional English menu and website, Good Times Reggae Bar is the most suitable gateway into Osaka’s chiller reggae scene for tourists.
There’s more to Good Times than simple accessibility. The bar has made a name for itself as a hub for community and warmth. Owner and bartender, Roy, keeps the vibes welcoming while serving his own signature (and notoriously strong) drinks. He welcomes any pics and selfies with visitors. He’ll even introduce bar patrons to each other making sure everyone there leaves as friends at the end of the night. And of course, the music is the heart of the operation. Old-school and classic reggae dominates the usual playlist, but patrons can request songs on the spot. Few bars allow a chance to play DJ, so don’t miss this opportunity.
In the end, Good Times is all about connection and belonging, taking its philosophy from Bob Marley’s “One Love.” Conversation flows between staff and patrons easily, giving Good Times a neighborhood feel no matter where you’re from. Visiting Good Times becomes a series of these conversations: about music, the best drinks, playing darts, the list goes on. It is the best place for social bar hoppers looking to stop, take a rest, and vibe.
Location: 2-10-21 Nishishinsaibashi, Spazio Bldg. 3F, Chuo, Osaka, 542-0086 (American Village area)
Hours: Every day Monday-Sunday 8pm-5am
Pricing: Low to moderate, average ￥800-￥1000 per drink. No cover fee.
If you want relaxation and rock-steady music that brings you to the Caribbean via Osaka: Bar Skapontan is for you. Bar Skapontan is truly representative of its Kita ward location. And it’s the definition of a dive bar: tiny, easy to miss, a side street diamond in the rough. It may not be as flashy and vibrant as the Dotonbori bars, but it doesn’t want to be. Like the old-school 60s reggae vinyl spinning every night, Bar Skapontan would rather be classic.
First and foremost, Bar Skapontan is a record bar. In the already cozy space, an entire wall is dedicated to displaying the house vinyl collection. Most noteworthy, the collection is a gold mine for dedicated reggae buffs. It has everything from ska and rock-steady to roots and dub, though here older music is king. Jamaican music has priority over reggae from Japan, giving Bar Skapontan an international feel. Plus, as small as the space may be, they still hold events and concerts. However, they are still too small to have an official website. You’ll have to find out about these events on Instagram and Twitter (#BARスカポンタン). Lately, some events have been posted on larger event bulletin sites, so it's worth a look.
Beer is the main alcohol of choice, but they do stock imports like Jamaica’s Red Stripe. However, drinks here are second priority after atmosphere and music. Bar Skapontan is less of a reggae bar and more of a reggae-lover’s bar. It is the essential hole-in-the-wall, and the unbeatable choice for an in-depth musical experience.
Location:1-18 Kaneicho, Kita Ward, Osaka, 530-0031 (Basement Floor 1)
Hours: Monday- Saturday 7pm-3am, Closed Sundays
Pricing: Low, average ￥800. Admission free or with cover below ￥1000
OSAKA REGGAE BAR #3: KING’S TONE LOUNGE (キングストーンラウンジ)
King’s Tone Lounge, a play on the Jamaican city of Kingston and musical “tones,” isn’t exactly a bar. It’s a club, and it certainly feels like a club. But there’s no better place in Osaka to hear live local and touring reggae artists, guaranteed. Don’t worry, they still sell drinks, and at low prices too. While most clubs in Osaka feature reggae among other genres, it’s King’s Tone Lounge’s specialty. And it’s a must-see for true reggae fans and die-hard audiophiles.
Japan’s emerging artists combine dub and dancehall styles with hip hop elements, more suited to club environments. However, the classic reggae influence is still prominent. King’s Tone Lounge has established a permanent sound system in Osaka. A sound system in this case is the Jamaican musical type, not just stereo equipment. Sound systems include DJs and engineers playing ska and reggae music. Importantly, this defining feature of reggae history originated in Kingston, the Lounge’s namesake. This thoughtful reference, as well as the dedicated sound system DJs featured, shows how deeply the King’s Tone Lounge cares for the reggae genre.
The crowd attracted here is younger; some of them more interested in dancing than the actual music. However, the artists and managers here are the real deal. In addition to the established sound system, regular events like “Rub a Dub” feature local musicians. Occasionally, the Lounge hosts sound clashes with other sound systems as well, announced on Twitter and Instagram. If getting into true Osaka reggae is your goal, King’s Tone Lounge is your starting point.
Location:1 Chome−8−16, Nishishinsaibashi, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 542-0086 (above Funky Fruit)
Hours: Every day 8pm-4am
Pricing: Cover averages around ￥1000, Drinks around ¥500
Known more for food rather than music, Ragga Ragga still provides one of the best Jamaican vibes in Osaka. Formerly known as “N’s Bar” in Shinsaibashi, Ragga Ragga took its new name and optional izakaya form after moving to the Kita ward. Izakaya is essentially a Japanese gastropub, typically with light fare and lots of drinking. Ragga Ragga ups the portion sizes by having a full dining section and kitchen. But, they keep the bar stocked with shochu, whiskey, and, of course, tons of rum. Plus, you can still book private rooms for the classic all-you-can-drink izakaya experience.
While the food is certainly important here, the quality of the music doesn’t suffer. Every night features a DJ with an impressive wall-sized speaker set. Genres include ska and rock steady oldies, but also more recent dancehall songs as well. In the private rooms, you can bring your own music and rent a microphone for karaoke. If you have your own vinyl, you can even give it to the DJ to play (if it’s reggae, of course). There’s no guarantee it will make the rotation, but it never hurts to take the chance.
Of course, the food deserves all the hype it receives. Ragga Ragga’s jerk chicken is its most famous, but their jerk options expand to ribs and even lobster. But, perhaps less well-known, Caribbean seafood, like Jamaican Escovitch, also earns top-billing on the menu. Conveniently, the food menu is bilingual with side-by-side English and Japanese. However, the bar menu is not. Due to the food-focused reputation, Ragga Ragga tends to be more crowded than other options on this list. Nonetheless, it’s the perfect destination for those looking for an all-encompassing Caribbean vibe.
Sadly, Rocker’s Island closed its brick and mortar location in the autumn of 2019. If it’s closed, why include it on this list? While the shop/venue/bar combo itself may be closed, Reggae’s Island remains an authority on the Osaka Reggae scene. Founder Tsuruki Takafumi has manufactured Jamaican reggae for the Japanese market for nearly 20 years. Bringing authentic reggae to Japan was and still is the Rocker’s Island mission. The method has just changed.
Now the physical store has shifted to an online store full of classics and indie showcases. Most importantly, there’s also a staff blog with new release recommendations and reviews. Plus, visiting their social media is a must. Concert announcements, news about artist collabs, local artist showcases, you name it: Rocker’s Island knows all about it. So, if getting in on the heart of reggae in Osaka is important to you, (virtually) visit Rocker’s Island before heading out.
THINGS TO CONSIDER WHEN CHOOSING YOUR OSAKA REGGAE BAR
Diving into Osaka’s nightlife can be overwhelming, especially combined with the vibrant music scene. Therefore, it’s important to set your priorities for an unforgettable night out. Even for a more niche genre like reggae, Osaka provides a lot of options. Here are some guidelines to aid your search for the perfect reggae night.
THINK ABOUT THE VIBE
Are you looking for a quieter night with more old-school rock steady music at its core? Do you want a full Caribbean feel with drinks, food, and atmosphere? Or are you interested in partying to ragga and dancehall until dawn? Vibes are central to the reggae genre, so decide on this before starting your search.
CONSIDER LANGUAGE BARRIERS
Another one to think about before heading out: language. Most of the smaller, local showcases handle business in Japanese only. Luckily, Osaka natives are famously welcoming, so little to no Japanese ability may not be an issue. However, if full immersion in a foreign language is off-putting, look for English reviews online. Chances are if the bar has English reviews, language shouldn’t be an issue.
DECIDE BETWEEN OLD-SCHOOL CLASSICS OR UP-AND-COMING LOCAL
Reggae as a genre is rich with history. More of the smaller bars feature playlists with classic reggae and ska on a regular night. On the other hand, if you want to discover local musicians, clubs are a better bet. Some bars offer local showcases monthly or bi-monthly, so check social media beforehand. Note: most smaller bars and clubs don’t have official websites. Social media, mostly Twitter, is your information lifeline.
DON’T FORGET ABOUT LOCATION AND TRAVEL
Osaka is a big city. Most attractions are clustered in specific areas, but different wards offer different experiences. Depending on where you’re staying and your transportation, your options may change. Furthermore, a reggae bar in Shinsaibashi may be better suited for a night of bar-hopping than one in Eastern Osaka. Think about the plans for the whole night before settling on a destination.
Osaka and reggae have a deep connection beyond what one would normally think. A visit to any of the bars listed would benefit any reggae fan, but the appeal reaches farther. A city’s music scene tells visitors about the hidden soul of the people living there. It shows what resonates with and inspires everyday life; something hard to discover only visiting famous attractions. The fact that reggae has rooted itself in Osaka is telling. Where reggae is thriving, who is creating it, what kind of music is being circulated: it all adds to the larger makeup of vibrant, diverse Osaka. Music-lovers, deeply curious travelers, night owls looking for something different: anyone can benefit from Osaka’s reggae scene. Even if your reggae knowledge extends to just Bob Marley, Osaka’s reggae bars will welcome you. And by the time you leave, you’ll know another small piece of the wonderful and distinct Osaka.