It’s going to take more than this creepy door to keep us from the cheap food inside.

They say that the coolest and most exclusive restaurants usually don’t even have signs out front, because they’re only accessible to those “in the know.” Interestingly, the same appears to be true for cafeterias as well. As we reported earlier, for some time now there has been talk of a cafeteria tucked away in a corner of the sprawling Namba Station in Osaka.

Saying it’s tucked away is actually an understatement and it’ll take a little adventure to get there the first time. Since this cafeteria, called Namba Kyushokuba, is mainly intended for staff of Namba Station on the Nankai Line it isn’t advertised anywhere or even located on Google Maps. But for those who find it, some decent food and great prices await.

On the bright side, although quite huge, Namba Station isn’t nearly as labyrinthine as Umeda-Osaka Station or Shinjuku Station and getting to the cafeteria is mostly just a straight walk from wherever you come from. That being said, because it’s so big there are a lot of entry points so let’s look at some directions from the most common starting places.

Those arriving by train will likely exit somewhere along the Namba Walk underground shopping strip. Most subway exits converge at a hub in the center of Namba Walk, easily identified by this big group of signboards over a very large case of stairs and escalators.

If you’re looking at this sign now, turn right around and take the first right. This should take you down a really long corridor that leads to the Namba City mall, Namba Parks, and most importantly the Nankai Line.

▼ Just keep an eye out for signs like this and you’ll be fine

Just keep going straight for a while.

Eventually the path will start to fork, with one way going to the Namba City mall and the other to the Nankai Line. Stick to the right and go up the stairs to the front of the Nankai Line gates.

Once you go up the first set of stairs, you want to stick to the left where you should see another set of stairs leading up to the second floor which is where the cafeteria is.

In the very likely event that you missed the stairs pictured above, you’ll probably end up at this large area. However, the stairs and escalators here go to the third floor, not the second.

It’s not a problem though, because there’s also a little lone escalator off to the side that’ll get you up to the second floor.

From here, just head straight to the ticket gates in the back.

For those coming from street level, you can walk right into the Nankai Line entrances pictured above from the entrance next to the Takashimaya Department Store, across from the Namba Marui (OIOI) shopping center.

However, the easiest entry point from outside is right at the entrance to the top of Namba Parks.

All you have to do is go up those first set of stairs pictured above, hang a sharp left, and you’ll be exactly where you need to be.

Once at the ticket gate the next challenge will be getting to the other side. Buying a ticket would work, but if you’re not planning to take a train it’s a waste of money, or time if you try haggling for a refund. A much easier way is to go to the window by the leftmost gate in the picture below and tell the employee there: “I want to go to the Namba cafeteria, but, you know…” (“Namba Kyushokuba ikitai kedooohhhh…” in Japanese).

Upon saying those magic words, they will then immediately give you a card that grants you access to all the shops on and around the platforms. Don’t loose it, because you’ll need to return it to get back out.

Once through the gate, you’ll probably be looking at this scene.

Start heading to the back left, near the 551 Horai dumpling and ice cream stand. There’s a staircase heading up to Platforms 4 and 3, but don’t go up them.

You want to instead go behind them and down this very nondescript hallway.

And here, next to the maintenance room for the sprinkler system, is the not-so-inviting entrance to the staff cafeteria. 

▼ Top sign: “Cafeteria Open” Bottom sign: “No entry except for cafeteria users and other related people”

This door — that looks like it withstood a zombie invasion with “No Entry” being the most prominent words written on it — is a good point to remind anyone who wants to visit that this is a cafeteria, not a restaurant. By that I mean, their main job is simply to provide food for employees and anyone else who pays for it. It is not to provide a memorably pleasant dining experience. This is important to keep in mind while dining here.

Once you go through the door, you’ll end up in yet another hallway. However, a menu for the cafeteria is posted right there to let you know that you’re on the right track. The basic menu has two sets for lunch and two sets for dinner that change every day. 

On this day I arrived in the morning and had a choice of chicken with spicy mayo or lightly grilled mackerel. I went with the chicken, but even if neither appealed to me, they also have a side menu of standard Japanese foods like katsudon or curry and rice. 

From there I had a trek a little bit further down the back corridor normally reserved for staff.

Then, just around the corner it appeared.

Like a lot of restaurants in Japan, this place uses a ticket machine for ordering. There were also samples of the daily specials on a table. I thought the chicken look a little small so I decided to order a bowl of miso soup too for 50 yen (US$0.43). When ordering the specials you do have to be careful to press the correct button, station staff and civilians pay different prices so if you don’t work there, be sure to press the 470 yen ($4.05) button.

After that grab a yellow tray to indicate that you’re a civilian, unless you work there. In that case, grab a brown tray and order with the 450 yen ($3.87) ticket…but why are you reading this then?

A couple of rather gruff old-timers work the counter, but “gruff” by Japanese standards is still quite polite and helpful by most other countries’ standards. For the most part, they’re just straight talkers who expect you to know how things work here, so don’t expect the pampering service you might get at other Japanese restaurants.

For example, when I showed my tickets the guy looked at me and said, “You know, the meal comes with miso soup so… You want two bowls?” I was surprised, but decided to get two anyway since I was hungry enough and it was just 50 yen. However, he seemed to interpret that as me just trying to be cool about screwing up.

He pulled out a box of coins, ready to give me one of them as a refund and asked again “You sure, you want two bowls?” in a tone of voice that screamed, “Come on, man. Don’t be stupid.”

So I took the refund and one bowl of soup. After that, I was also allowed to choose one more side dish free of charge. It was a pretty good selection of stuff like natto, tamagoyaki (Japanese-style omelet), potato croquettes, and bean salad. I went with the egg, but it was a tough choice.

There aren’t any drinks for sale, however, just a machine that dispenses water. But each table has a set of fixings like soy sauce and shichimi spices which I sprinkled on my rice.

Much like everything else about this place, the food was no-nonsense. It’s Japanese cafeteria food through and through, but I had no complaints about it. Everything was fresh and the spicy mayo sauce tasted really good on the well-cooked chicken strips.

The noodles were nicely cooked and tender served alongside a pile of fresh shredded cabbage.

The sample on the table also didn’t prepare me for how much rice I would get either. All in all it was a hearty meal, and for half the price I’d pay for meals at other restaurants that don’t always fill me up.

As I got up to leave, I took my tray to the designated area so the staff could clean the dishes. The guy called out to me again: “Throw out those chopsticks, eh!”

“Oh, sorry,” I said, taking them off my tray and tossing them in the nearby can.

He shouted back, “Thanks!”

Probably the act of seeking out and finding the Namba Kyushokuba in the first place helped to make the meal even more satisfying. So, if you’re looking for a different kind of dining experience in Osaka, and a cheap one at that, the staff cafeteria of the Nankai Line in Namba Station is worth considering.

Cafeteria information
Namba Kyushokuba / 難波給食場
Address: ??? (Read the article to find it)
Open 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m.

Photos © SoraNews24
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