Pictured is Ebisu Bridge. It’s the most famous in Osaka, and the Dotonbori canal below runs through the heart of the city’s southern district. When people in Osaka are celebrating, inevitably folks start jumping off Ebisu Bridge into the water below.
This is called the “Dotonbori dive” (道頓堀ダイブ).
Originally, it was baseball fans who jumped into the canal. In 1985, the Hanshin Tigers fans gathered at Ebisu Bridge to celebrate a win over the Seibu Lions in the Japan Series. Revelers started diving into the Dotonbori River.
Infamously, a group of Tigers fans stole a Colonel Sanders statue from a nearby KFC and chucked it into the canal, apparently in honour of star Tigers slugger Randy Bass. Fans believed that this impudent act caused an 18-year losing streak known as the “Curse of the Colonel.”
The statue was finally recovered from the canal in 2009.
During the 2002 World Cup, which was held in Japan and South Korea, fans once again jumped into the canal. I lived in south Osaka at the time, right next to Dotonbori, and I remember seeing drunk people throw bicycles into the canal late at night and hearing stories of people getting ill after jumping into the canal because the water was so dirty.
The clip below dates from 2003 and shows the bridge before it was renovated in 2007.
In 2003, the Tigers won the Central League for a chance to play in the Japan Series. It was their best team in years, and fans said the Colonel’s curse had been lifted. That same year, however, a 24-year-old Tigers fan drowned after ending up in the canal. It was said that he either dove or was pushed. This wasn’t the only death.
In 2015, an 18-year-old Korean man died after jumping into the canal during New Year’s Eve celebrations.
Increasingly, people in Osaka don’t need a sporting event to jump into the Dotonbori. They just do it whenever there are festivities or, sometimes, if there aren’t.
Halloween, which wasn’t popular in years past, has now become reason enough for people to jump into the canal.
While the water quality has greatly improved (there are now visible fish in the canal), people are still jumping from a bridge into a canal. That danger is compounded by the fact that the area is filled with bars, so no doubt many a-dive has been powered by liquid courage.
There are now life preservers in case people end up in the canal as they inevitably do. It’s also easier to get out of the canal than it was pre-renovation. As there have been for years, there are also signs that say “Danger! No diving.”
令和 道頓堀ダイブ pic.twitter.com/UZyHrzgSPE
— たつろー (@iwatatsuro) April 30, 2019
Last night, as the imperial era changed from the Heisei Period to the current Reiwa Period, people gathered for a countdown. There were the inevitable Dotonbori dives.
Including this one, with the man saying, “Thank you Heisei” before jumping off the bridge...
...accidentally into a boat below.
— ZERO＠はてな (@shakaijin_zero) April 30, 2019
This could have ended up far worse than it did. According to Daily Sport, the company that operated the tour boat said it was a miracle that none of the passengers were hurt. This was the first time someone doing the Dotonbori dive has landed on a tour boat.
After the man landed in the boat, the staff offered to call an ambulance. The man said, “I don’t want that.” He and his friends vanished, so it’s unclear if he was hurt in the fall.
— 龍誠(りゅうちゃん) (@Ryusei5010) May 1, 2019
If you visit or live in Osaka, there are better traditions to take part in, such as kuidaore, which means “eating ‘till you drop” or “eating yourself into bankruptcy.” Don’t jump into the canal. Just don’t.