A country that i tell everyone that i come across is my ultimate favourite place to visit in the whole world! Thats a pretty strong statement but anyone thats visited would completely agree with me.
A country thats population respect, love and follow its culture to a tee. They queue in orderly lines and respect every aspect of its laws, so none are very rarely broken, the people are kind and welcoming and everywhere you step is spotless! So no stinky smelling McDonalds on the tube ride home for anyone. i have spent a few trips in Haneda and visited Tokyo and the surrounding cities around it which i fell in love with and couldn’t wait until i had the chance to be able to see other parts. So when i had the chance to travel to Osaka i couldn’t have been more thrilled!
Osaka is south of the country with more scenic views and areas to travel around. It is known for it’s nickname “the nations kitchen” with it being japans rice trade’s main route and considered a “gourmands paradise”! Being a huge foodie, i couldn’t wait to try every possible dish i could and travel around as much as we physically could in three days to experience great moments and sights to hopefully also inspire you all to want to visit.
We arrived mid morning at our hotel after an 11 hour flight but were determined to get good nights of sleep on this trip. If you are worried about jet lag then personally this is the best way to get onto a different time zone. Stay awake, however hard it may be, and power through until the evening to enjoy an amazing nights sleep and then you’re fresh for next few days to explore. We decided to explore the city of Osaka so that we weren’t to far from our beds if necessary. Osaka castle was our first stop. We were staying near the train station Yodyobashi in the business district so it was only a few stops away. The subway is the best way to travel around and is pretty cheap too. If you are staying for a while or know you will be coming back, then the PASMO card is a great option for getting around. It is the Japanese version of an Oyster card so you can top up as you go along but 1000 Japanese yen (which is around £10) will go a long way.
Osaka Castle, situated in Chuo-ku is one of Japans most famous landmarks and plays a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century, the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Situated on a beautiful mote and then surrounded by a beautiful park, the scenes of this castle, especially when the sun is shining are just stunning. If you manage to get to Osaka in the months of April – beginning of May then you might catch the blossom season, which we missed by a few days 😦 but was still a wonderful place to walk around. There are only two entrances to the castle so you are forced to enjoy the walk around the park to get to the bridges to enter up closer to Osaka castle.
Originally a home built by the samurai warlord and ruler of Japan in 1586 after accomplishing his goal of unifying Japan which showed a the symbol of power was soon passed over to his son and has now become a museum for all the enjoy and find out the history of early japan.
The views from the top of the castle are gorgeous and great to find out whats around the city of Osaka.
After spending a bit of time looking into the history and exploring the grounds we headed back to the hotel to freshen up and maybe take a little cat nap before meeting everyone else for dinner and some drinks.
The weather in Japan at the moment in May is pretty good, especially if you’re planning on travelling around. the worst thing is when it is scorching hot and you’re walking around and getting on and off trains. The days were sunny with a breeze so a light jacket would be perfect and sometimes the evenings could be slight rainy but still not too cold so pack a rain coat or umbrella.
Being the english tourists we are, we found a small hip bar called Captain Kangaroos which was a few minutes walk from our hotel. Happy hour is from 5pm – 8pm and Japanese beer (Asahi) is a great option, is so cheap so it will kick your night off to a great start. The food is pretty western so don’t count on any Japanese cuisine in there however there is a Japanese chain restaurant across the road called Coco Ichibanya which includes the best chicken, beef or seafood katsu curries i have ever tasted! So head over there.
One thing that i was super excited about was experiencing the karaoke bars out in Japan as its one of their favourite things to do on a night out out there. Seeing as it originated in Japan, we wanted to get the full experience of our first night with a cheesy sing along. We found a Big Echo which is one of the biggest chains in Japan for karaoke which includes a full room to yourself even with large groups and you can enjoy as many beers, cocktails, food and ice cream as you desire while choosing all your best songs from a wide range on a interactive pad. While someone is singing there favourite you can add yours to the queue with two microphones for a duet and group harmonies.
It is such a great way to enjoy each others company while seeing who has the best vocals in the group! We enjoyed ourselves so much that stayed until the doors were closing and almost had to be kicked out with finishing off Frank Sinatra “My way”.
Day 2, and after going to bed way later than we had planned, a few of us were still up, bright eyed and ready for a full day of exploring. If you need a little pick me up and like cold coffee then grab a COFE from the Family Mart, it is chocolatey, coffee heaven! I even bought some before flying home to enjoy at home.
We had three days to enjoy all that this part of Japan had to offer so we decided to travel out to Kyoto. 45 kilometres away, we took the bullet train (Shinkansen line) which travels from Osaka (Shin-Osaka station) all the way to Tokyo if you wanted to spend a few days there or were travelling onwards and only takes 15 mins to Kyoto and 2 and a half hours to Tokyo, which, for 13,000yen is pretty damn good, instead of having to fly! We paid only 1420yen to travel to Kyoto and you can get a single or return. There is a slower train which takes 30 mins to get there and was half the price so if you have time to spare then that is definitely an option for you.
There were a few places we wanted to explore in Kyoto so we spent the whole day there. Your PASMO card works out there too so you can jump on and off buses and trains as you please or walk to grab some scenes on the way. We decided to walk to Nishiki market as this was our first stop for exploring and the closest destination from the station and took around half an hour when strolling.
As we were walking towards Nishiki market, we came across a huge temple. There are so many temples and shrines to see around Japan, its just which one to choose from, so it is nice when you’re on the way to somewhere and come across one on your journey. Its a pretty weird experience when you’re walking along a road full of people and cars and when you enter a temple everything suddenly becomes completely quiet, serene and peaceful. No noise or bustle of everyday life, just quietness. It really makes you appreciate the respect the Japanese have for their religion and beliefs in that no one stops another from having their moment with their higher power, their wishes or prayers. No food or drink are usually aloud in the temples so there is never any rubbish, not that you find any on the streets anyway but they are so good at enhancing awareness to cleanliness and responsibility.
We had a peaceful moment, and then continued on.
There is no wifi or reception out in Japan unless your phone is contracted too. I am with 3 which allows me roaming for a lot of different countries like the USA, EUROPE and some of ASIA but not in japan so make sure you download a travel map app. I use, which i have mentioned before in some of my other blogs MAPS.ME which enables you to download a country and pinpoint places you would like to go to and routes your journey whether it’s by car, walking or train and gives you al the options. From train stations to bus stops and tells you how long it might take, all with no reception.
We finally arrived at Shijo-dori Street which, a few roads behind you will find Nishiki Market. Fresh food, homemade kimonos and sandals, new designed chopsticks to keep with you for breakfast, lunch and dinner that you can also have your named engraved on either in Japanese or English and local pharmacy stores that stock all the weird and wonderful that is Japan.
It’s a small street market the length of 4-5 blocks with lots to see, try and buy. A great insight into the local world of Kyoto.
After spending some time mooching and spending some dollar we headed off for a quick pit stop. I love finding new, interesting places that not all tourists might find and one of the girls was given a recommendation for a small cafe in Kita-Ku to visit. Wife and Husband is situated down a little alley way off of the main road that sits next to small local houses.
This alice in wonderland sized cafe holds around ten seats for people to come and enjoy home brewed teas and coffee with small slices of bun cake or honey on toast. In the summer they arrange a “picnic” service that allows you to take one of their woven baskets, blankets and hats if its a sunny day to enjoy their food and drink by the river on the grass near the cafe. Such a simple and sweet idea that takes you back to days in which we all enjoyed moments with family and friends from all continents.
The idea was created by a couple who’s first date was creating coffee with fresh beans in their small home and loved doing it together so much that they made their home into this cafe and continue making for others as husband and wife to this day.
We were so humbled by the idea and actually got to meet the couple while enjoying our iced coffee and toast that i just had to post this on my blog to make sure you all get the chance to enjoy the perfect little moments like this if you’re ever in the area.
After lining our stomaches with a beautiful little snack, we headed off back onto the train to our next destination. Kinkakuji Temple. Now this is where wifi and reception would have come in very handy as we didn’t know what time visit times closed for certain attractions. By this point it was around 5pm. We arrived in the Kinugasa area and headed up to the entrance of the temple to soon find out that it had just closed 😦 but you live and you learn and we decided we could head back to Kyoto the next day before travelling down to Nara.
So close yet so far!
SANAGO BAMBOO FOREST
Our last stop for the evening, as we were starting to loose light and getting very very hungry was the Sagano Bamboo Forest. Located in Arashiyama and a few minutes walk from the station the most beautiful, serene forest with several pathways that anyone can take a walk through. The area is all local and i can imagine how peaceful it must be to live there, and as the sun was setting it made the moment even better.
I don’t think, even with all the countries i have visited i have ever seen bamboo growing so freely. The towering green stalks sway in the wind, creaking eerily as the top leaves rustle. Again, the quietness of this area makes you stop and take in everything around you. You don’t want to talk, just listen. Us getting there so late in the afternoon was definitely a plus, i’ve heard that it can get pretty crowded on some days so we were lucky to be able to enjoy the peacefulness of the forest how the locals can.
If you can find the time to visit, you will not be disappointed.
We jumped on the bullet train back to Osaka in search to find food. We headed to Dotombori which is the Vegas of Osaka. It definitely does not disappoint! Lights, signs, 3D sculptures, actors in costumes, they even have their very own ferris wheel. When walking through, all you do is look up! It is a wow moment for sure.
This area is great for shopping, eating, lounging by the canal, or partying in the evening and has something for all ages and families. It’s the hub of the city.
We were advised to try a restaurant called Ichiran. Located on the canal Soemoncho you will find a queue leading out of the door. Personally that’s a very good thing for me as that means the locals love it, equalling in good, fresh food.
Once you’re inside, you enter your order into a vending machine. Rice, noodles, beer, meat.. whatever you desire. Once you insert money the machine will give you tickets. Keep hold of those. The waiters will seat you, in a row, not around a table where depending on whether you are eating alone or in a group you can then section off the sides so that the unknown people next to you can’t see you eat terribly. A small curtain will rise in front of you where the waiter takes your tickets and then passes you through what you ordered. It was was weirdest experience yet so interesting and i loved the concept. It works for people eating alone, in a duo or bigger groups and there is no waiting around for the bill at the end.
Food was delicious and filling and at a great price! Definitely worth a try.
After full bellies and tired eyes we headed back home for a good nights sleep so that we could be up early to enjoy our last full day in Osaka. We wanted to go back and visit two more places in Kyoto before heading down to Nara to explore around there.
We bought new tickets to Kyoto and felt like absolute pros on the transport system! Our first stop was straight to Kinkaku-ji Temple that we had missed the day before. Boy were we glad we went back! From Kyoto station you can jump on buses 101 or 205 that take you straight to the temple or the train to Kitaoji station.
The most beautiful Golden Pavilion sitting in the middle of a lake. The sun beaming down of it with nature filling the surroundings. It is one of the most popular buildings in Japan and is a zen temple that is completely covered in gold leaf. Kinkakuji was built to echo the extravagant Katayama culture that developed in the wealthy aristocratic circles in Kyoto during the Yoshimitsu era. Each floor represents a different style of architecture.
As you walk around, you get to see all angles of the building, as the sun shines upon it, all areas of it glisten. Couples in their traditional gowns stroll through the gardens making everything so much more authentic.It was such a beautiful morning to be able to see the pavilion and it’s grounds.
It was a lot hotter this day so if you are travelling around cities when it comes into their summer, try to always bring water with you. If you’re not the most organised packer then not to worry, Japan offers vending machine heaven on every street in every city providing you with hot and cold drinks, fizzy, soft, water or juice and with some of the most interesting flavours i’ve ever seen. Do what i did and try a new flavour each day! Here’s my favourite…
Our second stop in Kyoto and a littler further out was the Fushimi Inari Taisha. The Gates! This shrine is located in Fushimi-Ku, Kyoto.
Originally dedicated to Inari, the god of rice, sake and prosperity, it brings hundreds of thousands of people to its beautifully bright entrances and walkways which lead up a mountain to the gold shrine.
It’s thousands of vermilion torii gates, which you can walk through almost become hypnotising as each one passes. Each gate is engraved with old Japanese writing and we soon found out that each one of them has been donated by Japanese businesses as a sign of respect in hope of support for the future.
Another amazing place to see, learn about and explore.
Before jumping on the train to make our way to Nara, we grabbed a quick snack to keep us going which was located just outside the station.
Eaten hot or cold these little beauties are called Inari Sushi, a great small snack made of rice, mixed with your flavour of choice I.e beef, mushroom and wrapped in tofu. Light but filling.
It’s about an hour from Kyoto to Nara so if you have time on your trip then it is probably best to see this area in a whole day but we managed to get there before the evening set. Nara is closer to Osaka than Kyoto is so it’s easier to get home from there, if you didn’t pay for a return ticket on the bullet train then you can do what we did and caught Kintetsu Line which is an underground train almost all the way home.
Nara, located in the Kansai region, was once considered a former capital of Japan and only in 1898 did it become a city. It holds greenery, parks and scenes of pure beauty within walking distance. It keeps many of the countries history, significant temples and artwork dating back to the 8th century which is what entices a lot of the tourism today.
According to the legendary history of Kasuga Shrine, the god Takemikazuchi arrived in Nara on a white deer to guard the newly built capital of Heijō-kyō. Since then, the deer have been regarded as heavenly animals, protecting the city and the country.
It was said that they bow before you give them any food… we wanted to see if that was true.
The most beautiful animals just strolling around will happily come and approach you if they think you have food for them, very happy, wild and free so no harm is made to these deer at all. You can find areas where locals sell food for you to feed them so that you give them anything questionable. They are gentle and carefree but one suggestion I would make, like being around any wild animal, try and make sure you don’t have anything loose in your pockets or anything hanging from your bag or clothes.. The deer may assume it’s food.. I learnt the hard way HAHA..
It can get quite busy in the parks so keep walking until you find more peaceful spots, there are lots of deer and enough to get close, calm encounters with instead of herding around one bunch.
We soon found Tōdai-ji temple which holds the largest bronze Buddha in the world and has been stood since the 8th century.
It stands so tall and creates a powerful image just looking at it! As you walk in, the grandness of the hall is breathtaking.
Again, it’s pure silence inside so you get to have a moment to yourself, with your mind and heart.
It is such a beautiful building that holds such history in it that it is a must see! It reaffirms how far Japanese culture goes back and how much there is to learn.
As the sun started to set, we headed back home to grab our last supper.
We travelled back to Osaka and got off at Shinsaibashisuji. Another shopping district with market stalls and well know brand stores, but on the back streets is where the great food is.
The hustle and bustle, lights and advertisements make it so hard to choose just one place for dinner. But we finally decided on Sobo Shabo.
A traditional Japanese restaurant from the outside, it didn’t disappoint on the inside either. Kindly welcomed to our seats we were given hot towels to start.
For anyone who isn’t very adventurous with food can find it pretty easy to find simple food out in Japan with noodles and rice but in traditional Namba restaurants I would suggest keeping it to guests that are prepared to try everything.
The boys chose a very traditional dish of Sukiyaki. Where you cook your meat, noodles and veg together in your own sizzling dish.
Leah chose a more sushi based platter that had colder plates to it but still looked amazing!
You can tell I was hungry right. HAHA!
I enjoyed the most amazing display of different dishes. With a mix of sushi, soba, tempura and white rice.
At 1,800 yen including my beer this meal was amazing! And for the price, I couldn’t believe it! It was exciting trying every little piece of our meals, it was an experience as well as filling delicious meal.
I couldn’t recommend this restaurant enough and I’ll be going back there every time I visit Osaka. It was traditional, authentic and the best meal we could have had to the end of an amazing trip!
I honestly love Japan and it needs to be on everyone’s bucket list. We did a lot of our visits in single days and loved every minute but if you’re travelling around Japan for a while then take your time, spend as much time as you can to look around, take it all in, do one visit a day and don’t rush because you will never get back beautiful moments and memories.