Out of all the cities in Japan we'd visited so far, we spent most of our days in Tokyo. Mainly because we wanted to do a couple of day trips to Mt. Fuji, Nagano, etc. However, that didn't happen. Let me start by saying that Tokyo's main railway station is the most complicated station I've ever been to! Nearly 30 countries down, and I've never seen anything like it. The three times I passed through this station, I got lost all three times. Its just too complex. Tokyo is a big, beautiful and fast-paced city with plenty of things to see. Since we had six days here, we could explore this city at our own pace. We stayed at the Grand Arc Hanzomon and bought a day pass everyday to get around. Here are some of the places we visited while we were there:
1) Senso-ji - This is one of Tokyo's oldest temples. We had to enter the Kaminarimon Gate and walk through a row of shops (Nakamise Shopping Street) selling Japanese stuff to reach the main hall. There are a few other structures on the grounds including a five storey pagoda. It was crowded!
2) Tsukiji Fish market - One of the largest and busiest fish markets in the world. If you're interested, you can even witness an auction that takes place around 2am. We're a bit allergic to early mornings so we visited around 9am for a seafood feast. The choice of fish is plenty and we saw things that we'd never ever seen before. This market also had fruits, veggies, spices, sweets and more. Ditch your hotel breakfast & head here!
3) Takeshita Dori - A popular street in Harajuku known for its teen culture. Stores here sell wacky outfits popular among the young crowd ... not something that I would wear though. If you love a good crepe, this is your place! You'll find a crepe shop after every 2-3 shops. Make sure you try out this giant cotton candy too!
4) Akihabara - This is Tokyo's electric town and you'll see why when you get out of the station. What you can expect here is fancy signboards, gaming arcades, stores selling any and every kind of gadget and shoppers hunting for great bargains. We were more inclined towards coin machine games that vended soft toys! In Japan, you'll see more adults at these games than kids. Plenty of French maid cafes too in the area.
5) Odaiba - An artificial shopping and entertainment island built on Tokyo Bay . To visit Tokyo Bay, we had to purchase a separate ticket as our regular day passes were not valid. This part of Tokyo kinda reminded me of New York. We saw a Statue of Liberty, Rainbow Bridge and a giant robot.
6) Rappongi - This area is popular for Tokyo's vibrant nightlife. There are clubs, bars, pubs at every nook and corner in addition to a number of restaurants too. We visited Rappongi during the day as well and checked out the giant spider at Rappongi hills.
7) Hachiko Statue - You may have watched the movie about this faithful dog who waited on his master in the same place every day for 9 years after his death. A bronze statue was built near Shibuya Station in memory of this dog.
8) Shibuya - Another area in Tokyo with flashy signboards, restaurants and more. The most popular tourist attraction here is the Shibuya crossing. Thousands of people cross this busy junction every hour.
9) Tokyo Skytree - This is the tallest free standing broadcasting tower in the world. We visited in the hope of seeing Mt. Fuji ... which supposedly can be seen from here on a clear day. Unfortunately, we were not that lucky. However, we did enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of the city. If you pay extra (which we did), you can visit a higher deck located 450 metres above the ground. Tokyo Skytree has a glass bottom floor which totally freaked me out!
10) Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building - Our second attempt to see Mt. Fuji from Tokyo was here. And we failed yet again. There are 2 observations decks - one at the north & the other at the south which are free to enter. We just enjoyed the view from the observation deck.
11) Ameyko Shopping Centre - We stumbled upon this large outdoor market by chance. What followed was two consecutive days of shopping. This place is insane. Rows of shops branching into even more rows of shops. This is a bargain hunter's and foodie's paradise!
12) Tokyo Midtown - An upscale area in Tokyo which consists of stores, restaurants, museum, park and a 5 star hotel. We popped in here just for an hour on our final day and basically walked around the mall and the surrounding garden.
13) Tokyo Dome City - An entertainment city in the heart of Tokyo that features a stadium, shopping mall, amusement park and spa. Although we were tempted to visit the spa, we couldn't because people with tattoos weren't allowed inside. We visited the amusement park though, where Mr. D unleashed his inner child. For an adrenaline rush, make sure you try out the Thunder Dolphin roller-coaster . I was happy to be a spectator!
14) Kabukicho - This is known as one of the liveliest entertainment areas in Shinjuku. Kabukicho is supposedly the red-light area of Tokyo with plenty of hostess bars, clubs and theaters. However, we felt very safe walking around. During the day, we checked out the gaming arcades and restaurants. At night, we visited the Robot Restaurant. This was probably one of the highlights of our time in Tokyo. It was a glitzy show of robots, dancers, lights and characters. Definitely worth checking out while you are in Tokyo.
Tokyo is a big city and there are definitely more things to see than what I've mentioned here. We visited Tokyo during the end of the cherry blossom city and this was the only city where we didn't see any cherry trees. However, I'd seen enough by then. I was more than happy to settle for unique food, busy streets, neon signboards and skyscrapers!
We were finally into the last leg of our Japan trip. This was also the last day that our Japan Rail Pass was valid, so we had to make the best use of it. The moment we landed in Tokyo, we decided to hop on a train to Yokohama. This trip was free for us as we had the Japan Rail Pass. Had we decided to go the following day, we'd have to pay.
Yokohama is a short 25 minute train ride from Tokyo. The journey time can be lesser depending on the train you choose. We randomly jumped onto the first train we saw and were packed like a tin of sardines!
The first place we checked out was the Ramen Museum. At this museum, you get to know how one of Japan's most loved dish is made. The place is designed to give you a feel of old Tokyo from when ramen became popular. For those who fancy eating ramen, you can visit any restaurant within the museum and try it out. We skipped this because the queues outside each restaurant were insane!
Next, we visited Motomachi - one of Yokohama's famous shopping areas. Although the only shopping we did was window shopping, we did go on a bit of an eating spree. In addition to that we got to see some of Japan's cutest fur babies proudly shown off by their owners.
In Yokohama, we spent most of our time at Chinatown. This is supposedly Japan's largest Chinatown and we could easily see why. Every little lane basically branched out into more lanes. I could easily spend a day here. Besides a couple of shops selling goods, people were more drawn towards the food joints. The food here was insane. We tried out some delicious steamed buns, nearly burnt our tongues after gorging on some dumpling looking things and tried a variety of other dishes ... some of which we didn't even know the names of. Basically, everything here was written in Japanese or Chinese and no one spoke English. If we saw a crowded restaurant, we'd rush there assuming that the food was good. It was fun!
We concluded our short trip to Yokohama but visiting Osanbashi Pier. This is Yokohama's Marina, where cruise ships dock and take off from. They say that from here, on a clear day, you can see Mt. Fuji. But sadly, we didn't. We did have a lovely walk though on the waterfront promenade and admired the Minato Mirai skyline. There's a lovely garden too thats worth checking out.
We covered Yokohama in about 5 hours. If you'd like to spend more time there - maybe explore more of Chinatown or see Osanbashi Pier are night, you could consider spending a night.
Yes it does. And I visited one when I was in Kanazawa. Shirakawa-go happens to be just 2 hours away from Kanazawa. The best way to get there is by the Nohi bus. Unfortunately, the bus ticket cannot be booked online :( And if you book it on the spot, there's no guarantee that you'll get a seat. Basically, you take a chance! We intended to visit Shirakawa-go on the 2nd day on our trip. And since they didn't have any seat left, we ended up going on the day we arrived ... actually 1 hour after we arrived. Since our hotel was a short walk away from the station, we managed to drop our bags and reach the bus station (which was right next to the main railway station) just in time.
The road to Shirakawa-go was long but smooth. Shirakawa-go is a UNESCO world heritage site famous for its Gassho-Zukuri houses. Some of these houses are 250 years old. We visited the Ogi-machi Village. Basically, we spent about 4 hours here, which was actually perfect to visit all the important sites and even enjoy a hearty Japanese lunch.
To begin our tour, we had to cross a suspension bridge to get to the village. It kinda freaked me out because .. you know ... "suspension" isn't exactly my favourite word. But there was no other way out. I did manage to flash a silly smile even though the bridge was moving slightly.
Walking through this village was such a humbling experience. All we could see around us were thatched roof houses. It felt as though we stepped back in time. We stopped by little shops selling souvenirs, food and handicrafts.
The first place we hit was the observation point. Mr.D and I were contemplating whether we should actually do this or not. The walk up was breath-taking ... quite literally it took my breath away! It felt like all the food that we'd eaten so far digested. Those slopes were nasty!. Huffing & puffing we finally made our way to the top, and you could say .. it was all worth it. We could see the entire village.
Some of the Gassho-Zukuri houses in this village have been converted into museums and we decided to visit two of them. "Wada House" is the largest of all the Gassho-Zukuri houses
and "Kanda House" offers a good view of the village. We paid 300 Yen each to enter both the houses.
Before heading back to Kanazawa, we had this tasty Japanese beef curry at a restaurant near the Shirakawa-go bus station. After all that walk, this was food for the soul!
When we think of Japan, the first thing that comes to our mind are big cities like Tokyo or Osaka. Smaller cities like Kanazawa do not usually make it to a tourist's itinerary. However, it was a part of ours. We spend 1.5 days here, the other half was a day trip to a picturesque village called Shirakawago (which will be covered in a separate post).
In Kanazawa, we stayed at Hotel MYSTAYS. Japanese hotels are usually small, and this had to be the biggest among everything we stayed in so far. Moreover, it was just a 5 minute walk from the main train station ... which was very convenient. To get to Kanazawa, we used our Japan Rail Pass.
As compared to other cities, Kanazawa was less crowded. Somehow, everything here was associated with gold. The moment we checked into our hotel, the first thing I saw were gold dusted strawberries. I seriously wondered what was next! Kanazawa happens to be Japan's gold capital and their main gold producer. That explains the gold everywhere.
We bought a 1-day pass for the Kanazawa Loop Bus and used it to get around the city. Here are a 7 places you should consider visiting if you're there for 2 days or so.
1) Kenroku-en - One of the three most beautiful landscaped gardens in Japan. We could have easily spent half a day here if we had more time. Instead we just went around seeing as much as we could. Expect plenty of trees, picturesque ponds, pretty flowers and more. Just before leaving, we had a nice little meal in the garden's cafeteria.
2) 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art - We are no "museum" nor "art" lovers, but this had to be done. Some of the exhibits here are really worth seeing ... like this swimming pool for instance. You wouldn't understand how it works unless you visit.
The museum isn't too big and can be easily completed in a hour.
3) Kanazawa Castle - The Kanazawa Castle grounds were one of the few places where we could saw beautiful cherry blossoms in Kanazawa. From the grounds, we just looked up and had a glimpse of Kanawaza castle.
4) Omicho Market - Because we arrived here past 5pm on Day 1 and everything was closed, we woke up early on Day 2 just so we could have breakfast. And boy! what a feast we had! Gold doughnuts, oysters, scallops, sea urchins were just a few things that made it to our stomachs! Besides food, the market also had clothing, footwear, etc. However, we were there just for the food.
5) Higashi-Chaya District - This happens to be one of Kanazawa's main geisha districts. And we were lucky enough to spot three of them. This well-preserved district is filled with tea shops, restaurants and shops selling edible gold in food.
6) Ninja-dera temple - We heard that this temple was unique so we wanted to visit. It requires a pre-booking by phone. We arrived there right in time for a short briefing (in Japanese) followed by a guided tour. The tour is in Japanese, however, you are given an English booklet for better understanding. You'll find unexpected things at each corner of the temple. That's what makes it different! Its mandatory to go with a guide and you are NOT allowed to take photos inside.
7) Nagamachi District ( A Visit to a Samurai's Home ) - Not much to see here except for a couple of traditional houses. Its a nice walk through the narrow lanes. Nagamachi also happens to be the area where samurais lived ... once upon a time. We visited a Samurai house.
While in Kyoto, we managed to spare a few hours to visit a small city called Nara. Nara is the oldest capital of Japan and a hidden gem that's an hour away from Kyoto. With our Japan Rail Pass, we were able to board any train to Nara. Just like Kyoto, Nara is home to a number of temples. Its upto you to decide how much time you want to spend there and what places you'd like to visit.
We managed to go around Nara by ourselves. We brought a day pass for 500 Yen at the main train station which is basically a hop on-hop off kinda thing. It follows a certain route and thankfully the two places that we intended to visit were along that route. If you plan on visiting many places, this is your best option rather than paying for each stop.
Our first stop was - Horyuji Temple (this wasn't on our agenda by the way!). Its just that the deer outside the temple kinda tempted me to get off. Before heading to the temple we had to pass through a park where 100's of deer were roaming about. After Miyajima, this was the next place to be filled with deer. They were after our bags, maps ... basically anything.
Nara is very memorable to me because I had a "bad experience gone good" here ... which I shall discuss later. The Horyuju Temple grounds have a couple of buildings located within their premises, the prominent one being the five storey pagoda and the House of Visions. Some of the structures here are said to date back to the 6th century. It is also one of Japan's oldest temples and considered a World Heritage Site. Before leaving, I decided to pop into a little temple to have a closer look inside.
Our next stop was Todaiji Temple, which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This temple is home to the Great Buddha. Its pretty much a long walk to reach the statue and you would come across more deer on your way. Not to forget little shops that sell amazing food like this strawberry mochi which I so happily devoured!
MY LOST & FOUND BAG STORY !!! :O
As I walked along with my mochi, I noticed that my handbag was missing! My bag will all the cash, credit cards (thankfully Mr. D offered to carry the passports that day). In all the panic, we began retracing our path trying to figure our where my handbag could be. We looked at our recent pictures & noticed that I didn't have the bag with me. Then, it hit me ... I left it the the previous temple. What followed was utter chaos - a marathon to the taxi stand and a big fat taxi fare for barely a 2 minute ride. Once we reached Horyuji Temple, we rushed to that spot where we thought it was and noticed that my bag still wasn't there. Just when we thought that the sky was falling down on us, we looked to the right and saw one of the temple caretakers carefully fold a grey bag and keep it aside. I don't know how many times I thanked the gentleman! Everything in my bag was intact - the 900 Dollars, credit cards ... it was all still there. Yes, genuine people still do exist! With a sigh of relief, we headed back to Todaiji Temple again.
TODAIJI TEMPLE Continued ...
We walked all along until we reached an ancient wooden gate from where we saw this wooden building. Inside the building, was a larger than life size copper-bronze statue of Great Buddha and a couple of other statues beside him. It was beautiful & definitely worth the long walk.
Once again, we hopped onto the bus and made our way to the final attraction in Nara. Kasuga Shrine also happens to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a Shinto Shrine famous for its stone and bronze lanterns. There's a long walkway in the middle of a beautiful forest leading upto the shrine with plenty of photo opportunities. There are also a couple of Torii gates and vermilion structures along the way.
After spending 4 hours in Nara, we were on our way back to Kyoto!
Five days in Japan and we were already into our 3rd city. We used the Japan Rail Pass to get to Kyoto. Kyoto is more like Japan's cultural capital. It has a rich history as compared to other places in Japan with a particular culture and character. Numerous temples, streets tinted with the colours of kimonos and traditional Japanese cuisine are just some of the things make up this popular city. We spent three days here and even managed to snag in a bit of Nara. Clearly three days are not enough if you want to see each and every thing here, however, its good enough to see some major ones. Oh! And just to be clear - April in Kyoto is packed with tourists ... probably because of the cherry blossom season. Its impossible not to have photo-bombers unless you wake up at 6am!
At first, we even had trouble finding a hotel here as most of them were full. To our luck, Hotel Hokke Club Kyoto popped up on Agoda one fine day and it was just a 2 minute walk from the main railway station. Pretty awesome eh? If you intend on spending three days in Kyoto, make sure you tick these places off your list:
1) Sanjusangendo Temple - This temple dates back to the 13th century and is well-known for its 1001 life size statues of Kannon - the Buddhist goddess of mercy. We walked into a narrow, long hall filled with statues covered in gold leaf. Each of them had a different face and 40 arms. They say that if you look hard enough, you'll will find your face on one of the status! There's a fee to enter and photography is prohibited inside.
2) Fushimi Inari Shrine - A Shinto shrine lined with thousands of bright orange Torii gates. Be prepared to be mesmerized by rows and rows of gates as far as the eye can see! Ridiculously crowded during noon though.Don't expect to be the only person in your photo. There are a lot of food stalls around the temple.
3) Arashiyama Bamboo Forest - Unlike any other forest, this one is lined with thick bamboo trees. The air is cool and the sun peeks through the lush forest. Visit early to avoid crowds.
4) Kyoto Station - Here's one station every tourist would probably pass through but would never go around discovering it. It has a very futuristic design and is especially beautiful at night. Besides an underground shopping mall, this station has a skyway and an observatory deck thats free to enter. Another interesting thing is their long staircase with 171 steps studded with 15,000 LEDs that creates amazing lights shows for each season. We witnessed a cherry blossom show.
5) Kyoto Tower - A long tower with an observation deck situated right next to our hotel. It looked beautiful at night. We were happy to admire it from the outside.
6) Gion - An old district lined with traditional style houses, tea-houses and shops. Gion is also one of Kyoto's main geisha districts. However, I didn't spot any !
7) Yasaka Shrine - So, we visited most of the temples during the day. By the time we reached this one, it was past sunset and we didn't want to make a second trip. This shrine is located close to Gion district. What I loved most about this place besides the illuminated lanterns was the Maruyama park. This park is popular during cherry blossom season. People were literally dining under hundreds of cherry trees.
8) Nishiki Market - A long, narrow market with more than 130 stores. On the day of our visit, we skipped brekkie so that we could go around sampling different kinds of food. Expect stuff like fried liver and sea cucumber!
9) Higashiyama District - Another popular geisha district in Kyoto with paved slopes decked with restaurants, tea-houses and souvenir shops. I still didn't spot any geisha!
10) To-ji Temple - This was the second 5 storey pagoda that we visited in Japan. It was 1200 years old and looked magnificent at night. There were a few more buildings within the temple grounds, however, we didn't visit them.
CHERRY BLOSSOMS - One of my favourite spots to view cherry trees in Kyoto was Maruyama park. It looked gorgeous at night.
Another place we saw them at was Keage Incline ... an old, abandoned railroad track. I'm sure that there are plenty of other places too, and if you have more time in Kyoto you can definitely go around exploring more.
GETTING AROUND - Getting around in Kyoto was relatively easily. We used a mix of subway and trains, and a taxi twice. For the subway, we brought a day pass and for trains we had the JR pass. A day pass works best if you're planning to visit many places on one day. There are buses around Kyoto station to take tourists to all the major sites, however, we didn't use them. Depending on your budget, you can decide what suits you best.
Until next time! x
After our visit to Miyajima, we returned to Hiroshima Station, picked up our bags from the locker and headed to our hotel. We stayed at ANA Crowne Plaza Hiroshima, which was a short walk away from Hiroshima's major sites.
I was looking forward to our Hiroshima visit, because I would finally be putting my history textbook to life! Hiroshima was reduced to rubble on August 6th, 1945 when the US Air Force dropped its first atomic bomb. 30% of its population was wiped out and many were affected. (for those of you who didn't pay attention to your history teacher!)
Not too far from our hotel, was the Peace Memorial Park. We walked through beautiful cherry trees which was once a pile of ash all the way to the Atomic Dome. This dome is probably the only thing that partially survived the bomb. It is now a protected site and serves as a memorial to all those affected by the bomb.
There's a little cafe next to the atomic bomb dome called Cafe Ponte which makes an amazing orange juice!
We also visited the Childrens Peace Memorial Monument, a tower dedicated to the child victims of war and the Cenotaph, an arch shaped structure which proudly declares Hiroshima as a city of peace.
The Peace Memorial Park consists of a Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Memorial Hall. By the time we reached the Peace Memorial Museum, it was closed. This is probably the first place you should visit when you're around the Peace Memorial Area, as it closes around 6pm. It contains details of the event that happened nearly 71 years ago. Such a shame we missed seeing this!
However, we visited the Peace Memorial Hall. A good thing is that all of this is free to enter (except the museum which we missed). Here, we saw names and pictures of people who perished on that fateful day as well as stories from survivors. Its amazing to see a city which was once reduced to ground zero transform into the Hiroshima it is today. The entire visit was just too emotional for me.
Later that evening, we walked around Hiroshima exploring its shopping and dining scene. In Hiroshima, they make they're own kinda Okonomiyaki called the "Hiroshima style Okonomiyaki". Okonomimura - a street named after this Japanese dish is probably the best place to try it out. We kinda went on an eating spree! Seafood in Japan is so much cheaper than Abu Dhabi!
For shopaholics, there's an indoor shopping arcade on Hondori Street from where I managed to snag some cute Japanese toe socks.
After spending 3 days in Osaka, we were off to a new city - Hiroshima. However, before getting out of Hiroshima station, we embarked a short journey to Miyajima - Japan's scenic island. For the sake of convenience, Hiroshima will be a covered in a different post. In reality, we spend one day in both Hiroshima and Miyajima.
Using a Japan Rail Pass : We used the JR ( Japan Rail) Pass to travel around Japan. It covers all the JR bullet & non-bullet trains (except the Nozomi & Mizuho) and in addition to that you can avail many other discounts. Visit their website to know more. We ordered a 7 day pass from their website and it was delivered within 4 days. Once you activate this pass, you can use it for 7 days (consecutive). It was good for us because we didn't intend on making any long journeys after 7 days. Anyway, we activated this pass at Osaka station. To sit on one of the world's fast trains was such an exhilarating experience. They call it Shinkansen in Japan or simply a bullet train. With this pass, you can even reserve your seat for free (make sure you reserve a day in advance so you don't have to wait in line on the day of travel). We opted for the ordinary pass rather than first class and we had enough place and amazing seats! Use Hyperdia to plan your journey.
Once we reached Hiroshima Station, we decided to leave our suitcases at the station before heading to Miyajima. We saved a lot of time this way. The good thing about Japan is that all the stations have lockers ... and they come in various sizes. We left our suitcases at the station, boarded another train (free for us as we had the JR pass) and headed to Miyajimaguchi Station (takes about 25 minutes). From there we boarded a ferry (again free for us because of the pass) and headed to Miyajima (takes about 10 minutes).
Once we reached, we gave ourselves about 3.5 hours to explore the island. Here's how you can explore Miyajima by foot!
1) Take a selfie with a deer! - They're all over Miyajima and they're considered wild. But seriously, they're not that bad. Just be careful with your food, papers, maps, etc.. the deer manages to pull them off from anywhere. One of them came after my ice cream and the other behind Mr. D's map! Its safe to take a selfie with the ones that are sitting down calm and relaxed.
2) Get up close to the Itsukushima Shrine - Here again, you've gotta watch out for the tide. We were lucky that it was low tide and we could actually walk all the way upto this giant floating Torii gate. This shrine is sort of like the pride of this little island.
3) Eat a Miyajima oyster - Miyajima was the first place I devoured an large oyster. And unlike the ones we have in UAE where you eat them raw, these are cooked. And they are so yummy and cheap. They somehow remind me of mussels! You better eat as much as you can here because in Hiroshima they are a bit more expensive.
4) Admire a five storied pagoda - You'll probably find more of these around Japan depending on where you go. This one was 28 meters high and situated on top of a hill. It is said to have been built in the 15th century and combines Japanese and Chinese architectural styles. The cherry blossoms just added to its charm. Make sure you climb up the stairs upto the pagoda area to get a wonderful view of Miyajima.
5) Visit the Daisho-in - A Buddhist temple that leads up to Mt. Misen. This temple is located at the foothill of Mt. Misen and you can go hiking (if you have the time & energy). If you're lazy and short of time (like us), you can walk around the temple and admire the many little Buddha statues near the entrance. Each Buddha has a different expression and is quite a sight.
Walking through this quaint little island was such a joy. There are rows of little shops near the ferry dock that sell souvenirs, ice cream, ornaments, socks and other knick-knacks. Some of the houses and shops on this island are centuries old and will transport you back to the good ol' days. If you have more time, its worth strolling around. Sadly, we had to leave for Hiroshima. However, we did manage to tick off the main stuff on our list!
Gone are those days when I used to book an entire holiday package from a travel agent. Travelling often has made me so wiser and I've learnt to save money. When you travel with a big group, you have to stick to a particular agenda and a meal plan ... which for me is just out of the question. And if you want an exclusive private tour, you have to pay a fortune! So, why not take help from the internet and make an agenda that suits you. That's exactly what we did, and now I'm saving you the trouble by making one for you! You're welcome!
Getting from Osaka Kansai Airport to the City Centre - There are a number of ways to reach the city from Osaka Airport. Obviously the most convenient way is taxi, but you have to pay. We caught the Nankai Rapi:t (takes about 35 minutes to Namba Station) and from there we had our hotel bus wait for us. We stayed at the ANA Crowne Plaza Osaka. Namba is well connected to other areas of Osaka, so even if we had to take the subway from there it would take us around 15 minutes. The Nankai Rapi:t train tickets can be purchased at the Nankai ticket office in the airport.
Getting around Osaka - We managed to get around Osaka using subway. We purchased a day pass for each day at the vending mention in the station. There's a JR Loop line where the subway pass is not valid. Some of the attractions lie on the JR Loop line, so we paid as we went. If you have a JR train pass (for inter-city travel), you can travel on this line for free. We had the pass, but didn't activate it until 3 days later.
We spent a little over 48 hours in Osaka, but those extra hours do not count as we arrived around 9pm. Here's what we did in 48 hours.
1) Umeda Sky Building - An unusual looking skyscraper with a floating garden and an observatory. This building comprises of two towers with a structure suspended in between. You have to pay to visit, but its totally worth it. The view from the top is amazing. You can see the entire city.
2) Shitenno-ji temple - Temples are to Japan what churches are to Europe. There are just so many of them, so its good to plan in advance where you wanna go. Shitenno-ji is Japan's oldest Buddhist temple. Within the temple grounds, they have a number of little buildings. I personally loved the turtle pond filled with little turtles and the cherry trees.
3) Osaka Castle - This was one of my favourite castles in Japan. On the castle grounds, people were pick-nicking, dancing ... the whole place was bustling with life. We had to walk a couple of steep slopes to get to the top ... where the castle actually was. But it was so worth it. We didnt enter the castle but rather enjoyed its view and the little food stalls on the outside. If you are there during cherry blossom season, try out the Sakura ice cream.
4) Universal Studios - We visited Universal Studios only for butter beer! We missed having this in Orlando and couldn't bear the thought of leaving Osaka without trying it. We made some time late in the afternoon and popped in. If theme parks are not your thing, you could skip this. Many of the rides had like a 120 minute waiting time ... which was ridiculous! Only towards the end of the day, the timings were reduced to 30 minutes or so and we got to try some of them. Atleast my wish of drinking butter beer was fulfilled :D.
5) Dotonburi - The home of the famous Glico man ... a neon lit board with an image of a ... well... a running man and a giant moving crab. We spent our evenings here on both the days because it had all the action. And not to forget, it looks amazing at night with neon lights everywhere ... kinda reminded me of Times Square. Moreover, the dining options are endless.
6) Tsūtenkaku - An iconic tower in the middle of Shinsekai with an observatory. You have to pay a fee to visit. We were happy to admire it from the outside.
7) Shinsekai - Osaka's retro looking entertainment area filled with shops and restaurants.
8) Shinsaibashi - A long indoor shopping arcade that looks like its built under an arc. The shops here sell everything from clothes to electronics, souvenirs to musical instruments, and much more. This is a shopper's paradise to be precise. For a change, I didn't buy anything! If you walk all the way to the end you reach Dotonburi.
9) Cherry Blossoms - We visited Japan during cherry blossom season and we got enough and more! The best place to see cherry blossoms in Osaka is the Kema Sakuranomiya Park. This park has nearly 5000 cherry trees, and you basically walk under them. I cannot even begin to tell you what an amazing experience that was!
Other nice places to see them are Osaka castle and Expo 70 Commemorative Park (we didn't enter this park, just saw a bit from the outside).
As you can see, we covered quite a lot on our own in two days. Once you get a hang of the Osaka metro system, getting around is a breeze! Most of the attractions are around a metro stop.
Next up is - Miyajima! Stay tuned x
Mr. D and I usually plan our holidays in advance. At the end of each year, we sit down and count the number of holidays we have the following year and where we should go. I have to admit ... Japan was not part of 2016's holiday plan. Two months prior to visiting Japan, Mr. D told me that he wanted to be in Japan during Sakura (cherry blossom). And just like that, WE WERE OFF TO JAPAN!
Our 16 day trip to The Land of the Rising Sun started off in Osaka and ended in Tokyo. I personally know a lot of people who have Japan on their bucket-list, its just that we got to tick ours off sooner. Before going into all the deets about each place we visited, I'd like to share with you some things about Japan that really fascinated us.
1) Public Transport Etiquette - How often do you hear the sound of silence on a very busy metro? Everyone was in their own world ... most of them busy on the mobile phones. The only people who were chatting were us (whispering of course). The Japanese are a very disciplined lot, thats for sure.
2) Hi-tech Toilets - You might have heard about Japanese toilets. They take pee and poo to a whole new level! They are not as complicated as you think, trust me, just too futuristic ... like the rest of Japan. Everything is in-built into the commode unit - spray, music ( to muffle nature's sounds so you wont be embarrassed anymore!), the bottom dryer, warm seats, etc.
3) Vending Machines - The Japanese have a vending machine for every damn thing. And they have them everywhere. You do no need to visit a store to buy cup noodles, umbrellas, toys, underwear, hot-dogs and more!
4) Japanese People - In the 16 days that we were there, we didn't see a single grumpy face. They are warm, welcoming and always willing to help. Not everyone might know English, however, we never found that a problem. I remember the time we got lost at the Osaka station ... and a kind Japanese man left his work behind and walked along with us until we reached our destination (even though we insisted we could manage). They are amazing people!
5) No Tipping in Japan - I'm unsure of the number of countries in the world that do not accept tips. However, I don't think that there are many. Japan is one of them. They consider it as an insult. I remember an incident where I almost lost my handbag at a busy, touristy temple in Japan. I carelessly left there and realized it only 45 minutes later. When I return back to the spot, I saw the temple caretakers fold my bag to keep it inside. I was touched, and unfortunately couldn't do anything about it other than shake their hands and thank them a number of times. They are HONEST.
6) Innovative Food and Wacky Restaurants - The Japanese are very innovative when it comes to everything. Let me ask you a question ... what comes to your mind when you think of Japanese food? Sushi? Mochi? Well ... thats just one part of it. When we were in Japan, we ate sea urchins, black vanilla ice creams, gold dusted donuts (real gold!) and many such crazy things.
Some of the restaurants were unlike anything we'd ever heard off - a French maid restaurant, a robot restaurant, onsen restaurant, ninja restaurant, etc.
We only visited the Robot restaurant.
7) Dressing Culture - The Japanese have a unusual sense of style and they are not ashamed to show it ... especially the youth (I'm not talking about the kimono here). You'll see them dressed as different characters - rainbow hair, neon skirts, colourful socks, painted faces, funky boots .... its actually pretty fascinating.
Japan will surprise you in more ways than you think. I have never seen a country like it.
To know what we got upto in Japan, watch out for my future posts or subscribe to receive updates!
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