With our Japan Rail Passes, we were free to zip zoop around the country as we pleased – and it was such a novelty to go on such plush public transport without paying that we did. Lots. From memory I couldn’t tell you the order in which we visited the next few destinations of our trip. The cities of Kyoto, Nara and Osaka are all about an hour apart from each other so we travelled between them on a whim – perhaps because there was better weather forecast or particular accommodation was available that night and not the next. Overall we spent about a week exploring these cities. They’re firmly entrenched on the tourist trail and it was easy to see why.
You’ve heard of Kyoto right? Japan’s former Capital City, famous for its old temples and regal architecture? It’s viewed as Japan’s centre of culture – geishas, bamboo forests and ancient shrines are what it’s all about. Therefore it’s rather contrasting to Tokyo, so those who found the capital too frenetic and exhausting can look forward to a slightly slower pace here. The city is a treasure trove of sights to see. Mostly temples mind – and remember how we had decided we were ‘templed out’ in Thailand, about 3 months ago? Well that feeling still lingered unfortunately. We only deigned to visit a couple of the more famous shrines I’m afraid.
The Fushimi Inari Shrine in the South of the city is without a doubt one of the most distinctive places in Japan, and Jake and I were both super excited to see it. We joined the masses of tourists to walk up the hill through the orange gates, trying out best to get photos without people in! It’s funny how you always see images of the place looking so calm and serene, but unfortunately the reality is it is completely overrun with people. It was a bit of a game to try and get a photo of the gates while no one was around; “Quick! It’s clear, take a photo Jake! Oh wait, nevermind, there’s another fat Japanese man…”. Despite this we had a good time and took tons of photos.
One of the other most famous sites to see was the Arashiyama bamboo forest. There were unfortunately tons of people and it wasn’t possible to get a great photo. But it was a beautiful space near the city and we did manage to enjoy some solitude.
We went to visit Gion, a district known for being the traditional old heart of the city. Here, the streets are traffic free, the architecture is humble and classic, and there are plenty of cute shops selling traditional foods and souvenirs for the tourists. Many people who come here hope to catch a glimpse of a Geisha travelling from her home to a show. We weren’t so lucky, but we seriously considered going to see a Geisha performance/tea ceremony… decided not to in the end. No money =(
Nara is a small city located just an hour from Kyoto on the train. It is famed for its sacred deer that roam free in Nara park. The deer are extremely docile – you pay to buy some feed and they will just come right up at you. It was so much fun to hang out with them! We were lucky enough to have a beautiful sunny day while we were there, and we even visited a shrine or two, when we were able to rip ourselves away from the cute animals.
Osaka was our next stop – described as being a kind of mini-Tokyo, it is most renowned for its food scene. Japan’s best food can be found here, namely at Dotonburi, a long busy street dotted with amazing restaurants, markets and street food. We came here one night and tried some of Japan’s most famous delicacies. Cuisine that no-doubt most Westerners would turn their noses up at.
We started with takiyaki (fried octopus balls – named not because they are octopus testicles, but because the meat is served in a spherical form), then enjoyed okonomiyaki (fried noodle pancakes with tons of barbecue sauce) and yakisoba (fried noodles). For dessert we had some kind of incredibly delicious melon bun with ice cream…
Osaka is also worth seeing in the day however. We made the most of the wonderful weather and chilled in the grounds of Osaka castle, which is absolutely beautiful! Just lounging around under a shady tree, admiring the view of the moat and city beyond, while playing a little bit of Pokémon… bliss!
Kyoto, Osaka and Nara are all absolute must-sees if you’re visiting Japan. Jake and I enjoyed ourselves there so much – any boredom we felt from having travelled for 5 months vanished. We were exploring world-famous locations that were unparalleled in their beauty. We could have done with there being fewer tourists though…