We totally missed everything about Osaka, which I consider as our favourite destination throughout the 9 days trip in Japan so far . Here are some of the best parts of the visit.
1. Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan
This is one of my favourite spots in Osaka! Kaiyukan has over 15 large tanks containing underwater creatures from Japanese forest to Antarctica, from jellyfish to penguins, to name a few. Its “Pacific Ocean” tank, located at the center of the aquarium, is surrounded by a spiral ramp from 8th to 4th floor to allow the visitors to enjoy the view of numerous ocean fishes while strolling and taking some looks of the smaller tanks along the other side of the room. Two gigantic whale sharks that swim calmly around the tank definitely served as the star of the show (at least for me), especially because our visit was only a few weeks after “Finding Dory” was launched (remember Destiny?) My husband faced some hard time asking me to go out from there because I didn’t want to leave the place!
Some part of the tank
At the exit, you will find a pond that allows you to touch some stingrays. Of course, you’ve got to be gentle, and as they said, do not touch their tails!
Dotonbori is a very popular and crowded street in the center of Osaka, where you can find a lot of restaurants (many of which have long queues), stores, and cafes. The surface of the canal that reflects neon lights of the buildings on its both sides make the area comes even more alive at night. You can also find Don Quijote, one of the famous discount department stores in Japan.
Ramen vending machine
3. Universal Studio
Man, this place was completely crowded the day we got there and the waiting time was overwhelming. I mean, I know that theme parks are popular, but FIVE HOURS waiting time in a lot of rides? You’ve got to be kidding me! And not only that, due to the extremely hot weather, the long queue was also found in front of most of the vending machines and beverages stall, that we had to line up for half an hour just to get a drink. Jeez!
However, it was still pretty enjoyable, especially because it was the first time we entered The Wizarding World of Harry Potter area, trying the infamous Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey after a long 2.5 hours queue. We planned to taste the butter beer too but we said “forget it” as soon as we saw the lines.
Also, they have One Piece (manga series about Straw Hat Pirates) performances there, which my husband love badly. We ended the trip by buying a T-shirt at one of the One Piece stalls.
Waiting time: 310 minutes
4. Osaka Castle
We visited the castle and we loved it! You can find a museum inside the castle tower that provides information about the castle’s history and Toyotomi Hideyoshi, once the ruler of Japan that united the country. They also displayed the samurai suits, swords, and letters too!
The view of the castle's surrounding
5. Great Food
There are lots of famous and delicious delicacies in Osaka, and many of them are affordable too! One of our favorite was the sushi restaurant around Sinsaibashi. The food are cheap and the staff are very friendly!
We also visited Kuromon Ichiban Market where were sold to one store that displayed their fresh seafood from crabs to sea urchins. We pointed at two scallops on the display and they grilled them right in front of us.
Kuromon Market delicacies
Osaka was the last city in our itineraries, and I almost cried by the time we stepped into the airport for our departure back to Jakarta, because I didn’t want to go home!
Overall, visiting Japan was a great experience with all those friendly people, amazing food, and beautiful sceneries they’ve got there. I am totally going to come back! We’ve been talking about visiting Kyushu and having a hot spring bath experience that we didn’t make in our first trip. We’ll see!
Photo courtesy of Japan-guide.com
After spending 3 nights in Tokyo, we moved to Kyoto by train. We had to go through a long queue at Shinjuku Station to purchase the Shinkansen (bullet train) tickets, which was unexpected and pretty exhausting, but we made it! Here are some highlights of our trip in such a beautiful city.
1. Lovely Bento on the Train
Our trip to Kyoto Station was scheduled at around 12 PM but we arrived earlier just to make sure we didn’t miss the train. You know, just in case. We had to wait for about one and a half hour because of our early arrival at the station, thus we decided to enjoy some coffee and rest our feet at a coffee shop before we climbed up to the railway area when it was already close to the departure time.
It was only few minutes before the train door was opened when I saw a stall having bento (Japanese-style packed lunchbox) arranged on their glass display cases, that immediately made me drool and reminded me that we had not bought anything for lunch! I let my husband lining up in front of the train door while I hurriedly ran to purchase two packs of bento. By the time we opened the boxes on our seats, we were sold! The lunch boxes contained a lot of items inside that were decorated beautifully, and the taste was not bad at all! It was probably the most pleasant lunch experience I have ever had on a train.
Bento for lunch
2. Strolling in Yukata
We woke up early on our second day in Kyoto because we had a 10 AM appointment at Yumeyukata, one of the big kimono and yukata rental stores in the city. We booked the appointment through their website which was pretty user friendly. Their basic yukata plan, which was 3,500 yen/person and 6,500 yen/couple, would give you a set of yukata, obi (belt), genta (Japanese wooden sandals), and a drawstring bag to carry your phone and wallet. Yay!
There were already some customers at the lobby by the time we got there. We only needed to show the reservation confirmation e-mail at the reception desk before we got escorted to the second level to choose the yukata that we preferred. I’m telling you, it was one of the toughest decisions I made, because they were all very pretty! They’ve got wide ranged colors and patterns, and also obis to accessorize the clothing. The staff were very friendly, and one of them even helped me to choose the obi whose color matches with the patterns of the yukata that I picked.
Going up to the next level, it was a female changing room where there were three people ready to assist you to put on all the layers of the clothing. It took around five minutes before I was escorted to the fourth level for a hair do that I also booked earlier. Yup, a hair do. I mean, come on, I’m already in a yukata, why don’t just take it up a notch, right?
I was so amazed on how experienced the staff were, because the whole process took us less than 45 minutes. We chose our genta at the ground floor before we walk out the door, looked and feeling like a true Japanese!
Our first stop was Gion, which was well known as the Geisha district. The area was very classic and beautiful, and I know that I will take a Gion Walking Tour by Night - that I actually planned to - on my next visit, because then we would get a more detailed explanation about maiko, geiko, and the location itself, instead of strolling randomly around the streets like what we did (which was not bad, though). Also, I believe a visit in the evening would give us a different view of the district.
My yukata look
Our next stop was Fushimi Inari Shrine, located at the base of Mount Inari, that is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates. To be honest, I am impressed on how Japanese ladies could wear yukata and genta doing their activities all day long. Seriously, walking around with a traditional Japanese look was indeed fun and exciting in the beginning, but getting through all those ladders at the shrine in wooden sandals really got my feet sore. Japan’s summer heat also made us sweating and feeling damp under those many garments we were wearing. However, it was still an incredible experience that I would most probably do again on my next visit to this country!
3. Eat, eat, eat
We had fun culinary trips in Kyoto. Our first stop by the time we arrived in the city was Okonomiyaki Katsu, which was a tiny restaurant inside a residential neighborhood. The owners were very friendly and the food was awesome! We ordered one yakisoba and one pork okonomiyaki, and none of them disappointed us. It definitely worth a second visit (or more).
We had some breakfast at Café Rhinebeck the next day, a pancake house that opens from 8AM – 10PM. It was a pleasant experience because the service was outstanding and the pancakes were marvelous. We ordered one sweet pancake and one savory for each of us and both of them were soft and moist.
Pancake at at Café Rhinebeck
During our Kyoto stroll, we found out that matcha (green tea) dessert were very popular there. You can see plenty of shops advertise and highlight their matcha parfait or soft cream combinations along the street, and people were lining up for that! We ended up entering a nice café located close to Shijo dori (dori = street), ordering one matcha parfait, which was definitely a nice thirst quencher after such a long walk.
Overall, Kyoto life is more relaxing compared to Tokyo that is very packed and busy. There are a lot of classic wooden houses along the roads, many people biking and even riding rickshaws, and we found peaceful atmosphere at a lot of neighborhoods in this town. It doesn’t mean that there’s nothing modern in Kyoto, that advanced transportation systems and numbers of shopping malls with high-end brands are already available to offer us a metropolis experience. However, the old ways of Japanese life remains very strong in the city and that’s what makes Kyoto is loved by many.
I have always dreamed about going to Japan, and I finally got a chance to explore Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka with my husband in a nine-days trip (and seriously, it was definitely not enough!) last summer. We went on our own, but we booked some activities through a travel website, which actually gave us a delightful time and some insights that many of which I would share with you on this blog. Our first stop was Tokyo, and here are some of the facts and sceneries we encountered during our trip in the most populated city in the world.
1. (VERY) Limited garbage bins
It only took us a few hours – or less – to find that something is quite unusual in Tokyo, that the city is very clean and we see no garbage on the street, but neither is any garbage bin! We were pretty confused about where to throw the empty bottles, receipts, and also the food wrappers, because trash bin is very hard to find even at the stations.
We later found out that the reason why is because of what happened in 1995 where a cult poisoned over 5,000 people inside Tokyo Metro trains with sarin gas. The incident was followed by some other terrorist acts that forced the government to perform preventive actions, one of which was to remove trash bins from public streets, parks, and stations.
The crowd in Shinjuku
2. Mount Takao
Of course Mount Fuji is the most popular among all mountains in Japan, and you can see it on a lot of paintings and various souvenirs, even snacks and cakes, sold in the country. However, just like Jakarta people has "Puncak" to go to when they need a short weekend gateway for a hiking or to simply breath a fresh air, Tokyo people have their own Mount Takao, by which you will actually pass on the way to Mount Fuji.
Located only one hour from downtown Tokyo, Mount Takao, which has obtained three stars Michelin Green Guide, is one of attractive day-trip destination options to be put in your itinerary. The mountain offers such a beautiful sceneries and even a view of Mount Fuji when the sky is clear. You can also find a temple with statues of the infamous Tengu standing close to the mountain's peak.
Mount Takao Hiking Track
Photo courtesy of japan-guide.com
3. Mount Fuji up close
After few hours sitting on the bus from midtown Tokyo, we finally arrived at Kawaguchi Lake, which apparently is the most developed among the five lakes at the base of Mount Fuji. It was a breathtaking experience to see Mount Fuji right in front of our eyes. We were taken to a souvenir area before the bus brought and dropped us off at the 5th station which is the starting point of the climbers that is surrounded with restaurants and shops.
There were large crowds the time we got there, because our visit apparently fell on one of the peak days within Mount Fuji’s official climbing season that only lasts from July to mid September. It doesn’t mean that you can’t climb outside the official climbing season, but the risk of off-season climbing is higher because of unfriendly wind and weather conditions.
Mount Fuji view from Kawaguchi Lake
"Dango" around Mount Fuji area
4. The encounter with ninjas
You might have heard a lot of stories about Ninja or “Shinobi”, one of the most popular icons in Japanese martial arts. Ninjas were trained and equipped to be able to serve as spies, and although the skills have no longer been passed on, we can still view some “ninjas” at a location near Mount Fuji named Oshino Shinobi no Sato or what people call as Ninja Village.
There are some attractions in this small park that allow you to experience the ninja life like Ninja Trick House and ninja tricks performances, and you can even get yourself introduced into the shuriken (ninja star) throwing techniques. At the same location, you can find a kids playground that was built with a ninja training area setting. There is also a restaurant where you can taste some ninja-style feast if you happened to get hungry.
The best part is, they provide ninja clothing for both adult and kids, so that you can stroll around the beautiful park and take pictures in such the iconic black suit!
Photo courtesy of Maren Pauli
The rest of our Tokyo trip was spent in famous tourist spots like Meiji Shrine, Shinjuku, Shibuya, Ginza, and Tokyo Tower.
We had a great time finding new things like how Japanese people are willing to stand for hours just to have some ramen (or other food), and we also gained unique experiences like visiting some standing-only soba restaurants where the food is prepared right in front of us and no seat available at any corner of the room. However, I found that the two next cities were more likely to get my second visit.
Hence, don’t forget to check out my next posts to read about my trip to Kyoto and Osaka!