Jump into Japan – Kyoto, Nara and Osaka!

Hello everyone! Thank you for joining me for the second installment of my tour around Japan. In the previous post, I shared all the wonderful things I saw in Tokyo so the next step of my 10 day tour is exploring the wealth of culture in Kyoto, Nara and Osaka.

Now if you look at a map of Japan, Tokyo and Kyoto are kinda far from each other so there are a couple of options for travelling over. If we had maybe planned our trip better, it could’ve been an option to fly but being the easy going travellers we are, we rocked up to a train station and found the quickest way over was via the bullet train or the Shinkansen! The sleek design, smooth ride and overall speed of the train made up for it’s not so cheap price tag but considering it was the first high speed train I had been on – it was pretty cool aaannnd it beats using all of the local trains which would take almost a full day to get to Kyoto versus the 3 hours of stress free travelling. So, I’ll leave it up to you if you fancy experiencing the same thing or maybe encourage you to plan slightly better than we had haha!

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So however you get over to Kyoto, what can you expect to see there? Well first things first, there are a lot of temples, shrines, imperial palaces, gardens and a geisha district. All fun things to check out as well as culture to soak in but be warned it may ruin your desire to ever see another temple again…I still haven’t recovered and it’s been three years since I went! On most touristy maps of Kyoto it has all the temples pictured so I would recommend seeing the most famous temples rather than temple hopping because they do look pretty similar.

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One temple that sticks out as a must see, in all of its golden and shimmery glory is the Kinkaku-ji or The Golden Pavilion. This iconic Buddhist temple draws people from all over because one it’s covered with golden leaves that shimmer in the pond surrounding the temple and two, the gardens that encompass the pavilion inspire peaceful thoughts and hide away cute tea houses that you can warm up at.

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Once you get your fill of temples, Kyoto is also really great for shopping! Everything from charming street markets, all the weird and wonderful street food – tofu ice cream anyone? As well traditional trinkets and lots of anime and manga – yay! The shopping streets we visited are known as Shijo – which has all the luxury shopping and is worth a look but just a look because if you break anything, that is one hefty price to pay! Termachi and Shin Kyoguko are two shopping arcades which have more street market shopping – a much better place to shop on our budget and contain game arcades. It is also where I was able to buy Sailor Jupiter’s transformation pen which marked my whole as a success because before Sailor Moon Crystal was made, it was so hard to find Sailor Moon merchandise! Even if you aren’t one for shopping, it’s still interesting to go and see because compared to markets I had seen in Korea and Hong Kong, these markets were in a tall and wide streets with plenty of room to accommodate everyone; whereas Hong Kong markets are smaller, concentrated areas of noisy energy! For more information on all the shopping Kyoto has to offer check out the link here.

One thing that’s fun to experience in Japan, not necessarily Kyoto, is to check out a bath house or onsen!  Being from Scotland, bath houses or public baths aren’t really a thing because who wants all that awkward naked interaction? Well turns out a lot of Asian countries aren’t awkward about nakedness at all and it’s seen as a completely normal to go with family members and friends. So if you want to get to know your travelling companions a bit more this is a fun experience – once you actually muster up the courage to undress! In the bath house you’ll find a number of baths with different temperatures from the comfortable, boiling hot, freezing cold as well as herbal baths and a sauna – all have great health benefits or at least that’s what they tell you! The freezing cold bath is good for keeping your skin supple and springy so give it a go because it’s the closest thing we have to eternal youth at the moment!

Also being Scottish, where everyone is born with the cold being their best friend I find the ice baths quite refreshing – much to the horror of my friends and the respect of the elder women! In addition to bathing naked with a bunch of strangers, something else you might find is that people will be interested in you because you speak English. Countries like Japan and South Korea place a lot of emphasis on learning English but might not have the chance to practice it. So when my friends and I were bathing and chatting away we noticed that a Japanese girl around our age followed us from bath to bath, just because she wanted to practice listening to English. How did I know this? I caught her nodding at different points in our conversation haha, at first it might seem uncomfortable but be open to the experience as it is genuinely meant for academic purposes!

During our stay in Kyoto, we caught the subway over to Nara; another area that remains truly Japanese and by that yes I mean more temples haha! However Nara is fun to see because not only does it have a huge temple in the middle of a national park but it has hundreds of free roaming deer! Unless you’re scared of deer then don’t go because there are a lot! Like places that have lots of wandering animals, there are plenty of deer food stalls that you can buy from to hand feed the deer. Super cute right? Well the deer are used to people feeding them but they don’t like to wait so be careful as they might headbutt or bite you but remain strong and tell them who’s boss and they calm down. My friend wasn’t as firm with setting up the boundaries with the deer so she got several impatient bites! However the deer are meant to ‘bow’ first before you feed them so it’s fun to see that but if that isn’t enough to take the risk yourself I guarantee that there will be plenty others volunteering to do so – so keep an eye out!

Inside the belly of the temple is a 15 m tall bronze Buddha that you can visit but it is a paid entrance – not much but again with temples once you’ve seen a big Buddha (in Hong Kong) you’ve kinda seen them all so I opted out for this and managed to get a pretty cool deer selfie instead! Alongside the nature and temples you’ll find plenty of market stalls for more Japanese gifts for people back home or a cool souvenir for yourself – there were a lot of Katana around and as much as I wanted all of them I’m sure Customs would’ve had something to say about it so I got a touristy t-shirt for myself instead…just to be safe!

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The final leg of our trip ended with Osaka so we were only here for 2 days and honestly it wasn’t my favourite – though many people loooove Osaka so take my review of the city with a pinch of salt! I’m not sure if it was because I was really tired from the travelling, homesick for South Korea or that it was very obvious that people here weren’t as willing to help foreigners out. So upon arriving at Osaka we needed to find our accommodation but I misread the map and got horribly lost instead – at night. So it’s not really great to have people in convenience stores or in general avoid you or point blank refuse to help you out even though you had your hostel’s name in Japanese! Anyway grouchiness aside Osaka has a lot of cool things to do and see so here’s what we ended up doing:

Osaka Castle: This castle is not only impressive in terms of its architecture but in its construction of some 5 stories high with massive castle walls surrounding 15 acres of land and to top it all off it has its own moat! The grounds hold nature – cherry blossom trees in particular – an array of touristy shops and pretty interesting food vendors too. I tried a squid ink crepe whilst strolling through! What made this place stand out for me was that on the way to the next landmark I met someone I knew from South Korea on the subway! How crazy is that?

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In keeping in line with tall buildings we hit up the observation deck on the Umeda Sky Building – standing at 173 m and with an odd donught shaped observatory, the landmark isn’t that hard to spot! At the top of the building there are several fences full of pad locks attached to them. From my travels at least Hong Kong and South Korea have these too and basically they are known as ‘love locks’ that people can decorate/write on and attached to the fence to lock their love forever! So if you’re into that the locks are cheap and can be decorated as cute as you like, though finding a space to lock it on might be the only challenge!

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We also headed over to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan which is one of the largest aquariums in the world. It’s most famous for having a whale shark in its collection but we arrived too late to really get a decent look in so we ended up on the huge ferris wheel next to it. The calmness of the ferris wheel was a nice end to the Japan tour I feel because it was 10 days of full on travelling, spending money and eating. So having a space to just observe Osaka at night with great friends and a giant rabbit – it was in the carriage don’t ask – just allowed everything to sink in and for the first time on the trip I was sad to be returning to South Korea so soon… However that really didn’t last long because South Korea has the best heated floors which the rest of the world really needs to catch up on, I mean how else are you supposed to survive the winter!

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That’s it for my 10 day tour of Japan, let me know in the comments below if you’ve been to any of the places mentioned or if you want to share your experience with this amazing country, I’d love to hear it! I would visit Japan – namely Tokyo – again but this time with slightly greener pockets so I could enjoy everything without worrying, but isn’t that the dream eh? Haha thanks for taking a trip with A Scot A Broad, I hope to see you on the next adventure!

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