My trip to Japan was one of the longest I’ve ever been on, and even if it happened over one year ago, I thought I should still blog about it! I was inspired by a friend who told about his trip of last year on Twitter recently.
I had been very eager to travel to Japan for a very long time (since my mid teens iirc) so it was a huge cross off my bucketlist. Quentin, my boyfriend, and I traveled for a grand total of 3 weeks and 3 days, from August 10th, 2018 to September 3rd, 2018!
Our travel plans were ready and everything was booked by June, but at that time, Japan enforced a law that required Airbnb hosts to register for a license number before mid-June. This made Airbnb cancel all the bookings for hosts without a license. Our trip was in August, so it didn’t trouble us as much as other travelers (who were in a hot mess) but we ended up cancelling out bookings as well, to book accomodation elsewhere. Fortunately, we didn’t have too much trouble finding other options. Airbnb refunded us everything we paid and even gave us a coupon of the same amount which we used for our trip in Amsterdam earlier in 2019.
This post will highlight the first (and longest) leg of our trip that we spent in the cities of Osaka, Nara and Kyoto.
⚠️ Warning: This post is picture heavy!
Day 1 – Osaka: Namba
We landed in Osaka early in the morning, our flight was a bit late due to meterorological conditions. Right after exiting the airport, we bought our JR Passes and headed straight to the hostel we were staying at to check-in and drop our luggage. It was very neat and located near in the city center, would 100% recommend.
(Our room with a tatami floor, a sliding door and futons stacked in a cupboard on the left side. My bad quality picture doesn’t do it justice, seriously!)
Then, we grabbed food at the nearest convenience store that we ate at a local park. The weather was extremely hot and if I ever go back to Japan, I won’t do it in summer again… Our room had aircon and I didn’t want to step outside anymore. However, that’s obviously not what happened!
After taking a much-needed shower and changing our clothes, we started exploring the city as we had the whole afternoon ahead of us! We went to Namba, a very lively area of Osaka located a couple metro stops away from our accomodation. My #1 purpose that day was to buy a new camera and I did at Bic Camera, which is a huge store that mainly sells electronics on several floors (8 in total for the Namba branch) but they also have makeup and snacks. Eventually, I settled for a Canon Powershot GX7 Mark II that I bought with a pouch and a lanyard. Along the way, we met Kévin and Virginie, two of our French friends who are also on vacation in Japan around the same time.
When we all exited Bic Camera, it was already dark inside (imagine how much time I’ve spent there, haha) and we ate dinner at CoCo Ichibanya, a famous Japanese curry chain restaurant. They let you chose the level of spicyness of your food to from 0 to 10. People who know me irl know that I can’t really handle spicy food very well (with some exceptions and I’m very sad about it), yet I thought a 2 would be fine for my katsu curry because it was labelled as “normal/standard”… but I clearly overestimated the strength of my tastebuds. I did finish my plate though.
(Namba, afternoon and night)
Before heading back to the hostel, I did some wild night shopping at Daiso. It was only the beginning of the trip but I was already feeling money leaving my bank account…
Day 2 – Osaka: Castle, Kaiyukan Aquarium, Shinsaibashi
Sleeping on a futon mattress was surprisingly very confortable, and we kicked off the day by going to the Castle of Osaka. According to the owner of our hostel the inside of the castle wasn’t worth the 700 JPY entrance fees, so we just admired it from outside! It was 15 minutes away by foot and it was torture under the scorching sun… There was a huge park around the castle and we can easily see that’s it’s a tourist area but that didn’t change anything to the beauty of the place.
We ate some shave ice and took a long stroll in the park before stumbling upon a small shinto shrine. It wasn’t crowded and I drew an omikuji for the heck of it. Usually, I think you need to tie them to some kind of fence to make the fortune come true or to negate it depending on whether it’s good or bad, but I just kept the paper as a souvenir.
(Fortunately, I’ve been well lol)
In the afternooon, we visited the Kaiyukan Aquarium and ate convenience store food as lunch while queueing for the entrance tickets. It was so long because we were on a Saturday, but the staff gave us some fans. The Aquarium had 8 floors and the visit started from the top floor to the bottom. With the crowd, it was hard to pay attention to everything, especially when we were getting to the lower floors because it was dark.
There were a lot of birds on the top floors including cute puffins and pinguins (I had to fight hordes of children and their parents to get a glimpse of the latter). The main attraction of the place were certainly the various types of sharks, especially an enormous whale shark. We could also find a lot of ray fishes, tropical fishes, jellyfishes, etc.
Something that surprised me in Japan, is that they have a “pet zone” in zoos/museums. Basically it’s an area where visitors are allowed to pet some animals after a good hand washing. At the Kaiyukan, visitors were allow to touch rayfishes and small sharks but they had to be careful of not letting their hands wander on certain parts of the fishes.
I ended up loosing Quentin in the crowd and was a bit panicked because I was the only one with a data plan, but thankfully he found a wifi hotspot and managed to contact me. We bought souvenirs before leaving the aquarium.
Then, we rode the Tenpozan Ferris Wheel, which was located just next to the aquarium. I usually find ferris wheels to be a bit scary because of the height but I handled it well and the view on Osaka from our cabin was breathtaking. It made me look forward to the rest of our trip!
(The Kaiyukan Aquarium, a selection of cute/scary animals I liked and the Tenpozan Ferris Wheel)
Next, we headed to Shinsaibashi! This is where we agreed that I can’t read maps because we walked for a while before realizing we were going in the opposite direction… There was a Beard Papa on the way so we grabbed some delicious cream puffs. I wish I could have taken back some with me but impossible, sadly. Before the trip, I saved up to buy a product at the Apple Store there since it was cheaper. The store was so crowded (everyone had the same idea!) that it took a while to get hold of a sales assistant. Of course, the sun had already set by the time we exited the store!
(Here he is, the iconic Glico man!!)
Dinner was at a random small kushikatsu (deep-fried skewers) place we found while walking. It was a bit pricey but rather delicious. Sorry for the lack of food pictures so far, I was too busy eating!
Day 3 – Osaka: Tennoji, Shinsekai, Umeda
This day was special because I got to be reunited with Yoshie, my Japanese roommate for a semester when I was studying in Beijing, for the first time since we left China! I felt like we didn’t change much from back then.
The three of us visited the Tennoji Zoo, but it wasn’t really the best day for it! It was again super hot that day, maybe even more than the previous. Some animals had to be withdrawn for that very reason. There were a lot of photocalls in the zoo, so we took our share of silly pictures too!
For lunch, we decided to get some okonomiyaki near the zoo. For those who don’t know, I guess it’s a kind of shredded cabbage pancake to which you can add ingredients at will. I had already eaten okomiyaki a few times in France, but in Japan, you often cook it yourself! The waiter gave me a bowl with the ingredients and an egg. After combining both, you spread the mixture on the sizzling grill on your table that you oiled first and cook the pancake for a certain amount of time on both sides. Then you spread sauce, top with mayonnaise and other toppings 😀 ↓↓↓
Shinsekai area with a lot of colorful businesses. Before going to the Tsutenkaku Tower, I tried my hand at the various capsule toy machines (gacha) that were pretty much everywhere! I guess I love the thrill of it, even though I don’t always get the prize I want. We went for Osomatsu-san cable bites together with Yoshie, and we each got the other’s favorite character so we exchanged them.
Then, inside the Tsutenkaku Tower, I did several rounds at a machine that distributed Touken Ranbu sticker bags too. My luck was quite good on that day.
One thing I couldn’t stand at some touristic attractions was that they forced you to take a picture regardless of whether you were going to buy, then printed it and threw it away if you refused to buy… A real waste of paper! Sometimes they’d accept to take a picture with your camera like it was the case that day. We posed next to Billiken, which somehow became the mascot of the area? I read that the character itself was American…
Later, we snacked on takoyaki (octopus ball-shaped cakes) at a mall in Umeda while Yoshie and I were catching up with each other intensively.
Day 4 – Osaka: America Mura, Spa World
In the morning, we walked in America Mura near Shinsaibashi, I didn’t find the area particularly interesting. There were a lot of clothing shops, but the style wasn’t what I’d wear and I couldn’t even fit in their clothes. Clothes sold in Japan are a bit smaller than in Europe in terms of sizing, I fit a M/L (40/42) in France, but in Japan I was definitely a XL.
Then, in the afternoon, we had fun at Spa World, a onsen (hot spring) resort in Osaka! It was my first time trying out hot spring baths and I was a bit self-conscious of being naked around that many people (baths are separated by gender), but seriously, no one cares. In the end, I really enjoyed it! You could really stay the whole day in this kind of place!
Yoshie joined us for dinner at an izakaya (tapas bar). It was difficult to find a place that was open because of the Obon holidays.
(Yes, that store is named Gross (lol) + sashimi, edamame and other eats + karaage fried chicken)
Day 5 – Nara
While I reunited with many friends in Japan, I also met some for the first time! Like Wendy, an online friend of many years from the Netherlands who was also on a trip in Japan. She joined us for our day trip to Nara, a city classified UNESCO World Heritage Site and famous for its deers roaming within it, you could already see them shortly after exiting the train station.
Deers are cute as long as they stay far from me… I fed them with the special cookies I bought from a lady. The instant I had them in hand, they floaked to me all at once and I panicked so much that I gave out the cookies fast. I became quite scared of them. A deer bit my bag too later in the day, and I let out the most ungraceful shriek. On the other hand, Wendy and my boyfriend were doing really great…
We visited Todaiji, a huge buddhist temple in which we can find one of the biggest bouddha statues in Japan. The inside was beautiful but I was lazy to take pictures of it. I guess I’m not really a picture person sometimes. You got to enjoy things with your own eyes!
Since a lot of places were closed because of Obon and it was 2PM when we exited the temple, there were even less places to get food aside of convenience stores. We ended up finding a small restaurant run by an elderly couple after walking for a while, their menu was pretty much sold out by the time we came and the food did take time to come because it was a small business but it was still delicious !
After lunch, we wandered in the commercial area to buy some souvenirs. Then, we stayed until late in Nara for the Chugen Mantoro Lantern Festival at the Kasuga Shrine. 3.000 lanterns are lit every year for Obon during this 800-year-old festival and it was such a sight to behold! There was also a concert at the shrine on that evening.
(Kasuga Shrine during the Chugen Mantoro Festival)
Before going back to Osaka, we grabbed some food at the food stalls before exiting the shrine. I tried hashimaki (pancake rolled on chopsticks) but I was a bit meh about it…
Day 6 – Kyoto: Arashiyama, Fushimi Inari
After the deers of Nara, we went to see monkeys in Kyoto at the Iwatayama Monkey Park located in the Arashiyama district. Monkeys there live in their natural environment and visitors are thoroughly warned to be careful with their belongings and of their behavior.
Even though the hike on the mountain wasn’t that long, it proved to be a struggle for my out-of-shape self back then. When we reached the top, there was a resting area with a lot of monkeys where people could purchase food to feed them as well.
Going down is easier than climbing up so it didn’t take us a lot of time to leave the Monkey Park. We struggled a bit to find a spot for lunch (again) because it was almost 2PM… Fortunately, a small bento place was still open!
We spent what was left of our afternoon at the Fushimi Inari Shrine! As expected, this shinto shrine dedicated to Inari (deity of fertility, foxes, agriculture, prosperity…) was packed with tourists but the place was really pretty! It’s known for its long path made of more than ten thousand torii. People don’t often hike all the way to the top, and usually stay at the bottom to walk around and take pictures. That’s what Wendy and I did, since I was exhausted by this morning’s hike, while the others climbed.
We visited the many souvenir shops located near the shrine until their — rather early — closing time. As you can probably see on the pictures, the weather wasn’t really good on this day. When our friends came back, the rain started to pour so hard that we decided to head back to Osaka, where we had sushi for dinner.
Day 7 – Kyoto: Nishiki Market, Daimonji
This day is one of my favorites in our trip because we spent half of our day around food! We visited Kyoto’s Nishiki Market in the morning and it’s paradise if you’re a foodie! (or hell, depending on how you view it, hehe)
I sure ate a lot while walking past every stall: strawberry daifuku, kolokke, takoyaki… Not only food I bought for myself, but also a few tasting samples. For lunch, we ate fresh sashimi at a fisherman’s stall. I chose to eat other fishes than salmon (that’s what we have most of the time in sushi restaurants in France) and even if I’m not really a picky eater, I was pleasantly surprised! It was super delicious… I’m actually still sad that I’ll never be able to eat these fishes here.
(Fish, desserts and tea!)
Like Nara, we chose to go to Kyoto specifically on this day because of something special: the Gozan Okuribi! Five huge bonfires are lit on the moutains of Kyoto in mid-August, at the end of the Obon festivities to send off spirits when they return to the spiritual world. Obviously, we couldn’t see every single one of them so we settled for the Daimonji, the first to be lit and also the most popular.
We sat by the Kamogawa River and ate a bunch of snacks while chatting until sunset. The view on the mountain was spectacular when they lit the 大 (dai)! It lasted for about 30 minutes until they extinguished the fire.
(The bonfire was quite far actually, my camera takes nice zoomed pictures!)
The event management was on point. The sighting spot was crowded with hundreds (probably thousands? I don’t really know…) of people, yet everything went smoothly when the event was over. No people pushing or stuff like that. Something like this would probably never happen in France.
Day 8 – Osaka: Expo Park
We were back in Osaka for the 3 last days of the first leg of our trip. Since we returned late the previous night, we allowed ourselves to chill a bit. On this 8th day, Quentin, Wendy and I visited the Osaka Expo Park. The city hosted a World Exposition in 1970 and this giant park was created for the occasion. There were too many facilities to visit within the park! We went to the the Expo ’70 Pavilion, which was a commemorative museum of the event.
It was really interesting to see how people thought the future would look like at that time. There were also a lot of curious items, haha. The big statue at the entrance of the park was funny too! What is it anyway? A bird who is grumpy deep down???
(I loved the ephemera so much!)
After that, we took a stroll in a Japanese style garden since other facilities were about to close (Do you notice a pattern here?). It was relaxing to be surrounded by so much green.
The Osaka Expo Park reminded me a bit of the Olympic Park in Beijing. Both of them were places that were specifically built for an event but now that they are over, they feel abandonned ? I mean, their frequentation is scarce for such ridiculously big spaces and it feels like a waste somehow…
In the evening, we hit a yakiniku restaurant for dinner before calling it a day.
(We really ate like pigs, oops!)
Day 9 – Osaka: Otaroad
Our time was dedicated to shopping and just chilling in general during the two last days. On Day 9, we browsed an awful number of anime merchandise shops on Otaroad together with Wendy and it kept us occupied for the whole morning. Animate, Surugaya, Kotobukiya… the list goes on!
We had sushi twice in the day without any shame… Quentin and Yoshie joined us for dinner. It was the last time Yoshie could hang out with us before long so I made sure to cherish the moment.
Day 10 – Osaka: Abeno
Day 10 marked our last day in Osaka! Aside of packing our stuff, we went to the Sakura Fantasy Café that was operated in Osaka’s Abeno Q’s Mall. It was a Card Captor Sakura-themed collaboration café and admission was only on reservation. (I booked in advance when we were in Nara)
The mall was a bit hard to find but we managed to arrive on time. We ordered food and got free limited-edition coasters for each dish/drink.
- Special Afternoon tea set (closeup below) + Sakura’s Pink Fluffy Shaved Ice
- Wonderland Fantasy Drink + Fairytale Land British-style Roast Beef
The food was okay overall but I remember that the bread which came with the roast beef was bland. Also since it was a collaboration café (meaning that the café exists as a place of its own usually), the decoration was pretty light so it was a bit of a shame. For those who are unfamiliar with manga/anime-themed cafés, their appeal (aside of the nice-looking food and décor) is the limited-edition merchandise you’re able to buy there. I did some small purchases because the merch was cute!
For the rest of the afternoon, we had a lot of fun at a game arcade! We played a lot of crane games and actually won plushies~ I really feel that it’s way easier to get a prize in Japan than at French fun fairs?? If you ask nicely, the staff can even open the machine and reposition the prize you want near the drop area to make it easier to grab. Sometimes when they see you struggle, they offer to help you on their own too.
Quentin won me a big plushie of Nyanko-sensei from Natsume Yujinchou and I was really happy because I love this fat cat so much!! I still sleep with it today.
When the arcade closed, we ate dinner at mall’s food court before saying goodbye to Wendy with the promise of seeing each other again!
(Pork ramen and karaage fried chicken)
That’s all for the first leg of my Japan 2018 trip! Thank you for making it this far, I hope it wasn’t too boring to read because it sure ended up being quite lengthy… Anyway, the post about the second leg in Aichi/Gifu prefecture should be coming up soon so stay tuned 😀
On another note, I moved my blog on another hosting platform, Teacake Hosting. I was hosted for over a decade at Three-words so it was sad to let it go, but Misaki has been gone for a long while. If my blog went down, I wouldn’t be able to do anything about it 🙁