The first time I went to Japan I actually only visited the Kansai region. The vibrant lights, the street food, the seemingly randomly placed Ferris wheels and the ports all left a deep impression on me. On subsequent visits, Kansai has been almost inescapable. It was one of the first places I went to with friends on exchange and also the first place I headed to via Shinkansen on our 2015 trip. Every time I go it’s like visiting an old friend.
Osaka – Kyoto day 6
There’s a reason why Kyoto is a tourist hot spot. The range of traditional buildings and culture makes it a must visit for first timers. I’ll be one of the first to admit that strolling around the wide streets of Kyoto in kimono has a lot of charm, but it is a bit hard to get around. The only way to get to a lot of the big tourist sites is by bus. They can get pretty cramped and some of the routes and stops are a little confusing.
Despite having been to Kyoto a number of times I had never seen the number one tourist destination: Kinkakuji. I thought that it was high time to rectify this situation and made it our first stop of the day.
Sure, the floating temple is very picturesque but in all honesty, I wasn’t all that impressed. The gold painted temple shone a little bit too bright, to the point where it almost looked fake. It doesn’t help that the throngs of people in the small space made it more difficult to see.
Arashiyama is also another famous Koyoto destination that I have never been to. It’s actually outside of the Kyoto township. If you have a JR Pass, the closest station is Saga Arashiyama. The actual town is about 10 minutes walk away. Along the way, there are a few stores renting out kimonos and selling souvenirs.
Yojiya is famous for its oil blotting paper, but it is has since expanded into a variety of other things. The Yojiya café in Arashiyama had strong air conditioning and wasn’t full, which was the perfect combination. An ice cold yuzu lemonade slushie was a particularly welcome respite from the heat. Surprisingly, Ryan had a hot drink. He commented that the matcha latte was strong but also sweet. It also left his tongue a rather shocking bright green shade!
The curry rice with pork belly was surprisingly tasty. The vegetables were fresh and the fatty pork added a point of difference to the iconic dish. The Japanese style omurice rice was also rather different. Instead of tomato sauce, an almost soupy clear sauce.
Having eaten our fill and enjoyed the air-conditioning it was finally time to see the bamboo forest for which this area is famous. As with almost everywhere in Kyoto, the crowds stop it from being the serene contemplative spot that it could be. Instead, we enjoyed running amok the path and taking silly photos. The forest is fairly small and can be walked through very fast, but the cool breeze and occasional music players make it a nice place to linger.
As we made out way towards the river we passed by % Arabica. I had seen the cute cups on social media. As a sucker for marketing, I couldn’t help but line up for an iced coffee. Interestingly the ice coffee was just espresso with ice and milk, instead of a cold drip or filter brew. Despite the popularity of this place I honestly wouldn’t rate it that highly.
Even after the iced coffee I still hadn’t completely cooled down. Instead of walking up to the Monkey park, we slowly made our back to Saga Arashiyama. We took our time browsing through the stores and seeking out shade to make up for walking back, instead of taking the much closer Hankyu lines.
I will shamelessly admit that one of the reasons we were staying so close to the Umeda area was for Le Palet d’or. This chocolate store got its start in Osaka but is now also found in Tokyo. I was entranced by the images of decadent chocolate parfait that I had seen on Instagram. Our first parfait of the trip was one of the best. A sophisticated combination of well tempered dark milk and white chocolate with the house made red wine ice cream. The sugar flake topped everything off, adding a bit of crisp contrast and even more sugar!
Unfortunately, or perhaps, fortunately, the wait staff forgot to give us the chocolate tasting plate that I had ordered. This meant that we got some extra freebies of their signature chocolate. All of the chocolate was smooth, rich and complex. My favourite was probably the signature dark chocolate and gold.
On the way back to the airbnb we picked up some takoyaki and joined in with the last of people going home from work.
Osaka day 7
After Ryan saw my photos of a sumptuous seafood breakfast at Kuromon market, he insisted that we do the same. I’m not sure if it was because it was later on in the day, and it was tourist season but the market was incredibly crowded. Although the sashimi breakfast was decent, the crowds and need to shove people to get through the shoutengai was definitely a massive detractor.
Disappointed with the market, Ryan decided to have something that would definitely make him happy. That being Pablo. Pablo baked cheese tarts has to be one of my favourite Japanese chains. Although it’s now expanded all over Japan, to me Osaka is Pablo. We made it a point to visit the new(ish) Pablo cafe and try the cafe exclusive mini tarts.
I remain unconvinced about the takoyaki choux cream mini tart and the warm strawberry tart. In spite of this I still rather enjoyed the ambiance and ability to eat pablo without first needing to take it home.
Afterward I had plans to meet with Danielle, an American lolita living in Osaka. We met at Cafe Mingus. Google maps failed me and I was got terribly lost, but that worked out great for both of us in the end! I had a great time chatting and then shopping with her. I’m eternally grateful for her showing me where the Innocent World head store is and also telling me that there was a sample sale!
For dinner, I rejoined Ryan for a few rounds of famous Osaka street food. I’m not sure how we fit it in but we had takoyaki, okonomiyaki, and kushi katsu!
Himeji day 8
We set out fairly early to avoid the rain that was forecast for later that day. On our walk to Tenma station, I picked up some donuts from this cute store. I insisted that we go to shin-Osaka station so that we could ride the shinkansen again, such is my love of those trains!
From Himeji station, there is a bit of a walk to the castle. Buses and taxis also run the route between the station and castle, but we didn’t really see any point in catching one. As we walked along the wide boulevard the castle came closer and closer in sight.
Before getting to the castle proper we decided to explore the outer gardens and buildings. The West Bailey is most famous for the long corridor, but what I found more interesting were the various displays detailing the history and architecture of the castle.
Going up Himeji castle is a linear path of many steep flights of stairs. I had a bit of a knee injury from jogging, so it was a touch painful constantly going up and down stairs, but I still had a good time.
Just as we got to the top of the castle, we could hear thunder incoming. Our view of Himeji city fast became rather foggy. I’m sure it added to the atmosphere but it made me want to get out quickly and avoid getting rained on.
On our walk over to the castle, I had seen a sign advertising oden. At the time it was a bit muggy, but I soon became fixated on the idea of eating oden, even in the heat. Miraculously, the rain had brought the temperature down significantly and I could have a late oden lunch.
We returned to Shinsaibashi to do my last bit of shopping in Osaka. Although I continued wandering around America mura nothing really caught my eye.
As hoards of tourists descended down upon Shinsaibashi we found refuge in Dalloyau. This French brand is one of the first purveyors of cake and tea in Japan. The Osaka location is special because it offers an all you can eat cake deal at certain times of the day. Alas, we had arrived a little bit too late, so instead, I got my sugar intake with the cake set. The half macaron was most curious. I wonder what they do with the other half. Whereas Ryan had his second parfait of the trip.
No matter how crowded and touristy it gets I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for Osaka and Kyoto. On this trip, Ryan said that he doesn’t see himself going back to Osaka on subsequent trips to Japan, but I can’t help but disagree. Visiting Kansai is practically tradition and I’m not sure if my Japan trips will feel complete without it!
We stayed in an Airbnb in the Tenma area. It is one stop away from Osaka station on JR lines. We found this really convenient considering how many day trips we took. It is also a bustling area in its own right. The shoutengai is considerably dated but has a lot of vintage charm.
In Kyoto, we bought the one-day bus pass just outside of Kyoto station. For a bus only pass it is only 500 yen for unlimited trips. Considering that the bus to kinkakuji is already 230 yen by itself this is a great deal. It also saves the need to fumble around for correct change.
Since 2015 Himeji is completely open to the public! It had been under refurbishment for the last several years. I highly recommend seeing it while everything is open. With a building as old and historic as Himeji, it’s probably only a few years until there is more construction.