For the rest of the days in Osaka, Kyoto, and Hiroshima you have to imagine the temperature was upwards to 35C on most days and with humidity probably a lot more. The pictures don’t show it but we’re sweating like pigs for most of the day and constantly ducking to find A/C and shave ice haha.
We had a lovely breakfast at the hostel – combination of fresh rice flour bread, yogurt, kiwis and coffee before heading out on our first real day in Japan. Talking to my Japanese friend Ema, whom I had met at Jiao Tong University, she almost made it sound like there wasn’t that much to do in Osaka and preferred Nara instead so I took up her recommendation.
Nara by JR
Getting to Nara was pretty easy. From hostel we took the subway out to the JR circle line to Tennoji station and then another JR train to Nara. In all it took probably a bit over an hour? Once we got to the JR Nara station we talked to the tourist desk and the old ladies there were able to give some recommendations on how to get around. We hopped onto the bus and we got off at the entrance of Nara Park. We were going to start heading into the park when we saw a street lined with snacks (mochi most importantly), ice cream, shave ice and a shit load of deer. Ema told me there were a lot of deer roaming around freely but this was more than I had bargained for.
The deer here are so accustomed to having humans around that they’re not afraid at all and in fact wait around the area where there’s a cart selling deer food. Once someone buys some of these deer crackers they all swarm in for the kill. It was pretty hilarious seeing tourists try to feed the deer and instead either get attacked in unwanted areas or end up dropping the food and running away.
We had our eye on the green tea soft serve so we picked up a cone before heading into the park. The walk towards Kasuga Shrine was shrouded by tall trees, lined with donation light tower things and quite serene (if it wasn’t so hot). I think we were quite in awe with this being shrine #1 but wait until you get to the end of the trip when we reach shrine #98749 (I’m kidding…okay not really). This one had a paid entrance to get deeper into the shrine but we decided to just take a look around the outer courtyard grounds.
From there we walked towards Nigatsudo Hall which offered a great vantage point to look down below at the rest of Nara since it’s situated at the footsteps of Mount Wakakusa. Along the way of course we encounter more hoards of deer.
Todaiji Great Buddha Hall
The grand finale (minus Kofokuji which we hadn’t been to yet) was the Todaiji Great Buddha Hall which houses THE world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. At this point the sky was starting to spit a little but luckily it didn’t come down hard at all. This temple make all the other shrines and temples we saw along the way look like child’s play. This one truly was quite enormous and now that I think about it one of the largest single temple or shrine we saw throughout the entire trip.
Leaving Todaiji we eventually ended up on the same shopping street with deer waiting around the deer food cart. We picked up a shave ice which is unbelievably amazing in hot weather like this and then decided that we probably need to eat. The critical mistake was that we didn’t want to eat near Todaiji because we thought it’d be more expensive but the farther we moved away from it and back towards the JR station, the less restaurants we found and of the ones we did, the more expensive it got.
Part way through we found a tourist information building and more importantly AC and free cold tea so we took a pitstop there. While cooling off we found a small exhibition there about earthquakes and how buildings are designed to be earthquake proof which was pretty interesting. We were going to sit in this simulator demonstrating what it would feel like to be in a building without vs with earthquake protection but the operator seemed to be really into the girls that were in front of us and I had a feeling it would be awkward if we didn’t speak any Japanese.
We passed by Kofukuji along the way so we said what-the-heck lets just check out this last temple while we were semi-starved. This was another Buddhist temple complex closer to the city center with an array of pagodas, halls and houses. The unfortunate part was that the main hall was under renovation so it was fully covered. Thankfully this part was pretty quick to tour around before we were on our way back to the train station.
A few blocks before reaching the station we found this covered shopping arcade (which we will later see many of all over Japan) where we were greeted with more options for food than we could ever hope for. There was so much to choose from but we were really feeling some sort of sushi so we sat down in this tiny family-style feel restaurant. There were no customers inside of course since it must’ve been 3 or something. We ordered a sashimi platter, unagi and some cold soba, all of which were most excellent and just what the stomach ordered.
From there we strolled back to the station, happily full. Along the way I think I bought a postcard and two big mochi balls from some random girl lugging a cart selling snacks (Japan is mochi heaven *cue the choir).
Osaka – The Food Capital of Japan
Back in Osaka, we took the subway from Tennoji station to Namba directly so we could get to Dotombori. Dotombori is sort of the center of the universe in Osaka, with its numerous glowing neon signs, several bridges that straddle huge covered shopping arcades and spawns streets of food and more shopping. We really just wanted to take pictures of the Glico running man that is famous in these parts and just general people watching along the main bridge. There were also these scandalously clad girls and well the usual variety of metro guys handing out flyers but it was very selective who they gave it to. I was so intrigued but when we passed by we didn’t get one :(.
For dinner we knew we wanted to eat at that famous crab place called Kanidoraku Honten. It’s right by one corner of the main bridge and displays a huge 3D crab on top of its entrance. I was a bit saddened that the legs didn’t move because in my head I thought how awesome that’d be but that’s another story. Dinner there was pretty awesome because we had a great view of Dotombori and the combo that we got was crablicious with every item with some sort of crab in it. Our favorite was definitely the shabu-shabu crab.
Once we were done there, I knew I wanted to try more food since Osaka is really the food capital of Japan (or so Candie says) and so a place that my Japanese friend Ema recommended was Ajinoya Okonomyaki. She told me that this was a place where Toyota executives and her boss love to go so I figured we couldn’t’ go wrong there. We had to walk through a part of the shopping arcade but all the shops were closed or closing down because it was getting late which was unfortunate. It didn’t matter though because Ajinoya was AWESOME. We sat down and everyone around us were locals. We quickly pointed to this super combo that comes with everything and the lady comes back with all the materials and starts cooking it on the hot plate that’s in the middle of our table. After a couple flips it was done. See the photos below to get you salivating. The okonomyaki is more of a local variety here with a lot more lettuce and no egg on top but scrambled within.
With nothing else really open we then made it up to this hair salon called Lilo in Veve to meet hairstylist/owner Kyohei Hotta, Ema’s friend. Before I left Shanghai she had given me a gift for me to pass along to him. He has a beautiful little salon off one of the side streets and a lovely terrace outside with a pergola tangled with grape vines and tons of plants.
After dropping off the goods we checked out this funky store downstairs called Vanguard. Think IT store but bigger.
Not much else was still open except bars so we decided to subway back and call it a night.
- Wow I haven’t done one of these in awhile.
- Nara was once the capital of Japan from 710 to 784.
- Without seeing any of Osaka I can’t really say whether Nara was better than Osaka or not but it’s definitely a side trip worth doing. The deer experience alone
- Come to Osaka for the food. There’s just so many options here and things seem more accessible here than Tokyo.
- JR Pass rundown
- You have to buy the JR pass outside of Japan so there’s a bit of planning involved and you get to choose between 7 and 14 days.
- The best way to buy it is locally at a local travel agency that is on the list (http://www.japanrailpass.net/05/en05_2.html) but make sure you call them in advance because I got screwed once in China already when the JAL travel desk only sold JR passes to people that purchased flights with them.
- When you buy a JR pass you’re really just buying a voucher. You have to exchange this at an airport or main train station for the real JR pass which then becomes active the day you do this exchange.
- Reservations are not necessary and with the JR pass you can literally just take your pass, show the gate attendant (you always have to go through this person at any station) and then find the non reserved seating cars or if it’s a subway just get on. You can get reservations for free with the JR pass and I would recommend to do this a day in advance if you’re taking the shinkansen, want to guarantee a seat and want to sit together.
- For more detailed information see: (http://www.japanrailpass.net/eng/en001.html)
- You’re not quite invincible when you have a JR pass. Bottom line is the JR pass only works for JR related lines. Shinkansen wise you can ride any Shinkansen except for Nozomi, Mizuho trains since these are faster. Local city wise JR pass typically doesn’t cover any local buses or subways so expect to dish out some money take these. If you’re lucky like in Tokyo and Osaka, there are JR subway lines that operate with and around the local subway lines that you can take for free. It is a bit annoying that not all the subways are run under one company but that’s just the way it is here. In Tokyo sometimes the JR subway line is faster to take you where you want to go and sometimes the local subway line.
If you’re looking to do any travelling around Japan, I highly recommend picking up a JRailPass. Keep in mind that you’ll need to purchase it before your trip and ship it to your home.
- Breakfast at the hostel
- Subway + JR to Tennoji station
- JR train to Nara
- Local bus to the entrance of Nara Park
- Walk to Kasuga Shrine
- Walk to Nigatsudo Hall
- Walk to Todaiji Great Buddha Hall
- Cool down at information center
- Walk to Kofukuji
- Dinner at a local restaurant
- JR back to Osaka
- Subway to Namba station to explore Dotonbori
- Dinner #1 at Kanidoraku Honten
- Dinner #2 at Ajinoya Okonomiyaki
- Drop off gifts to Kyohei Hotta at Lilo in Veve
- Subway back to Hostel 64 Osaka
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Check out the Next Day
We head to Kyoto next, the epicenter of Japanese culture. Read Day 76 – Kyoto – Mochi Express All Aboard next!
Curious what else I did on my trip to Asia? See the full itinerary and all 89 days.