Part Four of My Japanese Adventure
I’ve never been the best at maintaining that elusive work-life balance. I certainly have enjoyed blogging about my recent Agile and UX experiences over the past few months. Nevertheless, I’m only human after all. Therefore once in a while I need to take a break.
I’m currently embarking on my dream holiday of travelling through Japan with my panorama pro husband. I have loved sharing our experiences thus far. Furthermore, it allows me to keep my promise to numerous friends and colleagues to share some of the hoard of photographs I’ve taken along the way. Following on from our exploits in Hiroshima and Miyajima, check out our adventures in Kyoto and Osaka.
Today we say goodbye to the beautiful island of Miyajima. Wandering through the quiet morning streets before the crowds arrive is exceptionally peaceful. It gives us a great last opportunity to savour the sites of the shrines and Tori gate before boarding the ferry back towards the mainland.
Another day, another Shinkansen. This time we are off to Kyoto. With the average speed of 300km/h we make it from Hiroshima to Kyoto in no time at all. The efficiency and comfort of these trains certainly doesn’t get boring when you are used to the fun of London rail delays caused by leaves and sunshine.
Welcome to the bustling city of Kyoto! The former Imperial capital of Japan. We arrive at the station famished and find a tiny place serving udon noodles. It was exactly what we needed. I also received much thanks for finding a lost phone. Gratitude does indeed translate across language barriers.
Wandering around the station we find the Miyako no Taki Water Sign. Yes, this is far from a tourist site worth mentioning. Regardless this gave us a reminder of the Canary Wharf installation we regularly see back home. This one is far more sophisticated projecting shapes rather than words, but was still a nice sight to see.
Our first stop is Nijo Castle, completed in 1626. Finding the moat is indeed easy, but the entrance itself not so much. Regardless, once you enter there are many amazing sites to see. We enjoyed savouring the palace and gardens. The palace and rooms are exceptionally ornate.
Following checking into our hotel, we ventured out into downtown Kyoto. The central region has a surprising number of western style restaurants and bars. These are separated by numerous karaoke bars. Not that I’m inclined to venture into those and inflict my voice on the population of Kyoto!
Instead we opted for a more chilled out evening in a back street bar. After a day of travelling and sightseeing it was great to chill with wine and grilled beef tongue.
What has became apparent over the course of the day is there are a lot more tourists in Kyoto who are more likely to drum up a random conversation. The chatting Singaporean living in Sheffield striking up a conversation on politics would definitely be less likely in Tokyo.
On our first full day in Kyoto, we are off to Arashiyama to explore the legendary bamboo forest. Even with the crowds of tourists, it is an absolutely stunning place to explore. There are indeed ruminants of these hoards left behind, including carvings in the bamboo. Nevertheless, staring up among the trees and admiring the various shrines dotted around the forest made for an enlightening morning.
Navigating the various transport lines and buses takes us across the city to Kinkakuji. This stunning golden Zen temple is the former retirement villa of the shogun. Us and the other throngs of tourists were fortunate enough to stroll around the temple and gardens on a sunny autumn day when the sun reflects off the golden floors perfectly.
From golden yellow we move onto vibrant red and visit the famous red gates at Mount Inari. Fushimi Inari Taisha is the head Shinto shrine of the god Inari. This is apparent from the foxes dotted around the various ornate shines present across the mountain. Wandering amongst the gates gazing at the setting sun was definitely a good end to the afternoon.
The evening brings a new adventure with us heading back into the city centre to explore Gion. The historical Geisha district is a bustle of bars and restaurants today. Exploring the bright lights we did catch glimpse of a geisha while teaching a kindly Japanese man English. You can’t make these things up!
Today is wildcard day, with a surprise trip to Osaka. We can’t plan everything after all! Being Scots and Whisky fans, our first stop has to be the Suntory Yamazaki distillery. This is the first Whisky distillery built in Japan.
Tours are available, but unfortunately were booked out before we left for Japan. Nevertheless, the museum is is definitely worth a visit to discover the history of this amazing distillery. Downstairs is the Whisky Library, which shows the numerous different malts these use to blend their whisky. A cheeky tasting flight in the bar is definitely a must as well!
Next we head onwards to downtown Osaka. Our first stop is Osaka Castle, a key site in Japan. Located in the middle of a large park, we enjoyed strolling by the river gazing at the castle and eating pastries. We found this more our style than the small train that runs through the park.
Next we head to the Tsuyu-no-Tenjinja shrine. Historically this has been the guardian shrine of the Umeda district of Osaka. However, it also highlights the story of forbidden lovers Ohatsu and Tokubei. These characters feature in a Japanese play apparently based on a similar double suicide of two lovers. Unlike the bustle we have seen in Kyoto over the past few days, this shrine is pleasantly silent and reflective.
The quiet of the shrine is a stark contrast to our next stop, the bustling Shimsaibashi shopping district. The arcade is absolutely packed with people. Imagine the crowds of Oxford Street multiplied by a factor of 100. The shops house a mix of Japanese and Western brands. It was this moment where we finally find those elusive Matcha Kit Kats!
The Shimsaibashi arcade intersects with Dotombori, the main restaurant area. The intersection is also packed with people. Upon crossing the river you see masses of people and lights. Many of the adverts have sound so you have multiple messages mashing together in your ears as you cross.
This seemed like a good stop for some food. One of the items we’ve been itching to try in Osaka is Takoyaki. Osaka is the city of food after all! These squid balls are exceptionally tasty indeed. Even if ours didn’t have any tentacles sticking out!
Travelling back to Kyoto was a fun experience. The Keizen railway has different train types that stop at different station. Thankfully the limited express did stop at the right station for us, and in record time too!
Our final moment of Kyoto consisted of enjoying cocktails in a local bar with travellers from all over the world. Being able to sample a few Japanese gins, including the Ki No Bi recommended to us back in Tokyo was definitely a good end to our stay before heading home. Somehow the trip has come full circle.
All good things must come to an end unfortunately. We have absolutely loved experiencing the sites and lights of Japan. Hopefully you have enjoyed reading about our journey too.
Thanks for reading!