We spent about a week between Kyoto and Osaka – there’s so much to see and do here! The many temples/shrines are amazing, with such an attention to detail! It seems that every inch of the buildings are polished and every plant in the surrounding gardens are trimmed to a perfect proportion! Whether you’re visiting with a spiritual motive or to simply site-see, you will not be disappointed! Of particular note is the shrine Fushimi Inari-taisha, a Shinto shrine with thousands of Torii gates – very beautiful!
Osaka was also a fun place to check out, especially their aquarium. You take an escalator up, and walk down through the aquarium via a spiraling walkway. There is a massive tank in the middle with all kinds of massive sea creatures – dolphins, seals, whales, sharks, whale-sharks, manta rays, and much more!
In both Kyoto and Osaka there are numerous beautiful gardens, walking paths, arcades (very intense experience), nightlife, and great food. If you’re in the area be sure to check out the town of Nara and Mount Koya, both are great day trips. Nara has some beautiful shrines and temples, and plenty of tame mini-deer! Mount Koya is a traditional holy mountain with a collection of very interesting monasteries, convents, and shrines. You take a train and a cable-car (funicular) to reach the top. There are plenty of beautiful walking trails around the temples and the little town.
The next stop is the bustling capital of Tokyo, and the end of our Asian adventures!
Hiroshima is a beautiful modern city with an ominous past. This is one of the two sites where the USA dropped an atomic bomb in World War II. The memorial and museum in the city present the atrocity and Japan’s role in World War II in a respectful and informative way. Let us hope that remembering this dark part of human history will ensure that it never repeats itself.
Aside from the memorials, there are many other great sites to check out. The Hiroshima Castle (actually a replica of the original) is an interesting museum of Japanese history. A little pricey, but interesting none-the-less. Another unique trip is to the Itsukushima Shine, a Shinto shrine along the coast. Depending on the tide, the shrine can be partly submerged in water. You can easily take public transit to this site via train/boat.
In Japan so far, it’s fairly easy to note that costs are quite a bit higher than other Asian countries. Long-haul Japanese trains are very expensive, but for budget travellers, you can easily take buses instead for a fraction of the cost. No pass is required – just head to the local bus station and buy your tickets there. In peak travel times, it may we worthwhile to buy the ticket a day or so in advance.
Jon and I had a cool experience in a Japanese restaurant/pub. We heard that okonomiyaki was very good, so we found a restaurant serving this. We walked in and saw what looked like a bar, but half of the bar was actually a large grill. We sat down asked for okonomiyaki. Our server then poured a rice-based batter on the grill to form a pancake like item, and started adding cabbage, pork, eggs, sauce, and all kinds of vegetables. When she was done she gave us a plate and a spatula. We could slice up our lunch and chow done when we were ready!
A local fellow at the restaurant noticed that we weren’t locals (I wonder how!), and told us he works as a chef in Las Vegas, and was back home for holidays. We chatted with him for quite a while, and he wouldn’t let us pay for our meal – he covered the full bill! What hospitality!
Fukuoka is a great introduction to Japan – very laid back with beautiful scenery. Although we didn’t do a lot, it was great to relax in the many parks and gardens. I also found the people in Fukuoka to be very friendly – sometimes confusingly so! I dropped into a 7/11 (which is actually a Japanese company now) to buy a quick lunch. As I was paying the clerk had a huge smile and said something to me in Japanese. Before I could blink he put a big box in front of me, and motioned for me to take something from it. I pulled out a little card with an anime cartoon on it. The clerk sounded like he was congratulating me… apparently I had won a free coffee!
While walking around we checked out the Fukuoka Castle and a Shinto Shrine. Shinto is a unique religion to Japan, and is connected to traditional rituals, mythology, connection with nature, and the Japanese Emperor.
Note that we were in Japan in April 2016. While in Fukuoka, we felt the aftershocks of the major earthquake that hit southern Japan. We were 200 km away from the epicenter, but very distinctly felt the shaking in the middle of our first night in Japan. On the roads, we could see many military aid conveys travelling to the affected area. Even in this disaster, it was heartening to see the people throughout Japan working together to raise funds for those affected.
Our next destination is Hiroshima. Onward and forward.