Thanks for coming back for the second part of the post about a trip my family took to introduce my daughter to Japan for the first time. Part 1 covered the first 5 days of the trip and this post will cover the last 6 days. I left off (in part 1) on the last day of our stay in Takayama as we explored Old Town and souvenir shopped. If you missed part 1 of this post, you can check it out here if you’d like.
Day 6 Kyoto:
Day 6 found us traveling from Takayama to Kyoto by train (by way of Nagoya), the scenery out of the train window of Japan’s countryside was just beautiful. Nature is amazing everywhere. Being from California, I’m used to driving most places, so it was nice to sit back and be taken everywhere.
We stayed at the Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto for 2 nights which was in a great central location in the city of Kyoto. We took advantage of the location and enjoyed walking around Kyoto browsing in the many shops and observing the day to day bustle of this busy city. We really enjoyed our stay at this modern hotel, and especially liked that they had a laundry room. Since we had to travel with our carry-on sized suitcases everywhere, we had to be limited with the amount of clothing we brought. Traveling in October required clothing for all kinds of weather, making it a challenge to fit everything in our suitcases. Having access to a laundry at the midpoint of our trip reset all of our clothes and it was nice to only have to pack for half a trip.
For the day of our arrival in Kyoto my mom had made reservations at Hana Kitcho Restaurant which serves unique kaiseki (traditional Japanese, multi-course meal) cuisine. From the hotel we just walked 10 minutes through the city of Kyoto to get to the restaurant.
I’ve had kaiseki cuisine before, but nothing prepared me for this amazing dining experience at Hana Kitcho. At Hana Kitcho restaurant we were guided through corridors with doors to private rooms until we were finally seated in ours. According to my mom, it is much easier to get a reservation for lunch with the added benefit that lunch is less expensive as well. Also, we didn’t want to leave even a morsel of this amazing food, so we were glad we had the rest of the day to work it off.
After our kaiseki lunch we squeezed into a taxi and took a 25 minute ride to Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple. This is another UNESCO World Heritage site and it is a very popular site. The pavilion is just breathtaking, covered with gold leaf, its reflection shimmering on the surface of the pond. Whatever angle you view the temple, there is a sense of balance and harmony with nature. I was so focused on keeping my eyes glued on the beautiful building that I didn’t even mind the crowds. Kinkakuji is a Zen Buddhist temple now, but it has been used in many different ways, including a retirement villa of a shogun. People are not allowed to enter into the temple, but there is a path that takes you to various places, such as a tea house and a former living quarter of the head priest, on the impeccably-maintained grounds.
When we returned to the hotel, we noticed there was a bakery next door. Japanese bakeries are heavenly, the aroma of freshly baked bread and beautiful arrangements proved too much for our resolve. Many of the bakeries are self serve where they provide a tray and tongs for you to pick out whatever your heart desires, it’s just a little too easy to let loose.
Day 7: Kyoto – Sanjusangendo Temple, Kiyomizudera,
There are many, many temples in Kyoto. I have memories of when I visited Kyoto as a child and all we did was visit one temple after another. The wow-factor started wearing off simply because we visited too many. This time we chose to visit only 3 (including Kinkakuji) so that we had time for other things like taking in a kabuki show and shopping for Miss You-Know-Who.
Sanjusangendo Temple is famous for its 1001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy and compassion. In the main building hall there is one large statue flanked by 500 human sized statues on each side (there is a strict no photography policy inside the hall, but a quick google search of this place will yield many pics of the statues). The temple hall is Japan’s longest wooden structure at 120 meters. All very impressive!
Kiyomizudera was the last temple on our agenda. Back into the taxi for a quick 10 minute taxi ride and we were at Kiyiomizudera, a Buddhist temple which is yet another UNESCO World Heritage site. Kiyomizudera was founded on the site of a waterfall and its name means pure water temple. This temple was the most popular of the ones we visited, yet it felt tranquil. People talked in hushed voices and were very respectful. The nature surrounding the temple, views of the city and impressive structures of the temple all contributed to the awe-inspiring feeling of this place.
There is a place at the bottom of the main hall where you can drink the water from the Otowa waterfall. The water is divided into 3 “fountains” and the water from each is said to have a different benefit: longevity, success at school and fortunate love life. You’re not supposed to drink out of all of them or else you would be viewed as greedy, so you have to pick which one to drink out of. Tough choice, which one would you pick? Unfortunately, there were so many school-aged children in line, patiently waiting to get a drink from the fountains, that we decided to forgo this and use the time to explore more of the surrounding area. On the way to and from Kiyomizudera there is a steep and very busy approach to the temple where there are many souvenir shops and restaurants. My non-Japanese hubby got stopped by a group of students who wanted to know if he would answer some questions for them. Actually, they were too shy to directly ask him themselves, so they asked my mom in Japanese if it would be possible. Every time he answered a question all the kids gasped as though they had heard the most interesting fact, took pictures, smiled and nodded in approval. Very sweet kids! Of course, their teacher recorded this interaction and we teased my hubby mercilessly about being a movie star in Japan. Poor hubby, his face was red from embarrassment the rest of the day.
Day 8: Osaka
Osaka is my parents’ hometown, their neck of the woods. When they are in Osaka, they just look more at home, they know the shortcuts, the best stores to buy my daughter’s knick knacks, where to buy the best Mont Blanc cakes, etc… My mom booked us a couple of nights at the Nikko Hotel because this hotel has convenient access to the Osaka Subway Shinsaibashi train station, and it is also across from the Daimaru Department store. You can go down the escalator from the ground floor and weave your way right to the basement level of the Daimaru Department store, not ever having to go “outside.” This was very convenient and it was very easy to pop over to Daimaru or other surrounding stores whenever we had some spare time. The only part of the department store that I’m usually only interested in is the depachika (the basement floor of the department store). I could be very happy just spending countless hours wandering around marveling at all the different foods from all over Japan. It’s a wonderland of Japanese cuisine! I was so busy taking it all in last time that I didn’t take any pictures, but I am determined to capture the depachika scene on the next trip.
Day 9: Osaka – Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan and Osaka Castle
Osaka Aquarium was on our itinerary mainly for my daughter who adores sea creatures of all types. We enjoyed our visit to “one of Japan’s most spectacular aquariums” and then the Tempozan Harbor Village afterwards. The problem with doing activities for children in October is that every other child in Japan is also doing this because it is the time for school field trips. So, the aquarium although impressive was a little hard to navigate with wall to wall children (no offense children). It was still worth doing even just for the look on my daughter’s face when she saw the enormous whale shark in the center aquarium or when she walked into the huge aquarium gift store. After grabbing a simple lunch at the food court at the Tempozan Harbor Village we took a 20 minute taxi ride to Osaka Castle.
Osaka Castle is one of the most famous landmarks in Japan and is definitely worthy of a visit. Osaka Castle Museum has a great collection of historical materials in its main tower (“approximately 10,000”). The elevator took us to the top floor which was the observation deck and from there we viewed each of the exhibits on the various floors as we made our way way back down.
We spent some time walking around the Osaka Castle park which is in the center of Osaka City and snacking (of course) on the various foods from vendors in the park. If you plan your trip in the spring, this is a great place to view the cherry blossoms.
That evening we were to meet with my Japanese relatives at a restaurant called Chunagon. We passed by the famous Dotonbori district with the large illuminated Glico sign above the Dotonbori canal. This is a very popular area and many people use this place as a meeting spot.
Chunagon restaurant specializes in lobster cuisine and I never knew lobster could be prepared in so many different ways. The lobster was presented beautifully and was incredibly fresh. It’s a little on the pricier side, so this type of dining experience is great for a special occasion. Meeting relatives for the first time ever for my daughter definitely was a worthy occasion.
Day 10: Nara and Todai-ji temple day trip
Nara is about an hour and a half by train from Osaka, so it is a good destination for a day trip from Osaka. My parents wanted to take my daughter to Nara Park where she could feed the deer to her heart’s content. They sell shika senbei (deer crackers) at the park, so she spent quite awhile feeding ALL of the deers. Some of the larger deer have become quite aggressive, so we learned quickly to keep your senbei hidden from them if you don’t want to be nipped by them.
On the grounds of Nara Park is Todai-ji Temple, one of Japan’s most famous temples. The main hall is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world and houses a massive bronze statue of Budha (Daibutsu). I mean massive! There’s a hole in one of the pillars that is supposed to be the same size as the statue’s nostril. So, if you can fit through the opening you are supposed to be granted enlightenment in your next life. Fit through a nostril and get enlightenment, I like it. What happens if you get stuck?..
Day 11 was our travel day back home to California through Kansai International Airport, which is located on a man-made island in the middle of Osaka Bay. The 17 hour time difference between Osaka and California was brutal, and it took a few days for us to reset our internal clocks. I think I fell asleep at work the next day, oops.
If you haven’t been to Japan, I hope you will consider visiting someday. There is something there for everyone. Even though my parents were our guides, most of the signs at the train stations and maps were in English, so I’m confident we wouldn’t have gotten lost. And if we did, my “celebrity” husband would have only needed to ask. The people are very friendly and helpful, and in many instances going out of their way to help us. Once you get the hang of the Japan Rail System, it is a great way to travel, made much easier with a JR Pass. Navigating the station with your luggage during rush hour and purchasing tickets with a long line behind you is something we still need to “practice,” but there is always something we’ll need to learn or figure out. That’s all part of the adventure!