Discovering Japan: Exploring Kyoto and Osaka on Foot
Having adored Japanese culture for a long time, I thought I was somewhat prepared for what it could be like to actually live in Japan. Several months of staying in the country proved me wrong, though. There is more to Japan than what we read in books or travel guides, what we view in movies or documentaries on YouTube.
Getting to know the country at a deeper level takes experience and involves a whole lot of walking. It was in exploring Japan’s streets that I got to know the culture and tradition behind its beauty.
Another realization I had was the importance of properly documenting my experience in a culturally rich country like Japan. Fortunately, I was able to prepare the right equipment and read up on the dos and don’ts of travel photography before I embarked on my adventure.
Let me share with you my travel experience of the must-explore cities in Japan: Kyoto and Osaka.
Kyoto: the city of old
Image Source: Pixabay
When you visit Kyoto for the first time, you’ll be charmed by how much of Japan’s old culture has been preserved. You’ll still find some people walking around in their traditional yukata and kimono. They are neither geishas nor maikos—just regular citizens who chose to wear these attires either for comfort or for incentive. A friend of mine who’s a local told me there’s an ordinance in Kyoto that entitles those who wear traditional clothing to discounts or free passes for public transportation, parks, museums, and restaurants. Cool, huh?
The city is filled with shrines and temples, the biggest and most popular of which is the Kiyomizu temple. Kiyomizu translates to “pure water” in English. Getting to the temple requires a long uphill walk up a the street that filled with vendors selling souvenirs and other native food items. Be prepared to get your camera out early and take snaps of the interesting signage and other things you may find.
Tip: if you’re into dressing up, there are kimono rental shops slightly further down from the street where food is sold, so you can try one on for size. Complete your look at the nearby salon that specializes in traditional Japanese hair and makeup.
Upon reaching the temple, you’ll be welcomed by ancient structures and artifacts that date back to the year 780. Marvel at the huge wooden stage with a magnificent view of the hillside. Capture the quaint and oriental beauty of the Otowa Waterfall as you wait for your turn to have a drink from one of its dreams, which are said to grant you blessings of love, work, or good fortune.
At the cityside of Kyoto, you’ll see salarymen rushing to get to work or to finish their lunch. Japanese people value their time a lot, so being punctual for work is a must. As Kyoto is formerly Japan’s capital and business center, a large number of offices are based in the area. At night, the karaoke bars in this city are almost always full, as it’s part of Japanese work culture to have a few drinks and sing some tunes with colleagues after work.
If drinking and singing might not be your thing, you can check out any number of sukiyaki and shabu-shabu places to get some grub. Some even serve unlimited meat, meaning you can eat to your heart’s content. My favorite is the Moritaya restaurant at Isetan Kyoto station. Its meat is so melt-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful, you can cook it without seasoning.
Osaka: going against the current
Image Source: Pixabay
“Osaka people do the opposite of what Tokyo people do,” is how my host in Osaka described the city’s customary lifestyle when I set foot in it. I’m unsure how accurate her statement is, but to me, the place is much more low-key and relaxed than Tokyo. In the countryside of Osaka where I stayed for a few weeks, I saw many people riding their bicycles with baskets big enough to fit a few items from the grocery. People seem to take their time going to and from their destinations. No people speeding right past you here.
In Osaka, people take food seriously. And how can they not? They have access to the freshest catch care of the Osaka wholesale fish market. Fresh produce and good grains are widely accessible, too (rice in Japan is the best!).
My host had the habit of inviting her guests to have breakfast with her, and our daily fare would consist of steamed salmon, plain porridge, soft tofu in soy sauce, and dried seaweed strips. It’s not what usually comes in mind when you think of Japanese food, but I’m happy I had it. I’ve never tasted salmon that fresh in my entire life! So if you get a chance to go to Osaka, try their salmon and tuna. Try to eat what locals eat. There is much for us ‘outsiders’ to discover when it comes to Japanese cuisine.
Osaka also offers tourists a unique shopping and leisure experience with its giant amusement complex Rinku Town, situated facing the sea with white sand spread out along the coast. Riding the 85-meter tall Ferris Wheel will afford you a breathtaking view of the sea and a bit of the big city. Don’t forget to take some snaps while you’re on it! Shutterbugs will also enjoy taking pictures of the rock garden where all kinds of beautiful flowers bloom throughout the year. Rinku Town is a must-see during Christmas season, as it looks like a pin from a Pinterest board with its colorful lights and extravagant decor.
If you have kids, take them to the Dagashiya or Dagashi store (penny candy stores) where they can buy candies for cheap. Your children will go crazy at the many kinds of candy they can buy with so little money. They’ll come out feeling like millionaires.
Dagashi stores have been around Japan since around the late 1960s, catering to children who had little money to spend on toys and treats. At the turn of the century, dagashi stores decreased as the economy grew and the Japanese lifestyles changed. So have your children visit a dagashiya while they still can, before this significant part of Japan’s popular culture totally fades away.
Japan: better on foot
Exploring Japan on foot can be tiring and confusing (especially if you haven’t mastered its railway system yet), but your efforts will be rewarded with new sights, new experiences, and new friends. And as with any other travel destination, you’ll get a broader view of the people and world around you.
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- Discovering Japan: Exploring Kyoto and Osaka on Foot - August 30, 2016