Aqueduct at Nanzenji Temple
The brick Aqueduct was built in the Meiji-era, a time when Japan was rapidly modernizing.
This year’s Golden Week holiday was finally the time to go and see the Kansai area. I had long wanted to go and see Kyoto – a place that my Japanese friends described as “must-see”and that I imagined to be the Japan from the movies.
I caught a direct flight with Air China from Shanghai to Kansai International Aiport and decided to spend an initial day in Osaka prior to heading to Kyoto.
In Osaka I stayed at the Daiwa Hotel at Uehonimachi Station. The hotel is a practical business hotel that’s conveniently located either a 20 minute walk from Namba Station or a 3 minute walk from Osaka Uehonimachi Station.
The hotel is spotless clean, comes with the typical built-in plastic bathroom capsule which even features a tub and a big king size bed. I slept like a baby and can highly recommend the hotel. The front desk as decent English skills and everyone is extremely helpful. I had a late arrival at 2am and the nightshift was not only awaiting me but also had everything ready for me to go so that check-in took less than 3 minutes.
My itinerary for Osaka was rather short and I left a lot to random exploration. In the morning I started to walk north towards Osaka-jo, the local castle. It’s a museum on the inside and offers a lot of information on the various wars that waged around Osaka from the 1600’s all the way until WW2 and beyond. I’m not that much of a history buff so I selectively checked out the swords and armor and made my way to the top for a fabulous view.
From there i continued to head north and then found myself following the river along to Nakanoshima, where I had a nice lunch on the water. The park is popular with families and large groups of friends who will bring along they bubbly, blankets and food for a relaxing weekend picnic.
From there I headed north towards the Umeda Sky Building – definitely something you can skip, if you already enjoyed the panoramic view from the castle.
The rest of the afternoon I spent in the area around Namba, which is a bit like a mini-Harajuku, with funky stores, more shopping options than you would need and of course the obligatory Tokyu Hands. I stopped Brotures, your number 1 destination for everything fixed gear and the guys there are extra nice.
In terms of food, the one thing you need to eat is Okonomiyaki – also known as Japanese Pizza or Pancake, it originates from Osaka and I am a huge fan! There’s many options along Dontonbori.
The next day I set off to Kyoto. It’s an easy hourlong train ride that takes you from the heart of Osaka to the heart of Kyoto. The scenery along the way is mediocre, however, if you like it’s most definitely possible to ride your bike. I opted not to but instead stayed at a Ryokan in Kyoto that rents out bike for just 500Yen a day.
In Kyoto I met up with my good friend Alex and we opted to stay at Ryokan Shirakawa. It’s a small family-run guesthouse and the people are super friendly, english in combination with hand and foot language gets you quite far and the location is ideal. The rooms are typical tatami mat rooms, decently sized and air-conditioned. Facilities such as showers, bathrooms and kitchen are shared, Wifi is available and decent and the bikes are ace (albeit slightly tiny, but that didn’t stop us).
The Kyoto Itinerary:
Cycling North along the river then head towards the northwestern mountains to see the Golden Temple, the most famous Rock garden and the Bamboo Groves. Follow the route on Strava. The whole bit is slightly hilly and comes with fantastic vistas along lush forests, golden fields and glistening rivers. I loved it.
Sights covered on day 1:
The second day was for heading south. We once again took to the bikes and after sampling coffee and various cute places in town we headed south towards Fushimi-Inari, which we hiked all the way around during lunch-time heat. Then we returned towards the city, stopped for some delicious Ramen on the way and then went to see Shoren-in, which with its 1.001 golden statues. Here Buddhism and Hinduism meet and despite the temple not showing up in most guidebooks it offers a different perspective and is rather impressive. From there we then headed up the hill towards Kiyomizu-dera, just in time for sunset. The temple is currently being refurbished, however, it’s still a worthwhile trip.
See the cycling route on Strava.
Sights covered on day 2:
Day 3. Daytrip to Nara.
Nara is just a hop and a skip away and the train goes every 20 minutes. Once again, it’s only 40km by bike, so you could easily decide to ride over as well. We opted to take the train and rent bikes there. My Osaka hotel had recommended a place and we ended up renting our ride for the day at Yamatokankoh Rental-Cycle. The bike rental shop is just up the road from Kentetsy Nara Station. Cross the road from 7/11 and head up the hill for 2 blocks. The shop the comes up on your left hand side. Beware, there is another shop just a few meters prior, but service here isn’t half as good and there’s less options. Yamatokankoh offers single speed, 3 gears and also pedelecs, starting at 500Yen for the day, bikes must be returned by 8pm.
Nara is very small so sights are limited. The first thing you’ll notice is deer. Deer is holy and everywhere, roaming freely around town in the area of Todai-ji and the Nara dear park. It’s cute and many -specifically Chinese- tourists go rather crazy over the deer. You can buy snacks for them and pet them and take pictures. Since they were well fed by the Chinese, we didn’t contribute here.
Next to Todai-ji, which is truly impressive (one of the world’s largest wooden buildings, largest bronze statues, largest gate, and a hole the size of the hole to paradise), we also checked out Nara Park (deer alert) and shrines around the park. Lunch proves to be a tricky one – make sure to stick to ‘normal’ lunch hours, as you won’t find much that’s open between 2 and 5pm.
See the route we took on Strava.
Sights covered in Nara:
- Nara Park
- Kasuga Taisha
Back in Kyoto we were joined but more friends who came to see Kyoto and were bound to then head out to Tokyo the day I left to return back to Shanghai. Once again we rented out bikes from our Ryokan and the day was then dedicated to coffee, bike shops, temples and shrines. This day we headed up north and circled back around to Gion. See the route on Strava.
Sights covered on day 4:
- Kyoto Imperial Palace
- Yoshida Shrine
- Philosopher’s Path
- Yasaka Shrine
The one thing you should eat in Kyoto is typical Kaiseki food. It’s rooted in simple seasonal vegetarian cuisine served in Zen temples. We decided to have fine dining Kaiseki cuisine for our last night together in Kyoto. One of the recommended restaurants is Minokichi. Located in a traditional farmhouse amid bamboo gardens, the restaurant is known to serve some of Kyoto’s finest kaiseki cuisine for more than 150 years. Reservations are required, so we called the place up and booked a room for the night. The dinner turned out to be a true experience. 8 courses were served, one being cooked in front of us, the patron grandmother folded origami for us and we spent more money on this one dinner than we had spent for accomodation for the entire week.
Courses contained various Japanese delicacies, such as fish, seaweed, vegetables, but also turtle. This was not quite down my alley, being an avid diver and turtle lover. However, I did try – it would have been rude not to.
Would I do it again? Probably not. Would I recommend it: if you are you willing to spend the money, this surely will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
It was a fantastic trip – I absolutely loved the Kansai region and highly recommend to go. Check out the full picture album on Flickr.