I first became interested in Japan when I was about 4 or 5 after watching Sailor Moon and I’ve wanted to visit ever since. Twenty one years later and I finally got to go to Japan and it was just as amazing as I always thought it would be! There’s no doubt about it, I will definitely be visiting again.
I visited in October with my parents and boyfriend and first stop on our trip was Osaka. We flew from Heathrow (with a brief stop in Amsterdam) and 11 hours, 3 airplane meals and 5 films later, we arrived at Kansai airport. Kansai is the main airport in Osaka which is based on an artificial island in the middle of Osaka Bay, a short train ride from Osaka Station.
Our first day was a bit of a blur. We arrived at 8am in Japan, so had been awake about 24 hours, we then travelled by train to Shinsaibashi where our apartment was. To say we were knackered would be an understatement, but we managed to power through until collapsing at about 7pm. We spent the day lugging suitcases about, getting lost on the subway and exploring the area around our Airbnb apartment, which was a ten minute walk from Dotonburi. We ate okonomiyaki, drank beer and explored the konbini (Japanese convenience stores).
Day 2 – Osaka Castle, Tea Ceremony & Dotonburi
On day 2 we were up very early as our jet lag was in full effect. We decided to visit Osaka castle, which was a twenty minute walk from where we were staying. I loved walking through the streets of Japan, they’re so unique and also very clean!
Osaka castle and the area around was incredibly beautiful and peaceful, there was a few food, drink and souvenir stores near the entrance. You could pay 600¥ (around £3.50) to go into the castle and climb to the top (there was lifts for people who weren’t able to walk up all the stairs). On each floor was a kind of museum dedicated to the castle’s history and at the top was a view over Osaka and a small souvenir shop.
Once my boyfriend and I had made our way down to the bottom of the castle, we were approached by two really friendly Japanese women. I’m not sure why they targeted Matt and me, but they invited us to a tea ceremony at their temple. They bought us matcha shaved ice because it was so hot and then they drove us to the temple. I don’t advise anyone to go off with some strangers and we had our reservations, but they were so friendly that we found it hard to say no! We pulled up to a big building covered in scaffolding and immediately wondered if they were going to rob us, but as we walked through the door we soon saw that it was a beautiful temple inside. There were so many families and people in there and when we walked in we were treated like celebrities, with everyone bowing to us, smiling and waving.
First the two women took us to a room where we were introduced to the head priest and given presents of a pouch, Buddhist prayer book and prayer beads.
We were then taken upstairs to the main room with the golden buddha shrine. The room was full of people praying and we were asked to sit right in front of the altar so the priest could dedicate a sermon to us! To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what was going on throughout but afterwards all the people praying were approaching us and congratulating us. Maybe we unknowingly got married? Who knows!
We then had the tea ceremony and were given Japanese sweets and a cup of green tea each. I was then invited to be taught how to make the tea myself by the head priests wife, which was such a good experience! As my parents didn’t come they insisted on giving us Japanese sweets to give to them in a lovely little gift box.
They insisted on taking loads of photos, they seemed so happy to have us there and we felt so welcome. Once it had all finished the two women who had driven us to the temple walked us to the train station, paid for our tickets and accompanied us on the train to Umeda (one of the main parts of Osaka). They then took us to the tourist information centre and helped us work out other things to do whilst in Osaka. After being so generous they said their goodbyes and left Matt and myself feeling confused as to how people could be so kind for no benefit to themselves, as we had a really lovely day and hadn’t had to spend any money.
When we arrived at Umeda we were amazed at the size of the train station, it was like a mall with floors and floors of shops and restaurants. I soon learnt that most major Japanese train stations were similar.
Matt and I went up to the food floor in search of a snack. We went to a small ramen shop based in the station, I think it may have been a chain. There were limited spaces as you sat at a bar in front of the chef. There was no English menu, so we had to look at the photos and point in order to get what we wanted! We got a big bowl of pork ramen and a portion of gyoza to share. This was the first proper Japanese ramen I had tasted and it was a million times nicer (and cheaper) than any I had eaten elsewhere. The broth was full of flavour and the ingredients added to the ramen were cooked to perfection.
After wolfing down our food we met back up with my parents ready to travel back to the apartment to get ready to go out for dinner on our last night (of a very short stay) in Osaka.
Getting four people to agree on what restaurant to try in streets and streets of food places is hard. It took us about an hour and felt like we had walked around all of Dotonburi, but we eventually agreed on somewhere.
I couldn’t tell you the name or location of the place we had dinner (sorry!), all I remember was that it had so much fugu on the menu (which terrified me) and had crazy hi-tech toilets which opened as you walked towards them (I discovered many more of these on my travels through Japan).
I swear we chose the biggest set meal on the menu. The waitress just seemed to be bringing out endless amounts of food, many of which we had no idea what they were. There was a sashimi, sushi, crab, mushrooms and steak that we had to grill on a hot plate, tempura, shabu-shabu and many other things that I can’t remember. One thing that really surprised me about Japan was how cheap everything was, this whole meal cost around £80, which included the set menu and drinks for four people!
We finished our meal, my parents walked back to the apartment and me and Matt walked around the shops and arcades. I spent way too much on the gachapon machines and bought a new Hello Kitty phone case and Sailor Moon phone charm. Shops in Japan seem to be open quite late and you even see families out shopping and eating up until 11pm, which really isn’t that common in the UK.
After about an hour of wandering around we walked home and went to bed ready for our next location. On day three we were due to travel up to Mount Koya to stay in a Buddhist temple, which you can read about here.
Want to read more of my posts on Japan?
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Mount Koya – Staying in a Buddhist temple
Kyoto Part 1 – Bamboo forest, Golden Pavillion and Gion, the Geisha district
Nara – Feeding the deer and visiting the worlds largest wooden building
Kyoto Part 2 – Temples, torii gates and lots of tradition
Tokyo Part 1 – Bullet train, shopping and a gig
Mount Fuji & Lake Kawaguchiko – A stroll around the lake with a great view of Mount Fuji
Tokyo Part 2 – Shinjuku, Sunshine City and the Pokemon Centre