Tag Archive for: Osaka

During our time in Osaka, we dedicated one day to visit the beautiful Nara.
With the train we left Osaka and led the city behind us, and approached the hills in this landscape. After about an hour by train from Osaka, we reached Nara.

Nara is a beautiful quiet place, with temples and Shinto shrines from the 8th century, dating back to the time when the city was the capital of Japan during the Nara period, then called Heijo-Kyo.


The signs at the station led us into the Nara Park. We left the station and were directly “attacked” by a deer. Yes, that’s right, a deer approached me and before I understood, what was going on it devoured my city map. I tried to stop it but without any success. In Nara there are about 1200 wild deer that roam freely and they are used to see visitors around. To be precise, they are sika deer that characterize the cityscape of Nara.


Why are there so many Sika deer there?

According to the legend, the noble family Fujiwara built the shrine Kasuga Taisha in order to be offered divine protection. The Kasuga shrine, as it is known today, is protected by the deities of Kashima shrine who is said that were riding on white deer. Since that time, the animal has been protected and excluded from the hunt. Over time, animals and humans got used to each other.

On Sundays and holidays in October, the male animals are captured so that their antlers can be cut by a Schinto priest. This happens because in autumn the deer’s antlers are getting hard for the mating season and become a danger to visitors. This is one of the most important festivities in Nara. It is also forbidden to feed the animals. The Shika Senbei (deer cookies) are an exception, which are baked especially for the animals and can be purchased at various points in Nara Park. The animals are said to bow when they want a cookie. We did not feed the deer, but in fact we recognized this behavior.

Nara Park

Nara Park has much more to offer than just the wildlife. Our walk took us along the Kohfukuji and Gangoji temples to the Himuro Jinja shrine, where we once again admired the blossom. On our map (we often use the app “Visit a city”… which proved to be very helpful after our map from the tourist office was eaten) we realized that there are two Japanese gardens in Nara that next to each other. The Isuien Garden is larger, but it costs 900 yen (about 7 euros) entrance fee. The Yoshikien Garden is free for foreign tourists. We only had to answer a few questions about our origin in order to enter. Everything there is beautifully maintained and reflects three different gardens: the flower garden, moss garden and the pond garden.



The highlight of the day

After a short break we came to our highlight of the day. The Todai-Ji Temple, like most of the temples in Nara was built also in the Nara period. The main object of worship in this imposing temple is the Vaiocana Buddha (“Buddha shining through the world, like the sun”). The Todai-Ji Temple was founded by Bishop Roben and is still the main temple of the Kegon sect in Buddisum. In the years 1180 and 1567 the temple burned down and was rebuilt during the Edo period. Nowadays it is 33% smaller than it was originally but still ranks among the largest wooden buildings in the world.

The entrance to Daibutsuden (Big Buddha Hall) costs 600 yen (about 4.50 Euro) and for 1000 Yen you can visit the museum as well. The huge 14.98 m high Buddha is located at the entrance of the hall. The bronze statue is covered in gold and is accompanied by smaller statues. After our visit here we continued our walk to the big bell behind the temple and went up some steps to the Nigatsu-do hall. Here you get a great view over the city of Nara and the park. Nigatsu-do means hall of the second month and is an important part of the Todai-ji temple.



On this day we were once again lucky with the weather, except for a short shower, and returned to Osaka with many beautiful impressions.

Would you like to see more pictures about Nara? Click here.

We were already thinking that we won’t return soon to Tokyo, after spending 18 days away from it and planning to continue our trip in the south part of Japan. But suddenly we found ourselves forced to return to one of its main stations if we wanted to benefit from the cheapest transportation option available.

We opted for a seven hours long bus ride from Shinjuku station in Tokyo, that would bring us to Osaka, via Kyoto. We paid 50 euro per person on www.kousokubus.net (the sooner you book the better since the cheaper options are sold out very fast), which was considerably cheaper than booking a train ticket. We didn’t organize train tickets in advance because we wanted to be flexible on our dates and found it more convenient to choose our departure dates spontaneously. The idea of being 7 hours on the road (plus the one hour and a half from Hadano to Tokyo at an impossible early time in the morning) did not feel like a good one to be considered, but after finding ourselves in a spacious bus with free Wi-Fi and considerably space to stretch our legs we were actually happy with our decision.

We arrived late in Osaka and headed directly to our accommodation to receive our key. Our place for the night was a private room at the Tsubaki Guest House, a cute place that probably looked much better in the past before the owners stopped carrying so much about dusty surfaces and reconditioning some of the areas in the buildings. But we were happy for all the facilities they offered and for being upgraded the next morning to a much bigger room that felt fresher.



Exploring Osaka

We woke up the first day with clouds over the city and experienced light rain showers throughout the day, but the weather still allowed us to take long walks and get the most out of our time there. Osaka is the second-largest city in Japan but less touristic than other smaller cities. We used this to our advantage, being able to find here cheap accommodation and took day trips to Kyoto and Nara in the following days without having to deal with crowds of people.



But being less touristic doesn’t make Osaka less interesting than other places. The city is very animated and offers beautiful city landscapes. The highlight of our stay in the capital of the Osaka prefecture was the area around the Namba station, known as Dotonbori, a large area for shopping lovers and seekers of delightful food. Colorful lights, expressive images and an incredible atmosphere will make you want to spend there as much time as possible. And after getting lost in the crowd it feels nice to stop and treat yourself with a delicious meal in Japanese style.



We tried in 3 days all the food that we knew it’s going to be missed after leaving the country, although we knew that very soon our taste buds will feel the compensation of the delicious Chinese cuisine. We headed to an Udon restaurant the first evening and came back the next days for portions of Okonomiyaki, fried meat, tasty rice snacks and Ramen. And everything at more affordable prices than at our previous destinations.


From Osaka to Kyoto

After visiting Nara in one of the following days, we dedicated a full day time to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. You will not find here so many skyscrapers around like in Tokyo, but you will discover a city full of history, traditions and beautiful streets to walk on.



Kyoto is well connected by buses and for 600 yen you can buy a day ticket, which is very convenient considering the normal bus ticket fare. Ask for it at any of the main bus stations or directly to the bus driver.

We started early in the morning by taking the train to Kyoto from the station next to our hostel. From the central station of Kyoto we hopped on the bus to the Bamboo grove of Shoden-Ji Temple. It is a small place to visit but a good spot to take pictures without being bothered by tourists, as most people go to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which is bigger and more spectacular. The second one was on our list of places to visit, but at the end of the day we decided to leave it out, as we experienced something much better.


Our next stop was Gion, Kyoto’s most famous geisha district, a lovely area filled with shops, restaurants and teahouses (ochaya). Part of its charm comes from the traditional wooden machiya merchant houses with their narrow facades. It is also the place where for decades guests have been entertained by geiko (Kyoto dialect for geisha) and maiko (geiko apprentices). The entertainment consists of being engaged in light conversation with the geisha that also serves drinks and performs traditional music and dance. The service is usually very expensive and exclusive, requiring as per tradition an invitation from an existing customer. But nowadays the rules can easily be changed for guests with a sufficient budget.



From Gion, we walked to the Kiyomizu-Dera temple, an old wooden structure, one of the biggest in the world. After our visit, we stopped for lunch and coffee in the garden surrounding the temple.



The Yasaka Shrine was the next one to enchant us with its bright colors, followed by Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine, which was also the highlight of our visit to Kyoto. It is mostly famous for its thousands of red torii gates (called Senbon Torii) that lead the way into the wooded forest of the sacred Mount Inari, which stands at 233 meters altitude. The inscriptions on the torii gates are the names of the donators and the dates when they have been offered to the temple.


After getting lost in the density of torii gates and admiring the views over the city from a different viewpoint along the trail, we found ourselves on a narrower and unmarked trail that brought us into a gigantic and extremely beautiful bamboo forest. We got lost several times during our travels, but this time it seemed like the most beautiful way to be lost somewhere. And we could enjoy it far from the crowd that we encountered at the entrance in the shrine.



By the way, discovering this forest was the reason why we decided not to go to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove anymore, as we felt that visiting the groove will feel less entertaining than we previously expected.

We enjoyed the sunset from the window of the train that brought us back to Osaka, where we spent a peaceful last day, before taking the next bus to our last destination in Japan, Hiroshima.