After years of longing, I finally visited Japan. My first “real exposure” to Japan was, not surprisingly, through anime in the 90s. In the mid-2000s, I became obsessed with a Jpop band called NEWS. During university, I was paired up with a lovely Japanese girl and took a course on the culture. I still feel like I know next to nothing about Japan, but all of my experiences peaked my interest in the country.
I boarded a plane bound for Osaka (大阪市) a month ago with my friend Nicole. We were greeted with an incredible two-hour-line for immigration. Needless to say, I missed living in the European Union during this time. After escaping that mini version of the underworld, we grabbed things we had to pick up at the airport – wifi router, day passes, etc. – and sprinted for a bus headed for Namba/Minami (南), one of Kyoto’s major city centers. We got on with only a minute or so to spare.
We threw our bags in a locker and strolled around Dōtonbori (道頓堀), an absolute must for anyone visiting Osaka. The streets were completely lit with neon lights. Stores and restaurants had huge colorful (and sometimes mechanized) signs outside of their establishments. We took pictures of the famous Glico Running Man and ate at a restaurant where I got chicken teriyaki and a couple of skewers. After dinner, we bought enough snacks to last us for months then made our way to the outskirts of the city. Fortunately for us, my friend from back home, Kiarra, offered us a place to crash. She conveniently lives between Osaka and Kyoto, so it was a pretty ideal location.
The next day, we took a train to Kyoto (京都), Japan’s capital from 794 to 1868. Upon arrival, we got day bus passes for ¥500 ($4.43/₩5,460). Our first stop was Kiyomizudera (清水寺), one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. Although first built in 778, most of the structures we see today are from the early Edo period. Nicole and I bought tickets, each costing ¥400 ($3.56/₩4,370), and walked around the premises. Kiyomizudera belongs to the Kita Hoso sect, founded by the great Buddhist priest Enchin.
Next on our list was Gion (祇園, ぎおん), Kyoto’s most famous geisha district. On the way, I grabbed a Kihachiro beef bun – one of the most delicious things I have ever eaten. I also got a pork sandwich and crab meat stick. ONE OF THESE gave me a slight case of food poisoning. We shall never know the real culprit. Upon arriving in Gion, Nicole and I walked down Hanami-koji Street in a desperate search for a wandering geisha. Much to our chagrin, not one geisha was around. Hanami-koji, however, was beautifully lined with traditional wooden townhouses known as machiya (町屋).
Noticing the sun was starting to set, we hopped on a bus to get to Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) before nightfall. Fushimi Inari Taisha, famous for its torii gates, is an important Shinto shrine. Although I was a little concerned about arriving so late, it proved to be beneficial in the end. There were times when we had a significant amount of space to ourselves.
The next day, we headed back to Kyoto. We made our way to the Golden Pavilion, Kinkakuji (金閣寺). Kinkakuji, a Zen Temple, was formally used as a villa for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu (1368 – 1408) during the Muromachi Period. We paid ¥400 ($3.56/₩4,370) to enter and shuffled in with hundreds of other people also interested in capturing the beauty of the temple. After taking one too many pictures of Kinkakuji, Nicole and I followed the path through the garden and ended up at Fudo Hall. Inside of this hall is a statue of Fudo Myoo (不動明王), one of the Wisdom Kings.
The last thing on our list were the bamboo groves located in the district of Arashiyama (嵐山). Like our experience at Fushimi Inari Taisha, the bamboo groves were relatively empty when we arrived.
That night we made our way back to Namba to do some shopping and meet up with Kiarra for dinner. I could have spent two months walking around Shinsaibashi Suji, a covered shopping arcade. While Nicole stayed in one shop, I teleported to four and grabbed stuff from all of them. I honestly felt like I was on Supermarket Sweep. My favorite one was a ¥390 store (everything was, in fact, ¥390/$3.45/₩4,260). I stumbled into another store and bought a gorgeous dress that I wore for my kindergartners’ graduation. Truth be told, few things make me happier than fitting a “free size” article of clothing. Kiarra met up with us after work and we all ate at a ramen restaurant, which was far superior to anything I have had before.
RYO NISHIKIDO IS STILL KILLIN’ THE GAME.
The real deal.
For our last day, Nicole and I stayed in Osaka. We had purchased two Osaka Amazing Passes for ¥2,300 ($20.40/₩25,110) each, giving us “free” entry to a slew of places and transportation on most of the lines. We first headed to the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living. This museum houses life-size replicas of buildings during the late Edo period. Unless you have a lot of time or are going to it for free, I would not necessarily recommend going to this museum. I appreciated it, but I feel as if we could have used our limited amount of time elsewhere.
Japanese school kids on a field trip.
Osaka Castle (大阪城) was the next on our list. We sprinted over, dodging a slew of pigeons in the process. The main tower of the castle has been rebuilt three times since 1583 – the current interior even includes an elevator. No other castle I have visited has had such modern technology. Due to time constraints, we did not venture in. Maybe next time, Osaka Castle.
We made our way to HEP Five, a shopping complex located in Umeda. Here we rode a Ferris wheel and took COSPLAY PURIKURA PICTURES. Each passenger cabin had a speaker system. Since we had one to ourselves, I blasted songs like “마마무 (MAMAMOO) – 음오아예 (Um Oh Ah Yeh)” and “AOA – 심쿵해 (Heart Attack)” and danced like a maniac. We then went to the Joypolis section of HEP Five for cosplay purikura. I selected “traditional” attire of a Miko (巫女), a shrine maiden or priestess. It was something reminiscent of the attire Kikyo wore in the anime Inuyasha. Nicole, on the other hand, chose a classic maid costume. Dreams really do come true.
I have never been happier.
We shopped a bit more, then headed to our Airbnb for the night. Since our flight the next morning departed at 07:50, we were unable to stay with Kiarra and had to find a place close to the airport. The Airbnb I chose was absolutely wonderful! It was over a hundred years old, had sliding doors, etc. We slept on mats on the floor, which was far more comfortable than anticipated.
Upon arriving back in Seoul a little before ten, I basically ran until I made it to school. I had to teach my first class at 11:50 and made it back with twenty minutes to spare. I would not recommend landing a few hours before work to anyone – I was so tired I almost passed out during a lesson. Luckily for me, I had two breaks that day, so my coworkers had to listen to my sweet snores as I face-planted on my desk.
In general, I try to avoid going to the same places more than once. Osaka and Kyoto, however, are two cities that I will definitely be seeing again. SEE YOU SOON, KIARRA.