~ Japan 2017 - Kyoto pt. 1 ~

Wednesday, September 20, 2017
      The second portion of my Japan 2017 was spent in Kyoto. I stayed in the Higashiyama district and honestly did not leave it very much other than to visit other tourist spots. I loved this area. It's in the heart of historic Kyoto and right by the Gion district. There was plenty to keep us entertained here that we never left to go into the city of Kyoto. The area has lots of restaurants and small shops. To me it actually had a bit more of a local feel here although the area was filled with tourists.

      Since I didn't rent any pocket wifi I relied heavily on public wifi spots. I usually made a rough itinerary the day before, Googled mapped the locations, and took screen shot of those to rely on throughout the day. 

       I had my first Airbnb experience here and it was lovely. The apartment was clean, cozy, and the location was great. We had a bit of trouble getting the apartment key but the host answered quickly and we were inside the apartment within minutes of his reply. 

I woke up quite early everyday and usually had a coffee and bun from the convenience store before actually heading out for breakfast. I usually Googled up the best breakfast places in the area and narrowed them down from there.

I would highly recommend coming early to visit the shops before they fill up with people. The area is quite quiet in the morning and I really enjoyed the serenity. 

We went to Inoha Coffee for breakfast. The breakfast was well balanced and perfect for my eating habits. I like to eat a variety of things and I definitely got that here. Eggs, ham, salad, croissant, and fruit! I also had coffee and grapefruit juice as well.

You'll see dozens of souvenir and trinket stores lined along the streets. However you'll also see many specialty stores as well. Most are food related buy there was some cute hair pin stores and hand made textile creation shops.

For dinner we went to Izuju which is famous for it's Kyoto style sabazushi- saba sushi. I'm sure just by looking at it you can tell it's different from the regular Tokyo style sushi that we are most familiar with. The saba is strong and pungent but beautifully balanced with the sushi rice. I can't remember what the cubed mosaic sushi in the back was called but it was also good, our favorite was the sweet egg sushi. Make sure you peel the kelp off the saba sushi!

There was a short wait and we were handed menus so we could order beforehand. The sushi came as soon as we sat down. The saba sushi can also be ordered for take out. It wasn't the cheapest sushi meal but it was one that stood out throughout our entire trip. I think there are a few 1 and 2 Michelin star sushi restaurants in the area too!

Last but not least we coincidentally ran into a Studio Ghibli store! The Donguri stores are located throughout Japan and carry official Studio Ghibli merchandise. The store is located inside a small alley, right beside the Hello Kitty store. There's a small sign and shelf when the store is open so keep you eyes peeled. 

~ Japan 2017 - Osaka ~

Thursday, September 7, 2017
      I was only able to squeeze in 2 days in Osaka which was definitely not enough to explore the city. I liked the slower hustle and bustle of the city which in comparison with Tokyo, is snails pace. I used to love the rush of Tokyo when I was younger but now I enjoy life at a slower pace and Osaka gave me the big city vibe but at the perfect relaxed tempo.

      I stayed at Red Roof Plus+ Inn Namba and I loved it! The location was perfect, right by Dotonburi and by Shinsaibashi. From what I understand the hotel just underwent renovations and thus the rooms are clean and up to date. A complete set of toiletries were given and while I read some complaints about the "beady" pillows, they didn't bother me at all. The hotel is also within walking distance to large department stores such as Takashimaya, where I loved checking out the food basements!

It rained quite a bit when I was there so I appreciated how stores have the plastic bag machines for your umbrellas so the floor doesn't get wet and slippery, plus your umbrella won't get your pants wet when it accidentally hits you!

It was really interesting to see the difference in atmosphere between night and day at Dotonburi. While there are still quite a bit of people during the day, most stalls are closed besides restaurants, and the vibrant energy that you see at night seemed to be resting patiently for the sun to set.

Signage in Japan is the best! All the restaurants seem to be fighting for your attention with the biggest, brightest, most unique signs.

This bridge tying Dotonburi with Shinsaibashi is always crowded due to the great view of the canal and of course, the Glico man! You can take canal rides which I think would be a fun way to see Dotonburi.

One thing I miss terribly about Japan are the convenience stores. They had a plethora of drinks and snacks to choose from and I always had such a fun time picking one. Needless to say I drank a lot of beverages during my trip. I didn't try the Starbucks coffee but I was tempted to grab the s'mores one until I heard that it was really sweet.

The day we visited Osaka castle was overcast and all I wanted was for it to not rain! I don't recall it raining but it was really WINDY! My camera lens was dirty for the first half of the trip but I guess it added some nice effects to my photos.

This was the view from the line up to get the tickets. Tickets to many attractions are often done by machines, most have an English options so there's no need to worry about language barriers. You choose how many you want, insert the money, and out pops your tickets. So while the line may seem long it actually moves fairly quickly. It's similar to the food machines you will mostly likely run into on your trip. Sometimes you must enter your money first before any options show up.

Osaka castle was a great way to learn some history of Japan. I recommend for you start at the very top (viewpoint) and then make your way down to each floor. 

Dotonburi was really busy at night but there was still room to breathe. There's much less people walking by the water versus the main streets.

The entrance leading into Shinsaibashi. Most of these stores opened around 10 or 11 so don't come too early. They do close relatively late though and the street really does go on for a LONG time. I walked many many blocks. The further down you walk the less touristy it gets and you'll see more locals as well as local shops.

There's a 24hr Ichiran so we went here for lunch which is a better idea than queuing for dinner however if you can only make it for dinner do not fret as the line moves quite quickly. I got their "C" combo which, from memory, is their cheapest and most basic ramen. When I say basic I don't mean plain- it still came with a large helping of mushroom, green onions, seaweed, and pork. 

Ichiran only sells tonkotsu ramen and have basically 3 options to chose from. The only difference between them are how many toppings you want. When you enter the establishment you are asked to fill out a sheet consisting of questions regarding the way you like your ramen. Firm or soft noodles? Spicy or no spicy? Then you pay at a machine, receive a ticket which you give to your attendant when you sit down.

One of the biggest novelty about eating here is that you are seated in a solitary-like booth. You don't interact with your server and also don't even have to see anyone around you. Ichiran says this allows you to solely focus on your ramen. If you want the dividers can actually be folded away so you can see you companion if you want to. Each both has a small water station so you can have water at your leisure.

The cha sui here was divine!! It wasn't dry but juicy and flavourful. I really enjoyed the ramen and had it a second time in Tokyo. It can be quite spicy, I actually removed most of the spicy sauce.

      I think it was a good idea to start the trip in Osaka and end in Tokyo. It's a good way to get your bearings of how things work such as the metro system. If you're into collecting stamps then make sure you bring along a notebook as most major historical spots in Japan has a stamps. Most train stations do too but you'll have to hunt it down as some larger stations have many entrances and the stamp may be at only one entrance.If I come back to Osaka I definitely want to explore the bay area and Kobe as well!