After a few days of getting over jet lag in Seoul, Joel and I boarded a 2 hour flight to Osaka, Japan. Upon arrival, I switched out my Korean SIM card for my new Japanese one and resumed my role as trip navigator (do i really need to mention how much of a life saver Google Maps is again?).
My first impression of Japan was “holy shit there are so many people here!” Tokyo and Osaka are 2 of the top ten most populated cities on earth. So if you plan on visiting, try not to show up at rush hour on a weekday. It’s not the easiest thing to be packed onto a completely full train with all of your luggage whilst you try to not lose sight of your equally overwhelmed husband.
A couple of things I should address: 1. we did not buy a JR rail pass. If you’re visiting Japan and you’re planning on moving around a lot, it’s probably worth it to buy one. But since we were only going from Osaka to Kyoto to Tokyo, it would have ended up costing us more for the pass. We saved a lot of money by buying metro cards for daily use and individual tickets for traveling between cities. 2. Japan is not as expensive as some people insisted it would be. It’s no big secret that we Blumers prefer traveling the cheap way (i.e. eating street food, forgoing cabs and ubers for trains and walking, and not staying at the freakin’ Ritz), and we were pleasantly surprised to see how doable it was to spend way less than we budgeted per day.
Osaka, Japan is known as The Street Food Capital of the World. It’s where you go in Japan to eat your little heart out. Having been there, I can agree; but i’d also call it the Japanese Business Men Wearing Blue or White Button Down Shirts Capital of the World because I saw so many of those.
The Monday that we arrived in Japan happened to be a holiday, but we managed to find a teeny tiny Italian/Japanese restaurant that was open and pretty close to our hotel. It was dimly lit and perfect- a real neighborhood joint. We were sat at a table with the coolest, hipster Japanese couple, who I wanted so badly to make light conversation with, but was too intimidated by 1. their coolness and 2. trying to get through the annoying language barrier on an empty stomach. We ordered a variation of meats on sticks as well as a personal cast iron skillet filled with potatoes and onions. It was a great first meal in Japan.
When we were leaving the restaurant after paying the check, we got to practice some of our Japanese when thanking our waiter. “Arigatou gozaimasu!” we said in creepy unison. Our sweet waiter then taught us that there is an Osaka dialect way of saying thank you: “maido ookini”. We used it a lot for the rest of our time in town.
Here’s another expression we learned while in Osaka (which we accomplished, happily):
Day 2 in Osaka was filled with walking around in the extreme humidity, sweating our asses off, eating a lot, etc. We visited the beautiful Osaka Castle then crossed the street to cool off in a fast food restaurant where I had Japanese curry for a late breakfast.
We decided it’d be a good idea to spend most of the day inside so we headed back to our hotel to watch all 3 John Wick movies and eat snacks from Daiso. (we stayed at Hotel Cordia and LOVED it. Best hotel we stayed in in Japan for sure.) On the walk from the subway station to our hotel, we met an Ex-Pat named Rob who had been living in Osaka with his wife for the last 20 years. Rob teaches English at a uni in Osaka and was en route to teach a class on English Smalltalk with an emphasis on How To Politely Leave a Conversation. I saw that the light was turning green soon so I grabbed ahold of Joel, shouted “BYEEEEE RON”, and booked it as fast as I could away from Ron in hopes that he’d use me as an example of How Not to Behave in his class.
Before our conversation ended so abruptly, Rob had recommended a few places for us to try while in Osaka, one of which was Izakaya Toyo. Joel and I had already watched the Osaka episode of Street Food on Netflix so we knew about Izakaya Toyo and were planning on going there anyway, Rob, sheesh. We waited in a very long line, but after only 20 minutes of wait time, we were showed to our standing table with the couple that was in line in front of us. We drank beers and got to know Jamie and Ricardo from Mexico City. Our food came within minutes and I was surprised to say that Sea Urchin was actually pretty GD delicious!
The next day in Osaka was dedicated to street food. We spent the morning in the Dotonbori area getting all of our boxes checked.
Okonomiyaki aka the delicious savory “pancake” made with cabbage and chunks of octopus, squid, and who the hell knows what else? check!
Gyozo aka fried dumplings filled with pork? check!
Takoyaki aka fried balls of octopus? check, but not my favorite!
Dotombori is where we first got to experience that famous Japanese overstimulation- there is SO MUCH to see, do, eat! After a few hours, we got an entire Japanese Cheesecake to go and went to nap at our hotel room before returning to Dotombori round 2 in the evening.
All in all, Osaka was wonderful. Unfortunately, the only 2 negative things that happened on our entire trip happened within minutes of each other in Dotombori:
- a creepy stranger was watching me eat a cheese stick and after I said no when he asked me for a bite, he asked if he could take my picture, to which I said “fuck off, creep”
- a cockroach flew into my chest and I screamed and freaked the eff out in the middle of a giant crowd
If those are the worst things that happen to you on an entire 2 week vacation, it’s safe to assume it was still an amazing vacation…
Ohhhhh Kyoto is so cute-oh!
Kyoto is about a 45 minute train ride from Osaka. It’s the only large city in Japan to completely avoid bombings in WWII making it a major historical hub. My bro-in-law, Todd, met some really cool people when traveling through Japan with his band Mutemath and he ended up putting Joel and I in touch with the sweetest person I’ve ever met, Kyoko. She greeted us at the train station with artwork she made just for us as well as little treats. I’ve never known the kindness of a stranger like what Kyoko showed us and I’ll treasure the memory of it forever.
We only had about 24 hours in Kyoto, so we packed in as much as we could in a short amount of time. After checking into our hotel, Sakura Terrace (an amazing place a few blocks from the main train station in Kyoto with it’s own private Onsen), we went to check out Fushimi Inari Shrine. If you’ve stalked travel accounts on Instagram like I have, the orange gates of the spectacular Shinto shrine might look familiar to you. I didn’t realize that the trail of gates leads all the way up a mountain! If you ever visit, keep following upwards because there are significantly less people than there are at the bottom. It’s a truly beautiful place. It was here that I got a few of the biggest mosquito bites of my life, but getting to pet the stray shrine kitties made it all worth it.
From Fushimi Inari, we took a train to the Gion district of Kyoto. I had just reread Memoirs of a Geisha, so this neighborhood was a must see for me. There are so many shops where you can rent a Kimono for a few hours and walk around like a real life Geisha. So touristy, but cool to see others doing nonetheless.
Joel’s spot that he wanted to visit in Kyoto was the Kyoto Beer Lab, which he had heard about via Reddit. There was a pretentious ex-pat running the place, but the craft beer was pretty freaking tasty.
One of the many things I really loved about all of the hotels we stayed in in Japan is that they provide you with PJs and slippers to wear during your stay. SOOO COZYYYY.
We had such a cozy, relaxing night in Kyoto and got to sit on our terrace and enjoy some coffee, then walk around and explore a bit the next morning before hopping on the Bullet Train to Tokyo… stay tuned for the whole Tokyo saga, coming soon to a blog near you.