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Trip to Japan, Aug 31-Sept 3, 2012

Posted by on September 10, 2012

I am really rather behind on my travel blog posts. There is a trip to Korea and Taiwan from April/May I’ve not yet written about, as well as a trip to France in June. I went back to my home town in August, but I generally don’t blog about those trips. All of these posts I’ve held off on writing because I wanted to focus all of that energy on finishing my novel. I did so this past Saturday night, but I’ll write about that in another entry. I thought I’d start catching up on the travel posts by writing about the most recent one first. I at least have notes to remind me what I did on the other trips, and this one was shorter, and thus less daunting to write.

This is the first international holiday I’ve had with my husband, without children, since our honeymoon, over six years ago.

Friday August 31st, 2012

We had an overnight flight to Osaka on AirAsia, leaving at 1am. When we checked in, Jeremy and I were given seats in completely different sections of the aircraft. There was a lot of non-action after boarding the plane, so much so that well after it would’ve been time to leave, I ended up asking a flight attendant asking if it was possible to change seats (I had intended on waiting until take-off, until it seemed like that wasn’t even going to happen). Eventually we managed to relocate so that Jeremy and I got to sit in the same row, and had three seats to the two of us. It wasn’t the most comfortable sleep I’ve had on flights, but it was probably still better than if we’d had our kids had been with us.

When we arrived in Osaka Kansai International Airport, the immigration queue took forever. It was probably one of the longest queues I’ve ever had to wait in for immigration (being at the back of the plane probably contributed to that). So even though we were scheduled to arrived at 8:30am local, we actually didn’t get into Osaka until after 11am. Part of that was because we decided to get breakfast at the airport, though (having not bought it on the flight), as well as changing money, picking up a map, and deciding what train option to use over the course of the trip.

We ended up choosing to get a 4 day JR Kansai region train pass, so that we’d be able to ride any JR train in the Kansai region during our trip. As we’d had plans to visit Kyoto on the trip, this seemed like a good deal. However, given we only ended up going to Kyoto on one of the day, we might’ve saved money by buying individual tickets to everywhere we travelled. Oh well.

Since we had the train pass, which was not applicable for the subways, my original plans for how to get to our hotel changed. I ended up taking us to the JR station closest to Osaka Castle, because our hotel was on the opposite side of that sight. The length of our trip meant we were only travelling with carry-on bags, so I decided we’d see Osaka Castle before checking in to our hotel.

I really enjoyed walking around the Osaka Castle grounds. It is surrounded by an outer moat and an inner moat (with walls behind each moat), and the castle itself is stunning to look at. When we arrived in the central area, I saw that you could get a ticket to see inside the castle, as well as the history museum nearby, so we opted for that to save JPY300 each. They also have a time capsule buried there in 1970 that isn’t due to be opened again until 6970! I just thought that was really cool. I can only imagine what the planet might be like in 5,000 years. But I think it would be pretty fascinating, since 5,000 years ago from now is the times of Ancient Egypt.

Inside the castle was a museum, which included information about the history of who ran the area and so forth. I didn’t really read much, but we did climb all ten floors to the top so we could get a great view of the whole city. Also, before going inside, there was a man dressed in some traditional Japanese clothes (including a sword!) who I got to have a photo with. He was someone who clearly worked there and was happy to get in photos with people, and even took a photo of us together in front of the castle.

Once we were done there, we headed to our hotel to check-in. It was really nice that they had maps around in places as you walked down some streets, since the only map I had was of the train routes in the region. This helped me figure out exactly how to get to our hotel, which was right by the Temmabashi subway stop.

After checking in, since it had been rather a hot day and we were a bit sweaty from still carrying our bags (at least we were able to leave them with the ticket ladies at the castle), we decided to shower and cool off a bit. We also got online and I noticed I had a message from my friend Steph, who has been to Japan several times, and had numerous recommendations for us to see while we were there. The timing was perfect because we hadn’t gone out to see much yet, and it helped me plan what to do when we went to Kyoto the next day. Then I looked up what time the Osaka History Museum was open, and was pleasantly surprised to discover it closed at 8pm on Fridays. So, even though it was about 5pm by the time we decided to head out again, it was walking distance, and not a problem to get to. We hadn’t eaten lunch yet though so we ended up getting some hot Japanese food from a vending machine in the hotel that we could eat on the way.

I thought this museum was more interesting than the one at the castle. A lot more things to look at, and also it had a nice view of the castle. Unfortunately it was a bit rainy outside, and the reflection of the glass made it hard to take a good photo from there.

Once the rain stopped, and we’d finished looking around the museum, we headed back to the Tenmabashi area in the hope that some of the stores were still open. We went into the mall across the street from our hotel and looked around a bunch of the stores for a while, but then ended up at McDonald’s for a late dinner because Jeremy wanted to try their “Aussie Deli” burger. It was not at all Australian, but that’s part of the amusement.

Once the shops were shut, we headed back to our hotel and I used the Internet to research everything I wanted to do in Kyoto the next day, and how to get to them all.

Saturday September 1st, 2012

When we were last in Japan, we flew to Tokyo, and I relied on Jeremy to navigate the trains and so forth, because I was too afraid of trying to read the Japanese characters. Plus, he could at least read the hiragana and the kata-kana, and understood more Japanese words than I could. On this trip, however, since I had a clearer idea about the things I wanted to see and do, I bucked my fear and directed us to everywhere we needed to go. We got up a bit late this morning, so even though I’d intended on walking us to a JR station, I ended up just taking us to the subway, which took us to the major exchange so we could get a JR train to Kyoto. It is a good thing that a lot of signs are labelled also with English characters/words so that it wasn’t too difficult for us to get from the subway station to the JR one. We did, however, have a problem finding an ATM that would accept our cards! We ended up not being able to find one until we got to Nijo station in Kyoto (we changed trains at Kyoto station).

After getting some cash out in Nijo, and picking up a map that was only in Japanese so I had some kind of way of trying to navigate to Nijo Castle (recommended by Steph), I decided I didn’t really know exactly where to go, just a vague idea. So I ended up popping into a bakery and pointing at the map to ask how to get there. They were very helpful, so we headed on our way.

Like Osaka Castle, Nijo Castle was also surrounded by the layers of moats and walls. Unlike Osaka Castle, when you go inside the Ninomaru Palace building, you don’t get a museum – you get to see what it was actually like, less most of the furniture. The floorboards were built in a way that it deliberately squeaks, so intruders could be detected. It was really cool to explore that, and all the paintings with all the gold inside were stunning to look at. We weren’t allowed to take photos, and we had to take our shoes off for that part, but it was still worth the visit and I could see why Steph recommended it.

There was another palace behind that one, Honmaru Palace, but we weren’t able to go inside there. Still, I enjoy looking at Japanese architecture so I still enjoyed it.

We had to rely on the subway system after that, but rather than taking the nearest stop where we would’ve had to change at the next stop anyway, I decided to walk us to the next one. We stopped at a small Japanese restaurant for lunch on the way, where Jeremy picked up a dumplings and noodles meal, and I opted for Japanese style fried chicken and rice. The chicken looked a lot like the Taiwanese fried chicken, which makes sense because of the Japanese influence in Taiwan, but it wasn’t as spicy, and the flavour of the rice was a bit sweet and had a bit of mayonnaise too. I really liked the meal.

On our way to the subway stop, we also passed a university art museum, so we decided to pop in there to see their exhibition for a while. There was a theme where the art – featuring artists from Kyoto, Paris, and a couple other places in Europe – was to be about where the world would be in about 100 years. It was interesting to see the different ideas each artist had.

Then we finally made it to the subway station, and I followed the instructions I read online about which stop to get off at, before then having to get a taxi to the Temple of the Golden Pavilion (aka Kinkakuji Temple). Though there is not much to see at this sight, the golden pavilion is stunning to look at and photograph, seeing the reflection of the gold in the water below. I picked this to see because it was on a list on Facebook as part of a travel challenge, so I figured it was a must-see sight. There were also little shrines nearby where a lot of people threw coins, but the pavilion was certainly the most stunning thing to look at here.

Originally I had intended on taking a taxi back to the subway to get various trains to the next stop, but a) it would’ve required changing trains twice and b) it would’ve also required a long walk, so I ended up just getting a taxi straight to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, which was also on the aforementioned travel challenge. This temple is quite high over Kyoto and so has a lovely view of the city, and sits atop a cliff. There’s also, in the same area, a sort of love temple area where people can go to get luck for finding their life partner. They have a couple of large stones that you’re meant to be able to walk between with your eyes closed, and if you make it to the other side, that’s meant to indicate you should meet your love soon. Or something like that.

I didn’t think this one was as interesting as the previous temple, but it was still nice to look at. After that, I decided we should still have time to get to the other Kyoto sight Steph recommended. We walked back down the hill and then made our way to the nearest train station, which was probably about 20 minutes walk away, then changed trains to get onto the JR line, and it was only one more stop to Inari.

Since I was just going on Steph’s recommendation, I didn’t actually look up what Fushimi Inari was before arriving there. I think I had it in my head that it was just another temple, so when that was pretty much the first thing I saw, I figured I was right. But then I started to climb the stairs behind the temple and realised there was more to see. There was a pathway leading to some red arches, which covered a pathway leading higher. I remember thinking I wanted to climb to the top to see just what was up there, but the arches did not end. Jeremy was quite tired by this point so we had separated, and he didn’t climb up the same way that I did.

Though I didn’t quite make it to the top, and from the sound of it I may have still had another 30 minutes to go, I did get high enough to get a stunning view of Kyoto at sunset. It was quite the workout to get there though! But walking through all the red arches was also just generally enjoyable for me.

I headed back down and then noticed I’d gotten a text from Jeremy to let me know where he was waiting for me, so I met him there, and then we got back on the JR to head back to Osaka, changing trains again in Kyoto.

Once back at Osaka, I was just going to take us back to our hotel where we could get sushi at a restaurant for dinner, but then I noticed another big mall that looked interesting, so we ended up there first, looking around. I liked seeing the couple of escalators decorated with pokémon, since that was something I was really into in high school. It was advertising a pokémon center, so I made a mental note to see if I could find out where that was. We ended up picking up some sushi from the Daimaru store to take back to our hotel with us for our dinner, since it was cheaper than getting it from the restaurant. We also picked up some food we could eat for breakfast. I really liked the sushi, though I also found it to be much like the sushi I eat in Malaysia, so it’s nice to know it’s relatively authentic here. On a food note, anywhere you eat, you basically have to eat with chopsticks. I learned how to use chopsticks on our previous trip to Japan because they don’t offer you any other options! No forks, knives, or spoons! But it’s actually a really convenient way to learn. I find it easier to use Japanese chopsticks than Chinese ones, though.

We stayed in the hotel the rest of the night so that Jeremy had time to research everything he wanted to do the next day. I figured that since I chose everything that day, he deserved his own day to choose, too!

Sunday September 2nd, 2012

After we had our breakfast, we headed back out to Osaka station. At the time, Jeremy was doing his best to surprise me with his plans. He walked me around in circles, waited for the malls to open, and tried to give me the impression he was taking me to Universal Studios. What we were actually doing here is that he had intended on taken me to the pokémon center, except that he didn’t look up the right building, only which floor it was on (I found this out later). He’d made an assumption based on where we’d seen the escalators. Still, we climbed to the roof and got some brilliant views of Osaka from there, so we were able to get some nice photographs. They also had a small farm on the roof!

When Jeremy decided he’d had enough there, he took us on the JR train to Shin-Imamiya station. From here, we wandered around, and he was going to take me to the Tsutenkaku Tower first, but we got a little sidetracked looking through the stalls with the Billiken “God of All Things As The Ought to Be” statues, so we ended up walking past the zoo and headed over to Shitennoji Temple. Once we arrived, Jeremy discovered that he didn’t have enough money for both of us to enter, so he sent me in with his camera and told me to tell him what it was like when I came out.

I was only allowed to take photos on the outside of the buildings, so getting to walk inside each of them was a rare treat. The first building I explored was my favourite because each of the gold Buddhas had smaller Buddhas surrounding them, for a total of about three layers each. It was really beautiful and something I didn’t notice immediately. They came more into focus the longer I looked. I also quite liked the lanterns that hung about the outskirts. Inside the pagoda in the middle, shoes had to be taken off and carried in a special shoe bag as you climbed to the top of a spiral staircase, looking at various gold Buddhas and other trinkets along the walls. You couldn’t really see much once you got to the top though. There was another prayer room opposite the pagoda, which also housed large golden Buddhas.

Once I returned to Jeremy, we continued looking around the the temple grounds. There were market stalls set up on the outside (though technically we looked at those before I went inside the temple). There was another temple behind that we didn’t have to pay to enter, so Jeremy got to come along for that. We had to use a shoe bag there as well, and that led us to a large circular room with more gold Buddhas surrounding the walls as well as being in the centrepiece. It was really quite beautiful to look at.

It was about lunch time when we finished there, so we decided to walk back through old Osaka and try and find a place to eat that would accept a credit card, or an ATM. The first ATM we tried didn’t work. We didn’t find any restaurants that accepted cards, either. Thankfully, we found an ATM at a 7-Eleven that worked, so we got cash out there and headed back to the previous restaurant we’d found and liked, where we could order some Japanese curry and rice. My meal was pretty much like the Japanese meal I had in Taiwan… and now’s when I realise I’ve mentioned Taiwan twice in this entry and I still haven’t written about that trip. Sorry!

After lunch, we walked back toward Tsutenkaku Tower through Tennoji Park. We stopped in to have a look at the art museum in the middle of the park, but the only exhibit we were allowed to see for our ticket price was some ancient stone Buddhas from China. Of course, I still found these interesting; especially looking at the engravings on the back of the larger ones.

When we got back to the tower, there was quite a long queue – about an hour’s wait before we could take a lift to the top. My legs were very tired and there were few places to sit, so I was on the floor half the time. I did like looking at the model of the original tower, though. Jeremy informed me that it was based on the Eiffel Tower + the Arc du Triomphe in Paris (both of which we saw when we were there in June), but that it had been dismantled during WWII and rebuilt differently later on. The views of Osaka from here were okay, but I think I preferred the views from Osaka Castle and the mall at the Osaka JR Station.

After we headed out from there, I requested that we stop for some of the Japanese shaved ice dessert I’d kept seeing around and had been tempted by. I chose strawberry flavoured and Jeremy had lemon. They were similar to sno cones, which I’ve had in Australia, but much fluffier. I quite enjoyed it, even though it was enormous when it arrived at our table!

Then we headed to a spa that Jeremy had wanted to go to for some time to relax and put our feet up. That was something I certainly needed for my poor legs! We were there for a couple of hours before heading on to the Shinsaibashi/Dotombori area to look at shops and have dinner. I was most excited by a costume shop that sold wigs of all sorts of colours, and was tempted by a turquoise one, as that’s the one colour I’ve wanted to dye my hair, that when I tried, it actually failed and ended up more aqua. I’d still like to see myself in turquoise hair! But then I got kind of yelled at by a lady who worked there, so we left and didn’t get anything.

Dinner was a buffet at Shakey’s Pizza, but since we had also had a rather large lunch, we decided it would be best to avoid breakfast in the morning! I tried not to eat too much though, which wasn’t too hard because I got full pretty quick. We then checked out the Dotombori lights before getting back on the subway and heading to the hotel again. Jeremy stopped to get some more money out so we could watch a movie in our room before going to bed. I chose the movie Friends with Benefits.

Monday September 3rd, 2012

We tried to watch another movie in the morning but the one Jeremy chose was in Spanish and only had Japanese subtitles, so we ended up heading out a little before check-out time (about 10am; check-out was 11) and back to Osaka Station again. I’d looked up exactly where the pokémon center was meant to be this time, which was the Daimaru Umeda store – the same one we’d got our sushi from. So I knew how to get back there at least! It ended up just being a section of the shop that sold all sorts of pokémon merchandise, but it was still pretty cool to see. Then we checked out more of the views from the top of that building, before deciding to pick up a present for the boys (special “Osaka cake” that was more like mini donuts) and jumping on the JR train and heading toward the airport.

We got off at Rinku Town, which is the stop just before Kansai airport, to have lunch and look at the outlet stores briefly. We considered going on the giant ferris wheel but decided it was a bit expensive. Then we were going to use one of the photo booths they had, but we didn’t have the right kind of change for the one we wanted. The lunch we had was meant to be European style food, but it had a bit of a Japanese twist – I’m pretty sure one of my croissant sandwiches had raw fish in it.

By the time we got to the airport, it was time to check-in, so at least we found a way to occupy our morning even if it wasn’t doing any of the type of sightseeing I generally enjoy most (we’d seen all of the closest things we’d had access to already). Immigration before getting to our flight had a much shorter wait time, too. There was no line there!

So then we flew back home to Malaysia.

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Dominica has a strong interest in exploring diversity in media, seeing people subverting corporate control of creativity through crowdfunding and indie publishing, and spending as much time as she can travelling the world and discovering culture. This is what she most regularly blogs about. In her spare time, Dominica is primarily focused on long-form improv theatre, and writing and publishing speculative fiction. You can find links to some of her free and published stories and screenplays on her writing page, or check out her pirate time-travel novel Adrift. Though born and raised in Australia to American parents, Dominica lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between 2008-2014, until she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She also has a background in web programming, filmmaking, and stand-up comedy. For more information, check out her about page, or any of the specific pages about her various creative pursuits in the links at the top of the page.

One Response to Trip to Japan, Aug 31-Sept 3, 2012

  1. Kaye

    Wow! You certainly packed a lot in!! It sounds fascinating. I had 4 or 5 Japanese people in my ESL class today. One is married to a man from Kenya – & living in Australia – quite a cultural mix! Thanks for the great blog!

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