We trained up from Miyajima, back through Hiroshima, and on to Osaka. The trip took less than 2 and a half hours.
And so began, our journey into more touristy areas. The throngs of people got bigger and shoulders rubbed more frequently. We stayed up at the Courtyard by Marriott (review here) near Shin-Osaka station which is a little out of the way but good for train journeys onwards to other big cities. So we walked down into Osaka central on our first day which was an…interesting…walk over one of the main bridges traversing the Yodo river and through some areas that would be deemed dodgy in any country in the world apart from Japan. Here these areas were just a little…not looked after.
We headed up to the top of the Umeda Sky Building for some sensational views of Osaka. What a sprawling city. Amazing.
In the evening time we headed to the Dotonburi area to see the famous neon lights and check out the shopping scene. Just to check it out, not actually buy anything. We sniffed out the Dublin Bay Irish Bar nearby and had a smoky and quick pint of Guinness. We also stumbled across Murphy’s Bar in a small back alley on our way to Shinsaibashi train station to take us back to Shin-Osaka.
We wrapped up everything by going to a baseball game. It’s tricky (impossible) to buy tickets online for baseball matches. I used japanballtickets.com to buy my tickets for me and get them delivered to my hotel. Easy and would do so again. The Osaka Dome is great to visit and wasn’t that hard to get to on the train.
To be honest, we could have done more in Osaka (Osaka Castle to name but one) but we left feeling we had walked a lot of the city and saw a lot from ground level. And from above.
A mere 15 minutes Shinkansen away from Osaka and you get to Kyoto. Agree? Hehe. We stayed right by the train station at the Kyoto Century Hotel (review here).
Again, we planned on walking everywhere and that worked out fine – we did get the train back from Fushimi Inari Taisha after walking there as we were a bit drained.
Kyoto is about its numerous famous temples and shrines. The problem is everyone knows this and it becomes a mass of humanity swallowing up every inch of happiness and solitude you might like to find in these areas of peace. Firstly, we went to Kiyomizu-dera battling our way through millions of people up Matsubara Dori. You can’t even find time to stop and look through a window; the tide just pushes you along. When you get up to the Kiyomizu-dera you find your sheen of patience and happiness a little bit tarnished. It was fine but there was just too many people to enjoy it.
The next day we walked to the famous Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine complex. It’s the place with all the reddish-orangish gates that you might have seen photos of. There are thousands of them set up that you walk through them all. It’s pretty cool. There were people there though. Lots of ’em. Worth it to see it.
Back in Kyoto we went up Kyoto Tower; which was fine. Had a great creamy stout at the Yebisu Bar just beside the tower and then walked to get some avocado okonomiyaki at Kyo-Chabana. Which I didn’t particularly like but the vegetarian did.
All travel guides will tell you to check out magical Nara. Sadly, it’s far from magical. A short train ride from Kyoto (Japan Rail Pass valid) on the Nara Line; you disembark in a small town square and follow the herd towards the other herd. Of deers. If there were no deers in Nara there wouldn’t be much to talk about the area apart from a few temples thrown around for good measure. Perhaps Nara would be more pleasant without the deer?
So, the deers. Unlike Miyajima, feeding the deer is encouraged both by the deer food vendors and the deer. It’s just….annoying. People annoy the deer, deer annoy the people. People pose for selfies with the deer. People hang food out of reach for deer to get the perfect pose. Deer eat bags. Deer eat clothes. Dear…dear…dear. Was not enjoyable and we were pretty happy to leave. Sad but happy.
Actually I don’t have a lot to say about Yokohama as we didn’t do much here apart from criticising Intercontinental Yokohama Grand Hotel (review here). I took the train into Tokyo (make sure to time it so you get the express train on the Minatomirai Line as it is much much shorter) so I could see the Shubiya and Shinjuku areas again; Hachiko is still waiting…sniff… Yoyogi Park is a perfect stroll of early Sakura blossoming and people watching in April. Always nice to do.
Yokohama itself is a nice break away from Tokyo with a number of things to try out; make your own cup noodles at the Cup Noodle Museum, head up the Yokohama Marine Tower for a panoramic vista, or visit the Red Brick Warehouse for a wide variety of restaurants. There are other things but I have let them fade into memory reluctantly.
There are a number of small towns you can visit from Yokohama/Tokyo. I chose Kamakura as I wanted to see what a coastal town looked like and check out the big buddha there. From Yokohama Station you can take the Shonan-Shinjuku line straight to Kamakura. It takes about 35 minutes. I planned to walk everywhere in Kamakura. First, from the train station, I walked up the main thoroughfare (the side streets are crazy packed) up towards Tsuroguoka Hachiman-gu which is a pretty enough temple up a steep flight of stairs. The surrounding park-type area with pond is nice without being amazing.
From there I retraced my steps back to Kamakra Station and walked past it westwards to head to the Great Buddha of Kamakura. It was a nondescript walk with little of note but it’s always nice to see “normal” houses and way of life in Japan. The Great Buddha is actually pretty great. Worth the walk. You can pay to go inside Buddha but I was one with myself by that stage.
I then navigated my way to walk down to the coast/beach area to walk back to the Kamakura Station. The promenade was pretty nice without much else going for it. It was nice to see people enjoying the beach and brisk sea breeze. And that was Kamakura. A decent enough little aside from Tokyo and Yokohama.
All in all, I would love to go back to Japan for another two weeks and explore more areas by train as I think Japan has the ability to surprise and excite any visitor around every corner.