Exceeding Expectations – Osaka and Kyoto

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Japan was everything I hoped for and more. I split my week-long holiday between Osaka and Kyoto, choosing to spend the majority of my time in the latter. I went with high expectations for this country and left with them easily exceeded and already scheming my return. In an ode to what we share on social media, here are the highlights of my vacation.


Food

Japan is a haven for culinary enthusiasts like myself. Ramen, sushi, okonomiyaki, takoyaki, green tea everything, convenience food, it’s all amazing. I could seriously taste the commitment to quality and excellence that Japanese seem to put into their food. I especially loved Osaka, often called ‘the kitchen of Japan,’ because the food there was on a level unbeknownst to me. The coolest part about eating in Japan is that not once did I feel uncomfortably stuffed after a meal. Somehow I’d end up feeling light despite the copious amounts of food ingested. The Japanese surely have the art of cooking and eating figured out.

Landmarks

Shrines, temples, castles and gardens, Japan has it all. From the marvelous all-white Osaka Castle to the Instagrammable red pillars of Fushimi Inari-taisha in Kyoto, Japan is the place that keeps on giving. I must confess that after consecutive days of temple hopping, they did start to blend in. I recommend choosing a few to truly appreciate their intricacy and beauty.

Aesthetics

Japan gets design. Its architecture was visually pleasing, a welcome contrast to Korea’s lackluster exteriors. The effortless harmony of the modern buildings with the traditional facades of other structures is nothing short of fascinating.

Zen Gardens

Kyoto is a serene city so I made sure to set time aside to take it all in. I avoided breezing through it in a haste. Instead, I slowed down at these sublime traditional gardens to contemplate and marvel at their simplicity.  My mindfulness reached peak levels at Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion) and Honen-in.

 

Going Solo   

Traveling to Japan on my own offered a little taste of what’s to come during my post-Korea backpacking trip. I relished having the freedom to tailor my days to my whims and wishes while socializing with fellow travelers at the hostel over drinks in the evenings. While there were days that sightseeing solo got a little boring and lonely, it made for later interactions all the more pleasant. I left Japan with more friends than I ever expected to make in a week’s time.

 

Orderliness and Cleanliness

Japan is a blissfully quiet and an orderly oasis. Somehow the county manages to feel peaceful even in big cities like Osaka and Kyoto. I was astounded at how efficiently everything runs, from the buses to the trains to big tourist attractions. People line up in straight lines and wait patiently. There is no cutting the queues or frenzy of any kind. Japan is also ridiculously clean! Is it obvious just how smitten I am with this country?!

Locals

What’s a country without its people? The Japanese locals I interacted with were some of the most polite, friendly and lovely bunch I’ve ever come across.

Geisha

Kyoto is geisha central. Geisha are akin to performing artists or hostesses that entertain clientele—both men and women—through music, dance and conversation. They live in the Gion district and while elusive, can be caught during the weekends in the early evenings as they make their way to appointments. I had the luck and pleasure to see a few of these ladies in all their elaborate makeup, ornate hair and graceful glory.

 

Nara

I made a pit stop in Nara on my way from Osaka to Kyoto to hang out with the deer roaming free at Nara Park. What adorable little creatures! They love tourists because they get fed these special deer cookies. They’re so friendly, they go up to any person extending their hand but quickly walk away if empty-handed. I petted these lovely animals, took more selfies than I care to admit and teased a few with my ice cream. Nara is a great place to spend a day.

I surely hope to see more of Japan before it’s time to depart Korea.

 

Written and photographed by Rocio Cadena

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