Sunday, November 9, 2008

Japan - Kyoto

The local train from Osaka only took half an hour, good job as it was so busy I had to stand the whole way! Anna had a nice comfy seat though... We got to Kyoto's glass house of a station mid morning so we had plenty of time to sort out our onward tickets to Tokyo for two days later.

After several attempts we eventually managed to get hold of our guesthouse owner who insisted we caught a taxi to her place at her expense! So after a ride in a lace doily clad taxi, complete with uniformed cabbie, we arrived in a narrow back street right in the centre of the city. Miss Tani Jr met us and paid for the cab. She then led us up a couple of flights of stairs to a room/appartment so small it was comical. It was all we needed though and surprisingly homely.

We dumped our gear and headed out on foot to tramp miles round the backstreets of Kyoto visiting several temples during the remainder of the day. We even spotted a couple of women dressed as Geishas, they'd probably paid a fair amount for the priviledge! Footsore we returned to our mini-pad to crash onto our futon.

The next morning we set off early to try and beat the crowds at the Golden Pavillion. Unfortunately everyone else had the same idea and the bus there was rammed with school kids and pensioners on their way there too!

After a quick tour of the Golden Pavillion we caught a bus and a train to the Fushimi Inari-Taisha temple. This was one of the most impressive we saw. Its paths are lined for about four kilometres with bright orange Torii arches. They're packed so close in places they almost block out the light!

For dinner we went to a local sushi train restaurant which was excellent. Anna's not so keen on raw fish though so she had to settle for the smoked duck which was pretty good! Tired out from all the walking we crashed early again!


Japan - Osaka

Our first stop in Japan was Osaka. After an overnight flight from Singapore we arrived worn out at the city described as the 'Manchester' of Japan. Not as big as Tokyo but still impressive. We caught a local train to near our hostel in an allegedly homeless area of the city. In all fairness though we only saw a few on the street and I think they were only hanging round waiting for the Christian aid centre to open up.

After catching a few zees we navigated quite easily the underground system to the Namba district to search for food. The Rough guide recommended this as a popular area and it certainly was on a murky Saturday afternoon. The streets were overflowing with people, plenty of them dressed up like it was Halloween already!

We found a little Okonomiyaki restaurant which didn't look too busy or too pricey and after a bit of pointing at the menu we got our cabbage pizzas cooked on a griddle in the middle of our table. Later, we did a bit of exploring and found a 100 yen shop near our hotel where we picked up supplies for dinner.

The next day we were up early to see the Castle. One of the most visited tourist sites in Japan, harshly said because there is not a lot else to do in Osaka. Which we found not to be true! As it was raining our plans of visiting temples in the afternoon was scuppered so we headed to the fabulous Osaka aquarium.

We spent several hours meandering from the top round the spiral descent past tanks that span several floors on the outer side and the inner main tank of over 4 floors! The main tank was incredible. There were all manner of sharks and rays swimming about in it, including a pair of gigantic whale sharks, hammerhead sharks, manta rays to name just a few. It really was a great way to spend a rainy afternoon.

That evening we headed to a 'food theme park'. An entire building on Dotonbori street has been renovated to resemble traditional Osakan street stalls and restaurants. Each serves one or two styles of Osakan cuisine such as okonomiyaki (cabbage pizza), tako yaki (squid balls), gyoza (mini fried pasties) and potato karoka (fried mash).

With empty wallets we headed back to the hotel to get ready to head to Kyoto the next day.