We had a total of 10 nights in Japan. With so much to see, do, and eat within that short timespan, this was our game plan:
- Take the Shinkansen from Tokyo > Osaka
- 4 Nights in Osaka
- 2 daytrips to Kyoto
- 1 day trip to Nara
- Take the Shinkansen back to Tokyo
- 6 nights in Tokyo
- 1 day trip to Hakone
- Fly back home
One thing that I noticed in Japan is that NO ONE is out of shape. Everybody takes the train to wherever they need to go. Once you get off the sardine packed train, everybody is rushing up the elevators (quick tip: stay to one side to let people by). Once you exit the train station, everything is within walking distance. Or if you're a local, you're probably on a bike like this couple above. Everybody seems to always to be in such a rush, but in the most calm and respectful manner possible. It's a wierd balance that I can't explain, but it just works.
Apparently, the Kinkaku-ji temple is a "MUST SEE" when you visit Kyoto. So we woke up early to catch the train from the Osaka station to Kyoto station. We quickly learned the difference between a "local" train, "express" train, and a "limited express" train. Yes, we hopped on a local train and wondered why we were stopping at EVERY stop, while other trains sped past us.
We eventually got on a limited express train to Kyoto, hopped on the local bus, and soon found ourselves at the famous, gold leaf covered temple. To be honest, it was a lot smaller than I expected. There were tons of other tourists around us, all fighting to get a snapshot of this temple. It was alright. We threw some yen at the rock statue for good luck. A little touristy, but we HAD to see it right?
Our AirBnB was about a 10 minute walk away from the buzzing streets of Dotonbori. We tried all the famous must try streetfoods. Takoyaki, gyoza, conveyor type sushi, and kushikatsu (my personal favorite).
We decided to explore the southern part of Kyoto on our second day trip to Kyoto. The Fushimi Inari shrine was our first stop. We got there before all the crowds of other tourists showed up, and started our hike up the winding trails of Mount Inari.
Fushimi Inari is known for these orange archways/gates called "Senbon Torii". There were thousands of them. Each torii was inscribed and marked with the name of the person that donated the torii.
We decided to take one last day trip from Osaka to Nara. Within 10 minutes of walking from the train station, we were greeted by hoards of deer (regarded as messengers of the gods) that were roaming the parks surrounding the temple grounds.
We wandered through all the parks filled with deer, and eventually found ourselves near the Todai-ji temple entrance. As we got closer to the temple, we couldn't believe how huge this temple was. Up until 1998, it was the worlds largest wooden structure in the world. It also houses the world largest bronze Buddha statue in the world. This temple was probably our most favorite because of its sheer size and natural, rustic beauty.
Right up the road from Shibuya 109, tucked away in a small side street, layed this stand up sushi restaurant. This place was probably my most favorite restaurant during our whole trip. A 10 piece omakase cost only 1620 Yen! This was the first time I was truly blown away by the quality of every single piece of sushi that was put in front of me. The chef also insisted they make us FRESH miso soup with the leftover shimp heads from our sets. This place was so good, we made a return visit before we flew back to Hawaii. Highly reccomended!
Harajuku was only about a 15 minute walk from Shibuya. Takashita Street was as advertised...crowded! Like suffocatingly crowded.
Our 7 day JR pass was about to run out, and the weather was looking promising, so we planned one last day trip to Hakone. Hakone is a very sleepy, rural town that lies at the base of the volcanically active Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park.
So a group of our friends insisted that we needed to eat at Sushi Dai at Tsukiji Fish Market. Apparently, they waited in the freezing cold for 4 hours WELL before the sun came up.
So we took the first train in the morning, somehow got lost, found the long line of people, and then was told that the wait was 6 hours. 6 HOURS!!! Apparently, they only take 13 people at a time, and don't fill any empty seats until the whole party of 13 is done eating. Then they take the next party of 13.
We contemplated whether or not to waste half of our day in line, or go next door to Daiwa Sushi (restaurant run by the son of Sushi Dai). We opted for the latter, and only waited for about hour in line.
We both enjoyed an OISHII omakase (only $40usd) from the old chef behind the counter. He just kept placing piece after piece in front of us. Every bite tasted so fresh. I think my piece of shrimp was still moving on top the bed of rice. My favorite piece was the chu-toro (medium fatty tuna). I had to double up by ordering another piece ala carte before we left.
One of our hopes and wishes was to experience the Sakura (Cherry Blossoms) in Japan. In our time Osaka and Kyoto, the Sakura was just starting to bud and about a week away from blooming. We were a little weary that we wouldn't be able to see any Sakura on our trip. We kept watching the Sakura report on the local news, and heard that there were some select places in Tokyo were starting to bloom. So we spent our last few days in Japan hunting down all the Sakura spots around Tokyo.