Japan is like a breath of fresh air. Of course I love Korea, but sometimes you need space in order to truly appreciate what you have.
In February I was lucky enough to visit Tokyo, as an ignorant European I hadn’t really heard of any other Japanese cities, and I was too lazy to do my research. Since that trip I have realised that there is something almost identical about metropolises; once you’ve visited one you’ve seen them all. Subsequently, I investigated other Japanese cities that might offer something more than international streets flanked by skyscrapers. I chose three cities: Osaka, Kyoto and Nara. They are located close enough to one another to be able to explore them during a single trip. Also, each city is unique from the others.
Upon landing I jumped straight on the JR train and headed to Nara. Nara is quite a small city and is easy to navigate via bus. The main attraction for tourists is Nara Park which is home to Sika deer; they aimlessly roam around scaring school kids and eating anything that they can. They will approach you and lick your hands, so if you are adverse to that walk quickly! The park itself is utterly beautiful, large trees shade the pathways which wind through the acres passing ponds and stumbling upon temples and shrines. Also, residing within the park is Todaiji temple which houses the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. It is phenomenal, and you literally have to strain your neck to gaze at his head.
Kyoto was the most touristy of the three, it offers an abundance of temples, shrines and museums, each one radiating a traditional Japanese aura. In fact there were far too many things to cram into my short stay. The highlight of Kyoto for me was Gion, this is geisha area of the city. Each peaceful street snakes past picturesque tea houses, beautiful men and women wander around the area clad in exquisite kimonos. There was something otherworldly about the whole neighborhood.
Another must-see in Kyoto is Kinkaku-ji temple. The grounds of this temple are sensational, despite the crowds there is a certain peacefulness that fills the air. Kinkaku-ji is home to the famous golden pavilion which sits alluringly on the edge of a pond, its shimmering reflection doubling the breathtaking view. The temple also offers a taste of traditional green tea served by kimono clad women.
In the south of Kyoto lies Fushimi Inari Shrine. Behind the main building are webs of paths which gradually hike up the hillside, these trails are straddled by thousands of gates which form a bright red tunnel for visitors to pass through. Initially, the shrine is congested, but as you work towards the peak the tourists thin out.
The focal point in Osaka was the castle which sits encompassed by lush expansive gardens. The palace itself is sumptuous both inside and out. If you do venture inside there is a large museum which winds its way up each floor. On the uppermost floor there is a viewing balcony where you can gaze out over the city, as emperors gone by probably have done.
Osaka appeared to be the best option for somewhere to stay, as it is the liveliest of the three cities, offering the most bars and restaurants. It offered a vast array of food, and there wasn’t a single meal that wasn’t impressive.
From my experience, public transport in Japan is impeccable. There is only a brief wait between trains and I never encountered one that was late. All routes are clearly highlighted, but if you do have a problem the workers and public are more than happy to help. All transportation methods ran smoothly and were relatively well priced.