Hi everyone! Today is another installment of our Japan travels. This time, I’m talking about our day trip out to Nara and Osaka, both of which are just a short bullet train ride away from Kyoto. Our original plan was to visit these places on separate days to allow for more time to look around, but because we missed a day due to our cancelled flight, we had no choice but to do them together. It would’ve been nice to spend some extra time in both places, but I think it general it worked out just fine.
Our first stop of the day was Nara. There are a few different ways to get to Nara from Kyoto, but we took the bullet train, which took about 50 minutes. Once you arrive, the main attraction, Nara Park, is about a 20 minute walk from the station.
If you’ve heard of the city of Nara, you probably know it for Nara Park, which is a huge park that is also a home to hundreds of deer. Before visiting Nara, we thought there would only be a few deer lounging around, but they are roaming freely everywhere! At the park grounds, standing around on the middle of the sidewalk, crossing the intersection right in front of cars…everywhere! Not surprisingly, the mascot of this city is a deer.
The deer were so chill! I wanted my Disney princess moment and tried them to come near me, but they wouldn’t have any of it. They don’t try to be around humans, but they don’t go out of their way to avoid them, either – they just do their own thing and wander around. I have a few photos of me side-eyeing some deer because they were getting too close to me while my husband was trying to take photos of me, haha! We also thought they would be really aggressive, and they can be if you are holding the biscuits that are available for purchase to feed to them. There was a lady trying to feed them, and when they began surrounding her, she tried to run away while a few were pulling at her sweater! I think the secret is to keep the crackers in your pocket/purse and take them out one at a time instead of holding the whole pack of biscuits in your hand.
Nara is also known for its many shrines, a lot of which surround Nara Park. Our favourite by far was Todai-Ji Temple, a massive temple with a giant buddha inside.
After visiting Nara Park, we walked down the main street in Nara looking for a famous mochi shop called Nakatanidou. Mochi is a sweet dumpling that can be filled with various fillings: red bean, various fruit fillings, custard, or untraditionally, even ice cream! Not only does Nakatanidou sell fresh mochi, but they also show a traditional mochi pounding ceremony where one person pounds at the mochi dough with a bat-type tool while another person turns the dough with their hands. It’s interesting to watch because they really make a show out of it. Both people yell loudly, and they do it at such a quick speed that the person turning it with their hands looks like they’ll be hit by the bat! I only purchased one mochi because I knew we wouldn’t be able to finish a whole box, but man, was it good – soft but chewy, and not too sweet. I didn’t even get a great picture of because I just wanted to stuff the whole thing into my mouth.
After our mochi snack, we found a restaurant and ate a quick katsu (fried chicken) meal for lunch, before heading back to the station to train to Osaka.
Osaka is a more modern-looking city compared to Kyoto, but it doesn’t have as many activities as Kyoto. Still, I wish we got a full day in the city like we originally anticipated, because I feel like there was more to do and see in Osaka than what we were able to see.
After spending all morning in Nara, we arrived in Osaka mid-afternoon. The first thing we did was head straight to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. The aquarium is situated right by a port, and there was a cruise ship parked right behind the aquarium. I’ve never seen a cruise ship in real life! haha. Anyways, back to the aquarium: fun fact, my husband and I love aquariums and always try to go to one during each vacation we take. There were a number of aquariums in the Japanese cities we were visiting, but the Kaiyukan Aquarium had really high reviews so we decided to visit that one. There were a lot of displays we’ve never seen at other aquariums – my husband was obsessed with the sunfish, for whatever reason. I love, love, love looking at jellyfish at aquariums, and they had one of the most impressive jellyfish displays I’ve seen as of yet.
By the time we left the aquarium, it was around dinner time and getting dark out. We took the train to Dontonburi market, which is an area containing a lot of shopping and food stalls. Dontonburi was different from anything we saw in Kyoto; it was more lively at night and filled with bright lights. It is known for this view here:
Both sides of the river are surrounded by tons of food stalls! Dontonburi is where we had our first takoyaki (grilled octopus balls) of the trip – we ended up having takoyaki many times while in Japan! We order takoyaki at home all the time, but it’s an Osakan dish so we just HAD to try it here, and it was so delicious! My mouth is watering just from looking the photo.
We didn’t do much shopping here, but we did walk around eating everything we laid our sights on! After exploring the Dontonburi area a bit more, we went to get something on my list of “must-eat” foods, which was melon-pan (a sweet Japanese bun). The special thing about this melon-pan was that it has ice cream sandwiched in the middle! Melon-pan looks like the Chinese pineapple bun so I expected them to taste the same, but pineapple bun is more bread-like and melon-pan is more crunchy. Interestingly enough, melon-pan does not contain melon and pineapple bun does not contain pineapple – they’re named as such because they look like melons/pineapples!
Anyways, the name of the establishment we bought the melon-pan from literally translates to “2nd best melon-pan in the world” 😂 – I’m not sure where the first best melon-pan is! Luckily we made it to the place just in time, because they closed pretty much right after we walked away. This was so freaking yummy – the melon-pan was hot and was contrasted by the cold ice cream.
With our bellies full, we headed back onto the train to make our way home to Kyoto. Stay tuned for the next blog post, which is all about our stay in Tokyo!