Japan Travel Diaries: Nara and Osaka

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.

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NARA

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.

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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 Deer Park.jpg
A deer being mildly interested in me until it realized I didn’t have any snacks for him!

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.

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Todai-Ji Temple
Todai-Ji Temple Buddha
The giant buddha inside the temple!

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.

Nakatanidou Mochi
This is what the fresh mochi at Nakatanidou looks like. I wish I had taken a better photo (without the wrapper), but it’s so soft and jiggly that I was afraid of dropping it!

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

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.

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The cast of Finding Nemo!
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Jellyfish!

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:

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This is what Dontonburi market looks like at night. There are food stalls lining both sides of the river!

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.

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Takoyaki, a grilled Octopus ball made with batter filled with minced octopus, green onions, and tempura. It is topped with mayo, takoyaki sauce, dried seaweed, and bonito flakes.

 

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.

Osaka second best melonpan in the world

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!

7 thoughts on “Japan Travel Diaries: Nara and Osaka

  1. Very cool. There used to be a theme park in Nara called Nara Dreamland. It was basically a Disneyland ripoff. The guy who built it had visited Disneyland in California & loved it so much he wanted his own version. It opened in 1961 and closed in 2006. It sat abandoned for around 10 years and was demolished within the last year. There are lots of videos on YouTube about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never heard of Nara but I did hear from a friend that there are tons of deer everywhere in Japan! That’s scary that the lady was surrounded by them when trying to feed them. I don’t think I’d be brave enough.
    The market at night looks really beautiful. It’s a shame that you didn’t have a full day in each city but at least you got to see them both!

    Liked by 1 person

    • lol I wouldn’t say there’s deer everywhere in Japan – just a few parks here and there are known to have deer, but Nara has the largest population.

      Yes, the market was really different than what we had seen previously – the river running through it gives it a nice atmosphere!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’d love to visit Nara Park except for All.The.People. 😛
    Hmm mochi! I love mochi. I’ve never had fresh mochi though! Japanese snacks are just the bestest!
    I’m glad the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan lived up to its reputation! I too, love the jellyfish exhibition the most! ❤
    That's so funny the place named themselves 2nd best – that's truth in advertisement, I guess they didn't want to oversell themselves! 😆

    Liked by 1 person

    • We actually didn’t find the crowds too bad. Maybe it was a combination of going early in the day/the time of the year? Japanese snacks are so good! They’re always so light and not too sweet.

      The name is hilarious!

      Like

  4. OMG the deer – I can’t believe they just wander around like that’s completely normal. I love it!

    I love that you guys wander around and just eat while on vacation – my kinda people! 😉

    Like

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