A couple of weeks ago I returned from my first holiday in over six months and as you can imagine I was pretty excited – and not only to be travelling as a passenger for once! My boyfriend and I decided on Japan because it had been on both our bucket lists for a while, and only partly because sushi is our favourite food.
When my boyfriend and I go on holiday we generally like to see and do as much as possible in a fairly short space of time – we once visited six countries in fourteen days. Therefore our itinerary may seem a bit ambitious to some, but for us it is how we like it, and this is what we got up to during the first half of our break to Japan.
We flew from Dubai to Osaka and arrived in the late afternoon. I had found us a little hostel for the first night, which was traditionally decorated and in a wonderful area full of tiny alley-style streets and cute looking bars and cafés. We only stayed one night in Osaka and as tempting as it was to spend the evening in one of the adorable spots near our hostel we headed into the centre, to Dotombori to be exact. Dotombori is pretty much what I expected from Japan; very crowded, lots of bright neon lights and a great choice of food. After walking up and down the crowded streets, taking some obligatory photos of the lights and the river we headed off in search of something to eat. There were so many options that we decided to just pick one, unfortunately the one we picked was not to be, as soon as we entered the waiter chased us out saying “no English menu” and making a cross motion with his arms… charming! So we tried again and this time we were lucky and we ended up somewhere with lovely waiters and an English menu. We ordered a lot of little plates of food – the way it seems to go in Japan – which were all very interesting.
The next day we were up bright and early to catch the train to Kyoto. The train ride is around half an hour so before we knew it we had arrived at the outstanding – seriously an amazing building – Kyoto station. We had booked a very traditional – I’m talking sleeping on the floor and communal baths – guest house for our two nights in Kyoto and we headed straight there to check in. Once we had dumped our stuff we went back to the station to buy our daily bus pass (I highly recommend using the bus if you go to Kyoto) and we went off exploring.
Our first stop was the Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama, which is right on the outskirts of the city. It is well worth a visit not only for the mystical forest itself, but the Arashiyama area is full of shops and restaurants – a great place to pick up souvenirs and just have a general stroll.
That evening we went out for dinner in The Cube food court, which is a collection of restaurants on the eleventh floor of Kyoto station, however pretty soon the jet lag kicked in and we were off for an early night.
The next day we temple’ed ourselves out by visiting Fushimi-Inari Taisha, Kiyomizu-Dera Temple and the Higashi Honganji Temple, the first two were very impressive, but incredibly crowded. The Higashi Honganji Temple however did not seem to be one of Kyoto’s main attractions and so was far less busy and felt really calming. I would definitely recommend taking time to visit one of the less well known temples in Kyoto for a more serene experience.
We also took sometime to explore Gion, an area with a few traditional looking streets and plenty of restaurants. We headed to Shimbashi a street which The Lonely Planet describes as “arguably, the most beautiful street in all of Asia”, which is a pretty bold claim to make. I have to say that I thought the street was nice, but I was definitely not blown away.
The next day we hopped on the bullet train to Tokyo, to find out what we did there stay tuned for part two.
Where we stayed: In Osaka we stayed at Guesthouse U-En, which as far as hostels go was one of the best I have ever stayed in. In Kyoto we stayed at Nihonkan, which is a simple hotel, but we had a nice private room with two futon beds. A word of warning the only way to wash yourself is in the communal bathroom, which has several showers and a communal bath. Needless to say communal showers are not my thing so I went first thing in the morning before any of the other guests were awake and it was the quickest shower I have ever had in my life!
What I wore: My Cath Kidston summer dress.