We said our good byes at the orchard in Yamanashi and got on a bus for Osaka, the second largest city in Japan located in the Kansai region. When we arrived, we met up with our host Hiroki and his wife, Haruka. We asked what a specialty dish in Osaka was and we learned about takoyaki. Tako in Japanese means octopus and yaki means grilled (or in other instances, cut in thin slices). Hiroki pulled out a takoyaki grill pan, a table top grill with small round circles cut out of it. He explained that more people in Osaka own this than people in Tokyo; takoyaki is that popular of a dish to make. We went to the store get to the rest of the ingredients. The batter is very simple to make, you only need eggs, flour, water, and a small amount of fish stock/seasoning. Then you cut up the tako and anything else you want to add in. We added corn, negi (green onion), potato, and cheese.
After heating up the grill, Hiroki poured the batter and when the batter began to set, we started forming the takoyaki balls with toothpicks and flipping them so the other side would cook. It was a fun process since you had to be quick and sometimes flipping the balls without destroying their form was challenging. Once they were fully cooked, we picked them up and added ponzu (soy sauce and vinegar), okonomiyaki BBQ sauce, and mayo (like me!). The outside was crispy while the inside was creamy, crunchy, and extremely hot. Overall it was super oishii (yummy) and reminded me of similar dishes found in the Midwest, the region I grew up in in the United States. The dish made me feel right at home 🙂
The next morning, Donald and I set off to do the impossible, tour Kyoto in one day. When I told people we would only be in Kyoto for a day, they said that you needed a couple days to see the historical sites. This is completely true considering there are many shrines, temples, bamboo forests, various parks, and in the summertime, many festivals. However, we decided to go to Kyoto anyway and sure enough we were able to see thousands of famous torii, one of the five greatest Zen temples, a bamboo forest that’s rated one of the top destinations to go to in Kyoto, and the opening ceremony of one of the largest festival’s in Japan. Here are the highlights of the sights we saw that day:
We started off at Fushimi Inari, a shrine with over 1,000 torii (shrine gates) that lead up to the top of Mt. Inari. Inari is the Shinto god of rice and ultimately sake. The brightly painted fiery arches are stacked one after another, creating a sacred tunnel. There’s a manageable hike all the way to the top of Mt. Inari. If you plan to climb to the top while trekking under the hundreds of red gates, be sure to note that it will take a good 30-45 minutes to get to the top, depending on your speed and how crowded it is. It’s definitely worth doing because toward the very top there’s a scenic view point and you get a nice view of Kyoto. At the very top of the mountain, there’s a larger shrine where you can give a donation and pray in front of. Throughout the hike there are nice spots to relax by, such as a pond, several areas with smaller shrines, and restaurants to eat at or snack stands to purchase ice cream and other items. We also had the chance to hike through the bamboo forest within the park. It motivated us to search for the bigger bamboo forest located near the Tenryu-ji temple. We took a bus there from the Kyoto station, which took an hour and cost 230 yen per person. If you plan on touring around Kyoto and using the bus more than 2 times, we recommend buying a one-day bus pass for 500 yen.
The Arashiyama Monkey Park Iwatayama
Once we arrived to Arahiyama, we noticed there was a monkey park where you could hike up where the monkeys lived in the forested hills of Kyoto. We thought, why not check it out? It was 550 yen to enter and quite a rigorous hike, which I didn’t expect. Yet at the very top, you are guaranteed to not only see Japanese Macaque monkeys, but have them walk by you as if you are one of them. Arriving at the top we saw monkeys with thick grey fur and rough pink faces. It was funny to see the feeding area, which was a building only people were allowed in with various windows that had metal bars surrounding it. The monkeys could jump up to the windows and once they did, they would hang by their finger tips on the side of the barred window while stretching out their arm with their flat palm as a way to say “I’m willing to take anything you’ve got.” And there’s no denying that they wouldn’t refuse whatever you handed them. They were obviously too reliant on humans and too comfortable with them to leave this natural habitat, now invaded by tourists.
What I liked about this park is that the monkeys were free to roam around wherever, they weren’t confined in a cage. When you received your entrance ticket, you were warned not to look them in the eye, crouch toward the ground, touch the monkeys, or stand closer than 2 meters/6.5 feet by them. You were at your own risk if you did not follow these careful precautions. Monkeys, young and old, crowded around a man made pond as us bewildered humans whipped out cell phones and cameras to record their everyday activities. Some monkeys were taunting the giant carp fish swimming in the pond by poking on them each time they swam by. The younger monkeys dove into the pond for a nice summer splash. If anything, the view at the park is even more expansive than the one at Fushimi Inari. We were able to see the Kyoto in its entirety and couldn’t wait to explore more.
The Tenryu-ji Temple
There is definitely more of a touristy vibe in Kyoto since it’s one of the oldest cities in Japan with impressive historical sites that draw many international visitors. Spanish, Chinese, French, and languages I could not recognize filled the bustling Kyoto walkways as people were hurrying to the next site or a nearby shop to purchase food or souvenirs. We decided to check out our first and only temple.Temples are different from shrines because they’re affiliated with the Buddhist religion which wasn’t adopted into the Japanese society until after 500 A.D. Before that, the Shinto religion was the primary religion in Japan. The Tenryu-ji temple was ranked number one out of the five Zen temples in Kyoto.
When entering the temple, you must take off your shoes. Everyone is able to freely place them on a shoe rack as they walk around the temple. It’s amazing to see the level of respect people have in Japan for other people’s valuables and possessions. No one tries to grab your backpack if you set it down, rip your phone out of your hands, or steal money from your pockets. It might happen and probably does, no doubt, but the crime rate in Japan is significantly less than other countries. It’s great to see this level of respect in a dense, populated country. The temple had a beautiful garden behind it and an intricate alter.
The Bamboo Forest
After visiting the temple, we headed into the enchanted emerald green Bamboo Forest, said to be one of the top most visited sites in Kyoto. We could definitely see why! The thickest bamboo trunks my eyes ever saw stood straight and tall, almost touching the bottom of the clouds. We inhaled the incredible scenery and indulged in fragrance of lime colored leaves that have been preserved for what looked like hundreds of years. After doing some research, I honestly could not find out how long the forest has been around (if you’re reading this and have discovered the forest’s true age, please let me know in a comment below!) We knew before we came to Kyoto that there was no way we were going to leave Japan without visiting this forest. After touring the forest, we decided to head back to Osaka.
Our Last Supper of Udon Noodles and Katsudon
As a way to cherish our last and final day in Japan, we decided to go to a ramen shop, only this one specialized in udon noodles, thicker noodles than the egg noodles found in ramen. We ordered a set and my new favorite dish I discovered in Japan, katsu-don, came on the side. We reminisced about our travels in Japan and wished we would have been able to stay in Osaka longer. Next time Japan, sayonara for now!
This post is dedicated to our lovely hosts, Hiroki and Haruka. Thank you so much again for hosting us! It was great making takoyaki with you and learning more about Osaka. We wished we had more time but definitely keep in touch and come visit wherever we land! Happily thinking of you both as you enjoy the momos and that you have a great time on your upcoming trip 🙂