The second part of my East Asia trip last autumn was a check off a long-standing item on the bucket list: Japan!
After five days in South Korea, our group of three flew on T’way Airlines from Seoul to Osaka. T’way is a low cost carrier based in Korea; it was decent for the short 1.5 hour flight. There’s another budget airline that we looked into, called Peach Air, but the website was impossible to navigate for some reason. In any case, we arrived safely and without any missing luggage. Good enough for me!
Starting off in traditional Kyoto
Upon arrival at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, we caught the express train to Kyoto, where we would start our Japanese adventure.
In Kyoto, we stayed at Guesthouse Toki which we booked through Airbnb. We actually ended up finding this place kind of on a rush because our other accommodation fell through. We were originally going to rent a house with a company called Vivre Le Japon, but they did not get their short term rental license arranged on time, despite us booking this house about five months in advance.
Fortunately, this change in plan worked out well for us because we really enjoyed this Airbnb. It was a cute little traditional Japanese house that we had to ourselves. We never ended up meeting the host but she was super helpful. The house was also down the block from the best ramen place we tried in Japan, called Akutagawa. Rich broth, handmade noodles, mmmmm.
We spent 5 days in Kyoto and did a typical tourist route: Arashiyama bamboo forest, monkey park, Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine (the one with the series of orange torii gates), and Nishiki market. We also attended a tea ceremony at Camellia Flower, which I found really interesting. Our Airbnb host helped us get tickets for the Gion Odori, which is an annual geisha performance held each autumn in the Gion district, and where Mr. Chuckles claims that he was recruited to become a geisha. 😏
After our top quality ramen experience, we just kept eating. We splurged on a few big meals in Kyoto, including a kaiseki dinner which is essentially a traditional Japanese tasting menu. We enjoyed this at Michelin starred Gion Nanba. Take a look at my food-focused Instagram I’ve Bean Eating for more of my gastronomic documentation.
Some whiskey and more food in Osaka
We also took a trip out to the Suntory Yamazaki distillery for a whiskey tour and tasting, Mr. Chuckles’ heaven. This was admittedly fun even for me as a whiskey no-nothing-at-all. It cost us 2000 ¥ each, or about $20 CAD, for a guided walk around their facility and then a tasting of four whiskies, plus opportunity to try some limited editions at their tasting counter (paid).
The distillery was en route to Osaka so we spent an afternoon there for some more food and exploration before heading back to Kyoto. For lunch, we checked out Ichiran Ramen in Dotonburi, which was one of those funny ramen restaurants with individual booths, where you’re handed your meal by a server hidden behind a small opening. The ramen was decent but the experience was the real novelty. This was followed by a visit to Osaka Castle and then back to Dotonburi for okonomiyaki, which is an Osaka special.
Overall, we had a lovely time in Kyoto. We very much stayed on the beaten path but this was perfect for us as first time visitors. Similar to our experience in South Korea, we made good use of our pocket wifi from Japan Wireless and didn’t encounter any major issues getting around without Japanese. We encountered more tourists in Kyoto than in Seoul or Busan, and the destinations we visited were all pretty crowded. I’m not sure that there is a low season in Japan! Nevertheless, we had a great experience and found the people in Japan to be helpful and as polite as they are said to be.
Next stop, cosmopolitan Tokyo.