Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo
When you think about Japan, chances are you picture large avenues crowded with people, skyscrapers with neon lights all around at night, really cool street fashion, bars and unusual local businesses; or sublime Zen gardens, graceful geisha, Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. As you might have guessed the first one is, of course, Tokyo. But what about the others?
Truth is: modern Japan has a lot to offer. From calm and quiet to loud and intense. It can make you feel the past and also reveal the future.
Historically, Osaka is a merchant city and has also been known as the “nation’s kitchen”. It has an amazing nightlife vibe and is the second largest city in Japan!
So, what’s so great there? Take a look.
Fun fact: the term “kuidaore” (“eat until you drop”) is used to describe the food culture here. Just to make it clear to you that food in Osaka is serious business. People of Osaka spend more on food than on anything else! And it’s not because it’s expensive to eat in this city or anything like that. It is simply because people there looove good food. So let’s take a look at some places you can’t go wrong when in Osaka.
First of all, Osaka is famous for various local dishes. And if you’re on a budget, don’t worry because most of these dishes are quite cheap.
The Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi Districts
These two districts are the most popular for foods and drinks. The atmosphere is incredible and you will probably find yourself discovering delicious places.
This place, located in Dotonbori, serves one of the best Takoyaki. It is a popular snack made of octopus slices, breaded and grilled. You can’t leave without tasting it!
Ramen Yashichi (らーめん弥七)
This one is a hidden gem in Osaka. If you like ramen, do yourself a favor and have a lunch here. They are closed during the weekends, which is a shame, but if you’re going to spend some weekdays in Osaka, Ramen Yashichi is very close to the Nakatsu Subway station and is definitely a must try!
Strolling and taking beautiful pics
The Umeda Sky Building was once called “triumphal arch of the future” by a British magazine. Since then, it became one of the most popular sightseeing spots in Osaka. Visitors can enjoy an impressive view of the city thanks to the “Floating Garden” on the top of the skyscraper. The “Floating Garden”… doesn’t it sound AMAZING? That’s because it is.
Osaka Castle. In 1583, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a politician of the Sengoku era of Japan started building this castle to try to unify the country. The observatory on the 8th floor offers an unbroken view of the whole city, and the beauty of the castle offers a lot of angles to take great pictures!
America-mura, Sankaku Park. This is a famous fashion area and you’re gonna find a lot of teens and twenty-something locals gathering around. Amemura (that’s how locals used to call it) is also a great place for anyone looking for a second hand and imported clothes shop. So it’s an incredible place to explore and search around!
Senkouji Temple. By the name of it you’re probably thinking that it’s just a temple (which is great but… still a temple). But not entirely! Here in Senkouji Temple, they offer the rather interesting chance to experience hell. Oh, yeah.
Japan Mint. The perfect place to go during cherry blossom. That’s actually the reason to come here, not for the mint itself but for the sakura cherry blossom. Not that many people actually know about it so you can take advantage of.
Where to shop?
Tennoji MIO. This shopping center is connected directly to JR Tennoji station and its variety of 240 specialty shops are going to drive you insane (in a good way of course, otherwise we wouldn’t recommend it). The price ranges are also not too expensive, so if you want to enjoy shopping for fashion, cosmetics and miscellaneous goods for a reasonable price, this is the place you’re looking for.
Takashimaya in Namba. The main branch of this well-established department store has set up in Namba. If you want to buy high-class fashion brands, kimono clothes, suits, bags, accessories, cosmetics and other amazing stuff that you and I are picturing right now, you probably won’t find a better place in Osaka.
Kyoto is the former capital of Japan. It has been the center of traditional Japanese culture for over a thousand years. Yeah, you read it right. That alone makes Kyoto one of the most historic and attractive cities of the world. It’s Japan in a nutshell!
So what should you do there? We’re gonna help you out.
No Kyoto trip is complete without a kaiseki meal.
Kaiseki is a traditional Japanese dining experience involving multiple courses. And Kyoto style kaiseki ryori (kyo kaiseki) is particularly refined, placing an emphasis on subtle flavors and local and seasonal ingredients. Here are some nice restaurants to enjoy yourself over Kyoto cuisine:
Izusen (泉仙 大慈院店)
This lovely restaurant is located on the grounds of Daitokugi Temple. If the weather helps, you can even eat in the garden. Fun, right?! What a charming way to enjoy a delicious shojin ryori kaiseki!
Mashita location is right in the heart of Gion, the famous geisha district. This is a great place to experience a kaiseki meal prepared by Chef Masahiro Mashita. He carefully selects the best ingredients and arranges each dish exquisitely. It’s very appreciated by the locals and certainly will be very appreciated by you in the future.
It’s also very worthwhile to have a dinner by the river Kamo, in the Sanjo or Shijo districts.
It’s. Just. So lovely.
Strolling and taking beautiful pics
As mentioned above, Kyoto is full of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. That’s why you can’t miss the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This is the most important of several thousands of shrines dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice. Fushimi has ancient origins, predating the capital's move to Kyoto in 794!
The Kyoto Station Building is another place that is a must-see. Standing in opposition to the old and antique, the architecture of this place is mesmerizing thanks to the patterns and curves of the ceiling, that seems to move above your head like waves made of metal. And, if you do go there, please, don’t forget to visit the Sky Walk. You can thank us later.
Oh, and of course! Have a walk through Gion. It’s the geisha district we mentioned before and it’s a great, traditional region with ryokans open to the public. If you don’t know what those are: ryokans are typical Japanese restaurants where you eat in private. It’s a nice and unique experience to have!
The Kinkaku-ji is a beautiful Zen Buddhist temple and one of the most famous buildings in Japan. It literally means “Temple of the Golden Pavilion” so you probably already figured out what color it has. Each floor of the Kinkaku uses a different architectural style. These are shinden, samurai, and zen. It’s classy!
Where to shop?
Teramachi and Shin Kyogoku Shopping Arcades. These two are packed with shops that sell clothes and goods and are crowded with young people. A must-see.
Shijo-dori (street). There are the well-established department stores of Daimaru, Takashimaya and Fujii Daimaru along with Kyoto-style clothing (Kimono). A nice street to look for Japanese clothes.
Yoji-ya. Ok, that’s a cosmetics company store with amazing and unique products! Their signature product is “Abura Tori-gami (oil blotting paper)”. It’s made of washi (Japanese paper) and has a high-quality function to gently remove excess oil from the face. You can find their stores at Gion and Sanjo.
Kyoto Chidorya is another one. They use selected Japanese originated ingredients and develop cosmetics that are gentle for the skin. Its gentle formula is especially recommended for those with delicate skin because of atopy or other skin problems. It’s soft, it’s beautiful, it’s comfortable, it’s healthy!
Kyoto Silk. This is a company producing varieties of skin care items utilizing silk as a material. According to the tradition, apprentice geishas use the end of a silk cloth to rub their hands and feet as well as their napes since they knew it would make their skin smoother for face powder. If geishas took advantage of it, you can too!
The capital of Japan is one of the best cities to visit. In 2014, the city was ranked first in the “best overall experience” category of TripAdvisor’s World City Survey. The city also ranked first at “nightlife”, “shopping”, “local public transportation” and “cleanliness of the streets”.
Long story short, Tokyo is a metropolis to fall in love for. With great attractions for every kind of person! So, let’s take a look at things you might don’t know about and you definitely cannot miss when visiting.
Tokyo’s top restaurants have accumulated more Michelin stars than both Paris and New York combined! Did you know that? That’s huge. And it doesn’t end there. The great thing about Tokyo is that good food can be found in every price range. Japan’s capital also features a wide range of both local and regional Japanese cuisine in addition to all kinds of international food.
And like Osaka and Kyoto, Tokyo also has specialties. The capital has greatly influenced Japan’s cuisine. To such a degree that many regional dishes from various parts of Japan are at times believed to be originally from Tokyo.
The place to enjoy sushi for breakfast (yes, it’s a thing and we recommend you give it a try). This is the world-famous fish market. There are too many options and we recommend two places to eat: Sushi Dai and Daiwa-Zushi. If you love sushi, it’s a no-brainer. If you can't stand the fish smell, well, this might not be the place for you.
Sasama (御菓子処 さゝま)
This wagashi (Japanese candy) shop makes delicious little masterpieces, exploring a new motif each month inspired by the colors of nature. They are beautiful, bite-sized and you definitely want to try some. Bonus: you will fall in love with this candies, so if you want to take some to give as gifts, look for the lovely packs from Akasaka Aono (赤坂青野).
Sushi Yuu 寿司勇
Here you can have the best sushi experience. The one you’ve been dreaming of. It may get expensive, though, but it also gets really personal and tasty(!). Ah, and you should make a reservation. Because, you know, it’s a crowded and touristic city.
Strolling and taking beautiful pics
Shibuya is the coolest neighborhood in town. At the station, you can visit the famous Hatchiko’s statue, the lovely dog that kept waiting for its owner at Shibuya’s station. Bring some tissues with you because, well, you need to watch the movie.
Go for a walk at Asakusa, a very traditional neighborhood where you can breathe the Japanese culture. Senso-ji temple is also here, one of the most beautiful and visited temples.
A must go is Meiji, the most famous Shinto shrine in Tokyo. It’s so beautiful that it’s gonna stay with you forever. There is a water tank where you can wash your hands and mouth for purification and you can also write and tie your wishes onto the prayer wall.
Now that you’re properly purified, what about taking a picture from a really high view of this amazing city? Visit Tokyo Skytree, the highest tower in the city, its view is going to make you fall in love.
Where to shop?
Ginza. This shopping district in Tokyo is compared to 5th Avenue in New York. Here you’ll find flagship stores of international designer brands and also more affordable Japanese brands like Uniqlo. Walk through Ginza and you will also find awesome traditional craft shops hidden among the big stores.
Seibu (Shibuya). If you are looking for luxury brands this is THE place. We already mentioned Shibuya before, and there you will find Seibu. It is split into two buildings and all women’s brands are in the A Building. Enjoy!
Harajuku. It’s a fashion area with good stores, low prices and things you won’t find anywhere else. You can find a bargain, but you'll have to shop around. Also, there is Takeshita-dori which is the most famous street, but where you should really go is:
Omotesando. This is meant to be Tokyo’s “champs Élysées” (it’s on Harajuku!). Famous brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada, Dior and also the Japanese store LaForet Harajuku (at the end of Takeshita street), sells well-known brands from many different countries and has over one hundred (!) shops.
Kinji. This used clothing store will take you into the Japanese street style. There are all styles and many options in one place, but it may take a while to find exactly what you are looking for. After shopping here you can have a meal and give a well-deserved rest to your feet at Café Kinji.
Japan is an adventure and also the perfect country to have new and unique experiences! Are there other amazing cities you think we should explore? What do you love most about Japan?
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