What to see, do, and eat in Kyoto and Osaka (Japan)

Background

We had traveled to Japan for two weeks at the end of September to mid October 2019. We flew in and out of Tokyo but decided to spend the first week traveling to Kyoto and Osaka (with some day trips) and the second one in Tokyo. To see what we did in Tokyo, click here

We bought a few items in advance of the trip and on the first day:

  • a week long Japan Rail pass (similar to Amtrak in the U.S.) in advance of arriving in Japan since it is an unlimited train pass across the cities throughout Japan
  • a Suica card (similar to an Oyster card in London) from a convenience store (can only use cash to buy and refill), which you can use to take the bus or trains
  • A pocket wifi. We didn’t end up using it since our data plan had good service in Japan but it is helpful to have if you do not have a data plan/connection outside of the U.S. since there weren’t many places that had free wifi
Day 1

Feeling a bit jetlagged, we went to Fushimi Inari Taisha early morning since we knew it would get crowded during the day. People have said it takes about two hours one way to hike up to the shrine but we went about a quarter of the way before heading back. It felt quite peaceful and quiet when we were at Fushimi Inari Taisha and it was pretty to see the torii gates. I would suggest bringing bug repellents with you since we have gotten a few mosquito bites when we were there. 

Then we went to Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. The bamboo grove was as pretty as I have seen in pictures but it was smaller than I expected since the path was about 10-15 minutes. I would suggest getting there early as well to get your pictures in.

We then walked to the Arashiyama Monkey Park. Along the way, there were stores that you can stop by for food or for a snack. As you walk through the Arashiyama Monkey Park, there is a steady incline up to the peak and you can spot some monkeys in the trees along the way. The monkeys freely roam the area and you can feed them inside the feeding house. The monkeys are quite cute and they can sit on the benches to watch them get their food and walk around.

We then went to the Nishiki Market for a late lunch. I tried the tako tamago, which is an octopus with a quail egg inside the head, and got takoyaki. One cultural etiquette when you go to Jpanese markets is that you have to eat in front of the stalls/stores that you buy the food from before you start walking to another stall. You can sample other food but we decided to go to Sushi no Musashi to sit down for lunch. They have different price ranges depending on the type of sushi and it tasted really good!

Day 2

After getting breakfast from the convenience store, we went to the Kinkaku-ji (The Golden Pavilion). There were a lot of tourists as well as students on class trips there. It is a famous Zen temple that is covered by gold on the top two floors, and was the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu.

We then made our way to Ninenzaka, a picaresque neighborhood with lots of people wearing kimonos and taking pictures. We then went to Saryo Tsujiri Kodaiji for dessert. I liked the matcha flavor in the dessert.

Afterwards, I found the kimono rental shop and decided to try it. There are a lot of rental shops through Kyoto and it is up to your preferences on what you are looking for. After taking pictures around the area, we went to Maruyama Park. It felt similar to Central Park, and is a popular park to go to when the cherry blossoms bloom. The Yasaka Shrine is also located in the park and there are lanterns that are lit up on the way there and in front of it.

We then stopped by Issen Yoshoku to get their okonomiyaki. It was pretty good and can get quite busy in the evenings. The Kamogawa River was closeby and is a nice place for a stroll or to lay down.

We went to the Round One arcade and played a few games before getting dinner at Yasohachi Yakitori in Ponto-cho.

Day 3

We got a waffle at the Manneken JR Kyoto Station– they also have Manneken at other JR stations. We also got a more filling breakfast at the cafe in the station.
We went to Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion), a Zen temple that shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa built his retirement villa on the grounds of. I like the grounds and the gardens of the Ginkakuji more than the Kinkaku-ji and there were less tourists that were there that day.

We then walked down the Philosopher’s Path (Tetsugaku no michi) to Nanzenji temple. The Nanzenji’s central temple grounds are open to the public free of charge, but separate fees apply for entering temple buildings and subtemples. We climbed up the Sanmon entrance gate, which provides an 360 view of the surrounding area. The gate was constructed in 1628 by the ruling Tokugawa clan for soldiers who died in the siege of Osaka Castle in 1615.

We then went to the Heian Shrine. The shrine was built on the occasion of the 1100th anniversary of the capital’s foundation in Kyoto and is dedicated to the spirits of the first and last emperors who reigned from the city, Emperor Kammu (737-806) and Emperor Komei (1831-1867). Heian is the former name of Kyoto.

We got a late lunch before going to the Kyoto Imperial Palace. Unfortunately, they close the gate 30 minutes before closing. We ended up walking around the ground and it is inside the Kyoto Gyoen National Garden. 

We then made our way back to the hotel and headed to Osaka on the JR train. We got Kushikatsu Daruma, which serve deep fried kebabs of skewered meat fish and vegetables and Kukuru for their takoyaki.

Osaka- Day 1

We had made reservations at the Cup Noodle Museum to participate in a ramen noodle making class. We made the noodles from scratch and were able to decorate the packaging too. The employees were super helpful and it was exciting to see how the noodles were made. At the museum, you can also decorate your own cup noodle cup, fill it with four ingredients, and see how the noodle cup is packaged.

Afterwards, we took the train to see the Fiji vs Georgia World Cup Rugby Game at Hanazono Rugby Stadium. It was exciting to see the game live.

We then headed back and rested at the hotel before getting dinner. Afterwards, we went to Rikuro Ojisan to get cheesecake for dessert. I would definitely suggest trying it- You get an entire cheesecake. It is very light and spongy and creamy.

Day 2

We went to the Kuromon Ichiba Market in the morning to get breakfast. I ate pufferfish and got melon with ice cream. There are a lot of seafood and other food that you can try.

We then went to the Nambayasaka Shrine, which is famous for its lion-shaped stage. It’s believed that the huge lion’s mouth swallows evil spirits and thus brings good luck, especially for those looking to do well in school and business. 

We went to Shinsekai, a neighborhood in Osaka that has restaurants to eat at.

We then took the train to Nara, which is known for its deer park. As we walked to the deer park from the JR station, we passed by the Nakatanidou mochi shop. We got there later and didn’t get to see the mochi making but you can watch them pound the mochi. They sell freshly made ones everyday. 

There are different temples located at the northern part of the park that you can enter into. There are deer around the temples but most of them are located in the grassy area of the park. You can buy biscuits to feed the deer at the stalls or at the store. Be careful if you decide to feed them since some of them can be quite aggressive if they know that you have food and can come up to you in clusters.

We headed back to Osaka for dinner and also went to Hozenji Temple, which is best known for its statue of Fudo Myoo, lovingly known as Mizukake Fudo by the locals. As is tradition, find the statue of Fudo Myoo and splash it with water. This is said to bring you good luck.

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