LOOKING for some adventure, I decided it was time for me to experience travelling alone. I went online in search of a place safe enough for first-time solo travelers like me.
I decided on Japan, where people are friendly and courteous; where the place is safe and clean. Since I’ve been to Tokyo twice, I decided to go to Osaka and Kyoto.
Osaka is a large port city and commercial center. It’s known for its modern architecture, nightlife and hearty street food.
My hotel was a 10-minute walk to Osaka Castle. Strolling along castle grounds, I was overcome with a sense of tranquility. The place was very quiet and the only sounds you will hear are birds chirping.
One of Japan’s most famous landmarks, it played a major role in the unification of Japan during the 16th century. The castle is surrounded by moats and gardens with cherry trees. Unfortunately I went in the fall, thus the cherry trees were not in bloom.
It was nearly dusk when I finished exploring the castle, so I took the train to see neon-lit Dotonbori. A popular dining and entertainment district, it is where the famous Glico man sign is located. A billboard for confectionary company Glico displaying the image of a runner crossing a finish line is seen as an icon of Osaka. Another attraction is the Kani Doraku crab sign. Dotonbori at night is lit with hundreds of neon lights and mechanized signs. It is also known as the food district. Pablo cheese tart anyone?
Strolling along the Dotonbori will confirm that Osaka is the culinary center of Japan. I made my way through Dotonbori by eating small bites here and there. Two Pablo cheese tarts for a start, then some Kobe beef down the road, followed by takoyaki a little walk away…But one night here was not enough to explore all the culinary treasures, so I decided, why not go four nights in a row?
If eating is not your thing, then the Shinsaibashi area is just for you. Located a stone’s throw away from Dotonbori, it is a covered shopping arcade where you will find all kinds of bargains—bags, shoes, clothing, arts and crafts, high end, low end—it is a shoppers’ paradise.
The next day, I took a train to Kyoto. One of Japan’s best-preserved cities, it is home to at least seven Unesco World Heritage Sites.
The best bus system for exploring Kyoto is the K’ Loop Bus (Kyoto World Heritage Loop Bus). It allows you the freedom to enjoy World Heritage Sites and other important cultural spots at your own pace. The bus can be found at Kyoto Station’s Hachijo-main gate (west side), platform E1. I opted for the one-day adult pass for ¥2300 inclusive of audio guide and receiver rental fee. If you don’t need an audio guide, fare is ¥1800 for adults, payable on the bus. Buses depart Kyoto station every 30 minutes from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Upon exploring Kyoto, I fell in love with its heritage, culture and ability to preserve centuries-old pagodas, temples, shrines and artifacts. Among my favorites are Kinkakuji Temple (Golden Pavilion), Ginkakuji Temple (Silver Pavilion), Kiyomizu-dera Temple (a wooden temple supported by pillars off the slope of a mountain), and the Fushimi Inari Shrine (unending path of over 5,000 vibrant orange torii gates that wind through the hills behind the shrine).
One must also not leave Kyoto without exploring the Gion District, famous for being the most exclusive and well-known geisha district of Japan. Part of it has been declared a national historical preservation district. It is also the setting of the famous book and movie Memoirs of a Geisha.
Back in Osaka on my third day, I went to Ikeda city, birthplace of instant noodles.
To get there, take the train from Hankyu Umeda station (express train for Takarazuka leaves from platforms 4 and 5) for ¥270. Trip is about 19 minutes.
The instant ramen museum is a five-minute walk from the Masumi-cho Homen Exit.
On August 25, 1958, Momofuku Ando invented the world’s first instant noodles, “chicken ramen” at the backyard of his house. The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum is a place where visitors of all ages can enjoy learning about instant noodles. Admission is free, but the “my cup noodles” factory charges ¥300 for each customized cup of noodles. It is the main attraction of the museum wherein you make your very own cup of noodles. In a cup of your design, you fill it with your favorite soup from among four varieties and four toppings from among 12 ingredients. There are 5,460 flavor combinations to choose from. This was the highlight of my trip to Ikeda city and a must-see attraction in Osaka.
On my last day in Osaka I decided to “take it easy” at Universal Studios Japan. One-day pass will cost you around ¥7,400. There was only one attraction I was aiming for, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I’ve been to the one in Orlando, Florida, and while I am not an avid Harry Potter fan; I couldn’t resist from taking a peek at what was in store for visitors in Osaka. Both Orlando and Osaka are the same, except Harry Potter in Osaka speaks in Japanese. Well there’s always butter beer!
If you’re not into theme parks, there is Universal City Walk. It’s a large US- style mall just outside the gates of Universal Studios. For me, the best attraction of the place was the Takoyaki Museum. Five of Osaka’s famous takoyaki shops have been assembled in this museum. I heard from the grapevine that one of them is a Michelin Star establishment. ‘Tako’ is octopus in Japanese, while ‘yaki’ means to fry or cook. Voila! Fried octopus dumplings. Originated in Osaka 75 years ago, it became a favorite across all of Japan.
There are still many places to see in Japan, and for me, this was just the beginning. Katrina Charmaine Avila