Japan Trip Part 3: OSAKA/NARA + Kimono Pics + Final Thoughts (Nara Deer Park, Dotonbori, Shinsaibashi)
Part 3: Osaka/Nara
In the final leg of my Japan trip, I traveled to Osaka and Nara. Osaka is the second largest metropolitan area in Japan after Tokyo, but is known to be more laid-back and relaxed than Tokyo. Osaka is only a forty-minute bullet train ride from Kyoto, and adjacent to Nara. Fun fact: Nara used to be the capital city of Japan for a hot second, before it was moved to Kyoto, and finally, Tokyo.
[This post will be fairly short compared to my previous posts because I got lazy near the end of my trip (and didn’t take as many pictures).]
Day 5: Nara Deer Park, Dotonbori, Shinsaibashi
On the morning of my fifth (and final full) day in Japan, I boarded the Shinkansen from Kyoto station to Osaka station. It was a bit of a hassle getting to my hotel, as I had to transfer in Osaka station via the metro to Osaka-Namba station (which was the closest station my hotel). *Beware that if you are carrying a suitcase in the metro, you may be forced to carry it up and down many flights of stairs and into crammed trains.
I finally made it to my hotel at around 11am. I stayed at a chain hotel called APA Hotel that was conveniently located next to Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi. Dotonbori is the food mecca of Osaka, running along the Dotonbori canal, while Shinsaibashi is the main shopping area of Osaka, located next to Dotonbori.
Once I got to the hotel (which had a weird automated check-in process), I quickly unpacked my things and headed out to Namba station to take the train to Nara station. My first goal of the day was to visit the famous Nara deer park, which is home to hundreds of free-roaming deer. It is a huge tourist destination, because visitors can feed the deer special deer biscuits that are sold in the park.
After about an hour-long train ride, I arrived at Nara station at a little after lunchtime. I was pretty hungry so instead of going to the park immediately, I walked around the shopping area outside of the station and randomly chose a tonkatsu restaurant to eat at. I was seated pretty quickly since I was alone. I sat at a one-person booth facing an inner garden and ordered a tonkatsu meal set. The restaurant server taught me how to make my own sauce, by grinding the sesame seeds by hand and mixing in different sauces (spicy and sweet) to make a sauce. The tonkatsu itself was the BEST tonkatsu I have ever had in my life, no exaggeration. It was freshly fried and not too oily—very light and crispy, and the inside meat was tender and juicy. Paired with the sauce, it was soo good.
I later found out that the restaurant I went to, called Ganko’s tonkatsu is famous (one of the top restaurants in Nara according to TripAdvisor) and usually has a huge line out front to even get in! My belly was very happy after this meal, and I finally headed out to the park after getting my fill.
As I walked from the station towards the park (about a five-minute walk), I noticed some deer lying on the grass, behind wooden gates. I assumed that the deer were gated off from the sidewalk, but as I got closer, I noticed there were deer walking on the sidewalk and even crossing streets! There were tons of tourists all around the park trying to take selfies with the deer. I purchased a pack of deer cookies from a street vendor to feed the deer. Be warned: the deer can get pretty aggressive once they realize you have cookies in your hand. As soon as I started feeding cookie bits to the deer, I started seeing deer coming at me from every direction. You might think this is cute and adorable, but it was actually pretty scary. The deer would literally chase me as I ran across the field and nudge me from behind with their horns. I swear there were people laughing at me as I ran for my life. Okay, there was one cute thing that the deer would do: they would bow to me to ask for cookies (I read that they learned to bow to tourists in exchange for food). They only came close to me when I had cookies in my hand, and every time I tried to touch them they would avoid my hand.
After spending about an hour at the deer park, it quickly got old and I decided it was time to head back to my hotel. I went back to the station and took the next train back to Namba. After getting off at Namba, however, I decided to walk around and explore the area a little. I noticed that there were huge crowds of people walking on the streets at this time.
I eventually came to an intersection of shopping arcades (similar to the one I went to in Kyoto). I looked on Google Maps and realized that I was right in front of Shinsaibashi (the biggest and most popular shopping area in Osaka). Although I was pretty tired from my long day, I decided to shop around since I was already there.
Shinsaibashi is essentially one long shopping arcade lined on either side with stores and cafes (mostly stores). It was pretty packed by the time I got there, and it was a little hard to move around at times. Most of the stores I went into were Japanese boutique stores, with price tags on the higher end. I’m not really used to expensive stores in Asia, as I usually shop in Taiwan—where prices are much lower than they are in the States. Nevertheless, I was still able to make a few purchases. The clothes I bought at a store in Shinsaibashi were really high quality and stylish—I was happy. :) I also explored a second-hand thrift store in the arcade, because I’m really into thrifting in the States. But to my disappointment, the items in the thrift store were even more expensive than the new items I bought. I think in Japan, thrifting is reserved for second-hand luxury items—so thrift store items are actually somewhat of a luxury. (I ended up leaving the store empty-handed. )
Around this time, the sun was beginning to set and I decided to head back to the hotel for a break. I actually ended up getting lost and went to the wrong APA hotel. But eventually, I made it back and crashed for a little bit. But since it was my last night in Japan, I forced myself to get out and get one last dinner. The streets outside my hotel were brightly lit with neon signs at night, and many restaurants and bars were open (even around 9pm at night). I had a hard time finding a restaurant that I was comfortable eating at—as many restaurants only have all-Japanese menus. Not to mention, a lot of restaurants are extremely small with a tiny bar that seats six so I didn’t want to intrude. The problem was, I also didn’t want to go to a restaurant that caters specifically to foreign tourists because I wanted a more authentic Japanese meal if possible.
Finally, I decided to try an okonomiyaki restaurant that looked pretty legit and offered an English menu. I walked in and when they realized I was foreign, they led me to a back room where there were ONLY foreign customers. This was weird, I have to admit, but I think they do this to make it somehow more convenient for them to serve non-Japanese customers. I ordered an okonomiyaki and sake, but it took the longest time for them to finish making the okonomiyaki. Since I was seated in the back room, my okonomiyaki was made in the outer room with the grill and delivered to me on a hot plate. After waiting around forty minutes, it finally arrived. It was good, but I don’t know how fresh it was since it wasn’t made in front of me. It was thickly covered in mayonnaise and bonito flakes, and was super filling.
After dinner, I walked back towards my hotel and snacked on a taiyaki (fish-shaped pastry filled with red-bean).
Overall, I was really impressed with myself at how I was able to successfully navigate to all these places in Japan. I had several sleepless nights before going to Japan because of how nervous I was about going by myself. But, to my surprise, I actually found traveling solo to be more pleasurable than traveling with other people. I think it’s because this removes the stress of having to cater to everyone’s needs and being able to make decisions swiftly about where and when to go places. I had the luxury of being able to stay longer in places I liked more and leaving after a quick stop if I didn’t like a place as much. I also felt like I was able to immerse myself way more into the culture because I was forced to interact with locals by myself and didn’t have anyone to talk to.
I came to Japan to find myself again. Did I? To some extent, I did. I found my own independence again, and proved to myself that I am okay with being alone and relying on myself. I also spent some quality time with God and had time for deep and personal reflection that brought a lot of healing to me in a difficult season. If cost isn’t an issue, I highly recommend traveling alone somewhere new as a way to heal from emotional pain.
Some side notes about traveling to Japan: It was way easier than I expected. I had a lot of misconceptions about Japan before my trip: that Japanese people speak poor English, that the metro is hard to navigate, etc. But all of these were proven false. Every Japanese person I conversed with was extremely proficient at English and could provide me the directions I needed (although this may be because they mostly were station employees). The metro I took in Tokyo and Kyoto were very easy to use because stations were perfectly labeled and lines were color coded. I used Google Maps to figure out which lines to take, and I could pretty much figure out the rest by myself. I think Japan is one of the most, if not the most, tourist-friendly, and solo traveler-friendly places in the world!
As a bonus, here are some of my favorite kimono pics from my shoot in Kyoto!