During our time in the United States (basically all of February) the Lunar New Year will happen (you may know this as “Chinese New Year”). Its one of the 2 most important holidays in Korea (Chuseok is the other one), so we’ll have a bunch of days off in February – but we’ll already be on vacation during that time. So we were suddenly given 3 extra days to take sometime in January. We picked some days at random and then began trying to plan a vacation last minute.
Our top two choices (skiing in Japan or going to the Philippines) were impossible to work out so we picked Osaka almost at random. We were booking flights pretty last minute and it was the last cheap option. We had gone to some pretty rural areas in Japan last time and had a blast. We also figured we could get to Kyoto pretty quickly and see it as well.
On Friday night we trained up to Seoul and took a flight to Osaka. By the time we made it to our hotel it was 1 in the morning (slowest airport “express” ever). The next day we ended up spending more than half the day shopping in a mall built above the main train station.There were a lot of craft and hobby stores (never seen any in Korea). Most interestingly, there was a Pokemon Store. We bought a really rare plush toy that is only sold in Japan – because we can.
Later we finally saw the Glico Man – the only famous thing we knew about in Osaka (besides the castle which we skipped). It’s an advertisement and that’s about it.
To be honest Osaka was a bit disappointing. We had had such a fun time in the quieter parts of Japan – we had all the touristy places to ourselves and the population density was obviously much lower. There wasn’t really anything to do in Osaka and some people were outright rude which we never experienced last time we were in Japan.
Theres a famous street food that was invented in Osaka. It’s a fried dough-ball with a piece of octopus in it. We tried it last time and hated it because it tasted raw – apparently it’s supposed to be like that. It’s actually filled with something (not raw in the middle). Who knew? We didn’t, but now we did. So we tried it again.
Nope. We didn’t like it again which seems strange. It’s fried dough with octopus in it – how could we not like it?
We walked around aimlessly for a while. Mostly we shopped but the large crowds and pushy tourists got to us a little and we decided to call it a day.
Rather than fight for a place to eat we picked up some snacks at a 7/11. This is one of our favorite things to do in a foreign country because you never know what you’ll find. Usually you find things you’ve never even heard of.
In this case we found some crab and butter flavored chips, strawberry kitkat, pudding/flan stuff, some Cold Stone flavored chocolate, and finally “corn chocolate” which turned out to be puffed corn (like cereal) inside of chocolate.
On Sunday we trained up to Kyoto where we hoped things would be a little quieter and more friendly. They were. We got this really posh hotel for only $60 a night. It had loads of shopping all around it which was really fun. (We’re not big fans of shopping in Korea to be honest. There are just so many more cute and fun things in Japan).
We explored Gion – the most famous geisha district in Japan. There are sill active geishas (called geiko in Kyoto) so theres always that tiny chance you could see them in the afternoon/night. We never did. Still the area was very quaint and just nice to walk around.
We learned if you want to see a geisha you probably have to hang out in this area around 5pm or later. If you actually wanted to hire a geisha (and lets get this out there right now – they are not prostitutes or sexual entertainers in any way) you would have to either be invited or be a patron at one of the top 5 best hotels in Kyoto. And even then you would have to be recommended by the hotel.
There are a lot of tourists paying to dress up and look like geisha who walk around. They certainly make our photos look more interesting – but they are not geishas or geishas-in-training (maiko). I guess it’s actually illegal (or at least very frowned upon) for these shops to dress women up exactly like a geisha. They have to make small mistakes (matching the wrong hair ornaments to the wrong makeup) to ensure they don’t look like a bonafide geisha.
Aside of the geisha areas was a really long shopping street with small tea houses and lots of tourist shops.
At the end of the road was a temple which had a lot of paths to explore.
The next day we went to the Fushimi Inari gates. An inari is more or less the spirit of foxes, sake, tea, agriculture, and industry. There are about 10,000 gates going 2 miles up the mountain. Each one was donated by a business – partially because the inari is the spirit of business and industry. The site and gates date back 1300 years ago.
The fox acts as a messenger for the inari – so there were plenty of fox statues and fox memorabilia.
Quite a few of the statues we saw were wearing (red) bibs.
I’ve heard 1) they’re to keep them warm in the winter
2) they’re a nice gift from a worshipper
3) they’re a side gift – you give the fox its favorite food and the bib is so it can stay clean when it devours your offering. However a lizard/dragon wearing a bib on his head – so that doesn’t seem right.
Either way we saw some pretty spiffy statues -and not just foxes. I’m not sure why the frogs were left out.
We walked around for a while – enough to get away from the major crowds. We got a really nice view of Kyoto from above.
Then headed back down.
Again, we went shopping for a while then watched sumo wrestling on TV. It’s not at all what you would expect – there are a lot of false starts to psych out the opponent so it takes a long time then it’s over in a matter of a few seconds.
The last day we went to see a famous bamboo forest
At the airport we tried the fried octopus balls again and liked them a lot more. 3rd times a charm I guess.
It was a bit of a whirlwind of a vacation. Really short and we skipped a lot of famous landmarks on purpose but that’s okay.