If Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and are considered India’s golden triangle then Osaka, Kobe and Kyoto can be seen as Japan’s equivalent. This is where we have spent the past week exploring.
The journey from Tokyo to Osaka wasn’t the smoothest, with our attempts at saving money and using local trains to get to the airport ending up with us sat in a small suburban station at the end of the line working out that the one in three chance of the line splitting and not taking us to the airport had definitely happened. Another hour and a half journey back into Tokyo central, our train ticket fully refunded, (the Japanese are far too polite!), and an overnight coach ticket to Osaka purchased we were ready to actually leave Tokyo.
The coach journey over was pretty good and just a short morning nap was needed in our lovely Osaka capsule styled hostel before we headed out exploring. Osaka has probably got the most confusing transport network for travelers that I’ve experienced. The lines themselves are relatively straightforward, but each station is an underground shopping mall with countless exits over multiple levels and connecting tunnels between various places. You can probably move around most of central Osaka without having to surface, but for tourists trying to figure out which exit they need to pop up at the right place it can be a bit of a nightmare.
Despite the occasional confusion as to where we’d surfaced we managed to get in all the sights of Osaka: its castle, sprawling shopping strips, the temple and shrine district and the delightful view over the city from the top of the sky building there. As we have generally found around Japan the food was delicious, and so much cheaper than when were in Hokkaido. A catch up with Gabby over sushi train lunch cost us about £5 each, despite our stacks of plates due to all dishes being only 70p! This in comparison to the average of £2 a plate up in Kutchan.
We had some non cultured fun whilst in Osaka, firstly going to the cinema for the first time since the UK, Fast and Furious is ridiculous, but good fun. Then also hitting up Universal Studios, and more importantly Harry Potter world within it. We had a great day for our trip, with glorious sunshine, and managed to shoot through most of the non Harry Potter section before queues got ridiculous. HP land was awesome, the main ride is truly epic and the replica of the village and the castle is also amazing.
From Hogwarts we moved onto Himeji. A much more cultured day trip from Kobe. Himeji is probably the best castle in Japan and it only reopened last month after 5 years of restoration, so looked pretty special. Its white painted walls soar up over the town and it’s instantly visible when you get off the train to start your approach to it. You can climb up the five stories to overlook the town and get a bit of a feel for how it was.
Whilst in Kobe we spent a fair bit of time with Mia, going on a random road trip over the world’s longest suspension bridge (4km) to an island that had a monkey sanctuary and also a beach! We fed the monkeys and wandered through the grounds before heading down for a paddle and stroll on the sand. Another first for me in Japan, with this not really being a beach trip. To go back into the ocean was awesome, definitely something that you take for granted when living in Australia.
We also got to eat Kobe streak, which was super delicious. After failing to find anywhere affordable to go in Kobe and have it when we were out with Amelia and Mia, Mia took us to her grandma’s restaurant with our own steaks from the store, where she proceeded to cook them up followed by the world’s biggest Okonomiyaki. The meal was delicious, but not only that, being in such a local restaurant was great. The regulars were full of chat and jokes that could be conversed with a bit of translation help.
Onwards from Kobe to our final port of call in the triangle, Kyoto. A city of beyond countless shrines and temples, dotted around this urban jungle. It’s easy to become quickly ‘shrined out’, so we were careful not to go overkill and end up soullessly dragging ourselves as many as possible.
On our arrival afternoon here we set off too see a few smaller ones as well as exploring areas not in the guide books, something I always enjoy doing to get a bit more of a local feel to a place. We got lost along some back streets, climbing through some parks and visiting some exquisite little temples that would probably be highlights anywhere else, but simply blend into the environment here in Kyoto.
We still did the major highlights here, the Arashiyama bamboo grove was weirdly peaceful despite the hoards of crowds and heading down the river to climb up to, ‘best view temple’, did give a rather good view. The golden pavilion temple was very serene, but outshone by Fushimi-Inari Taisha that featured a winding pathway under thousands of vermilion gates for several kilometres through the forest.
Today was out final day and we headed out for a trip to Nara with Amelia. The highlight of Nara is the Tōdai-ji temple, the world’s largest wooden structure that houses a 15m tall Buddha. It’s truely impressive and photo’s fail to capture its true scale. Equally impressive were the two gigantic wooden Niō guardian’s that stand dramatically guarding the gate. Whilst at Tōdai-ji, we bought and inscribed a tile to be used in its constant restoration efforts. Whilst a slightly cheesy tourist thing to do, it is very cool to know that your tile becomes a part of the temple grounds for decades to come, and we saw a few that had evidently been installed many years ago along some of the walls.
To sum up our time in the golden triangle I’d have to use the word impressive. Yes many of the sights are touristy and busy, but this didn’t really detract from what we were seeing. I’ve found a few works heritage spots a bit disappointing, but not so here and the temple’s are diverse enough from each other to stay interesting. We head tonight on what I’m hoping will be a fairly luxury bus to Hiroshima, I’m really looking forward to visiting what I think will be a very different place to the rest of Japan.