After our short trip to Khao Yai and Bangkok, we are going to Japan with our friends. However, after getting all excited and all prepared for our trip, we faced with a dilemma due to Covid-19. After much consideration and due to the low number of cases across Kyoto and Osaka, 5 of us decided to proceed. Besides that, as certain places were closed, we changed our itinerary slightly which removed Universal Studios Japan (USJ).
Day 1 – Osaka to Uji to Kyoto
After a tiring night flight as I couldn’t sleep well, we reached Kansai airport.
As there were initially 7 of us, we booked a car via Times Car Rental. Below is our ride in Japan:
If you are driving in Japan, there are few things to take note of:
- You can get the ETC (Electronic Toll Collection) card from the car rental which is like a SmartTAG for easy passing through tolls. There are discounts on certain times of the day and week. You can also get expressway passes which you can read about it here
- If the rental car comes with a GPS, you can use this website to search for the location’s mapcode. Once you have it, key into the GPS and voila. If you are using Google Maps or Waze, you may use the postal code in an address but it is less accurate
- Some traffic lights do not have green lights for turning. Therefore, you may turn if there are no vehicles or people using the crossing line once the only green light is lit
Uji – The Town of Matcha
Osaka to Uji is almost a 2 hour drive. And once we reached there, the first thing is to find parking. You will see signs like below which states the pricing. And being able to read Mandarin definitely helps in Japan.
The sign states that from 0800-2300 the price is 300 yen for 20 mins while 2300-0800 is 100 yen for 30 mins. However, the price in red states that the maximum price after 2 hours is 1400 yen (Mon-Fri) and 1600 yen (Sat and Sun). As a rule of thumb, if there are prices in red or large font size, those are usually the max price. And if there are multiple prices, left or top would be for Monday-Friday; while weekends (some may include Friday) is on the bottom or right side.
After walking through the street above, we reached a Starbucks Coffee surrounded by a nice, Zen environment.
After our short rest at Starbucks, we went to Byodo-in Temple which is just opposite this Starbucks.
Byodo-in Temple (平等院) – Recommended
The main attraction of the temple is the Phoenix Hall (鳳凰堂) below, which is featured behind the 10 yen coin.
You will need to pay an additional fee to enter the Phoenix Hall besides the entrance fee of 600 yen (adults).
At most famous temple, there will be a counter for you to collect a seal known as goshuin (御朱印) which is specific to each temple.
However, the seal will only be stamped on special notebooks known as goshuin-cho (御朱印帳) which have different patterns and designs like below.
Address: Renge-116 Uji, Kyoto 611-0021, Japan
Business hours: Daily 8.30am-5.15pm
Entrance fee: Adult 600 yen
After visiting Byodoin temple, we went back to the street to find our breakfast. We stumbled upon the sign below and decided to try.
Tanakamaru Shoten (田中九商店) – recommended
The gyoza taste like normal gyoza but with a tinge of matcha flavor. On the other hand, the texture of the matcha ramen is slightly rough due to matcha powder but it tastes great with the broth. Not too flavorful which is just nice for us. For those that want a stronger matcha taste, you can order matcha powder at 100 yen.
Address: Renge-99-2 Uji, Kyoto 611-0021, Japan
Business hours: Daily 11am-6.30pm
Next, we head to Tsujirihei Honten Uji which is some distance away from Tanakamaru Shoten.
Tsujirihei Honten Uji (辻利兵衛本店) – recommended
We ordered the following:
The matcha taste is really strong and perfect for matcha lovers. However, the Hojicha latte is slightly sweet to our liking. They sell a lot of other fancy looking products as well which you can see it here.
Address: Japan, 〒611-0021 Kyoto, Uji, Wakamori−４１
Business hours: Daily 10am-5pm, closed on Tuesdays
After that, we went back to retrieve our car and the steps are really easy. There will be a payment machine like the one below at the parking lot.
Next, identify the spot that you parked. In our case below, it is spot number 3.
Key in the number in the parking machine and pay the required amount. Then, the lock will be released and you may drive out.
Next, we head to Nishiki Market.
Nishiki Market (錦市場) – recommended
A great place to eat nice food and shop til you drop.
Address: 609番地 Nishidaimonjicho, Nakagyo Ward, Kyoto, 604-8054, Japan
Business hours: Mon-Fri 9am-5.30pm, Sat 9am-4.30pm, closed on Sundays
After Nishiki Market, we check in to our cozy Airbnb.
We then head to a shop nearby our Airbnb to have dinner. As we had quite a lot of nice food at Nishiki Market, we are quite full so we asked the waitress if they are ok for us to share our food. This is because in most food establishments that you dine in, you are likely required to order 1 item per person. However, the employees allowed us to share our dinner and they are kind and attentive to provide us plates for sharing without us asking.
Day 2 – Nara to feed the hungry deers
We started day 2 by driving to Nara for 2 main things – Nara deer and mochi.
Nakatanidou (中谷堂) – recommended
You might have seen a guy pounding fast and furious at a green mochi in social media. If not, you may watch it here.
Below is the shop where you can see the ‘performance’ anytime from 11am-4pm. However, it is done at random timing everyday and you need some luck to be able to watch it.
The mochi can be sweet for some but for a sweet tooth like me, the sweetness is just fine.
Address: 29 Hashimotocho, Nara, 630-8217, Japan
Business hours: Daily 10am-7pm
Kofuku-ji (興福寺) – recommended
We walked along the same street where Nakatanidou is situated and up some flight of stairs would be Kofuku-ji.
Before heading to Nara park, we simply went to a restaurant along the way and the food was nice. It seems that no matter which food stall or restaurant that you go into in Japan, the food will have a certain standard.
Nara Park – recommended
After a nice lunch, it’s time to feed lunch to the Nara deer.
It is important for you to take note of the warning sign below. You might think that the deer are polite if you have seen those videos that the Nara deer bow for food. However, due to Covid-19, the tourists to Nara Park reduced substantially and they are hungry for food. Therefore, they get aggressive if you have food in hand.
I was bitten and knocked by the deer as seen by the video below:
While walking to Todai-ji Temple (東大寺), we saw a tree with pink flowers.We thought we were lucky to be able to see sakura in early March. However, we realized that the tree below is not sakura tree after we went to Osaka Castle. We will revisit this later.
We did not enter Todai-ji Temple which is photographed below. It costs 1000 yen to enter The Great Buddha Hall and Todai-ji Museum while 600 yen for entrance to The Great Buddha Hall only.
We then head to Isetan opposite Kyoto Tower to have dinner.
There was a light show at Kyoto Station Building’s famed ‘big stairs’.
Day 3 – Kimono at Fushimi Inari Taisha and Gion
We typed in the postal code of 600-8106 into Grab app and it brought us quite near to the location. There is no Grab in Japan but you can use it as they partner with taxi operators in Japan. However, it is only available at Tokyo, Kyoto, Sapporo, Nagoya, and Okinawa as of now.
As there are a lot kimonos for women, my girlfriend had a hard time picking the right one. For me, it took me less than 1 minute.
A tip for you if you are trying out kimono. While the person is adjusting the kimono for you, don’t suck your tummy in or else it will be uncomfortable for you. Besides that, if you are wondering if you can go to toilet with kimono, the answer is yes with a little bit of work.
Fushimi Inari Taisha (伏見稲荷大社) – recommended
Donned with kimono, we head to Fushimi Inari Taisha.
This place is quite big if you look at the map below. We stopped at Kumatakasha (熊鷹社) before heading back to the entrance.
There’s a lot of hiking here but the higher you go, the lesser people there are for you to take nice shots of the torii without the need to photoshop people out from your photos.
Address: 68 Fukakusa Yabunouchicho, Fushimi Ward, Kyoto, 612-0882, Japan
Business hours: Daily 24 hours
Next, we went to Gion (祇園).
Do take note that you cannot take photographs or videos on private roads in Gion.
We then head to Sohonke Nishin-Soba Matsuba which is opposite of Gion-shijo Station (祇園四条駅) of Keihan Railway.
Sohonke Nishin-Soba Matsuba (松葉) – highly recommended
I ordered the tempura cold soba as below.
Firstly, you put the sliced green onion into the soy sauce. You can also put the wasabi as needed. Then you dip the cold soba and slurp away like the Japanese do. You may or may not dip the tempura into the soy sauce based on personal preference.
I would recommend ordering cold soba as the refreshing cold soba and the sweetness of the soy sauce makes it a perfect combination.
Address: 192 四条大橋東入ル川端町 Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto, 605-0076, Japan
Business hours: Daily 11am-9.30pm but closed on Wednesdays
We then went to Kodai-ji Temple (高台寺) but we didn’t went inside.
The entrance fee is 600 yen for Kodai-ji only or 900 yen for Kodai-ji + Entoku-in (圓徳院).
We then stroll along the area before returning our kimono.
While heading back to our car to return the kimono, we passed by a house with a tree fully bloomed with sakura. And this time it is truly sakura as there is a split in the petals which we will revisit later.
We then head to Honke Daiichi Asahi (本家 第一旭) to try their ramen after reading this. It is a 5 mins walk from JR Kyoto Station.
Honke Daiichi Asahi (本家 第一旭) – recommended
When we reached there, we were shocked to see a queue in front as we never expected it to be so crowded.
They only have 5 choices in their menu as below.
The special noodle is very huge in portion. If you want smaller bowl, opt for other ramen. The ramen is like yellow noodle which I would personally prefer the ramen from Ichiran or Ippudo instead. However, the pork broth is light and not too salty. In addition, do give the sake a try. It is my first time trying Japanese sake and it is not what I had in mind. The sake is so smooth and doesn’t give a burning sensation which I thought it would. The sake brand is Hinodezakari (日出盛) which we tried finding in a few places in Kyoto and Osaka but couldn’t find it.
Address: 845 Higashishiokoji Mukaihatacho, Shimogyo Ward, Kyoto, 600-8213, Japan
Business hours: Daily 6am-1am, closed on Thursdays
Day 4 – Kinkaku-ji, Arashiyama, Kiyomizu-dera
The next day, we start off by visiting Rokuon-ji (鹿苑寺) or more famously known as Kinkaku-ji (金閣寺). The entrance fee is 400 yen for adults and the ticket looks like an ofuda (御札) or paper talisman.
We then drop by Tenryu-ji (天龍寺):
And Nonomiya Shrine (野宮神社):
Before heading to Arashiyama (嵐山) for the bamboo forest:
We then head to Ozuru to try their soba for lunch.
Ozuru – highly recommended
I ordered the cold udon noodles with yuba (湯葉) (bean curd skins) and namafu (生麩) (gluten rice cakes). I’m not a fan of udon but this is almost perfection. The cold soba is quite chewy, added with the smooth, soft bean curd skins, and the gluten rice cakes, they make the best combination. And like soba, I would recommend to go for the cold version.
Address: 22-4 Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo Ward, Kyoto, 616-8385, Japan
Business hours: Daily 11am-8pm
We then head to Arashiyama Station (嵐山駅) as there is a kimono forest which are light poles with kimono designs.
The light poles will lit up at evening time but we didn’t wait for it. Instead, we headed to Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) for our final destination in Kyoto.
Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺) – recommended
The entrance ticket is so pretty you can use it as a bookmark.
After seeing all the goshuin-cho (御朱印帳) in the temples and shrines that we visited, I finally bought mine at Kiyomizu-dera.
There is a waterfall in Kiyomizu-dera known as the Otowa Waterfall (音羽の滝) where each streams answer different prayers. Based on this website, the right one is for longevity, middle one for success at school, and left one for romance.
After that, we went to look for our dinner.
Okonomiyaki Kinoya – not really recommended
We ordered okonomiyaki and yakisoba. For okonomiyaki, you will be given a bowl and asked to mix it.
And then the person will pan fry it.
And lastly, the okonomi sauce will be added on top of the okonomiyaki and ready to be served.
The okonomiyaki is quite bland but the yakisoba is quite good but nothing too special about it. My friend who came to Kyoto a few times said that we can have better okonomiyaki elsewhere.
Address: Japan, 〒604-8042 Kyoto, Nakagyo Ward, 裏寺町通四条上る中之町607
Business hours: Daily 12pm-8.30pm, closed on Tuesdays
Day 5 – Of pufferfish and cherry blossoms?
We start off the day by visiting Kuromon Market (黒門市場).
There are quite a few shops that sell pufferfish or fugu (河豚). Initially I planned to try it out at Guenpin Fugu via Klook voucher. However, as no one wants to try it with me, I decided to just try it out at Kuromon Market. I’ve seen comments in the Klook voucher page that the fried fugu is delicious. Therefore, I try it out at the stall below.
The fried fugu is chewy but it tastes just like normal fried fish. Not satisfied with it, I went to another store to try the fugu sashimi for its original taste. As they place live torafugu (虎河豚) or tiger pufferfish for sale, I asked if the sashimi is of torafugu and they said yes. Torafugu is the most prestigious edible species but is also the most poisonous.
To taste the most original flavor, I eat a slice of the fugu sashimi without any sauce. Contrary to many people saying it is tasteless, you can actually taste some slight sweetness brought by the freshness of the sashimi. However, the chewy part is true, and it is much chewier than the fried fugu.
The best part of eating the fugu sashimi is when you mix it with the sauce. The sauce is a combination of soy sauce, sliced green onion, and chili paste (the chili actually tastes somewhat like those bright orange chili you get when you order chicken rice). When you dip the sashimi into the sauce, the freshness and sweetness of all the ingredients is in harmony and it’s a taste you can’t find in other sashimi. If you dare to try fugu, don’t disregard sashimi.
Osaka castle – recommended
After striking pufferfish off my bucket list, we went to Osaka Castle.
While walking to Osaka Castle, we passed by an area with a lot of flowers which we thought it is sakura so we happily take a lot of photos.
However, we later passed by a directional sign and it states Plum Forest. So we Google and below is a simple photo that I gotten from SoraNews24. So you can actually differentiate between sakura, plum, and peach based on their petals.
You can take a lot of nice photos here when the flowers are all blossomed. In fact, the Osaka Castle Park is a famous hanami (花見) or flower viewing spot.
Address: 1-1 Osakajo, Chuo Ward, Osaka, 540-0002, Japan
Business hours: Daily 9am-5pm
After that, we checked into our Airbnb in Osaka.
Dotonbori (道頓堀) – recommended
After that, we head to Dotonbori for dinner and shopping.
We head inside Ichiran Ramen and there is a vending machine where you place your order.
Before you head into the dining area, there is a vacant seat information panel where you can see the empty seats that are available.
You will be given an order sheet to specify the strength of the flavor and noodle texture etc. I decided to try the strongest flavor.
However, if you were to purchase the packet Ichiran Ramen, you can get it at Donki (Don Quijote) at slightly cheaper price. Besides that, I would recommend to purchase the top left long-boxed type as it is the real ramen instead of instant noodle.
After our satisfying dinner, we walked around the area for food and shopping.
As we are quite full from our dinner, but at the same time we wanted to try Kani Doraku so we ordered 1 pack (900 yen) to try.
Day 6 – feeding the calf and tasting Kobe beef
The next day, we went up Mount Rokko (六甲山) in Kobe to visit Rokkosan Pasture (六甲山牧場).
At the counter, they will ask if you want to feed the left or right calf. Depending on which you choose, you will be given a different colored bottle cap. The left calf will be a white cap while the right calf will be a yellow cap like mine below:
After that, me and my girlfriend had lunch at Miyako while my friends try Kobe beef as my girlfriend cannot eat beef due to religion.
We ordered soba and oyakodon (親子丼). Based on the price we paid, the food is nothing to complain about.
After that, we meet our friends at where they had Kobe beef at Yazawa Kobe Beef (八坐和) Main Branch.
Yazawa Kobe Beef – highly recommended
My friend mentioned that each mouthful of the beef sends him to heaven so I decided to try the Kobe beef sushi as they have half price promotion for everything until 3pm.
The Kobe beef sushi has a slightly rough texture and it does not taste like beef. However, the beef is really juicy and worth trying, especially when they have half price promotion.
Address: 650-0021 2-3-1 , Sannomiya-cho , Chuo-ku , Hyogo
Business hours: Lunch from 11am-3pm, dinner from 5pm-10.30pm
After that, we head to the Kobe Harbourland.
To end our trip in Japan, we headed to Kura Sushi for our dinner.
Once you enter the shop, you use the machine below to take your number by keying in the number of adults and children.
All of the plates here are 100 yen unless stated otherwise.
As I like to try weird, unique things, I ordered cod milt with Ponze Gelee in bamboo not knowing what is cod milt. My friend Google it and told me it is the sperm sacs of an adult cod which is also known as shirako. The texture can be too soft for some but if you eat it with the Ponzu Gelee, they balance out each other.
To end this blog post, below are some of the food that we brought back for our friends and family.
What is the most memorable food that you had in Kyoto or Osaka? Feel free to share in the comment section below.