It’s funny that I travelled to Osaka and Kyoto a month ago, and I’m literally just now writing about my experiences.
Where to start…… Well, it was incredible. And…. so incredibly hot!!! Humid and hot – I’m talking about a whole-body-sweating-situation immediately after stepping out the door.
However, sweating aside, I honestly loved my time there. Spending a week there made me want to move and live amongst its awesomeness. I think the thing that struck me most was the energy of the city – it reminded me of a more affluent, and possibly more relaxed, Bangkok when I first arrived.
It had that smell, that Asian big cities do – a sweet, almost sickly smell, with a hint of drain-whiff – that alerts you to the fact you are in a space where so many other people are living, partying, working, moving about, and experiencing life alongside you. I felt the pace, the excitement and after a week there I really felt the kindness of the locals.
Kansai people have a reputation for being fun-loving, friendly and welcoming and I really felt that. It was a place where people seem to live in the moment, and I enjoyed that sense of presence and excitement in the air!
On my first trip to the city, I explored Dotonbori, Osaka Castle, went on fun tours, ate ramen, drank too many coffees to count, made friends and was generally merry!
Living in a rural town in Hokkaido is definitely a once in a lifetime opportunity, and the experiences I’m having here are life changing and awesome. However, it also has its challenges, and heading to a big, exciting city was definitely a nice contrast for me.
On my first night in the city, I headed straight to Osaka Castle, which was conveniently located about a 15 minute walk from my Airbnb. I walked down the wide streets and marvelled at the high rise apartment buildings, the museums, izakayas, kombinis, and the groups of people jogging in the early evening heat. I stared at the rows of skyscrapers in awe, smiled at the chilled locals cycling past on bikes complete with baskets, and felt happy to be in the midst of a buzzing city that seemed so very alive with activity. I also thought, HOW are these people running and cycling in this heat?
It was in the 30’s, even though it was later at night, and I was working up a considerable sweat just walking down the road! But they do their thing with style in spite of the climate, and, after a week there I wouldn’t say I enjoyed the heat, but being drenched in sweat is something I got a little more used to.
Osaka at night was beautiful and, as it was around the time of the full moon, I was overwhelmed to see the beauty of the full moon against the city skyline. It was a real contrast to the mountainous backdrop which I had witnessed for the past few months.
Next up, it was time for ramen! And check out this gorgeous dish I had 🙂 Oishkatta (it was delicious)!
Osaka Castle was gorgeous during both the day and night time, as I found out the following day when I headed back to the castle to explore. The home of the Japanese ruler Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who famously unified Japan, Osaka Castle was built during his rule by 100,000 grafters and became a symbol of a time of peace. As well as learning about the building and its history, I was also impressed by the views from the balcony of the castle which provided a beautiful view of the city.
On another day of adventure in the glorious city, I enjoyed an awesome food tour around the Shin Sekai where I ate yakitori (vegetable skewers), tsukemen (dipping ramen), and Japanese gyoza which are made with a minced pork, mushrooms and cabbage, wrapped in a dumpling/pancake layer and fried. I also drank shochu (a Japanese drink made from sweet potatoes) and whiskey highballs and played pool – fun was had!!
As Osaka is only a short train ride (45 minutes) away from Kyoto I also headed there to explore. The walking tour I joined led me around the areas of Gion and Kenninji where I learned a lot about the history of Japan’s old capital city.
Gion is famous as the area where geishas, or geikos, and their trainees, meikos, live and work. Due to over-exuberant, dare I say aggressive tourists, in the past you cannot take pictures in the Gion area anymore so, when I saw two meikos walking down the street later that day I was a little sad I wasn’t able to capture the moment.
The Gion district really felt like I was walking into the past. All of the small houses (okiyas), with low sliding doors, sit side by side on narrow cobbled streets, and wooden signs are placed above the doors with the names of the meikos and geikos living inside. For those that don’t know, geishas are entertainers and artists who host events and parties for groups of people whilst providing various entertainment such as musical performances, drinking and card games, and general sparkling company.
Apparently you cannot go to a teahouse party hosted by the geishas without an invitation, and even the ones open to the public come with a considerable price tag of thousands of dollars.
I learned that geishas were born out of the pleasure districts, and this is one of the reasons why there may be international confusion about their role. Before geikos existed, women performers did traditional arts and entertainment in the pleasure districts to entertain guests before the prostitutes arrived. However, they became so highly skilled at entertaining people and providing beautiful performances that they began to move out of the districts affiliated with sex work and became an art form in and of themselves.
Another reason there may be confusion around their roles (ie people thinking they are high class escorts or prostitutes) is because after the second world war, Japanese women, who were not geishas, starting dressing up in kimonos and calling themselves geisha-girls.They would then sell sexual services to the American soldiers who were not interested in the art forms that actual geishas were skilled in.
Elsewhere on the tour I learned about Esai Zenji who not only introduced the matcha plant to Japan, following a trip to China, but also introduced Zen Buddhism to the country. The matcha drink was utilised to aid concentration during long hours of sitting meditation and is still active in the monastic community.
I also visited the incredible Kiyomizu-dera (Temple of the Pure Water Spring) where I drank from the blessed waterfall shrine which bestows good fortune on those who drink from it, in the form of health, good relationships or success at work.
This long feature only mentions a few of the awesome things I did during my holidays. I learned so much and had a blast! I was on a high for weeks after my trip to Osaka. So much so that I’m heading back there to enjoy the Kishiwada Danjiri Festival tomorrow!! Osaka, here I come!!!
A place of possibility, opportunity and excitement – it captured my heart and I’m so excited to be heading back there – hurray!! Watch this space!