March 17 - March 26, 2016
Table of contents:TokyoKyotoFuji + Himeji + Osaka (you are here)
This is the last installment of my Japan series. It will contain a mishmash of locations outside of Tokyo and Kyoto, plus some bonus stuff.
When people think about visiting Mt. Fuji, they don’t really mean climbing the mountain. Many people go to Yamanashi prefecture just to get good views of Fuji from afar and explore the surrounding area, which is what we did.
Chureito Pagoda, Yamanashi
Our first attempt at viewing Fuji was at the Chureito pagoda, which is an earlier stop than where most tourists end up going. The pagoda was constructed as part of a peace memorial and the viewpoint is a favorite area within photography circles. Although, with the sky so drab and the cherry blossoms yet to bloom, the view wasn’t as great as we expected.
Not all was lost, there was a single tree in bloom
Shimoyoshida train station, Yamanashi
My fellow travelers enjoyed a light meal at the cafe here, whereas I opted for a parfait with a Japanese twist (red bean + mochi).
Many train stations have waiting rooms
One of the Fuji Five Lakes and a short walk from the end of the line. On a clear day, one would be able to see Fuji from here, but unfortunately, we did not have nature’s blessing. Lesson learned: come to Yamanashi only if you are sure the sky is clear.
About an hour train ride away from Kyoto/Osaka, this castle has been intact for more than 400 years, surviving both bombings and natural disasters.
On the castle grounds, there is a clowder of castle cats
Maruju Ramen, Hyogo
This restaurant located near the Himeji train station serves up really thick noodles piled with bean sprouts. There are no English menus, so you’ll have to point. Also, be wary of ordering a large size here, it is a pretty filling bowl of noodles.
The last major city we hit up was Osaka. If you go to Osaka, chances are, you’ll go to Dotonbori. Although it boasts a large number of restaurants and shops along the street, the lines do get pretty long due to the large number of tourists and the food is nothing too special. We ended up not really wanting to line up.
For dinner, we found a sushi place nearby. The prices were extremely reasonable, but the service was a little lacking, and it didn’t help that they sat our English-speaking group in a corner room.
Mantis shrimp, hamachi cheek, and grilled salmon
Osaka Castle, Osaka
Continuing on with our castle streak, we visited Osaka Castle early in the morning. While it lacked Himeji’s size, the decorative castle had its own charms.
Opposite the castle are these skyscrapers
Our last meal in Osaka was at a cafe. This was the only time we were presented with a physical menu of cake selections. I made the mistake of reaching for the Hokkaido cheesecake only to be told “please don’t touch”.
Family Marts and vending machines, everywhere
To wrap it all off, I’d like to thank the convenience store chain known as Family Mart and all the vending machines in Japan. I was totally surprised by the variety of goods they offered and how convenient they were throughout the trip. I made it a point to try a different drink each visit.
Our Japanese friend recommended the tuna mayo onigiri. Great way to start a day.
And…. that’s a wrap. I can’t believe it’s over. Even with a packed itinerary that stretched for ten days, I feel like we have barely scratched the surface of all the different things you can do in Japan. It has definitely lived up to the hype that I have built up for myself over the years. To be there in person was an eye-opening experience. Seeing the preservation of time-honored traditions juxtaposed with sleek modernity, master craftsmen continuously honing their skills, and an unusually amount of attention to detail everywhere I went has left me inspired and wanting more. I can say with confidence that this will definitely be the first of many more trips to come, and if you are currently hesitating like I was before this trip, then I have just one word for you: go.
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Copyright 2016. Photos taken by Kevin Yao. All rights reserved.