Welcome to the Kansai area of Japan. Osaka is Japan's third largest city and close by to some of Japan's great treasures.
I'll begin with Osaka. Home to more than 2.6 million people and one of Japan's most important seaports it is a sprawling city with great people and great food.
During my stay in Kansai I lived and worked at a guesthouse called Peace House Showa in Nishinari Ward. It is considered to be the most dangerous neighborhood in Japan, but that dangerous level is comparable to a suburban neighborhood back home. When it comes to dangerous places Japan is not one of them at all. By far one of the safest countries I have ever been in. People fall asleep with their phone and wallet in hand on the streets after drinking and expect to wake up with them in hand. That's just Japan for ya.
One of the main areas of Osaka is called Namba. Here there are several shopping districts if you're into that sort of thing. It's a crazy tourist trap during the day with thousands of people filling the streets and taking selfies and accidentally bumping into people with their narcissism sticks. However it is home to several amazing restaurants and has some pretty good Tako Yaki which are the Octopus Balls.
The thing that really made me rethink everything is a noodle dish called Tsukemen. It's like Ramen except the noodles and the broth are separate and you dip the noodles into the broth. It's absolutely AMAZING!
Of course I have to include a yakiniku which is Japanese style bbq.
One of the great places to see is Osaka Castle. The Osaka castle. Toyotomi Hideyoshi built his castle to surpass Oda Nobunga's castle in every way as a one up and show off his power. Hubris took in effect when the castle was taken over only one generation later.
All the Japanese castles remind me of my days playing Age of Empires. These castles look almost exactly like how they do in the video game. Oh the good ole days.
Last but not least I have to include the bboy scene here as well. It's large but not as big as Tokyo. The bboys have a totally different style. They mainly focus on powermoves and not much else. There are exceptions to them, but not many. However, they are all still very kind and welcoming people. The main practice spot is the OCAT center in JR Nanba. You'll see everybody practicing there; lockers, poppers, housers, J-Pop, stand-up comedians, and street style soccer.
The old capital of Japan that is full of temples and shrines that hearken back to ancient times. Many of the buildings are under renovation including one of the main temples, however there is still plenty to see in this vast city. Many people come to Kyoto for a more chill time. Even though it's still a large city it still has a very relaxed vibe about it that draws so many people there. The city is basically divided into four sections; north, south, east, and west.
You could spend a week straight visiting a new temple, shrine, or ancient castle here, but that tends to get old pretty fast. Many of the temples 500 yen to enter, but once you start adding up all the ones you plan on seeing it gets expensive. So that's why I usually just go to the free stuff, because they're just as good as the ones you have to pay for.
Personally my favorite place in Kyoto so far has been the Fushimi Inari. Famous for its many Torii that line the mountain trail all the way to the top. Tourists tend to flock here, but many don't make it to the top because they're fat and out of shape which was good for me because it thinned out the path going up. The view is great and you can see the whole city as you make your way up.
Another great place is the Arashiyama Bamboo Forest. Even though it's this tiny postage stamp of a forest it'sstill pretty cool to visit and see, especially if you've never been to or seen one. However, hiking through Japan you'll see many bamboo forests everywhere. They're just not on maps and pointed out for all the tourists to see. You'll just randomly run into them.
The city of Kobe is famous for its beef. However it's another port city that is home to a famous sake brewery, called Hakutsuru, with a free tour and free samples at the end if you're into that kinda thing. Kobe has a Chinatown as well that is great for getting those amazing pork buns. So delish!
A small right outside of Osaka that I visited twice during the Obon Festival time. Once for their annual firework festival and another time for the Gangara Fire Festival. Oban is a Japanese Buddhist custom to honor the spirits of one's ancestors. Fire and lanterns are often used to help guide the spirits to the living world or to go back to the world of the non living. A lost spirit is said to cause trouble and disturbances as it does not naturally stay on this plane of existence save for the Obon time.
The Ikeda Firework Festival takes place by the river and get there early because finding a good spot is hard to find and also knowing where the fireworks shoot out from is good to know as well.
The Gangara Fire Festival in Ikeda. Where they drag 4 huge wooden pyres made up of hundreds of sticks wrapped together with twine weighing a couple hundred pounds. You could say they're essentially dragging a bundle of sticks through the city. It's said the leftover burnt wood is supposed to bring peace to the household. The guys dragging these things are all shirtless and you could see the embers falling on them as they walked. They all chant together as a crowd of patrons sings along and even children play the drums or crash cymbals. The fires are for the end of Obon and now the spirits need to go back to their world. These fires are dragged all the way through the city and end at a temple.
Another great cultural city in the Kansai area that is famous for it's deer. The guardian deer of Nara are supposed to be sacred animals. However, to me they're a bunch of smelly deer that shit everywhere and smell pretty bad. They're only cute for the first few minutes before you realize their stench and start following you around for some food. Besides the deer there are some beautiful temples here and one at the top of the hill called Nigatsu-Do Hall.
Before Nigatsu-Do Hall is the great Todaiji Temple which is this massive wooden temple. Honestly one the biggest I've seen ever. It was enormous and all made of wood. There were no smoking signs everywhere around 20meters away from the walls of the building just to be safe.
Sometimes as you go through these places you forget that it's a real city with locals that live there. However, it's a pleasant reminder when you see the children playing near these old structures that the places are just full of tourists all the time.
The 5-storied pagoda 五重塔 Gojū-no-tō at the Kōfuku-ji Temple in Nara, Japan lit by the evening light and candles from the lantern festival. A three day long event called the Toka-ye lantern festival that is held annually. They light over 6000 candles near the shrines and temples during Obon to guide the spirits back to our world.
Some other interesting sites to see are all within the same vicinity of each other. Nara isn't that big of a city and it's quite easy to go from place to place just by walking. Of course I had to take a picture of some deer even though I don't care too much for them.
Now if you know me there's no way I'm not going to go hiking in Japan. One of the most mountainous countries there is. I went to Ikoma mountain in between Nara and Osaka. Nestled in the cliff side are these temples called Kohoji and Houzanji. Kohoji is like stepping into a bubble. Outside of the walls you here the rushing water and some birds chirping, however once you cross the threshold into it all the outside sounds disappear and there is silence. It was quiet an interesting sensation to be honest. It is not actively tended to by monks, however they show up on occasion to take care of it and maintain its upkeep.
Houzanji is the second temple that is much larger and more well known. It has many visitors to it and even has a gift shop. However, it's still a very interesting temple with a lot of history behind it. Built into the cliffside by the temple is a statue of Buddha that you can visit and walk up to. There were signs the day I went forbidding entry to due the slippery rocks, but since a friend of mine really wanted to see it we asked and the monks said sure just be careful.
In one of my longest posts that is Kansai in a nutshell. I met a lot of cool people along the way and I'm sure I'll see them again. Tell then I've got memories and photos.
Till the next post!