Planning visits to the Japanese cities of Osaka and Kyoto? Here are some recommendations on where to go*. To view all the photographs (with the captions in full) of each city, click on any image and navigate using the left and right keys.
1. We went on an eight-day family holiday to Osaka and Kyoto with our neighbours. Our first stop was Dōtonbori, where we look a wefie along the Dōtonbori canal, just before the Dōtonboribashi Bridge.
2. For the five nights in Osaka, the seven of us booked an apartment – furnished with a well-stocked and well-equipped kitchen, a laundry area, and three bedrooms around a dining and rest space – in the Ebisuchō area. This is the view from our balcony.
3. In a single day we covered the shopping districts of Namba (to Takashimaya), Dōtonbori (to Daimaru), and Shinsaibashi-suji. Some of the sheltered streets are air-conditioned, though the stalls and eateries are no less crowded in the summer.
4. Along the Dōtonbori canal is a billboard of the Glico man, where many congregate. There are also many signboards and large plastic figures promoting different brands.
5. The Kuromon Ichiba in Osaka, or the Kuromon market, is great for those who enjoy fruits or fresh (and live) seafood. The seafood stalls for instance offer sashimi or grilled options, and we thought the variety on offer were superior to those in the Nishiki Ichiba in Kyoto, which we visited a few days later.
6. A short bus or train ride from Kansai International Airport is the largest outlet shopping centre in Western Japan, Rinku Premium Outlets. There is a nearby observatory flyer and a shopping arcade.
7. It took us a one-hour train ride and a half-an-hour walk to the Benten-shu Meioh-ji Temple for the summer dedication festival, but the fireworks were spectacular. It did, however, took us a longer time to get back to our apartment via the train station at the end, as we jostled with the tens of thousands leaving the temple.
8. For a full hour, up close to where the pyrotechnics were launched, the synchronised fireworks – of various colours and patterns, with accompanying music and filling the sky – drew applause from the crowd after each segment. The three-minute finale was a special treat.
9. We spent National Day at Universal Studios Japan, crowded with many Japanese students on their summer break. I am not a fan of theme parks and their rides, yet the attractions were done up nicely and a few of the shows were good.
10. Get tickets in advance to beat the queues. Summer may not be the best season for a visit too: larger crowds mean longer queues, and the walk through the park under the hot sun – since there are few sheltered routes or attractions – can be uncomfortable and exhausting.
11. A highlight in the park is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where a timed ticket is needed for entry. The express passes notwithstanding, advance tickets often do not include these times tickets, so: get to the park early, upon entry head straight to the counter within the park, and choose earlier timings before the area is crowded.
12. The recreated Hogwarts Castle, towards the end of the area. In addition to the stores and eateries within the area, there is also a short walk within the castle.
13. To celebrate 15 years since it was opened, Universal Studios Japan organised a daily street parade, complete with parade cars, dancers, confetti, foam, and catchy jingles.
14. From Osaka, we made a day trip to Nara, the old Japanese capital which houses a World Heritage Site known as the “Historic Monuments of Ancient Nara”. The city is known for its freely-roaming deer – regarded as messengers of God – one of which took a bite of our bag of sushi. Some of these messengers will also bow, when offered deer-crackers.
15. The first of three sites we visited was the Tōdai-ji, or the Great Eastern Temple, which houses the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world. A ticket grants access to the temple complex and within the temple, and the predominantly-wooden structure is awe-inspiring.
16. Another shot of the Tōdai-ji.
17. We rented bikes near the train station to travel between the sites, the second of which was the Kasuga-taisha, or the Kasuga Grand Shrine. It takes some effort to bike and to subsequently trek up the shrine, but the stone and bronze lanterns as well as the orange-coloured buildings and structures are well worth the journey.
18. The third site – the Kōfuku-ji – was closest to the train station. Within the temple the five-storied pagoda stands out, though a few buildings were being refurbished.
19. On our first night in Kyoto, there was a festival along the Kamo River, where there were projections on and across the river.
20. Along Gion, or the traditional geisha quarter, we ran into two maikos or apprentice geishas. The Gion district was once the most well-known geisha district in the past, but now it houses hotels, shops, and dining establishments instead.
21. The Kyoto City Hall, which is a short walk from the ryokan – or Japanese inn – we stayed for two nights in Kyoto.
22. On the “Randen” train on the Keifuku Electric Railroad, we got to Arashiyama, a district to the west of Kyoto known for a number of religious and natural tourist sites. We later took the same train to the Kitano-Hakubaichō station to visit the Kinkakuji Temple, or the Golden Pavilion.
23. One of these sites is the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, which is also connected to different trekking routes, temples, and villas. The walk through the grove takes about an hour, and when we were there in the summer there were young men offering trishaw and tour services.
24. The tree-cover of the bamboo grove.
25. Housed within a garden, the Kinkakuji Temple is a Buddhist hall, and its upper two levels are covered with gold foil on lacquer. Visitors do not enter the hall, but follow a marked path to view the surrounding buildings and structures.
26. Another view of the Kinkakuji Temple, which overlooks a small pond.
27. The path down from the complex. The entire trek should take about half an hour.
28. Usually an attraction for the day, the Nijō-jō or the Nijō Castle was open for a night festival in the summer, where its buildings and gardens were illuminated.
* Not an advertisement, and also not sponsored (unfortunately).