Part 2. Osaka, Kyoto & Nara – a spectrum of ancient and modern Japan

In this second part of our tour of Honshu, Japan, we experience the extreme contrasts of sculpted modern architecture and rampant consumerism with simple aesthetics and spiritual reward. Travel with us to Osaka, Kyoto & Nara.

In our first article we explored the lesser known west coast of Honshu. Now we head back to the southern side, to the cities of Osaka and Kyoto along with the ancient capital of Nara, as you can see on the map below.


Our train today is the ‘Thunderbird’ between Kaga Onsen and Shin-Osaka stations (Shin meaning ‘new’). The train is only marginally slower than the Shinkansen but is the fastest route from the Kanazawa area to Osaka.


You can reserve seats in advance to avoid any scramble for position, albeit Japanese travellers are by far the most polite and courteous we have come across in all our travels.

Japan is also the cleanest country we have travelled within that still retains its character. There’s absolutely no litter – nor public waste bins for that matter – people being expected to take their litter home. Any store creating waste, such as takeaway food stores, is obliged to accept the return of the litter created. All vehicles, be they trains, lorries, coaches or cars, are spotless. This really enhances our experiences in Japan, rather than creating an antispetic feeling as it does for us in, for example, Singapore.


Having arrived in Osaka, we’re struck immediately by the energy of the city. It’s a large port city and commercial centre known for its modern architecture, buzzy nightlife and hearty street food. The 16th-century shogunate Osaka Castle, which has undergone several restorations, is its main historical landmark.

We’re only staying here briefly but a visit to the Dotonbori district is a must, if for nothing more than to experience and get wrapped up in the amazing nightlife and kaleidoscope of neon that surrounds your every step. To get to Dotonbori from our hotel we walk along the ‘shotengai’ covered shopping arcade of Shinsaibashi-suji that’s over half a kilometre long and deals in high-end duty free goods that can be delivered to the airport for you.

Its a real experence in itself – especially at night –  and even if you don’t intend to buy anything, take a walk along this street to enjoy the incredible spectrum of Osaka personalities who fill this place.

Osaka - Dotonbori 2
Osaka - Dotonbori 1
Hero Dotonbori

You’ll know when you reach Dotonbori, at the end of the Shinsaibashi-suji Shopping Arcade, when your senses are assaulted by the hubbub and blaze of neon that immerses you in sound and light. Stand on the bridge over the main canal and simply absorb the fairground atmosphere around you, before exploring further into the maze of streets that seemingly hold every food stall and restaurant known to mankind. If you’ve a mind, take a trip along the canal in one of the many tour boats vying for custom.

Osaka - LV
Osaka balloons
Osaka - night entrance

Our stroll back to the hotel is none the less less impressive with brightly lit entrances, dramaticaly designed buildings and innovative decoration at every turn.


Ancient capital, modern marvel, Kyoto is one of Japan’s most beautiful cities, with a style and flair that has prevailed over the centuries.

It’s packed with classical Buddhist temples, gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses.

You can experience formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, with multiple courses of precisely prepared and presented dishes, as well as the famous geisha, highly skilled female entertainers in the Gion district.

On a previous journey to Japan we had experienced the intimate and ritualistic tea ceremony with geisha, so concentrated on the better known sites of interest; visiting Ryoan-ji Temple with its beautiful gardens and tranquil original rock garden; Kinkakuji Zen Temple with its stunning Golden Pavilion covered in gold leaf; Arashiyama with its Bamboo Forest and Tenryu-ji Temple and of course the Shinto Fushimi-Inari Shrine with its seemingly endless avenues of vermillion Torii gates.

Kyoto - temple
Kyoto - Kimono Forest
Kyoto - Fushimi-Inari temple 1
Kyoto - Ryonaji
Kyoto - Golden pavilion
Kyoto - Bamboo Forest

You might be tempted to cut short your exposure to temples and shrines in Japan as there’s no shortage of them but such is the variety of experience in Kyoto that you will never feel as though you’ve had too much of a good thing. Each location brings forth its own special experience that makes Kyoto the must-see destination within the country.

Once you’ve visited Kiyomizu-dera Buddhist Temple with its huge wooden staging and panoramic views of Kyoto, stroll along the narrow sloping cobbled streets of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka, where you’ll be fascinated by the ancent wooden houses interspersed with shops selling quality craft products and not so exclusive fast food and ice cream. These streets eventually lead to Hanamikoji Street and the Geisha District of Gion.

The residents of Gion, in particular the geisha, have become increasingly harrassed by over zealous tourists determined to take selfies, touch their expensive clothes and otherwise impede daily life for them; treating the area as a theme park rather than the cultural centre it is. This has reached such a level that heavy fines are being imposed for non-consensual photography and photography off the main street, with some of the narrow sidestreets being closed completely to tourists – all in a bid to restore some sort of normality to life in Gion.

In short – be warned – treat the area, its residents and in particular geisha if you see them, with the respect you’d expect from others.

A practice common to Japan around its shrines and historic districts is the dressing of visitors in traditional kimono – to the extent that it’s difficult to tell whether you’ve encountered genuine geisha or local Japanese tourists; the point being that you’ll come across many beautifully dressed women who are only too happy for you to photograph them if you ask, without having to hassle the skilled artisans – even if you can tell the difference!

The important thing to remember in Kyoto is that you’re selling yourself short if you only allow a day to visit.

You’ll benefit from two, if not three days in this beautiful city to anywhere near cover all it has to offer – even if, as you can see from our photos – much of your visit is in the rain!



A short bus or train ride away from Kyoto is the ancient capital of Nara. The city has significant temples and artwork dating to the 8th century, before the capital was moved from Nara because the priests of the Tōdai-ji Temple were exerting too much influence over government affairs.

Nara - deer 2
Nara - deer
Nara - Buddha
Nara - manhole

Deer roam free in Nara Park, site of Tōdai-ji temple and its huge 15m-high bronze Buddha Daibutsu displayed in, until recently, the world’s largest wooden hall.

Many of the entrance gates and surrounding buildings are as interesting to wander around as the great hall itself and again, people watching is as entertaining and rewarding.

Wherever else you choose to go in Japan, this relatively concentrated group of ancient cities; Osaka, Kyoto and Nara, will provide you with a superb snapshot and cultural cross section of life in both ancient and modern Japan – definitely not to be overlooked!


Cherrie's Notes

If you’d like to check out Japan for yourself why not ask us to arrange your own tailor-made travel – to immerse yourself in the wonders of this world?

enquire-1Let us plan your own  inspiring journey to exotic climes

Why not download the TLC World guide brochure or give us a call today on 01202 030443, or simply click ‘enquire’ to submit your own personal itinerary request




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