Kyoto, Tradition In Modern Day
The first time I went to Japan was in 2008, and I was 17. I had been dreaming of going to Japan since I was ten. I had saved up since my Bat Mitzvah, I had skipped lunch to save my lunch money, I had skipped birthday parties and birthday presents for several years. All I wanted was to visit, and in 2008 I finally got that chance as a student ambassador. It was everything I ever hoped for. I swore with my trip mates that we would come again.
Fast-forward 8 years, add a college degree and a year teaching English in South Korea, make that 17-year-old a 25 year old. I have grown and changed so much I honestly can’t tell if Japan changed at all or if it was all me, but the magic that I experienced in my first trip to Tokyo was completely disillusioned the second time. Perhaps it was my glowing memories from adolescence that had my expectations too high, or perhaps Tokyo was just no longer a perfect fit.
Either way, that’s why on my second trip back to Japan that same year, this time to Osaka and Kyoto instead of Tokyo, my expectations were very low. I wanted to go to Thailand or Mongolia, but this was cheap, and my friends had never been.
Boy, was I wrong.
Osaka and Kyoto are gorgeous cities. I fell in love with Japan all over again. I would even say that I like Kyoto and Osaka more than Tokyo. Although I couldn’t believe my own opinion, since coming back from Kyoto I’ve met a whole number of friends with the same opinion. This isn’t to say I don’t like Tokyo anymore, I still love it. But Osaka and Kyoto are impossibly underrated.
When you visit Tokyo, there is SO MUCH TO SEE. An IMPOSSIBLE amount of things to see. You can’t possibly see them all in a week, probably not even a month or a year. There are so many tourist attractions, cute cafes, anime and manga, robots and host bars, it can be both magical and entirely overwhelming.
While Osaka and Kyoto have far less to see, it feels like there are less distractions, less glowing lights and big signs, tourist attractions distracting you from actually experiencing Japan as a real country and culture. This time we had only two objectives.
- Look around.
- Eat everything.
Our mission was entirely successful. I had never heard, but in Korea at least, Osaka is famous for good food. We ate endlessly from the time we arrived until we left. After our trip I was so unbearably uncomfortable and bloated I started my stupid juice cleansing, one-meal-a-day fiasco. But sweet Jesus the food was amazing.
We visited Osaka on Seoulnal, the Korean holiday for the Chinese New Year, because it happened to be my birthday. We had a long weekend, but time is always too short, so we left from Incheon at the break of dawn.
It’s a pretty short flight from Seoul to Osaka. We arrived in Osaka’s iconic center right in time for lunch.
I had a serious case of nostalgia for the okonomiyaki I had had in Osaka the last time I was there in 2008, so that was our first course of business.
Okonomiyaki is basically stir fried noodles, cabbage, bacon, and other optional ingredients, turned into a stir fry pancake with gravy-ish and mayo-ish sauce on top. Sometimes covered in cheese. So.. basically grilled bacon cheese ramen with some veggies? Needless to say it was fantastic.
After lunch it was time for desert of course! We chose a famous cheese tart cafe we had never heard of, Pablo. The tart was great, but what was even better was the cute atmosphere. The staff all came out twice while we were there to do choreographed J-pop-style dances to pop songs, and get the whole cafe clapping and cheering. We stayed in Pablo quite a while enjoying the atmosphere before it was time to move on.
With our stomachs satisfied we moved on to tourism, and first on our list was Osaka Castle. My Korean friend knew the castle from a manga that had been famous in Korea. I knew the castle from when I was a teenager. She was so excited to see the setting of one of her favorite manga in real life.
After the castle we checked into our AirBnB and took a breather. It was dinner time, and it was my birthday. It was time for something special. Very special. WAGYU BEEF SPECIAL.
If you want to hear more about WAGYU FREAKING BEEF, continue to the next chapter – WAGYUUUUUUUU! BEEF.