[Japan Series] Day 16: Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park 平和記念公園, Okonomimura お好み村, Hiroshima Castle 広島城

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The next morning, we woke up to the beautiful sunshine in Hiroshima. We had a quick breakfast at 7-Eleven near our Airbnb, and decided to take a short stroll towards the Peace Memorial Park. We had to cross this bridge from our Airbnb to get to the park.

 

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What a beautiful view from the bridge! This the Motoyasu River, which runs next to the A-Bome Dome.

 

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Walking along the bridge, you will see the A-Bomb Dome.

 

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The A-Bomb Dome is what’s left of the Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall. This building was used to promote Hiroshima’s industries. This is one of the few buildings that is standing today after the bomb. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is a reminder of the past.

 

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You will find various information boards about the history but what we found the most interesting were the survivors you would find around the dome sharing pictures and stories with tourists. They provide many photographs of what the city looked like before and after, and although we could not understand the stories in Japanese, the pictures provided us with a vivid image of the past.

 

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The remains of the past can be seen by locals and tourists alike as they drive along the bridge. To be honest, I find the remains to be rather saddening even though it is a good reminder of the past and what should never be repeated. I can’t imagine and wonder what it is like being a local and seeing this everyday going to work.

 

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Further past the dome, you will find the Children’s Peace Monument. This monument is to commemorate Sadako Sasaki and thousands of child victims of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima. Sadako was a young girl who died of leukemia from the radiation and is well known as the girl who wanted to fold a thousand cranes.

 

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Under the monument, there is a bronze crane that acts as a wind chime.

 

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Outside the monument, there are thousands of paper cranes. Sadako’s one wish was to have a world without nuclear weapons. You can learn more about Sadako’s story inside the museum.

 

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Another bombed building near the park is the Rest House. It was originally a kimono shop, but now acts as a rest house and information center. There was actually a man who survived the bomb in the basement of the building and is the closest survivor to the hypocenter. You can actually make an advanced booking to visit the basement to see the preserved remains.

 

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Moving along, you will find the Hiroshima Pond of Peace. Surrounding it is beautiful lush green grass. It really feels peaceful taking a stroll here.

 

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Past the pond is a curved concrete monument that covers a cenotaph. It is aligned to frame the Peace Flame and A-Bomb Dome. It is a memorial with the names of all the people killed by the bomb.

 

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The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum is at the end of the park and educates visitors about the atomic bombing in Hiroshima in World War II. Admission to the museum is only 200 yen and very well worth it.

 

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There are two wings in the museum. On one side, it describes Hiroshima before the bomb, the development of the bomb, and why the bomb was dropped. On the other side, it shows the damage of the bomb.

 

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When we went, one side of the museum was under construction, so we only got to visit the side which showed the remains of the bomb. We saw many remains of clothing, watches, and personal items like bikes that were left after the radiation. Many of the displays are quite upsetting and remind us not to take peace for granted.

 

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I think we ended up spending around two hours in the museum. There is lots to see and each display has both Japanese and English captions. There are lots to learn and it was the highlight of our trip in Hiroshima. Inside the building, you will be able to get a view of the park as well.

 

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After visiting the museum, we decided to get on the Maple-oop which is a JR operated loop bus for tourists. This is perfect for those who have the JR Rail Pass, because getting on these buses are free and they stop at most of the tourist attractions. If you do not have the pass, you can pay 200 yen per ride or 400 yen for a 1-day pass. We found this very useful as there is English on the bus, and was a great way to sight see the whole city. Just note that the last bus is roughly before 6pm, so you will need to find alternate modes of transportation after.

 

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One of the stops on this bus included Okonomimura. If you get off at the Namiki Hondori stop, you will find Okonomimura a 2 minute walk away. This building has 24 okonomiyaki stores throughout its four floors! It was quite overwhelming and it took us a while to decide on which restaurant to eat at.

 

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We ended up at restaurant that featured oysters in their okonomiyaki as I hear that is a must try in Hiroshima. I really liked how you could watch the okonomiyaki being made in front of you.

 

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Our okonomiyaki was definitely picture worthy! We got one with pork inside and topped with tons of green onions, oysters, and a sunny side egg. Amazing! However, I personally still prefer the Osaka-style okonomiyaki where all the ingredients are mixed together. I find that the Hiroshima style has way too much cabbage and the ingredients fall apart a lot easier. But still, this was delicious!

 

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After a late lunch, we headed to Hondori Street which is located in the downtown area of Hiroshima. This is just like any other Japanese city, where the shopping area is pedestrian only with a covered arcade. Since we had been in japan for over two weeks now, many of the shops were similar and we didn’t find anything too interesting. We also noticed that the downtown of Hiroshima was way less busy than the other cities we had visited. I guess this can be a relief for some who dislike the crowds.

 

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After some shopping, I suggested we visit the Hiroshima Castle ((広島城), since it is a stop on the JR sightseeing bus loop. Like most buildings, the oriignal Hiroshima Castle was destroyed during the atomic bomb. This was rebuilt with concrete and a wooden exterior. There is a museum inside providing information about Hiroshima’s history as well as Japanese castles. Entry is 370 yen, but we found the information to be just average. We personally aren’t interested in castles though.

 

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I guess what we enjoyed the most about the castle was that on the 4th floor, you can enjoy stunning views of Hiroshima city.

 

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We even got to catch sunset here! If you are looking for an observation deck in Hiroshima, then the castle isn’t a shabby one.

 

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As the evening arrived, we found the city to be rather quiet contrary to the bustling cities of Tokyo and Osaka. The city was dim and quiet, with many shops closing rather early. We decided to head back to our Airbnb and get some rest as we would have a full day of traveling back to Narita (which would take almost 6 hours) as we caught our flight back to Vancouver. Ending our trip in Hiroshima was perhaps a good way to end our trip as it was rather slow paced which paired perfectly with our tired legs. It was also a good reminder to not take things for granted in this world we live in.

And this concludes our travels in Japan! Hope you enjoyed our travels and found some useful information here! Feel free to email me or comment below if you have any other questions. Until next time, Japan!

 

 

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[Japan Series] Day 15: Miyajima 宮島, Hiroshima 広島

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On the last two days of our Japan trip, we would be spending it in Hiroshima (広島). From Osaka station to Hiroshima station, it takes around 2.5 hours with the JR bullet train. A long train ride, but the JR shinkansens are so comfortable, so time really passes by quickly.

 

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Once we arrived at Hiroshima station, we needed to take a tram to our Airbnb. Hiroshima uses trams instead of trains to get around the city. There are a mix of new and older trams. This one is one of the newer trams and is quite nice!

 

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The trams are quite spacious and work similar to the buses. You can use the Paspy and Icoca IC cards to pay for your fare on the trams and buses in Hiroshima.

 

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The city streets in Hiroshima are definitely much more modest and quiet. You won’t really find the neon lights and electronic billboards like you would find in Tokyo. I do appreciate that the city is much more spacious and the likelihood of being in crowds like in Tokyo and Osaka is unlikely.

 

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Our Airbnb was a short walk from the tram and also walking distance from the A-Bomb Dome. The room was definitely very cozy and one of the smaller Airbnbs we stayed in. However, it had everything we needed and was extremely clean. There was even a huge bottle of sake for us to enjoy!

 

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After settling in, it was already mid afternoon, so we decided to head to Miyajima Island. Our initial plan was to visit the island the following day after visiting the Peace Memorial Museum as we thought it would be more uplifting, but due to the time we arrived, it didn’t make sense to visit the museum near closing.

 

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To get to Miyajima Island, we first had to take a tram to Yokogawa station. From there, we took the JR Sanyo line to Miyajimaguchi Station. You can also get to Miyajimaguchi Station from Hiroshima Station and that would take roughly 25 minutes.

 

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When you get to Miyajimaguchi Station, follow the signs and you will find the ferry pier.

 

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The ferries depart quite frequently to Miyajima Island and only takes 10 minutes. This is covered under the JR rail pass if you have it.

 

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The ferry is quite large and you can even stand outside to take pictures. I think you can also bring your car on the ferry. As we were departing quite late in the day, there were not that many people on the ferry, making it easy for us to get a good spot for sightseeing.

 

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The ferry ride seriously goes by in no time. As we reached Miyajima Island (宮島), we saw the famous red torii gate which floats on water.

 

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Once we got off the ferry, we realized that there are lots of deer on this island! Very similar to Nara, but of course not as many. I really wonder how they got to this island! If you don’t get a chance to visit Nara, then this will do!

 

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Along the way, there are some shops that sell souvenirs and snacks.

 

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After a short walk, we reached the floating red torii gate. This is the view you get if you choose not to pay to enter the shrine. It’s pretty good but more on an angle. Unfortunately, there was a bit of construction going on, so the gate was slightly blocked. As we reached the island in the late afternoon, this was high tide and therefore the gate appears to be floating. If you arrive earlier in the day, the tide will be low and therefore you can actually walk all the way out to the gate! You should check out this website to time when you visit the island so you can hopefully visit at both low and high tide!

 

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This is the Itsukushima Shrine (厳島神社) which is also built over the water. Entry fee into the shrine is 300 yen and consists of multiple buildings, including a prayer hall, a main hall and theater stage. You will also get a view of the torii gate straight on instead of at an angle. We didn’t end up going inside the shrine, but would imagine this is a great attraction especially during low tide so you can wakl straight up to the gate.

 

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Not far from the shrine, a small hike will get you to the Senjokaku (千畳閣), which translates to the pavilion of 1,000 mats because the size of the pavilion can literally fit 1,000 tatami mats. This old building dates back to the 1587 and this costs 100 yen to enter. It is the largest structure on Miyajima Island.

 

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The Five-storied Pagoda is adjacent to the Senjokaku and was originally built in the 1400s but restored in 1533. It enshrines the Buddha of Medicine and is quite beautiful to see up close. I don’t think you can enter inside, so the attraction is free to view.

 

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As the sun set, we decided to head back to the souvenir streets. Many of them had already closed as it was rather late. I imagine there isn’t much to do around the island at night if you stay overnight here.

 

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There was one shop that was bustling with crowds. This was the grilled oyster stall! There are actually many grilled oyster stalls along the Miyajima Omotesando shopping street. However, as we went pretty late, most of them were closed. This stall itself closed shortly after we placed our order as well.

 

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Here, you can get a variety of ways the oysters are cooked. Of course, the most famous is to get them grilled with charcoal. The grilled oysters here are a pretty good deal at 2 for 400 yen. However, the downside is this is just a stall, so there are no seating areas. There are a few stools around but more of a quick eat and go stop.

 

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The oysters take a while to grill, so we walked around the streets before heading back to grab our order. Here, we have two grilled oysters. A nice char and the oysters themselves are plump and fresh. Highly recommend if you’re an oyster lover!

 

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We also got the deep fried oysters. These are smaller oysters which they have skewered onto a stick. Really good as well! If you are looking for a sit down restaurant for oysters, then Kakiya and Yakigaki are among the most famous on Miyajima Island. Oysters are a must eat in Hiroshima and Miyajima!

 

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Another well known food item is the Momiji Manjyu, which are maple leaf shaped pastries filled with a variety of filings including red bean, custard, chocolate, etc. There are many souvenir shops selling this pastry.

 

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Luckily, we were able to find a shop that sold single Momiji Manjyus since I just wanted to give it a try. We got one filled with custard and it was very tasty! Worth giving a try! After having some snacks, we decided to head back to Hiroshima by ferry as it was getting late.

 

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We did some research and learned that the 2nd floor of Hiroshima Station is the ASSE restaurant floor and filled with okonomiyaki shops. Okonomiyaki is very famous in Hiroshima and a must try. The okomiyaki here is very different than Osaka style as the ingredients are layered rather than mixed. Honestly, I don’t remember which restaurant we visited since they all look the same. Just head into one that has a decent amount of locals! This one had yakisoba noodles.

 

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We also got another one which had yakiudon noodles. My favourite was the yakisoba as it is much lighter than the udon. These okonomiyaki’s are huge and is more than enough for one!

Overall, a nice day trip to Miyajima Island to relax and the next day we would visit the major attractions in Hiroshima.

Hiroshima Station Asse – 2nd Floor (Okonomiyaki floor)
Address: 2-37 Matsubara-cho, Minami-ku

 

[Japan Series] Day 14: Day Trip to Kobe 神戸 and Gudetama Cafe Osaka

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On day 14, we had one more day in Osaka and we decided to take a day trip out to Kobe (神戸). Before heading out, we decided to stop by the Dotonbori area to grab a quick snack. Of course S wanted his fried chicken, so tried it out at this stand. They make it fresh and the chicken was moist with the outside crispy. From Osaka Station, taking the JR train only takes 20 minutes to Kobe. Way faster than we thought! If you don’t have the JR pass, then you can take other trains and you can still get there within 30 minutes or so.

 

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The Kobe Nada district is famous for sake breweries. We did some quick research and decided to check out the most famous one: Hakutsuru Sake Brewery Museum (白鶴酒造資料館). This museum has information in English and also sake tasting, which made it perfect for us. Because we wanted to use our JR pass, we took the train to JR Sumiyoshi Station. The walk from here is 15-20 minutes, so I suggest taking the train to Sumiyoshi Station on the Hanshin Railways Line instead if you are not using the JR pass. This walk is only 5 minutes instead.

 

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Entry to the museum is free and there is plenty to see. Although the sculptures are very fake, you get a good sense of how sake is made and was a great introduction for us who knew barely anything about Japanese rice wine.

 

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The tour is self guided and you can walk at your own pace. At the end of the museum is sake tasting where you can try many different flavours and sake with various alcohol content.

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Also near the gift shop is sake ice cream which you can purchase. The ice cream has no actual alcohol content, but rather a sake flavour. Really good!

 

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You can also purchase a variety of sake and plum wine here. I really enjoyed the yuzu plum wine, but unfortunately it was too heavy to carry for the day. Instead, I picked up some small cans of fruit flavoured plum wine with jellies inside. So yummy!

 

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After enjoying some sake, we took the train to Kobe Motomachi, which is one of Kobe’s popular shopping streets. I’m guessing this is their downtown core as there is lots of shops around here. Typical shops as you’ll find in other large cities in Japan and you will also find a Daimaru here where we had lunch in the basement floor.

 

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Also nearby is Nankinmachi, which is Kobe’s Chinatown. The Chinatown here is quite dense and compact with around 2 main streets.

 

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You will find many stalls here selling Chinese dim sum and cuisine. Not sure how authentic the food here is, but tourists swamped this area.

 

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Around a 10 minute walk from the Motomachi area, we headed to Meriken Park, a beautiful waterfront park near Kobe’s port. Here, you will find the Kobe Maritime Museum, which features a really cool roof that is shaped like a sail.

 

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There are some pretty cool architecture and sculptures like this fish in Meriken Park.

 

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You will find the Meriken Park Oriental Hotel here which faces the water. The park is really relaxing and makes a great walk during a sunny day.

 

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If you walk around the waterfront, you will hit the ferris wheel where Kobe Harborland (神戸ハーバーランド) is. This is the shopping and entertainment district and perfect to stop by if you are looking for lunch or dinner.

 

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Of course, one of the most popular attractions here is the Kobe Port Tower (神戸ポートタワー). You can pay to go on this observation deck, but the tower is definitely not that tall, so we didin’t find it would be worth it.

 

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Overall, we really enjoyed Meriken Park and it was a nice differentiation from the busy city life. After shopping around in the Mosaic Mall, we decided to head back to Osaka for dinner.

 

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One of the spots I had on my list was the Gudetama Cafe in Osaka. The cafe is located in the Hep Five mall. How cute is this?!

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Once you enter, you will find everything gudetama decorated. Seriously perfect for anyone who is a fan.

 

 

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Unfortunately we got seated in a corner, so didn’t get to see as much of the decor from the side. They even have gudetama videos playing the whole time.

 

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I chose the Curry Rice with bacon. Seriously, this is way too cute to eat! But unfortunately, the food doesn’t taste good at all. The curry tasted like the packs we can make ourselves at home, and the rice was really dry. It had a small side of veggies which were also pretty gross. You are really paying for how cute the dish looks.

 

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S wasn’t hungry, so he got the Mango Pudding. This one wasn’t too special since the glass already has his face printed on it.

 

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Overall, super cute restaurant, with tons of plushies for you to take pictures with. Unfortunately, the food just doesn’t measure up.

And that ended our night in Osaka. The next day, we would head to Hiroshima.

[Japan Series] Day 13: Takama Soba たかま, Abeno Harukas あべのハルカス, Ichiran 一蘭, Osaka 大阪市

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The next day, we decided to stay in Osaka to hit up a few more attractions. On my list was to try Takama (たかま), an affordable one Michelin star soba restaurant.  They open at 11:30am and I’m not sure if they take reservations, but were told to arrive 30 minutes before they open to ensure we get in during the first seating. The restaurant is tucked away in the side streets near Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai, a shopping alley, but this restaurant is super low key looking so you would miss it if you were just walking by. There is no English outside, so just look for this wooden house with a sliding door.

 

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We arrived around 11am and a small line was already forming.

 

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The restaurant is extremely small, with one round table that fits around 10 diners, and then a small four seater tucked on the other side. We were the second last couple to get a seat, so we ended up having to share a table with another another couple on the side. The only downside is that you can’t see what’s going on on the other side. I’m not sure if you can see the chefs on the other side making the soba, but we were lucky enough to get a seat, so it didn’t matter.

 

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They have a small number of appetizers available, including the Dashimaki-Tamago. Of course it was pricier than the tamago we have been getting at the markets, but this was so light and fluffy! You can really see each layer of egg and it came paired with some grated radish and light soy sauce. Highly recommend getting this!

 

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S got the Ebiten-oroshi Soba Set for 2,000 yen and it came with prawn and vegetable tempura. As you can see, the tempura batter is extremely light. It came with a variety of vegetables that we were not familiar with, but overall, it was very good.

 

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At Takama, they serve two types of soba. The first style is called mori, a regular-style soba made from marunuki flour. The second is called inaka, a noodle made with hikigurumi, a whole buckwheat flour. Both flours are extremely high-quality and are from the Fukui prefecture.  S can choose either type for his set. He went with the mori style and had it cold (zaru-style). The noodles are served cold with a light sweet soy dipping sauce. I really enjoyed this as the soba noodles were super thin and had a nice chewiness. The cold soba turned out to be my favourite. With the cold soba, you will also have leftover dipping sauce, and at the end of your meal, the server will bring a pot of hot water which you pour into your leftover dipping sauce to dilute it as a drinking broth. Really tasty!

 

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For myself, I decided to try the warm duck broth and got it with the inaka style, 100% buckwheat flour. The inaka style has a more nutty flavour, but I personally like the lighter mori-style. The duck broth is flavourful with 2-3 pieces of duck inside. However, I am not personally used to have soba in a warm broth and found that the duck broth overpowered the noodles. Back in Vancouver, I think the only comparable soba restaurant would be Kinome, but I think I have to say this is the best I’ve had. At the end of the day, the meal for two probably cost around $50 in total, which is extremely good given it is a one Michelin star restaurant. There are English menus available and the servers can speak simple English. Keep in mind, they are open open for lunch from11:30 am – 2:30am.

 

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Since we were nearby, we decided to check out Tenjinbashisuji Shotengai (天神橋筋商店街). This is the longest shopping street in Japan which stretches 2,600 meters and has over 600 shops. On a weekday afternoon, it actually wasn’t too busy when compared to the famous Dotonbori. I found that many of the pharmacy shops here (if you look for the non-chain shops) were slightly cheaper so perfect if you are looking to stock up on Japanese drugstore cosmetics and snacks.

 

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After some shopping, we decided to train to JR Tennoji station. Here, we visited Abeno Harukas which sits on top of the Kintetsu Osaka-Abenobashi Station, which is across the JR Tennoji station.

 

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The Abeno Harukas (あべのハルカス) is the tallest skyscraper in Japan at 300 meters tall. The building includes a department store, an art museum, a hotel and an observation deck. The observation deck is called Harukas 300 and provides a 360 view of Osaka from the 60th floor. Admission costs 1,500 yen so since we already checked out Osaka from Umeda Sky Tower, we decided to skip this.

 

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Instead, you can go to the 16th floor for free and enjoy the garden terrace. I really enjoyed this modern clean space and it is a good option if you don’t want to pay the admission price. Of course, I’m sure the 60th floor would offer better views.

 

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This is what you can see from the 16th floor at the garden terrace. Not bad since it’s free!

 

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After walking around the department store, we decided to go check out Amerikamura. This is supposed to be a district near Shinsaibashi which offers more American style shopping. Funny enough, we searched Amerikamura in Google maps, and ended up at Universal Studios… Yes we have no idea how we ended up here, so always be careful with Google Maps in a foreign country. Turned out there were quite a lot of brightly lit souvenir shops before the entrance, so we did get to walk around a bit. As it was late, there was no point in entering Universal Studios at the time.

 

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After our excursion, we decided to head back to the Dotonbori area and walking by Ichiran (一蘭 道頓堀店別館), I suggested we enjoy a warm bowl of ramen. There are two outlets in the Dotonbori area. One is by the canal outside, whereas the other is under the shopping area along the strip. We went for the latter because we heard this location has 3 floors and way more seats. Of course, there was still the usual crazy line up, but this one is super organized for the tourists. You will still have to purchase the ticket at the vending machine, but you will also be asked whether you want to sit at the traditional individual booths, or if you want family seating arrangements. If you have never been to Ichiran, then I suggest trying the unique individual booths. However, since we have already tried it, and the line up for family seating was quicker, we went with family seating. Definitely not as interesting, but this is perfect for large families or families with kids.

 

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Be sure to check out the bathrooms! How many rolls of toilet paper do you need?

 

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We ended our night with a delicious bowl of Ichiran and it did not disappoint. Consistent with the other locations we tried and service was quick.

Takama Soba
Address: 7-12-14 Tenjinbashi, Kita-ku, Osaka

Ichiran 一蘭 道頓堀店別館
Address:

 

[Japan Series] Day 12: Kinkakuji Golden Pavilion 金閣寺, Nishiki Market 錦市場, Gion 祇園, and Chao Chao Gyoza 餃々 三条木屋町店 in Kyoto 京都

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On day 12, we took the bullet train from Osaka to Kyoto again. Our first stop was to see the famous Golden Pavilion or Kinkakuji (金閣寺). The downside of many temples in Kyoto is that you can’t reach them by train and require a transfer to a bus. After a 30 minute ride to Kyoto Station, we switched to the Karasuma Subway Line and got off at Kitaoji Station. From here, you can take a bus (bus numbers 101, 102, 204 or 205) which takes around 10 minutes. Get off at Kinkakujimichi Bus Stop and you will see many other tourists walking towards the pavilion. Be warned that the buses get really crowded with tourists because many temples are only accessible by bus! Admission is 400 yen, but most temples require admission. You will receive this cute admission ticket!

 

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Kyoto was once Japan’s capital city and therefore has many historic value and has preserved many famous temples. S and I both love the city life, so we personally aren’t too intrigued by temples. However, I suggested we visit at least one, and Kinkakuji was the one I decided on. This beautiful golden zen temple definitely did not disappoint. Even on a gloomy day, the beautiful gold against lush green trees reflected on the pond surrounding the temple. It was seriously like a painting!

 

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The top two floors of the temple are covered in gold leaf and really shines. The temple is formerly the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu but became a zen temple after his death based on his will. We were surprised to learn that we were actually not allowed to enter the temple. Instead, we had to crowd around the walkway path among all the tourists to snap a picture from afar. This attraction is extremely touristy but I did really enjoy it. It makes a nice light walk in the garden. However, other than the temple itself, there are not that many attractions in the garden. Near the end, you will find the Sekkatei Teahouse as well as some souvenir shops near the exit.

 

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After visiting the temple, we decided to bus back to the Kyoto station area. If you are interested in temples, then the Ginkakuji and Kiyomizudera are also very popular. near the Kyoto station, you will find a bridge over the Kamogawa River. Many tourists and locals will take leisurely walks along the river and you can catch people fishing here as well.

 

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Getting hungry, I suggested we walk to the Nishiki Market (錦市場). This is a 5 block alleyway filled with hundreds of shops. You can find tons of local goods, like pickled vegetables, dried seafood, fresh seafood, produce, dessert, and cooking ware.

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We decided to get some Honey Soft Serve! At Sugi Bee Garden, they specialize in honey and you can sample many flavours here. We ended up leaving with a soft serve and this was really smooth and creamy!

 

 

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After grabbing some food at the market, we headed to the Gion (祇園) district. This is the famous area for geishas as you will find restaurants and teahouses where the geishas entertain here. You will also find wooden machiya merchant houses which make a great backdrop for photos!

 

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We had no interest in attending one of the performances by the geishas, but I did want to see a geisha in real life. I did some Googling and found that the best time to spot them is around 6pm-7pm because this is when they are making their way to their engagement. Luckily, we did spot one and we subtly got a picture of her. We read online that we should be respectful of them and avoid acting like a paparazzi as many tourists have gone too far and I can imagine how uncomfortable it would be for these ladies. They even have police in this area to control the amount of tourists! Another tip we learned during our hour here is to look into the taxis that drive in this area. Many of the geishas now take taxis to their engagement, so chances of seeing them walking around is slim.

 

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After our hunt for geishas, we headed to Pontocho (先斗町). This is a narrow alleyway filled with restaurants. Prices range from affordable to high end fine dining which require reservations. A good spot to drop by if you are looking for dinner.

 

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Our destination was Chao Chao Gyoza (餃々 三条木屋町店). The restaurant is basically at the end of Pontocho alley and is a huge tourist spot. When we arrived, there was already a long line that had formed. And to be honest, I was a bit skeptical because everyone lining up looked like a tourist. We ended up waiting for almost an hour but this was well worth it. The restaurant has actually won the countrywide gyoza competition twice!

 

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What are they famous for? Well gyozas of course. The gyozas here are actually all strung together in a row. The wrapper is thin and each gyoza is quite small, but filled with juicy meat. The most popular is the Chao Chao Gyoza which is filled with pork. 600 yen will get you 16 pieces, but as you can see, 16 pieces is quite small. We ended up getting another order of this after because they were so good!

 

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We also tried the Shrimp Gyoza which is 480 yen for 5 pieces. Really good as well, but the pork was still my favourite. They also have some unique fillings like cheese, curry, and even ginger. They also have a large option of drinks so we did enjoy some beer and plum wine. Beer and gyozas definitely make a perfect pairing! Not the cheapest meal you can get in Kyoto, but quite affordable and we had a great time sitting at the bar watching our gyozas being made. Plus, the restaurant is English friendly!

That wrapped up our last day trip to Kyoto as we trained back to Osaka after dinner!

Chao Chao Gyoza
Address: 117 Ishiyacho Kiya-Machi Sanjo Kudaru Nakagyo-Ku, Kyoto

[Japan Series] Day 11: Arashiyama 嵐山, Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine 伏見稲荷大社, Kyoto

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On Day 11, we headed from Osaka to Kyoto. Because the two cities are 30 minutes away by JR, we decided to just settle in Osaka and use it as a base instead of finding accommodation in Kyoto. Kyoto accommodation is also quite expensive, so it’s best to stay in Osaka to save a few bucks. Our trip today would be to check out Arashiyama, an outskirt of Kyoto. After taking the JR Kyoto line to Kyoto Station, we switched to the JR Sagano Line (also known as JR Sanin Line). It only takes 15 minutes to get to Saga-Arashiyama Station and you will find many tourists getting off here. From the station, it only takes around 10 minutes to get to the tourist attractions.

 

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You’ll arrive at this street that leads to various attractions. We decided to go take a quick look at some of the temples first. Be ready for lots of walking around here unless you want to get a rickshaw!

 

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We arrived at Tenryuji Temple (天龍寺) which is one of the most famous temples in Arashiyama. It is also registered as a UNESCO world heritage site. Admission is 500 yen but since we are not very into temples, we decided to skip this and just took some pictures outside. Around this area, there are also many unique traditional buildings to take pictures of.

 

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Around a 15 minute walk away is the famous Bamboo Grove. The walkway is paved so it makes it very easy to walk but the walk will still take you around 30 minutes one way to the very end if you stop and take pictures. I would allocate a whole hour for this so you can really soak it in. You can also choose to rent a bike instead but there are quite a lot of tourists walking, so it’s pretty difficult to bike the whole time here. Beautiful spot to get some pictures here!

 

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At the entrance of the bamboo grove, there are various food stands selling quick snacks. Starving after the walk in the bamboo grove, we got a Hojicha (roasted tea) and Matcha Soft Serve. So good!

 

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We then walked back towards the tourist shops and decided on a cute little soba store for lunch. I don’t know what the name of the store is as there was no English, but they seemed to focus on soba noodles. So simple but satisfying. Plus, this shop was more affordable as many of the restaurants in this area can be quite expensive.

 

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One of the most iconic spots in Arashiyama is the Togetsukyo Bridge. A beauitful bridge which water beneath and greenery and blue skies in the background. During cherry blossom season and the autumn is probably the best time to visit this area, but regardless, it’s still a nice getaway from the busy cities.

 

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After crossing the bridge, we arrived to the entrance of Monkey Park Iwatayama. It costs 550 yen, but I thought it was well worth it if you haven’t seen monkeys run in the wild. Plus, you get a scenic view at the top of the mountain.

 

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They tell you it’s a short hike up, but be warned that the hike is quite steep! Especially in the heat, you will want to make sure you have a bottle of water. I think it took us roughly 30 minutes to get up although we made pit spots to catch our breath in the hot weather. When you get near the top, you will start to see some monkeys swinging across trees!

 

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Finally, we are up top! This open area allows the monkeys to roam free. You are warned that you should not stare directly at the monkeys’ eyes or get too close to them. They seem to be quite accustomed to the tourists, but you should still be careful here!

 

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If you are not completely sold on seeing monkeys, then the view of Kyoto city is definitely a reason to come up here. A relatively short walk and you can see pretty much all of Kyoto from here.

 

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At the top, there is also a shelter area where the monkeys are not allowed in.

 

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Here, you can buy food for 100 yen to feed these monkeys safely. They will climb on the fence and you can put the food on the palm of your hand so they reach in to take it.

 

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The monkeys here are called snow monkeys and they are pretty funny looking with red faces and bottoms. Look at this greedy one! He took all my peanuts and stuffed it in his mouth so he could collect and save them for later. Tricky monkeys!

 

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After most of the day at Arashiyama, we decided to hit up one more spot in Kyoto. The famous Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine (伏見稲荷大社). The shrine is located at Inari Station and you can take the JR Nara Line once you get back to the Kyoto Station. It takes only around 5 minutes from Kyoto Station to Inari Station. Upon arriving, you will be greeted by the huge torii gate. Entrance to this attraction is free.

 

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You will then find many traditional activities around the front such as this wash basin. Follow the instructions on the board and wash your hands following the steps, and apparently it will give you good luck! Why not?

 

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Here is the map of the shrine. This shrine is probably one of the most interesting ones because it is known for having thousands of torii gates along the path. It is really a hike in itself if you want to reach the very end because it will probably take you 2-3 hours round trip. You will end up at the top of Mount Inari which stands 233 meters high. Most tourists will not do the whole hike and neither did we as it was getting dark.

 

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As you can see, the trail is nicely paved and you will find rows upon rows of torii gates lined up. Each torii gate is donated by an individual or company and you will find their name and date of donation inscribed on the back of each gate. You will definitely find some photo worthy spots here, but I would suggest coming during daylight as we found it more difficult to take pictures in the dark and if you go way further in, there becomes less people, making it a little scary if you happen to get lost. Also many of the souvenir and street food stalls around the area close once it gets closer to the evening. Otherwise, it ensures you can get a picture without anyone in your picture if you come at night.

 

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As it got dark quite early, we decided to head back to Kyoto Station and grab dinner.

 

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Not really having any plans in mind, we ended up inside Kyoto Daimaru, a department store and headed to the basement because by now, we know that all Japanese department stores have a basement of gourmet goodies! I decided to try this sushi box which is pressed sushi cut into squares. The top is a variety of cured fish and vegetables. It was pretty to look at, but honestly, it didn’t taste that good. Perhaps I like the fresh sashimi so this wasn’t my thing. After dinner, we were tired from a long day so just took the train back to Osaka to rest up.

 

 

[Japan Series] Day 10 Cont’d: Okonomiyaki at Mizuno 美津の in Osaka

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After visiting Nara, we headed back to Osaka for the evening. We decided to go to the Dotonbori area again since it is always so lively at night. We walked around the Shinsaibashi shopping street first to check out some boutiques.

 

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As dinner neared, we headed towards the Dotonbori area and noticed a huge line forming outside this fairly undecorated restaurant called Mizuno. We quickly got in line while Googling what this restaurant was all about. Turns out this restaurant was featured on the 2016 Michelin Guide and is famous for their okonomiyaki. The restaurant has been running for 3 generations and over 60 years.

 

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The wait ended up being over an hour long. They give you a menu and take your order while you are waiting so there are no miscommunication issues with the chef. There are only around 8 seats at the bar, but some more seats upstairs. The bar is where you can see the action so luckily we got sat here. They prepare the okonomiyaki right in front of you, so it’s pretty fun.

 

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Okonomiyaki is popular in the Kansai region and Hiroshima. On this trip, we end up getting the chance to try both! Osaka-style okonomiyaki is probably what you are more used to if you’ve had it in North America. The batter is made of flour, a grated type of yam, water or dashi, eggs, and shredded cabbage. You can then add ingredients such as octopus, squid, pork belly, shrimp, or vegetables. It’s said that Osaka is where the okonomiyaki originated so it’s a must try here! The difference is that in Osaka, the okonomiyaki is prepared similar to a pancake and the ingredients are all mixed together. This is quite different from Hiroshima style, where the ingredients are layered. As you can see, at Mizuno, you can choose to have soba noodles.

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The okonomiyaki is not cheap here with most of them over 1,000 yen each. However, I think the high price is partly for the experience and show you get since you sit right in front of the teppan grill. We ended up getting two to share, which was a good amount since they are mostly carbs. We got one Mizuno-yaki with pork and one Modan-yaki. The Mizuno-yaki is what you would normally find but the flavours were way better. I have to say, this was probably the best okonomiyaki I’ve had. The okonomiyaki are dusted with seaweed powder and topped with mayo and a savoury sweet sauce. The Modan-yaki was also really good because it had crispy noodles. What I liked at the rsetaurant was that they give you a little metal spatula so you can serve yourself from the grill as you eat. The chef was kind to make sure our food did not get overcooked though when we ate too slow.

Overall, I thought the food was really good. Is it worth the 1 hour wait? Probably not if you are only visiting for a short period of time. But if you see the line pretty short, I would probably wait 30 minutes for this.

Mizuno
Address: 1-4-15 Dotombori, Chuo-ku, Osaka 542-0071, Osaka Prefecture

[Japan Series] Day 10: Day Trip to Nara 奈良

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On Day 10, we set off to visit Nara 奈良. As we had the JR pass, we took the Yamatoji train from JR Osaka station to JR Nara station. This took around 45 minutes. If you don’t have the JR pass, then I suggest taking the trains by Kintetsu Railways which only take 30-40 minutes. The train we took was much older than the ones in Tokyo but gave it a rustic charm.

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A quick ride and we arrived at Nara station. You’ll be greeted by a tourist center where you can get a map of the majority of Nara. I suggest grabbing one so you can make your way around easily.

 

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The walk to Nara Park itself takes around 15 to 20 minutes, so be prepared to walk a lot. You will pass by many shops and a beautiful lake along the way. The greenery almost makes this picture look fake!

 

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Along the way, you will also find some temples. Nara was Japan’s first capital city back in the day so has lots of history. We came upon the Kofukuji (興福寺) Temple, which consists of the five story pagoda. I believe you need to pay an entrance fee for these temples, but since we personally aren’t very interested in temples, we skipped this. There are many other temples in Nara if you are interested.

 

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Finally, after a long walk, we arrived at Nara Park (奈良公園)! Nara Park is famous for the hundreds of wild deer that roam freely in the park. In Shinto religion, the deer are considered as messengers of gods so these deer are known as national treasure.

 

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The deer are usually pretty tame, but there are some that can be quite aggressive, especially when they see you have food. You can buy deer crackers for 150 yen at many stalls, but you better hide your stack or they will all flock to you like this woman experienced!

 

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Look how cute they are! There are some baby ones that are very tame. The older deer can be quite aggressive as they probably lack attention by the tourists!

 

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I bought a stack of crackers and had a good time feeding them. A tip is to break the crackers in half so you can extend the chances you get to feed them. Also, if you move the cracker up and down, you can usually get the deer to bow to you before eating which is super amusing to watch!

 

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The park warns you that the deer can be dangerous though. I thought this sign was pretty funny, but I guess it can be true. I got deer head butting me from behind which was not expected! If you have kids, I would make sure they are supervised, as the bigger deer can be less tame.

 

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If you venture east of the park, you will find the Ukimido Gazebo. It is known as the floating gazebo and we found it to be a serene area to take pictures, especially with the reflections on the water. This area was much more quiet as most tourists only went to see the deer.

 

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The trip to Nara can be done in half a day if your main target is to see the deers. We were able to finish the park in less than 3 hours (although keep in mind we spent a very long time taking pictures with the deers). As lunch approached, we decided to walk back towards the station to see if there was food along the way. One spot that is super popular is Nakatanidou (中谷堂).

 

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Nakatanidou is famous for mochi (Japanese rice cakes)! They specialize in yomogi mochi which is made with mugwort, a Japanese wild plant, which gives the mochi the natural green colour. The mochi are filled with red bean paste and dusted with roasted soybean powder. What is most exciting about this stall is that the workers will “perform” the pounding of the mochi every half an hour or when there are crowds of tourists. The workers use these pestles and rapidly pound the mochi while another worker stretches and flips the dough. Seriously, they do it so fast that your heart skips a beat because they are that close to pounding the worker’s hands! I forgot to get a picture of this, but be sure to give this a Google and you’ll be impressed!

 

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One piece goes for 150 yen, whereas you can get a pack for a cheaper price. This was seriously the softest mochi I’ve ever had. I highly recommend trying this!

 

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Tucked the corner street near the mochi shop is Mentouan. We noticed a small line forming so quickly got in as well. Turns out, they are famous for udon in a bean curd pocket.

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We waited probably close to 30 minutes before getting a seat. The restaurant itself is rather small, fitting perhaps only 25 people or so, but the main problem was that there are only 2 people out in the front. There is a elderly woman who is essentially running the whole dining area, so she has trouble keeping up with cleaning up the dishes.

 

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The menu is limited, so S and I both ordered the same dish. We got the No.1 which is udon filled inside a bean curd bag, tied with a seaweed tie and put in a delicious dashi broth.

 

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Poke a hole in the bean curd and your udon noodles spill out! Such a fun way to eat this but the udon itself was nice and chewy and the broth was sweet and savoury. I believe a bowl cost just under 900 yen. As there are not that many other restaurants in the area, I highly recommend checking this out!

 

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On our way back to the station, I also came across the shop called Izasa. They specialize in Kakinoha-zushi. Famous in Nara, this type of sushi is made with cured fish (usually salmon, mackerel, and trout) and are pressed into a mold filled with sushi rice. Then the sushi is cut into bite size pieces and wrapped in a persimmon leaf. This store sold a variety of boxes, but the lady kindly let me know I could try a single one as well.

 

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I got the Salmon Kakinoha-zuzhi which was under 200 yen. I unwrapped the leaf and revealed my sushi. To be honest, I thought this was quite average as I am not a fan of cured fish and the rice was also not as soft as normal sushi rice. I could subtly taste the persimmon leaf but it was not very strong. Still, something to try if you are in the Nara area.

Nara Park
Address: Nara Park, Nara, Nara Prefecture, Japan

Nakatanidou
Address: Japan, 〒630-8217 Nara Prefecture, Nara, 橋本町29

Mentouan
Address: Japan, 〒630-8217 Nara Prefecture, Nara, 橋本町30−1

Izasa
Address: 16 Kasuganocho, Nara, Nara Prefecture 630-8212, Japan