Kansai Region Part 2 – Osaka, Nara and Lake Biwa

Well, our time in Japan is drawing to an end, and I feel like our vacation is coming to an end. Normally, I would be starting to stress out about getting back home and back to work, but this time it’s only our time in Japan that is ending, and a new adventure will be starting in South Korea. We are both loving being in Japan, and see ourselves coming back here in the future.

But we’re not quite done with Japan yet, although we have said our goodbyes to the Kansai region for now. Here’s how we wrapped up our stay there:

Monday June 18 We decided to go to the Osaka Aquarium Kaiyukan. Mike had been there the last time he was in Osaka, and really enjoyed it. Not only does it have the largest single tank in the world (by volume), but it is home to Kai-kun, a whale shark! Sadly, my string of arriving at places and finding them at least partly unavailable continued – Kai-kun wasn’t on display, as the aquarium is currently working on rebuilding the sardine stock that lives in that tank as well. Perhaps he had eaten too many of them! For anyone planning on visiting soon, the sign said the whale shark will be back later in the summer. We spent a long time in the aquarium and exploring the nearby neighbourhood before meeting up with Hikaru for some Japanese-style curry at Coco Ichibanya. Mike’s sister recommended we go there, and it was delicious! Afterward we found a spot for ice cream (green tea, black sesame and chocolate) and coffee. Yum! Then Mike and I headed home to try and plan our last few days in Kansai. We wanted to visit Nara, and spend a day visiting both the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto, and spending some time on the beaches of Lake Biwa.

Tuesday June 19 We woke up to quite a bit of rain, and as a result put a rain delay on our day trip plans. We spent the morning browsing the internet, trying to decide on an indoor activity in Osaka and found Spa World, which is as heavenly as it sounds. Mike wrote a review about it, which you can read here! After Spa World, we walked through Shinsaibashi and bought a few things (socks, arm warmers and postcards) before getting dinner at Shakey’s pizza, which was pretty tasty (and had a lot of sweet corn on top).

Wednesday June 20 The weather cleared up for Mike’s birthday, and we decided to make the day trip to somewhere he didn’t go the last time he was in Japan – visiting Nara. Nara is a beautiful city that is similar to Kyoto in a lot of ways. We loved walking through the park, and were quite impressed by their famous deer, which are designated as National Treasures! It is said a god once visited the town on a deer, and since then, they have had the utmost respect. The deer are a lot smaller than they are in Canada, but they are not timid at all! They are fed special crackers by tourists, and have no problems nuzzling into your pockets or your bag to see if you have any treats hidden away from them. We watched many people buy a packet of crackers and then have five or ten deer surround them, or run after them as they try to escape the crush of antlers and button noses!

Like Kyoto, Nara is famous for temples and shrines (of which we saw many). For me, the most impressive was Todai-ji, and its Great Buddha Hall, which is the largest wooden building in the world! It is absolutely gigantic! Even more impressively, signs there indicate that this most recent construction of the building is only 2/3 the size of the original! Inside this giant building is a giant Buddha (Daibutsu), again, the world’s largest! Also impressive is a huge bronze octagonal lantern which dates from the original temple (8th century). Fantastic. I suggested Mike get his fortune here, as they were offered in English and it was his birthday, and he drew “Best Luck”. It really was his special day! We looked around a little bit more, and then hopped on the train back to Osaka. We were quite tired after yet another day of lots of walking, and Mike’s birthday dinner choice was a grocery store feast. Before stopping at the hotel, we bought a lot of skewered meat, rice, squid rings and other things, and chowed down with our feet up in the hotel!

Thursday June 21 Rain rain, go away! We woke up yet again to lots of rain, so we dropped Fushimi Inari from our day trip list, but we attempted a day trip to Lake Biwa anyway. We took the train to Ogoto onsen station, and we wandered around the town a bit. Our umbrellas were mostly ok for keeping us dry, but my shoes got soaked again! We were the only pedestrians out walking around in the poor weather, and eventually settled on visiting a local spa. We rented a private room stone bath onsen, which was lovely and a nice way to warm up. After our time was up we walked through the town to the next JR station over, and headed back for Osaka. We dried off at the hotel, and then set out to meet Hikaru for the last time for dinner. This time, it was tonkatsu – a delicious breaded and fried pork cutlet eaten with a special sweet/spicy sauce and served with rice, cabbage, and miso soup. Mike and I shared a traditional tonkatsu and an order of breaded prawns. We stopped at a cafe called Choco-Cro (short for Chocolate Croissant) where we had ice cream and coffee, before saying our goodbyes to Hikaru. She chose some great places to see and eat at! We look forward to returning the favour whenever we can!

Friday June 22 We said goodbye to Osaka, packed up and walked over to Shin-Osaka station for the last time, and boarded the train for Hiroshima, our penultimate destination in Japan. More on that from Busan, South Korea!