Japan and Osaka and Kyoto and my time living in Kobe.
Since this was a relaxing trip to visit my friend, it's not so tourist-y this time. If you're looking for a more tourist itinerary, check out my post from my Chuseok trip to Osaka/Kansai in 2016.
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First off, this was my first trip to Japan in which I rented a portable WiFi, I typically purchase a SIM card.
I really recommend renting a portable WiFi!! It's much cheaper and a lot faster/more reliable.
I used a Korean company and picked up my device at Incheon airport before leaving Korea and returned it when I got back. It was 2900 KRW per day.
You can, however, rent one at Kansai airport for 400 JPY per day if you don't want to deal with Korean websites, etc.
Day 1: Osaka
I purchased my flight on Eastar Jet again because I didn't have any issues last trip. The flight left at 12:25 from Incheon. This was kind of a perfect time because I didn't have to rush to the airport and I didn't have to worry about meals, etc.
I arrived to my friend's house at about 4PM - she lives in Kitahama. It only takes about an hour or so from the airport to Kitahama.
It was the end of cherry blossom season, so after a quick rest at her house, we went out to the Nakanoshima Park/Minami-Temma Park area to do some cherry blossom tourism along the O River.
During the first few weeks of April, there is also a illuminated path of cherry blossom trees. This was kind of crazy actually, it really reminded me of the time I went to Kyoto for the autumn color night illuminations at Kiyomizudera Temple, there are just so many people walking slowly through trees and taking pictures. There are more than 100 different varieties of sakura trees in Japan and, along this path, you can see all of the different types of cherry blossom trees in Japan. At night, they light up the path and trees and it is a very unique experience. You continue walking this path all the way. Foot traffic flows in only one direction and it's very crowded, plan accordingly. There are food stalls at the entrance/exit, but food is not allowed in by the trees, so make sure you finish your food before entering.
Afterwards, we were very hungry, so we made our way to Tenjinbashisuji Shopping Street for dinner. This is the longest, and one of the oldest, shopping streets in Japan. We stopped off at an okonomiyaki (Japanese pancake) for dinner (nearest station: Minami Morimachi). Okonomiyaki is a famous food of Osaka, so I recommend you try it :D
Day 2: Osaka
Rain was forecasted the entire day, so we made a really chill cafe/eating day plan.
We started off the day with 3D lattes and fluffy Japanese pancakes at Elk Dining. We had tried to go when I was in Osaka over Chuseok, but 3D lattes are only available on weekdays.
Then, we headed over to Red Rock again for the roast beef bowls! Actually, my friend and I had been reminiscing about this roast beef bowl...and it kind of spurred this last minute trip to Osaka.
Then, since it was raining all day, I just went "shopping" the rest of the day. I walked the Shinsaibashi Shopping Arcade all the way to Namba...and then got lost in Namba Parks for a bit...literally. I think Namba is one of the most confusing places in Osaka. Whenever my friends wanted to meet at Namba while I was living in Kobe, I always tried to strongly request we meet somewhere else...1) it is hard to get to from Kobe, 2) I always get lost.
Then, we finished our day at Mos Burger. This is a Japanese burger chain that is known for its freshness and handmade burgers. Actually, the Mos Burger at Kitahama station is quite big/clean. It has two floors. We both were shocked by how quiet the Mos Burger was...like everyone was in there studying/reading. It was quieter than any library I have ever been in, too. If you're ever looking for a quiet workspace in Kitahama, Osaka, check it out! There's WiFi, too, and no service charge like you get at cafes.
Day 3: Kyoto
I decided to go to Kyoto this day, starting out at the Fushimi Inari Shrine.
Before I left Osaka, we went to a steak restaurant my friend was really excited to take me to. Its "claim to fame" is that it is a "Japanese pickle buffet" (my friend's description). She wasn't wrong. The steak was so-so, but the pickle offering was quite extensive.
Then, I was off to Kyoto. Actually, if you're planning on making Osaka your home base for your trip to the region, I recommend staying in the Kitahama area. The Keihan railway is one of the fastest/cheapest ways to access Kyoto/Fushimi and Kitahama has a Keihan stop.
I started off at Fushimi Inari Shrine. It's on a small mountain that overlooks Kyoto. For some reason, maybe because it was Easter weekend, there were SO many Europeans there...like, so many! One thing to note, it is on a mountain...this was my second accidental mountain hike in like 3 weeks. Make sure you prepare accordingly...like buy water at the bottom...I had to pay so much money for water about 3/4 of the way up. I was so annoyed...the prices increase as the elevation increase, so sneaky of them.
I didn't make it to the top. It wasn't a grueling climb or anything, I just wanted to do other things with my day...and also one of the other tourists was this overweight lady who was smoking an e-cig the entire way up the mountain and who started wheezing quite noticeably about halfway up, so I kind of wanted to avoid seeing her demise.
I then stopped off for an ice cream treat at La Tiare Kyoto. They had cherry blossom flavor as the seasonal flavor, so I decided to try that.
Then, I decided to just take the Keihan over to the Gion area and look around there for the rest of the day...if I made it to Kiyomizudera, I'd be happy, but if I didn't, I'd also be content.
There's a "cherry blossom" path in Gion area. I checked it out, but I was too late to see the blossoms.
I walked through the Nishiki Market and just was...touristy.
I had udon for dinner. I had meant to order soba, but I got flustered during my order...typical me. Udon is not a very filling dinner, so I was still hungry afterwards.
I stopped off at a famous dango (Japanese rice cake) shop on the main street for some treats to bring back to Osaka with me. They were kind of cheap given the quality...more on that later, but I got a 5-pack for less than 500 yen.
I then stopped at Gion Tsujiri Honten for a quick green tea sakura smoothie and picked up a delicious pudding to share with my friend back in Osaka.
Day 4: Universal Studios Japan (USJ)
This was just a day devoted to Universal Studios Japan.
We were kind of disappointed in reading up on the park because the Minions Park was set to open on 21 April (we went on 19 April).
However, we lucked out! Minions Park was having its soft opening that day!
We ended the day with a shabu shabu buffet at Universal Citywalk.
Day 5: Osaka
My flight was at 2PM, so we kind of just had the morning.
We tried to find a good breakfast place, but most of the places opened at 10:30, so there wasn't really that much time.
We ended up going to this bakery that is famous for its Yakisoba bread.
Then, I headed to Starbucks to try the American Cherry Pie Frappuccino.