Deer Kyoto…

Real talk: snuggling furry animals is one of our favorite pastimes. (Note: I’m sorry if my husband has aggressively snuggled your dog. It’s an overload of love and he sometimes struggles with personal boundaries.)

When we read up on Nara Park and heard there would be deer roaming around freely, we knew we needed to check it out. Nara is a quick train ride away from Osaka, which made for the perfect day trip on the way to Kyoto.

Stepping off the train, we walked toward the park and were quickly surrounded by deer. They’re surprisingly aggressive; we received quite a few head-butts and we witnessed several children getting knocked off their feet. It was an extremely entertaining way to spend the afternoon. We also went to the Kofukuji Buddhist Temple, which is worth a view if you go to Nara.

Our first impression upon our arrival in Kyoto was how freezing it was. Throughout our few days in Kyoto, I acquired two pairs of gloves, two hats and a scarf…and there were evenings when I ventured out wearing two pairs of pants and two sweaters. I know we complain about the lack of heat in Wellington, but we were quite unprepared for this frigid weather!

Kyoto is well known for Udon, thick noodles made of wheat flour, so we made sure to have some on our first night. We made our way to the Gion district and even spotted a few geishas scurrying into a house. The Yasaka Shrine is illuminated once it turns dark, so we ended our first, chilly evening there.

The next day we strolled through the Nishiki Market, where the streets are lined with vendors selling fish, spices, meat, and all sorts of other street food. We walked to the Ginkakuji Temple, an absolute must-see if you go to Kyoto. The Zen temple is surrounded by lush greenery and stunning views. We ended the evening with a traditional samurai dinner. The food was nothing to write home about, but Dmitriy got to swing around a samurai sword, so it seemed to be worth it.

On our last day in Kyoto, we visited the Nijo Castle, which served as the home to the shogun in the 1600s. The interior is filled with intricate details, murals and gold fixtures; the exterior has a plum grove and a cherry blossom garden.

Note to self: next time, wear matching socks.

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We went to the Kyoto International Manga Museum, which was pretty crazy. The grounds of the museum were covered with huge groups of people reading their new purchases. The museum itself was also quite crowded, the walls lined with engrossed readers.

Our final stop was to the Fushimi Inari Shrine, dedicated to Inari, the Shinto god of rice, and home to thousands of Torii gates. There are long trails leading around the grounds, lined with one Torii gate after another. While chaotic at times, particularly near the entrance, the higher you climb, the calmer things are. We didn’t have enough time to make it all the way around the shrine (it takes 2-3 hours), but you should at least go halfway up, where you’ll see some spectacular views over the city.

The history and presence of Kyoto left a lasting impression. While Osaka seemed to embody the crazy, eclectic neon nighttime persona of Japan, Kyoto was its learned, sometimes somber, sophisticated uncle.

With the help of our handy Japan Rail train pass, we were off to Hiroshima!

Osaka it to me, baby.

We’ve been dreaming about going to Japan for years now, so there was a lot of anticipation leading up to this trip. In the hopes of catching some cherry blossoms, we planned a trip at the end of March/beginning of April.

I can only describe stepping off of the plane and into Osaka as a breath of fresh air; while we loved Seoul, the pristine environment and organization was a welcome change after a weekend of (fun) chaos.

We explored Dotonbori, strolling past the famous massive mechanical crab, countless food vendors and tons of tourists. The streets were lively and the people were friendly. We ate some yakitori and stumbled into a sushi bar in an alley off of the main strip.

After venturing back into Dotonbori for breakfast the next day, we worked our way to Osaka Castle Park for our first glimpse of cherry blossoms. It was still quite cold, but the few blossoms we saw delighted us.

We ate ramen at Zundo-ya, which was, hands down, the best ramen we’ve ever consumed. After demonstrating an embarrassing lack of control where we could not stop eating, the food coma was real.

Something that needs to be discussed: Japan’s toilet game is ON POINT. Between the heated seat, high-tech bidets and privacy music, my bathroom expectations have been forever changed.

Osaka was probably our favorite place we visited on this trip, perhaps because it was where we first set foot in Japan or perhaps just because it was fabulous. We found the Japanese to be so friendly, going out of their way to offer directions or help. Osaka itself was bustling in the most spectacular way; the streets were pristine and there were vending machines with peeled apples, hot coffee and ice cream. Do you really need anything else in life?