Published: October 8th 2010October 6th 2010
Fantastic buffet breakfast at the hotel, combining Western food (eggs, bacon, toast, etc.) with Japanese (noodles, sushi, various tofu, rice, etc.), as well as fruit. Met in the lobby and boarded the tour bus. The airport is an artificial island, so first we crossed an impressive bridge/causeway to the mainland, then on to Osaka downtown.
Osaka is a big city of 2.5 million, the 3rd largest in Japan, very crowded and lots of traffic. However, everything is incredibly orderly and calm despite the frenetic activity. The cleanliness of the city is amazing. Even the highways look like they're swept daily. The transportation system operates on several vertical levels, with highways and trains whizzing above and below and sometimes even underground. Elaborate parabolic shaped sound barriers minimize the noise. The signage is very clear, usually with English alongside the Japanese. Outside the downtown, houses are crowded so closely together that you could easily walk across the rooftops. Many private gardens as well wherever there is room. Downtown is a forest of skyscrapers, many of striking design. You see many names we know well, such as Toyota, Mazda, Nintendo, Sony.
Our guide Kiko provided information about the city as we drove. At the heart of the downtown is a samurai castle originally built in the 12th century, many times destroyed and reconstructed, most recently restored in 1931. It was a long walk among pretty gardens to get there from the parking lot. The castle is a large complex, with sloped stone walls surrounded by a large moat. The main building has 8 floors, each slightly smaller than the one below. At the top is a great view of the city stretching as far as the eye can see in every direction. Exhibits on each floor explain the history of the building and showcase examples of samurai armor and weaponry.
We returned to the bus and drove to a restaurant for lunch. The restaurant, with a rabbit theme, was traditional Japanese style, with individual rooms separated by sliding walls and rows of low tables. The food was exquisite, starting with a round bento box with many different exotic items, followed by udon soup, tempura shrimp and vegetables, and a jellied fruit dessert. Delicious.
Back on the bus and off to Kyoto, only a half hour away and separated from Osaka by a low area with rice paddies. There we visited one of the most famous Buddhist temples, actually a series of temples and shrines spread over a hilled mountain side. To get there, you walk up a long winding street lined with shops Each structure is unique and constructed with great craftsmanship and esthetic sensitivity. Many different spots where one can pray or wish for good fortune by performing a simple task, such as striking a bowl, drinking sacred water or walking with eyes closed between two stone monuments. The main Buddha is reputedly one of the largest of its kind, made mostly of gold. To enter this shrine, you must remove your shoes and refrain from photography. It is obvious from the throngs of devoted people, many of them young, including girls dressed in elaborate kimonos, that buddism is alive and well here.
After touring the temple, we followed a supplied map to get to the restaurant for supper along narrow cobbled streets with many shops. The Oriental Garden is a large complex of several buildings, beautifully appointed with running water structures and subdued lighting. We were treated to yet another incredible meal, the highlight of which was Kobe beef with an enormous and perfect scallop. Unlimited beverages. We were entertained by apprentice geishas (maiko) about 16 years old who posed, sang and danced, and answered questions about their profession (interpreted by Kiko).
After supper a long and very quiet bus ride back to our hotel at Osaka airport. We are instructed to have all our bags packed and ready to go by 8 am tomorrow morning.