DIY Vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Finally after more than a month of research and planning, we embarked on a DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka, with a side trip to visit Shirakawa-go in Gifu prefecture. This was our first visit to mainland Japan on a free-independent-traveler (FIT) leisurely pace utilising the impressive and superb Japanese transportation network, after gaining experience from a self-driven vacation to Okinawa 2 years back.

Just 5-6 years ago, visiting Japan without tour guide would have been a daunting task in view of the language barrier. With Japan getting ever more traveller-friendly, modern technologies like GPS, Google Translate App on Smartphone and tips from various online travelogues, enjoying a trip here is much easier. The itineraries and planning in this article are suitable for families with kids as well as couples.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

Brief insights on Kyoto, Osaka and Takayama.

Osaka is the 3rd largest city with a population of 2.67m while Kyoto, is in 8th position with 1.47m. Kyoto does not have her own airport and is accessed via Kansai International Airport (KIX) for international travellers. In Osaka, you’ll find an interesting mix of cultural activities, modern architecture and vibrant nightlife while Kyoto is a more touristy destination and a cultural city. This is why accommodation and food tend to be more expensive here. Takayama, on the other hand, is a city in the mountainous Hida region of Gifu Prefecture and the gateway to the UNESCO World Heritage village of Shirakawago.

Our Trip Route and Travel Tips

Our 9 days trip flow was taking a Vietnam Airlines flight from Changi Airport to Kansai International Airport (KIX) in Osaka, where we headed straight to Kyoto upon arrival, then driving to Shirakawago via rented car, staying a night at Takayama before returning to Osaka for the final leg of the trip. Do note that sunset time in winter is about quarter after 5pm, so you have relatively shorter daylight hours to visit attractions. A slightly longer trip would be advisable to cover more ground on a more leisurely pace. The following are some useful tips for the DIY trip.

  • Tip #01 – Do sign up with YouTrip to enjoy the best exchange rate, security and convenient payment mode. But do keep cash ready for daily expenses.
  • Tip #02 – Do download Google Translate app in your smartphone. Its indispensable especially when reading menu or voice translation. There many useful apps for trains schedule or even restaurants recommendation. But personally, Google Maps is the most useful to me. Train, food, car parks, etc, all you need in one free platform.
  • Tip #03 – You will need an international driving license which can be applied online with AA Singapore. But your local driving license will still be needed for verification by the rental car company. Please retain the receipt when pumping petrol as the rental car company may ask for the latest receipt when you return the car. Driving in Japan are generally safe as most drivers are law-abiding and traffic rules are similar to Singapore and cars are right-hand drive.
  • Tip #04 – A Suica Card which you can buy from Changi Recommends is absolutely important for travelling on the Japanese transportation network like trains and buses.
  • Tip #5 – If DIY is too much of a hassle, do contact Jetabout Holidays as the agency will fully handle your itineraries planning and bookings, saving you valuable time and effort. Believe me, I know, cause it took me almost a month of researching just to firm up an adventure to places we have never visit before.

Day #01

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

My “photo ritual” which I captured my daughters on the luggage trolley being pushed by my wife. I have been doing this for the last decade and lining up the pictures, you can really see your children growing up.

Kansai International Airport (KIX) , Osaka

We touched down at Kansai International Airport T1 after a red-eyed 8.5hrs flight on Vietnam Airline (with a 2hrs transit at Ho Chi Minh Airport). The weather was a lovely chilly 4°C in the early morning.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

We headed to Kyoto via the comfortable Airport Limousine Bus, which took only a relaxed 1-hour ride. We almost had the entire bus to ourselves as only 7 out of the 40 seats were occupied during that time. Tickets for the buses can purchased via the ticket machines located at the bus bays. Alternatively, you can purchase online via kkday for a slight discount. But as the kkday airport counter opens only at 8.30am to redeem the tickets, you will have to wait as the morning flight touches down shortly after 7am. Immigration efficient processing, took only about 20min and our Singapore biometric passports are accepted by the airport e-Gate system.

Nishiki Market – The Kitchen of Kyoto

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

We left our luggage at our hotel as we arrived early and proceeded to visit our 1st venue – The Nishiki Market- Kyoto’s largest traditional food market. While modern food stalls and curio shops have moved in, there are still ample traditional shops to give you a glimpse of what a traditional shotengai (shopping street) must have looked like.

A seafood vendor, many of such stalls at the market. Choose the stall that appeals to you as prices are pretty similar throughout the market.

Stall owner preparing our 1st order of the trip – a sashimi platter. Patronising the stall “entitled” me to stand at the best spot for a picture. 

Really fresh seafood according to my girls as I don’t really have the stomach for raw seafood. Do be aware there is a “no eating while walking” advisory to improve visitors’ experience. Diners can either eat their purchases at the shops interior if available or by the side lanes.

A Tamagoyaki (layered egg omelette) chef skillfully rolling his masterpieces during cooking. The rectangular pan used to cook the omelette are called makiyakinabe or tamagoyakiki.

You will notice water-filled basins called chōzubachi at the Nishiki Tenmanju Shrine, which are used for washing hands and mouth to cleanse ourselves before entering the main Shinto shrine.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

The Tenmangu Shrine with the photogenic overhead lanterns is located at the east end of Nishiki Market and dedicated to the Shinto god of learning. 

Ichiran – Solo-dining concept.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

Our first lunch of the trip at the popular Ichiran, the solo-dining concept diner. We had planned to visit the unique black burnt ramen Gogyo Ramen but this renowned eatery will do just fine.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

Our orders came from behind the bamboo screen. The onsen egg came unpeeled so you can enjoy the tactile feel of de-shelling the egg. But should the shell sticks to the egg, the staff will replace with another at no cost. The tap at the left dispenses cool complimentary drinking water.

Gachapon – Capsule toy-vending culture

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

Gashapon (also called gachapon) are a variety of vending machine-dispensed capsule toys popular all over Japan. “Gashapon” is onomatopoeic from the two sounds “gasha” (or “gacha”) for the hand-cranking action of a toy-vending machine, and “pon” for the toy capsule landing in the collection tray. Usually at 200¥ (S$2.20) per try.

Mimaru Kyoto Station – Serviced Apartment

The room ergonomics and aesthetics were spot-on with switches simply where you need them to be and the beds are very comfortable and ample charging points throughout.

Perfect for a family of 4. I will not hesitate to stay here again should we visit Kyoto again or their chains elsewhere in Japan. It operates as a serviced apartment concept so housekeeping is chargeable. But towels are replaced and trash cleared daily with compliments.

Gion – Kyoto’s most famous Geisha district

A nap-session after checking in the hotel meant that we visited Gion slightly late. We did not walked around much except exploring a few lanes among the conserved heritage houses where we managed to see a few geisha scampering about for their appointment but was unable to shoot any pics as it was too dark.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

The Food Hall was where we had a superb 70min eat-all-you -can Beef shabu shabu at Tajimaya (level 7), with 4 servings of beef and pork (that’s 8 plates of relatively thick sliced meat). It was eating non-stop and the meal cost about 12,500¥ (S$160) for the four of us.

After dinner, a stroll by the Kamo River where the riverbanks are popular walking trails for residents and tourists. In summer, restaurants open balconies looking out to the river. There are pathways running alongside the river on which you can walk along the river and some stepping stones that cross the river. 

Day #2

Arashimaya Bamboo Grove – Enchanted Lane

On Day 2 morning, I woke up early at 6.30am to ensure my family gets ready for our visit to the Arashimaya Bamboo Grove, which took about 45min train ride in the morning peak hour. We managed to arrive shortly after 8am, before the main crowd arriving here by 9am, which would make any chance of enjoying the place in serene comfort impossible.

It a rare treat to be able to enjoy the calm beauty of the grove bathed in the gorgeous morning sun. In fact, the sound of the wind in this bamboo forest has been voted as one of “one hundred must-be-preserved sounds of Japan” by the Japanese government.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

We almost had the entire part of the bamboo grove to ourselves as the crowd was still sparse then. But no picture can adequately capture the feel of standing in the midst of this ethereal bamboo grove.

The last colour of autumn. We were blessed to be able to see the remnants of a season, soon to be shed.

By 9am , the first phase of the early crowd showed up and soon the people on the bamboo path outnumbered the bamboo.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

My daughter buying couple of lucky charms from the Nonomiya Shrine, which you can’t missed as it is near the entrance to the bamboo grove. The main deity in this shrine is Nonomiya or the Goddess of the Sun and it is said that she answers to prayers for health and wisdom.

I am always fascinated by Japanese packaging and attention to aesthetics.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Out of the bamboo forest, one of the snack stalls along the road outside the attraction, we just had to buy delicious mochi from this stall lady clad in panda costume, who won us over with her friendliness and effort.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

This stall named Kyozuan sells rich soft-serve ice cream which will not drop even if you turned it upside down. The ingredients of the ice cream include Arashiyama soybeans which is cultivated locally with no pesticide and safe even for consumption by babies.

Along the venue, you will see several 1-man rickshaws waiting for customers. It’s ideal especially if you have limited time but want to get around as much as possible without getting lost. 

Our train to the next attraction at the iconic golden temple Kinkaku-ji, about 45min away with bus transfer at the Emmachi Station. Everything working like clock-work here.

Kinkakuji – Golden Pavilion

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

We arrived at the iconic Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion) which top two floors are totally covered in gold leaf. The place was very crowded, as in other attractions. But the layout of the garden is such that you can have a good photo session. Do take note no tripod is allowed at this attraction.

At the top of the shrine, you will see the Golden Phoenix which represents divine power sent from the heavens to the Empress. If a phoenix was used to decorate a house, it symbolized loyalty and honesty were in the people that lived there. Alternatively, phoenix only stays when the ruler is benevolent and corruption-free.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The reflection of the temple trusses on the wavy lake surface makes for a nice mood shot.

Fushimi Inari Taisha – Vermilion Torii Gates

After about 50min of train ride from Kinkaku-ji, we arrived at another landmark attraction, the Fushimi Inari Taisha, with torii gates shrine. The venue is very accessible as the train station exits directly to the entrance.

As with all popular attractions in Kyoto, it’s bustling with visitors. One tip shoot picture without the crowd is to go higher up the torii gates path. But to have the characters on the torii gates, you need to turn around and look back as the inscribed characters faces uphill. There are more than 10,000 torii gates along the paths.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

When you shoot pictures of the torii gates going uphill, you won’t see the characters inscribed on the pillars. Each gate has been donated by a company or organization giving thanks for their prosperity and in hope of good fortune in the future.

After about a 30-45 minute trek, we reached the Yotsutsuji intersection about half way up the mountain. Some nice views over Kyoto can be enjoyed and the trail splits into a circular route to the summit. Most visitors only venture to this spot as the trails do not offer much variation thereafter with decreasing gates density.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

After descending from hill, along the way to the train station at the main entrance, many shops and pop-up stalls are set up to offer snacks and refreshments.

Dinner @Yakiniku Hiro (Hachijoguchi Store)

Our day 2 dinner venue was just a 7 min stroll from our hotel. Certainly one of the best beef yakiniku (grilled meat) we had on the trip. The restaurant is a 2-storey eatery where the main crowd is at ground level.

A selection of some the best wagyu beef of Japan, at reasonable price.

Only with the freshest beef can you have raw beef sashimi. My fussy eater daughters still reminisces about this dish long after the trip.

Day #3

Nara Deer Park – A ‘Free-range’ Deer Sanctuary

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

We reached Nara station, after an hour train ride from Kyoto Station. A quick 10min bus shuttle brought us to Nara Park.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

The 1st thing we did was to buy the biscuits to feed the deer. At 200¥ (S$2.50) per pack of 10 pieces, that’s pretty expensive biscuit. There is no entry fee to the park as the entire city is like a park, with the deer roaming freely. We end up “investing” almost 2000¥ (S$25) on biscuits just feeding and coaxing the deer to be our ‘models’.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

The deer are a protected national treasure. Nara is a compact city with first-rate sights, including the famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha) at Todai-ji Temple and Kasuga-Taisha Shrine. But its the deer that will keep you happy for the entire visit and imprint itself on your memories of Nara.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

The deer can get aggressive as this pair showed, suddenly fighting over biscuits, right in front of my shocked wife and daughter.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

As fast as they fought (about 30s), they made up and “kiss” each other.

A herd of deer resting at the park entrance area. Nara-koen Park (koen is the Japanese word for park) is the expanse of trees and open spaces that extends east from Downtown Nara and Naramachi, covering 660 hectares. 

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

We were blessed to have deer coming to pose with us at various parts of the park, perhaps our “investment” in biscuits helped plenty.

Todaiji Temple

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

The famous Daibutsu (Great Buddha), Todai-ji Temple in the background. It’s awe-inspiring and one of Nara’s must-see attractions. But we did not enter the temple as we have lunch plan and Japan’s fastest mochi pounders on our mind. 

Tempura @Tendon Makino Narahigashi

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

As we stroll along Higashimuki Shopping Street, the dining ambience and queue at Tendon Makino Narahigashi easily convinced us this is the place to dine. A check with online reviews listed this restaurant as the top-rated tempura tendon restaurant in Nara.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The staff preparing all our order with a professional flair. We were surprised to observe all the staff in the diner are ladies. In Japan male dominated restaurant scene, this is a rarity.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Our tendon set meal was awesome with the tempura sauce lifting the whole dish, with every item cooked to perfection. My only grouse was that we smell like tempura after that as the cooking odor permeated our clothing.

Japan Fastest Mochi Pounders @ Nakatanidou

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

We finally had the chance to watch up-close, the renowned mochi pounders making their delicious Yomogi mochi. The master kneading the mochi in the picture is Mitsuo Nakatani, having helmed the shop for almost 30 years. Do check out the video below by Great Big Story©  .

Nakatanidou has achieved the status of a local tourism icon in Nara city. You just had to watch the exciting quick-paced mochi-pounding session.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The shop is located at 630-8217, 29 Hashimoto-cho, Nara-shi. A 5-7 minute walk from Kintetsu Nara Station and always see brisk business.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The freshly-made Yomogi mochi was oishi ! Yomogi is a Japanese herb, called “Japanese Mugwort” in English. Nakatanidou Yomogi Mochi is made from good quality glutinous rice, azuki beans, roasted soy flour and Japanese mugwort. A great snack at 150¥ (S$1.70) a piece.

Day #4

Shirakawago – a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Day 4 saw us waking up really early, collecting our rental car from Toyota- Rent-A-Car near our hotel and drove about 3.5hrs journey to the Shirakawa village 280km away, for the UNESCO Heritage Site of Shirakawa-go.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

We arrived about shortly passed noon and checked out the town information center, where a scale model of a heritage house is displayed for visitors to understand the history better. 

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Ogimachi – Shirakawa-go’s largest village and main attraction, viewed from atop at the Tenshukaku Observatory. It takes a 5min bus ride up from the pick-up point and cost 200¥/way. There is also another walking path but it takes a strenuous 15-20min climb. Certainly not advisable as it rained during our visit. The impressive feel of the village is only apparent when viewed from this vantage point. The walk around the village which takes about 2-3 hours.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Gassho-zukuri means “constructed like hands in prayer”, as the farmhouses’ angled thatched roofs resemble the hands of Buddhist monks held together in prayer. The architectural style developed over many generations and is designed to withstand the heavy snowfall during winter. The roofs, made without nails, provided a large attic space used for cultivating silkworms. (excerpts Japan guide-com).

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

We were treated to an amazing view with the forest getting whiter and frosty from the drizzle, even as we looked on. It was greenish when we arrived just couple of hours earlier. 

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

What better way to wrap up our memory of the beautiful village with a bowl of delicious Hida beef ramen at the village Irori Restaurant. You should try too, when you are at Shirakawa-go.

Ryokan Murayama @Takayama

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

After leaving Shirakawago, we drove immediately to our accommodation for the night at the Ryokan Murayama. We chose this traditional ryokan for its kaiseki, location, family room with attached washroom and reasonable price. Not luxury grade but nice cosy ambience nonetheless.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Our futons all laid out nicely in the cosy room on tatami mat. This would be our kids 1st experience in a ryokan, sleeping under futons on tatami.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The highlight of the night – a kaiseki dinner – an experience always looked forward to in a ryokan stay. Japanese usually practise the 3-times onsen “ritual”, once before meal, once after meal and another in morning before breakfast. We only soaked once before dinner and fell asleep after dinner.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Our fave dish of the kaiseki, the Hida Beef. Japan has a reputation for magnificently tender and high-quality domestic wagyu beef. There are many delicious varieties of wagyu but Gifu prefecture’s local Hida beef from Takayama is considered one of the very best.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The river fish being grilled is Ayu Fish from the Maze river. Ayu is the most popular freshwater fish in Japan and is considered a delicacy, especially when it reaches its peak season in the summer. The fish which is highly sought-after for its “watermelon-like” fragrance, feeds only on moss growing at riverbed rocks. The fish can only live in exceptionally clean streams is proof of how pristine the river and the surrounding forest are. It is grilled in fireplace called irori, which are getting rare in modern Japan.

Day #5

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

I woke up to a beautiful chilly morning and saw the gorgeous Japanese Toyama alpine range from the room. My whole family was still sound asleep. I quickly dressed up to go to a better location to shoot the mountain peaks as the view from the room was blocked by cables.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The cosy town of Takayama with the view of the mountain peaks of the Toyama range. Takayama is the gateway to the highest mountains in the Honshu island and all of Japan. The three mountain ranges (Hida, Kiso and Akaishi) also house the longest and deepest gorge in the country, six volcanoes and two lava plateaus. The natural beauty of the range has earned it the title of the “sacred highland.”

Miyagawa Morning Market

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

We took a short 5min drive to the Miyagawa Morning Market, along the Miyagawa River in the old town. It opens daily from 7am (8am in winter) to noon. At the Miyagawa market, sixty shops and stalls are set up in about 350 meters from Kaji-bashi Bridge to Yayoi-bashi Bridge along the Miyagawa River in the town centre. The stalls on river side sell vegetables, fruits, pickles and spices while shops on the other side sell Japanese sweets and crafts. 

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The pristine Miyagawa River is officially classified as a Class 1 river by the Japanese government and is one of four Class 1 rivers and the longest among these four that flow solely through the Mie Prefecture.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

You can see Japanese Spotted Bill Ducks on the river, with friendly orange koi fish below the pristine river, an attraction by itself.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

This Mochi stall owner was very friendly and humble. We bought 2, loved it so much that we return to buy 4 more to eat along our drive to Osaka. He gave us a 5th mochi with compliments.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Look at that gorgeous Hida beef sushi that simply melts in the mouth. I had come across others commenting “move over wagyu, Hida is the best”. This is certainly erroneous. Hida Beef is one of the highly-graded wagyu, which refers to Japanese beef and is any of four Japanese unique pure-bred cattle. Wagyu is a classification, not a type of beef.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The sight of steaming hot food always attracts me. This stall sells Hida Beef Bun, which is very popular with spicy or non-spicy version.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The Hida beef bun was so memorable. My daughter is a ‘purist”, she requested for the non-spicy to better gauge the original taste of the fillings.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Some Ichii Itto-bori wooden carvings to bring home? Ichii carvings are made only from wood of ichii (Japanese yew), the prefectural tree of Gifu.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

A Takoyaki stall always attracts a good flow of customers. Small eats and those that can be taken away are the most appealing to tourists.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The drive from Takayama to Osaka was smooth but the only grouse i have was the very expensive toll fees. From exit toll fee at Osaka it was 6930¥ (S$87), a short few kilometres drive to another toll gate came to 540¥(S$6.80) and then another 1320¥ (S$16.50), for a short drive into Osaka centre. The fee from Kyoto to Shirakawago was 6720¥ (S$84). But at least we get to enjoy the lovely sunset as we drove into Osaka.

Dotonbori – The Bright Heart of Osaka

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

After settling in our lodging and returning the rental car, we hit the neon lights of Dotonburi, in search of the iconic Glico Man – the one sign that has endured the longest, for over 70 years. While the 33m sign at the Ebusu-bashi bridge is a simple graphic with an athlete in a victory pose looks somewhat out of place among the slick modern advertising that surrounds it, still has lasting popularity among the locals and international visitors, who congregate here to celebrate “triumphs”.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Another landmark signboard is the moving giant crab of Kanidouraku Dotonbori-Honten. It is well known for its huge range of delicious crab dishes. Definitely a crab-lovers heaven.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

One thing that most visitors to Dotonbori will surely not forget – the immense crowd. It’s like the whole of Osaka residents taking turns to stream through this spectacular place, waves after waves.

Day #6

Kuromon Ichiba Market – Osaka’s Kitchen

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Day 6 provided a little respite as we woke up a little later, so we can better tackle the day’s adventures ahead. Our 1st activity was to visit the Kuromon Market, just a 13min train ride from our lodging. Kuromon Ichiba is a bustling covered market which extends about 580 meters in Osaka’s Chuo Ward. Nicknamed “Osaka’s Kitchen” because both local homeowners and restaurant chefs get their supplies here, the market is famous for its fresh seafood and a wide range of eats.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

This family-run food stall sells Imagayaki and a few other items like Okonomiyaki, a savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients in a wheat-flour-based batter.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

I noticed torch-cooking has firmly gained popularity in the cooking scene. It’s good to know that propane and butane are pure alkanes, which don’t produce anything nasty when burned. The complex molecules you get from heating the food itself have more potential for being harmful than the combustion products of a propane butane torch.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

A giant snow crab claw, very fresh and delicious. This claw goes for 3000¥ (S$37.70).

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Certain marine leeches deposit egg cases onto the outer surfaces of large crabs, such as snow crabs, in order to ensure dispersal and protection for the young leeches. But the leeches or egg cases do not penetrate the shell surfaces. It is ok to eat the King crab and snow crab legs that looked dirty with blemishes as black spots or barnacles usually signify more meat. A bright red, unblemished crab shell means the crab has recently shed its shell and has less meat.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Our “gamble with death” – Fugu, Japanese pufferfish, is notorious for the highly toxic poison (tetrodotoxin) contained in its organs. Also known as “fugusashi” or “tessa”, fugu sashimi is a usual way to eat Japanese pufferfish. We lived to tell the tale and lost 1280¥ (S$16) for this plate.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

After the seafood session, we refreshed our palate with strawberry encrusted with crystalised sugar. The tart sweetness and the crackling sugar coating make it a memorable snack.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

En route to our next attraction – Osaka Castle, we have to pass by the impressive Osaka NHK Broadcasting Center. NHK is Japan’s only public television and radio broadcaster.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Osaka Castle is one of Japan’s most famous landmarks and it played a major role in the unification of Japan during the sixteenth century of the Azuchi-Momoyama period. (Wiki)

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

A licensed busker at the castle compound. This musician is pretty good with his traditional instruments and his piped instrument like an Australian Didgeridoo. The busking talent here are of excellent quality as they are vetted before being awarded their license.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Another busker from Spain. This performer certainly know how to work his audience. Excellent comedian and a juggling artist.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Spotted a well-trained Shiba Inu, among the garden at the castle ground. Its entrepreneurial owner dressed it up and charges a fee for visitors wishing to have a picture with it.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Then its time for lunch, till now there isn’t a meal we hated. Even this mini hotpot restaurant which we chanced upon at the train station is just superb.

Den Den Town – Osaka’s Akihabara

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Our final venue for the day, Den Den Town, tucked away in southern Osaka. Its an “eDestination” popular with Japanese and foreign techies alike. Home to a wide range of shops that hawk wide variety from computers, cameras, anime and manga to power tools and white goods. Den Den Town runs along Sakaisuji Avenue in the Nipponbashi district. It is Osaka’s equivalent of Tokyo’s Akihabara.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Don’t this picture reminds you of The Matrix ? Rolls after rolls of manga and anime toys ‘encapsulated’ in the display cabinets awaiting its new owners. We visited this part of the town as my elder daughter is an avid fan of anime and manga series.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

I really do not know what’s this character. A check with Google tells me he’s Goku, who made his 1st anime appearance in Dragon Ball (1986). The creators of Naruto, One Piece and many other manga/anime have openly admitted that Goku heavily influenced their stories and character designs.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Locals immersed in gaming after work. There’s even a Japanese word for ‘geek culture’ – known as ‘otaku’ and covers everything from gaming to the crazy, wacky outfits of Harajuku’s cosplayers.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

There is even a “toy-gun” shop in the strict-controlled Japan. Weapon enthusiasts can check out the one and only Gun Shop Gurkha. The airsoft gun won’t kill anyone here but you can buy model guns, gas guns, electric guns, and other accessories for playing survival games. Just don’t attempt to bring back to Singapore though as it is prohibited.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Many visitors will be intrigued by the mini-cars in Japan. After World War II, Japan was devastated with many Japanese in those days having only money to purchase a motorcycle but could not afford to buy a proper car. The “Kei” car industry was introduced to jumpstart the automotive industry and as a transportation means for small businesses. 

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

After Den Den Town, we head back to Dotonbori for our 2nd night stroll as the 1st night is not quite enough. I think there is little need for street lights here as the neon signs are bright enough.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

This Ichiran branch at Dotonbori offers better amenities, like winter jackets hangers and the partition can be swiveled away to make it a couple or family dining affair.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

I waited patiently for the bamboo screen to open up to see the staff serving my order. The kitchen frantic work pace can be heard from the cubicle.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

One of the nicest savoury-sweet snacks at Dotonbori, the signboard says ‘Wan Guo Tang” in Kanji. You can’t miss it at the left as you walk towards the Glico Man.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Visitors who just arrived here from overseas will certainly be overwhelmed by the immense crowd. But then, what’s Dotonbori without the crowd? 

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Crossing the roads across Shinsabashi to Dotonbori, you can get to shoot panning shots of cars across the traffic crossings. What better than the iconic Toyota Crown taxi? It has disappeared from Singapore road since 2014 as the taxis have been phased out because they could not meet the stricter Euro IV emission diesel standards.

Day #7

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

At day #7, we visit the Kuromon Ichiba Market once more, as we could only cover a small section during our 1st visit. Our elder daughter elected to sleep in as she was exhausted.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

The Kuromon Ichiba Market, we have not got tired of it yet. Lots more to discover but guess we got used to the crowds by now. 

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

If you are a fan of sushi, this market will fully satisfy you.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Our 1st dish of the morning- Oden. This hearty Japanese one-pot dish is perfect for cold weather. It has a variety of ingredients such as daikon radish, konnyaku, atsuage (deep fried tofu), beef sinew, eggs and varieties of fish cakes in a subtly flavoured soup.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

A pair of “happy” Fugu (puffer fish) on the ice tray. The restaurant preparation of fugu is strictly controlled by law in Japan and only chefs who have qualified after three or more years of rigorous training are allowed to prepare the fish.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

BBQ pineapple with caramelised sugar. Tart, sweet, sour and that crackling caramelised sugar makes for an interesting snack.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

My wife receiving her order with what looked more like a crab sticks & grilled beef skewers Presentation Ceremony.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

My nose brought me to the best Japanese Beef Curry I ever tried so far, at New Daruni, manned by an old couple who founded the shop since 1947. The aromatic curry has just the right amount of spices and addictive. Curry lovers will really enjoy the dishes here. Sachets of the pre-mixed spices can be bought home.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

My unforgettable bowl of Japanese Curry Udon (650¥/ S$7.50). I will come back to Osaka just for this dish. They also serves beef, pork cutlet and shrimp curry.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

You will know a popular stall when you see one. Just like this shop selling salmon and tuna sashimi on rice.

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

Certainly worth the queuing, the Salmon & Ikura or Tuna & Ikura combination. Reasonably priced at 500 ¥/ S$5.70 per bowl.

Umeda Sky Building – City and sunset view

Our final attraction visit for the trip was The Umeda Sky Building (173m).A spectacular high-rise building in the Kita district of Osaka, near Osaka and Umeda Stations.

Souvenir outlet at the tower, there is no escaping. Basement, street level, up in the sky. Resistance is futile. 

The Sky 40 Cafe has one of the best viewing ambience in the city, the premium choice for sunset lovers.

Beautiful sunset and view of the Yodogawa river running to the sea
at Osaka Bay.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

A perfect end to a great trip, its been a great vacation with more to come.

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

The futuristic tunnel effect when we descend to the exit via the escalator, its like being teleported to ‘space’.

Day #8

Day 8 is basically a return-home phase as we make our way early to Kansai Airport via taxi. The ride cost 12,000 / S$138 for a 45min journey. We could have took an airport limousine bus service to save some money but with all that luggage and sleepy kids, it’s money well-spent.

Airline to Japan

Our plane waiting for us at the tarmac, a Vietnam Airlines Airbus A350-900. 

DIY vacation to Kyoto and Osaka

The cabin was cosy, in-flight entertainment was good and for once, i actually finished all the meals. Leg room was very good and the seats comfy. For the price of about S$600+/person, its actually quite a bargain. 

Conclusion

Family vacation Kyoto Osaka

I like to describe this DIY family vacation to Kyoto and Osaka as a ‘training DIY” adventure that will see us planning similar trips to other parts of Japan. The country is well-connected with excellent infrastructure and with immensely helpful Smartphone apps, it just got even more travel-friendly. Technology has certainly changed the way we travel, releasing freedom back into our own hands and the fun in vacation.

Thanks for coming along the pixels journey. For other self-drive adventures, do check out my other travelogues here. P.S – All pictures used in this blogs are all rights reserved and copyrighted to Jensen Chua Photography. 

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