Spring into Osaka

024372E0-4C89-4456-9F7F-78748824EE29Cherry blossom season is my favorite time of year. This year, my partner and I decided to go to Japan to view the cherry blossoms in Osaka. Unfortunately, it rained most of the weekend and the blossoms weren’t fully bloomed, but we still were able to enjoy ourselves.
A7DA0105-E1EB-46A2-99D0-248B6268E046We stayed in a hostel near Higobashi station, which turned out to be a great location. It was very close to everything that we wanted to see, so we didn’t have to venture too far away which was great considering we weren’t staying very long. After resting for a bit we decided to go get some dinner. Luckily, the ramen restaurant we wanted to go to was only two stations away.

I was worried that we would have to wait a long time because this restaurant is very popular, but we didn’t wait more than 15 minutes. It was rainy so that might’ve had something to do with it. What was interesting about this restaurant was that there wasn’t a person to take your order. We had to use a kiosk to order and pay.

 

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How to get to Zundouya from Shinsaibashi Station exit 6

Because this place is famous my expectations were very high, but once I tasted my ramen I saw why they were famous. The broth was the thickest and densest broth I’ve ever tasted. It had a deep, rich flavor and the pork slices melted in my mouth. The noodles were firm and they did not get soggy at all. Even though it wasn’t a large portion we did leave feeling very full. I thought we would be able to walk around and then get another snack just to taste some street food, but hours later we were still full.

 

The next day, on our way to the train station we saw an udon restaurant. It didn’t look special but the food looked good so we decided to give it a try. They had tempura and a special spring udon set that we decided to try. We were both pleasantly surprised at how amazing this inexpensive bowl of udon was. It was a common restaurant but they definitely put care into their food and they used quality ingredients. We liked it so much that we actually wanted to go back again, but we didn’t have time because we wanted to try as many different things as we could.

 

After breakfast we headed to Osaka Castle. This is a must see spot in Osaka and you cannot leave without seeing it. The castle is very beautiful and you can see it from Osaka Business Park Station. It’s also a beautiful spot to see the Cherry blossoms and although they weren’t fully bloomed they were still very beautiful, as was the entire park. The castle has eight floors and because the grounds are extensive I wouldn’t stay here less than three hours. You want to take in as much of the history in the museum as possible and enjoy the beautiful park.

 

When we left the castle we saw some food stalls outside of the castle walls. Each one was different but we decided to get some takoyaki and beef skewers. Even though the food wasn’t spectacular, although it was delicious, the kindness and good attitude of the street vendors made the atmosphere and food better.

For dinner we decided we would eat okonomiyaki. Osaka is known for their okonomiyaki, but my partner wanted to go to a restaurant that was known for their okonomiyaki. So we went to Ajinoya but when we saw the line we almost left. We did go at a peak time so we did have to wait for one hour, but the wait was worth it. It was the best okonomiyaki I’ve ever had and the service was great. If you aren’t in a large group you can sit at the bar in front of the grill so you get to see the cooks make the okonomiyaki. They’re very friendly and one of the cooks even posed for someone’s picture.

 

The next day, we decided to go to the coffee shop across the street from our hostel. The aunty from the shop had actually helped us find our hostel on our first night so we wanted to check out her shop. It was very cute inside but I wasn’t sure about how the coffee would taste. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The coffee was actually pretty great and it was all hand drip coffee. She gave us cream but because the coffee tasted so good we didn’t use it. We also ordered some sandwiches and again I wasn’t expecting much but they were good and kind of refreshing. The aunty seemed to enjoy working there and she put a lot of care into making the coffee and the little sandwiches. I hope I can go back there one day.

 

After breakfast we headed to a small temple near Namba station. This temple was very interesting because the Buddha statue was actually covered in moss and the temple was tucked away in a small alley. Walking by you wouldn’t even notice it was there unless you were looking for it. It was kind of surprising to see such a small temple that was peaceful and quiet in the middle of a bustling shopping area. After praying to Buddha and asking for his blessing we decided to write a wish on an Ema before we left.

 

After leaving the temple we decided to do some shopping before eating lunch. There are a lot of great shops around that area so we were able to buy some gifts for my partner’s coworkers and for ourselves. We finished up and went back to the temple because there is a great sushi restaurant right next to it. When we went inside the restaurant the atmosphere felt calm and cozy. They had sushi at every price range and they had a wide variety of different fish. Even the mid-range priced tuna tasted amazing and it melted in your mouth. The tempura wasn’t greasy and the batter was thin and crispy. Overall, I was very impressed with this restaurant.

 

90B579FD-261E-46E0-85B3-A1C2EF7945C6We had an amazing trip, despite the weather. Osaka is a beautiful city with so much more to offer than you can see in a few days. We will definitely come back soon to discover more about this city.
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Seeking the Sacred in Japan’s Temples & Shrines

7BF38602-128C-4DD2-B425-C12766238A44I love to travel. I enjoy learning about other cultures and seeing how other humans live. This is one of reasons why I decided to move to South Korea and why I’ve been to Japan twice.

Seeing the human experience and how others interpret the divine is something I especially look forward to in other countries. So I always make a point of visiting local shrines and temples. Some local traditions have been lost to colonization and time and sadly we will never know how those people lived through those traditions. However, there are some that have survived and we can see the vast richness that is part of humanity.

The first time I went to Japan I was able to visit several temples and shrines. Japan has tens of thousands of temples and shrines, so I can only speak about the ones that I have visited.

Whenever I visit a scared place I try to remember to show respect towards the divinity in that space, as well as the people who hold this place sacred. I think that it is important to remember that a religion and tradition holds special meaning to those whose cultural that it belongs. Whether or not the people practice or follow the religion they still view it as an integral part of their culture. Come into these spaces with knowledge, respect and gratitude towards the people and the divinity.

The first shrine I visited was Hōkoku-jinja Shrine (豊國神社) in the Osaka Castle Park. I was very excited to see this shrine because my friends and I hadn’t planned on visiting and we happened upon it when we were exploring around the castle. There weren’t that many people there, probably because it was getting late, so we were able to enjoy the quiet of the shrine.

The next sacred place we went to was Tōdai-ji Temple (東大寺) in Nara. However, before we could reach the temple we were greeted by many eager deer that were happy to walk alongside us searching for food. We decided to buy some food and feed the deer. They’re very used to humans and are friendly and sweet. Seeing them before arriving at the temple felt as though they were welcoming us to this place. 

When we arrived at the temple I couldn’t help but feel awe. We couldn’t see anything of the modern world and it looked as though we had been transported in time. I couldn’t hear any noise besides what was made on the temple grounds. I was thankful that the other visitors were quiet and seeking blessings as well.  We washed our hands at the spring and then we went into the temple to pray to the Great Buddha. The statue was much larger than I had anticipated and we felt small in comparison.

Afterwards, we decide to walk a little further away from the crowds and we found a shrine. I don’t remember what it was called or if it was connected to the temple, but there was a shrine gate with a path that led up the mountain. We saw a few more deer along the way and there weren’t that many people. It was very beautiful and easy to walk around without the crowds. There was also a resting area inside with fans, which we desperately needed.

The next day we ventured to Kyoto to the Monkey Park. I didn’t expect to see a shrine at the base of the mountain, but I was glad that I had an unexpected opportunity to see another sacred place. Ichitani Munakata Shrine (櫟谷宗像神社) is a small shrine that is worth seeing. There were many people climbing the mountain to see the monkeys, but no one was stopping to visit the shrine so it was empty. We couldn’t go into the shrine itself because the gates were closed, but that didn’t stop us from enjoying some peace and quiet on the shrine grounds.

Later in the day we ventured to Tenryū-ji Temple (天龍寺). This temple is right beside the bamboo forest, so we couldn’t pass by without stopping for a bit. We stayed a little longer than we had anticipated, a few hours, but there were so many different things to see that it was difficult to leave. The gardens are extensive and there are various pathways that you can walk on without being bothered by other visitors. There are many buildings and walkways leading between them that I couldn’t resist walking on. Walking were others who have dedicated their lives to their path have walked felt very sacred. I tried to connect to the energy of the place and feel what they have felt and I realized that even though they lived in a serene environment they were human like me. It’s very comforting to know that even those who I see as spiritually evolved go through the same human emotions that I do. I was able to leave this temple with a full heart and ready to see what else this land had to offer.

Yasaka Shrine (八坂神社) is another famous shrine in Kyoto. We didn’t enjoy this one as much because it was so hot that we were literally running underneath the shade whenever we had the chance, but this shrine was gorgeous. It was very crowded and a little difficult to see some parts of the shrine without people standing in the way, but it was still worth it to go.

We walked a little further and we saw a few unoccupied areas and that is when stumbled about the best rickshaw driver ever. Not only did he give us a rickshaw ride, but he also told us about the history of the area. He gave us a break from walking and an unexpected guided tour. May he be blessed.

That ride led us to our last temple that we visited, Kiyomizu-dera Temple (清水寺). Because the temple was under some construction we couldn’t go through certain areas, but there was still so much to see. There were various sized Buddha statues lining the pathway and plenty of shade from the sun. The most interesting part of this temple is the spring that offers health, longevity and success in studies to those who drink from it. There were many people lined up that wanted to drink from the spring and touch the water. I hope those people received the blessings that they sought.

Each sacred site gave me different feelings and perspective, but what I felt from each of them was that while each path may be different we are all striving towards oneness with the divine.