Japan! My initial impressions upon arriving were positive, it felt good to be in a new and interesting culture again. I also had to adapt to the temperature a bit, I think I was the only person in all of Osaka wearing shorts. When I landed in Kuala Lumpur at 3am it was 27c, in Osaka at 3pm it was 7c! I got to my hostel, which seemed in a quiet area but well connected, being right by a train station. Tired from the overnight flight I had some sushi before getting an early night.
Osaka isn’t supposed to be the prettiest of places to visit in Japan, but I still found plenty to see and do so other cities can only be even better. I walked through the city streets to Shitennoji temple and then on to Osaka Castle. The grounds around the castle were beautiful and although it was too early for the sakura there were plenty of other blossoming trees in the gardens, framing views up towards the reconstructed castle. Inside were displays detailing the history of the area and the top floor offered fantastic views of the city in all directions. Nearby was also another history museum which was somewhat interesting but didn’t have much detailed information in English.
Exploring the many shopping streets gave a better impression of the busier side of the city, loud and bright. I actually felt it snow lightly for a brief time, so what better place to go to warm up than… a cat cafe. Yes, a cafe, with cats. You pay to spend an hour with the furry felines with drinks being an afterthought really. It sounds ridiculous but it was warm and relaxing and ideal for any cat-lovers, with many cats of different shapes and sizes just roaming around to be stroked. Apparently the idea started in Japan but there are now many opening up around the world!
In the evening I managed to find a bar catering for gamer geeks, a tiny place on a side street but filled with every games console possible from the original NES through to Xbox 360 and with the bar lined with hundreds of games ready to play freely. The décor and cocktail names were all game inspired in one way or another and there was some pretty cool Mario themed artwork too. A place like this obviously only appeals to certain people but for me it was a great place to find.
For a contrasting day trip out of the bustling city I travelled by train to the mountains and on to Koyasan. Founded in the 9th century as a Buddhist retreat it is a small town filled with temples and spiritual feeling. The first amazing thing though was the snow! It was a clear sunny day but there was still perhaps 3-4cm of snow covering the ground and roofs, which really added to the atmosphere of the place. I found it all extremely peaceful and after looking around the various temples and shrines I took a walk through the forest, which is also home to over 200,000 gravestones and monuments, quite a magical place.
Back in Osaka I spent more time exploring, visited Tennoji Park and Zoo and went to the top of the Umeda Sky Building after dusk for some good night views of the city surroundings. Besides eating a lot of sushi I also tried a local speciality, takoyaki, which is some sort of dumpling batter made into balls with squid in the middle, very nice too. I had made the decision to take overnight buses between cities to save money and also not waste days travelling, so I left Osaka nearing midnight on towards Hiroshima.