72 Hours in Osaka & Kyoto

Arriving back in Japan was actually kind of great because we had a full week to navigate our way through the country at a relaxed pace. We had a few meals and activities booked and a few things we were really hoping would work out in our favor, but other than that, we were pretty free and flexible to do what we wanted.
Seeing family in Korea was great but I was kind of ready to sort of hurry our way through Japan because it was the last bit before we could get home and see George Michael. Don't get me wrong, I totally love being on holiday but it's always bittersweet to leave him behind and this was a particularly long trip so it was extra painful.

We flew from Incheon to Osaka via Asiana and it was pretty awesome. The seats were super roomy and comfortable, the food was so good (we got seasoned beef with vegetables and sticky rice that you could mix together like bibimbap), and the flight attendants were really sweet. Once we landed, we hopped on a train from the airport headed to Kyoto.
During the train ride, I noticed that there were rice paddies mixed into all sorts of neighborhoods, including urban areas, suburban, and industrial.
M picked this hotel because it was just a five minute walk from Kyoto Station. We paid ¥30,200 ($280 USD) for three nights. I thought it was a great price. The room was cramped, but I think that's just how hotels in cities are in general so not a big deal. One of the awesome aspects of this hotel was the amenities bar in the lobby where you could pick up a loofah or sunscreen or even a hair clip as well as the pillow bar. If the pillows in your room aren't comfortable to you, you can go and check out the other pillow options and the staff will accommodate you.
After we checked in and dropped off our bags, we went out for a little walk to stretch our legs, explore a bit, and to find dinner. We walked past the Kyoto Tower and then headed eastward.
Something I found really interesting about Japan was that its citizens are all stringent rule followers. We found that at traffic intersections with pedestrian lights, even if there were absolutely no cars in sight, people still waited for the light to change before crossing the street. I also fell in love with these diagonal pedestrian crossings.
We decided to get some katsu curry for dinner and headed to this chain restaurant that's so delicious and popular, it's also in the States.
We got a salad, because we were craving some crunchy fresh vegetables, and we each got the katsu curry at a spice level of 4. And it was actually spicy, which was delicious.
After dinner, we headed back to the hotel and passed out. Even though we really didn't do too much this day, enduring a flight and trekking through the airport with all of our gear, including a duffel bag M had to carry that contained ten pounds of gochugaru (Korean hot pepper flakes), we were pretty tired.

For breakfast the next morning, we decided to go get some Japanese fluffy pancakes. We had to fill out our order on a little slip that didn't have any English so we used the camera live translation function of the Google translate app.
The fluffy pancakes were a mile high and super light and lived up to its fluffy name. We each got the version that came with macerated strawberry and a scoop of ice cream.
I also got a matcha float, which was basically a matcha milkshake. M got the iced cocoa which was basically a chocolate milkshake.
After breakfast, we headed to Kyoto Station. We had some time to kill before our train so we walked around and looked through the various wares for sale at a couple of the shops.
One of the activities we'd booked for ourselves was an udon making class. This was super exciting for us because we love udon and it was a worthwhile class because it was a v. technical recipe that required instruction from an experienced person.
We also learned how to make dashi, with the key point being not to bring the soup to a boil because the high heat causes additional unwanted essential oils to be released from the ingredients.
The udon making required a special kneading technique using our feet. The dough was protected inside of a plastic bag, of course.
We put our freshly made and boiled noodles into a bowl with the dashi and got to eat it right away. The noodles were incredibly chewy, the broth was so clean-tasting and flavorful, and this meal hit the spot.
Washo had also prepared a dessert for us. It was a sweet potato mochi covered in roasted soybean powder. The texture of the mochi was lovely; it was really velvety and chewy and silky.
After our class, we hopped back on the metro and headed into the center of Osaka. Our first stop was one of the most popular sites. The park itself is free to enter but it costs money to go inside the castle so we opted to just do the free portion.
After the castle, we headed towards Dotonburi based on our cooking instructor's recommendation and also the fact that a few spots featured in Netflix's Street Food are located here.
Even though we'd just eaten the noodles, because it was such a light dish, we had enough room in our bellies for a snack so we stopped to get some takoyaki.
If you've never had takoyaki, they're spherical fried dough balls with a piece of octopus inside. They're typically served drizzled with Japanese worcestershire and Japanese mayo and topped with bonito flakes and dried parsley.
After our snack, we headed a couple blocks over to a shopping alley that's all about kitchenware and cooking utensils and ceramics and every kitchen tool you could ever want.
They even had a store featuring the fake plastic foods that had been turned into fridge magnets, keychains, phone cases, and paperweights.
We made one purchase at a kitchen tool store: giant chopsticks. Washo, our cooking instructor, was using big chopsticks to stir the udon noodles while they were boiling and it made us realize that we needed a few pairs in our kitchen too.
After we'd had our fill of shopping and decided there wasn't much else we were interested in doing in Osaka, we headed back to Kyoto to try our luck at getting dinner at a v. popular place.
I had attempted to make a reservation at Kichi Kichi but they're so popular that they booked up super fast. I made a plea via email and I was told to try coming by at specific times so that we could get in if there were any reservation cancellations or no shows. Well, as luck would have it, we were able to get in.
The Instagram hype for this place is completely warranted. The demi glace sauce is so incredibly rich and meaty and has such a sophisticated yet accessible flavor and it's the ingredient that really makes this place shine. We got the omurice, of course, and the egg was so rich and fluffy and the fried rice underneath had a lovely mouthfeel where each grain of rice was separate and silky and all of the vegetables were great and added lovely texture.

We also got the ox tongue stew. The tongue was melt-in-your-mouth tender and soft, and again, the demi glace featured in this recipe was so decadent and wonderful and went beautifully with the accompanying plate of sticky rice.
For dessert, we went around the corner to Maccha House to have some matcha tiramisu and matcha soft serve. The tiramisu was so creamy and decadent. The matcha soft serve was almost savory with the amount of green tea flavor that was incorporated into the ice cream base.
After dessert, we leisurely walked back to the hotel and then because it was still kind of early, we left to do a bit of shopping. That's when we discovered the store, GU, which is owned by Uniqlo. It was kind of like the more stylish and trendy version of Uniqlo at really great prices.
The next morning, we were up early so we could do a bit of sightseeing.
We headed here really early to try and avoid the crowds. We arrived around 7:30 and there were a bunch of locals who were headed to spend some time at the temple but only a few other tourists.
Half the sky was a beautiful sunny blue and the other half was overcast which just meant that we had wonderful photo opportunities. Cloudy skies give lovely ambient lighting that's super flattering on the face so I think we managed to capture some great photos of ourselves here.
It honestly seemed like there were miles upon miles of these orange shrines and the entire hike is pretty long so if you're really keen on finding some seclusion, it's totally possible.
We didn't do the entire hike. We went as high as one of the viewpoints and then decided we'd had our fill and wanted to move onto something new. Plus, we were getting hungry. We'd brought a little container of blueberries but we ate them pretty quickly and I'd venture to guess we metabolized them just as fast as we ate them.
If you climb high enough, you'll be rewarded with some lovely views of the city.
While we were hiking, we managed to run into this monkey. We actually spent a good bit of time spying on it while trying not to get too close and doing our best to avoid eye contact. We watched it eat breakfast and then that's when we decided it was a good time to turn around and make our way back down.
By the time we left, the place was swarmed with tourists and school children on field trips.
We were pretty parched so we stopped by a little tea stand and picked up a ginger and yuzu iced tea which was bright and citrusy and spicy and sweet and delicious.
We walked back towards our hotel from Fushimi Inari Taisha but made a pitstop at KCTP to rent some bikes. It was ¥1,000 ($9 USD) per day for the normal city bike. Oh, and if you rent multiple days you get a little discount.
We asked the bike staff if they had any recommendations for a traditional Japanese breakfast and they told us to just go to the local 7-Eleven and get some onigiri so we did and it was awesome. The way the convenience stores package onigiri is to have a layer of plastic surrounding the nori which means it stays crispy until you're ready to eat; it's genius.
After fueling up, we headed way west.
We rode around Arashiyama park and enjoyed the lovely scenery. We contemplated visiting the famed monkey park but then decided against it because we'd seen a monkey earlier that morning and because we thought it cost too much for what it was.
We crossed the bridge to the other side of the river to check out the bamboo forest.
By the time we were done biking around the bamboo forest, we were starving so we headed back towards the center of the city to get lunch. I thought we should get okonomiyaki so that we could knock another typical food off our bucket list so we ended up at Nishiki Warai.
They have a little mini hibachi hot table in the center which meant we could kind of knock two things off our bucket list. We started with a fresh watery (in a good way) salad with crispy fried burdock on top. For our mains, we shared the yakisoba and the okonomiyaki. The noodles were pretty standard but totally hit the spot.
Okonomiyaki, if you're unfamiliar, translates to "whatever you want" and that's basically what it is. The base is a pancake batter with shredded cabbage and people add all sorts of things to it from various vegetables to pork belly to seafood. The version we got had a bit of everything and a fried egg on top. It was so satisfying.
After our meal, we wandered around the Nishiki Market, which also had plenty of delicious goodies to eat and buy.
If you eat one thing while you're in Kyoto, it better be the soy donuts at Konna Monja. This little shop is adjacent to Kyo Tofu Fujino and its menu contains items made with the byproducts of tofu making, specifically soy milk.
We got a matcha soymilk swirl soft serve and the soymilk donuts with brown sugar and roasted soybean powder. The ice cream was incredibly creamy and you'd never miss the dairy but the donuts were the standout star. They were so light and fluffy with a crisp exterior and had the most wonderful flavor.
After Nishiki, we hopped back on bikes and headed way east to do a hike that came highly recommended as something to do at sunset.
We got there just in time. It was a pretty strenuous hike and I'm not going to lie, I considered giving up at one point when we ended up at the bottom of an insane set of 500 steps (which I realized I never actually photographed, probably because I was huffing and puffing so much and lightheaded and not thinking straight) but we powered through and made it to the top. I endured by having a "when will I ever be here again?" attitude.
The city views from up here were pretty fantastic and I wish we could've stayed longer to actually see the sun go down more but the hike took about twenty minutes and went through some dicey terrain and we didn't want to have to try and navigate something like that in the dark of the forest. It was really good we left when we did because I slipped and ended up needing to use some sticks as walking poles and M actually fell at one point.
We were somewhat able to enjoy the sunset from the base of the mountain anyway.
For dinner, the hotel staff recommended we try the food court in the basement of the Kyoto Tower, that way we could sample various dishes. Though there were loads of dishes on offer, including ramen and soba and karaage (fried chicken), we ended up getting katsu. M got the katsudon, which is katsu smothered with egg over rice. I went for the regular donkatsu., which is just breaded pork cutlet with cabbage salad and rice and miso soup. This place was pretty great because they offer unlimited soup and rice and salad, if you want it.
After dinner, we passed out pretty hard. I mean, we biked something like 42 kilometers that day and walked quite a bit in addition to the hike so we were pretty tired.
For our final meal in Kyoto, we went back to Kohikan because we liked it so much. We'd seen someone else get a sandwich when were there the first time and it looked so good, we ordered one. The bread was thick toasted slices of Japanese milk toast, which was so fluffy and chewy, and the filling was simple with just ham and some egg salad and lettuce but it totally hit the spot. We also got another order of the fluffy pancakes knowing it might be our last chance to enjoy them before we left Japan.
I also got an iced charcoal roasted coffee. It was the richest, most flavorful coffee I've ever had; I'm not a coffee drinker but I was impressed and if this was available to me on a daily basis, I would totally drink it. I mean, the most amazing part to me was the fact that it was perfectly sweetened. It was sugary enough to bring out the sweet notes of the coffee and simultaneously cut through any of the acrid bitter aftertaste that coffee tends to have.
We were also giant pigs so we got the chestnut cake. It was more of a tartlet. It had a buttery shell and was filled high with a chestnut mousse. It was creamy and nutty and really good.
After breakfast, we finished packing, checked out of the hotel, and went to Kyoto Station to catch a train to our next destination.
Here's my video diary: