OSAKA AND KYOTO: FROM NEW WORLD MODERNITY TO OLD WORLD GREATNESS
Published on 26/02/2019.
At the core of Japan's Kansai region, in Honshu, lie two mesmerising neighbours, the contrasting yet equally fascinating cities of Osaka and Kyoto. One is a future-facing commercial metropolis characterised by glitzy skyscrapers and a vibrant nightlife, the other a spiritual haven epitomised by historic temples, shrines, palaces and gardens. Though very different in design and personality, both cities complement each other perfectly; and experienced together offer a comprehensive snapshot of Japan as a whole. Start in Osaka and finish in Kyoto, and you’ll move seamlessly from new world modernity to old world greatness … and all possible via a 15-minute ride on the bullet train or a scenic one hour drive.
OSAKA: A FAST-PACED CITY WITH A BUZZ
Bold and flamboyant, with as much enthusiasm for the future as the past, Osaka is one of Japan’s most ambitious cities, pulsating with the kind of energy you’d expect from a modern metropolis.
- One of Japan’s most ambitious cities
Osaka is best experienced in the liveliness of its inimitable food scene and via the day-to-day enthusiasm locals have for their eclectic cuisine, as well as in the extravagance of Dotonbori. Yet that’s only one side. From the artsy and sentimental Nakazakicho to the peaceful Shitennoji Temple and the historic Osaka Castle, Osaka is a 21st-century city that remains strongly connected to its roots.
- Enjoy all that the ‘Nation’s Kitchen’ has to offer
The famous Osakan expression kuidaore – 'to eat oneself bankrupt' – nicely sums up the city's obsession with food. So, if you’ve got an appetite, you’ll be in good company here. In fact, in Osaka, it’s perfectly respectable to “eat yourself into ruin”, and hopping between the shokudo diners, izakaya pubs and street vendors, you'll have no trouble doing just that! For informal dining on the move, head to the bustling Kuromon Ichiba Market, where professional cooks ply their trade with deft skill. Try yakiniku (grilled, seasoned beef), takoyaki (battered octopus) and kushikatsu (deep-fried meat and vegetables), which are, among many others, some of the best Osakan delicacies on offer.
- Explore some of the hippest of Osaka’s districts
Be sure to grab some memorable photos of the dramatic Kita cityscape, but don't dwell for too long in downtown Osaka. The real value lies in the wider exploration, with the dynamic Shinsaibashi - Osaka's main shopping destination - and Nipponbashi highly recommended. In the latter, a myriad of electronics, anime and manga stores act as a magnet for the hi-tech 'otaku' generation.
Elsewhere, entertainment and fashion come to the fore in cosmopolitan Amemura, which was once known as the 'American Village'. In the equally hip and trendy Nakazakicho, which has more of a retro vibe, artsy cafes and boutiques line the narrow alleyways of this secretive northern neighbourhood.
- Experience the inimitable Dotonbori
For the bold and ostentatious, make your way to lively Dotonbori, a neon-lit, entertainment paradise built along its eponymous canal. Osaka's best-known tourist destination presents a colourful mosaic of billboards and advertising signs, including the emblematic Glico Man, a landmark feature here since 1935. Dotonbori once had a thriving theatre quarter, but only the Shochikuza survived the bombing raids of WWII. Today it’s more of a nightlife destination, with a raft of bars, restaurants and street food stalls to choose from, including Hariju and Kukuru. While you’re here, explore the Shinsaibashi-Suji shopping arcade and soak up the electric atmosphere that greets you along the Tonbori Riverwalk.
- Connect with a mighty and spiritual past
If you go in search of historic Osaka, you'll not only find it but wonder how you missed it in the first place. Relics of the past lurk among the city’s skyscrapers, including the vast Shitennoji Temple complex. Despite several rebuilds during its 1,500-year lifespan, the monument retains huge cultural significance, as does the smaller, but no less sacred, Hozenji Temple. Tourists also tend to flock to the 16th-century Osaka Castle – especially during the beautiful cherry blossom season – eager to soak up the history and grandeur of this impressive building. Just the other side of the Castle Park moat, you’ll find the Osaka Museum of History, where you can learn about the city’s varied past.
Kyoto: The spiritual heart of Japan
34 miles (55km) north-east of Osaka lies the gentler, leafier Kyoto, the former capital of Japan and arguably the nation's spiritual heart.
- religious monuments and priceless historical landmarks
As the seat of the emperor for over a thousand years up until 1868, Kyoto, unsurprisingly, has a generous number of religious monuments and priceless historical landmarks, including Nijo Castle, Kyoto Imperial Palace and Fushimi Inari Shrine, as well as the great temples of Ginkaku-ji and Ryoan-ji. Its suburbs remain quintessentially Japanese, with historic wooden townhouses lining its quaint streets, and where traditional customs and crafts send echoes from a bygone era. Beautiful parks and gardens, meanwhile, intersperse the urban sprawl, providing space for quiet contemplation and subtle discovery in a city that feels almost timeless.
- Enjoy one of the best tea experiences ever
With its network of historic tea houses, Kyoto is the ideal place to participate in the important Sado ritual known as the 'Way of Tea'. This contemplative practice remains one of Japan's essential and authentic cultural experiences, all at once relaxing as it is nourishing. Dressed in traditional kimonos, Geisha have served powdered green tea, or matcha, for centuries at Ichiriki Chaya, one of the most famous tea houses in the city. Access here is invitation-only, unfortunately, but there are many impeccable tea houses to choose from in the Gion and Higashiyama districts, including En Tea House and Camellia.
- Take time out and explore some of the finest temples in Japan
Shrines and temples abound in spiritual Kyoto, a city that is home to more than 2,000 important religious sites. These sacred monuments are notable for their dramatic architecture and the fact that they tend to be framed by spectacular scenery. For peace and quiet, head to the elaborately gold leaf decorated Kinkaku-ji – otherwise known as the Temple of the Golden Pavilion – and the recently-restored Ginkaku-ji. More modest in comparison, it’s just as captivating. It sits in a tranquil green perch in the foothills of the eastern mountains. The serene Ryoan-ji, with its curious rock garden, is another landmark temple.
- Wander around lush green landscapes
While Kyoto has its fair share of built-up and modern areas, you're never too far away from a colourful mix of plants, flowers and blossoming trees. Indeed, it's no coincidence that one of the world's most pivotal environmental treaties, the Kyoto Protocol, was signed here. Enjoy a picturesque stroll in Kyoto Botanical Gardens, which takes in rich flora and fauna, wander around the exquisite gardens of Shugaku-in Imperial Villa, and find refuge in the pictorial Murin-an Villa. Many of Kyoto’s temples, including those listed above, are famed for their gardens, too.
- See traditional Japanese practices at work
Kyoto has long been a vital centre for the arts, and many of Japan’s unique customs have originated here. This deeply creative spirit has shaped its architecture, its fashions and its crafts over the centuries, and, amazingly, even against the backdrop of so much change, continues to define the city’s exceptional character. Accordingly, head to Kyoto for a glimpse of a seemingly long departed Japan that visibly reveals itself through the city’s iconic machiya townhouses, as well as in the increasingly niche trades that have been kept alive in local communities. Here you can see first-hand kimono silk-weaving and dyeing, doll- and fan-making, and, along with bamboo and metal crafts, pottery and ceramics. They are among the many treasures presented by Kyoto's time-capsule of cottage industries.
Flying with THAI
Here at THAI, we provide luxurious long-haul travel from London to Thailand in as little as 12 hours. Our twice-daily connections to Osaka ensure you can complete your journey to Japan in style. Taking flight TG911 from Heathrow Airport, which departs London at lunchtime, allows you to minimise your overall journey time. This service connects to flight TG622 with a two-hour layover, arriving in Japan by mid-afternoon the following day. Royal First Class passengers can enjoy comfort, relaxation and fine food in our THAI lounges during the short stay at Suvarnabhumi Airport.