We had a very early start to the day today. We were up at 4:30am to catch a ride to the airport with Jonathan and HJ to spend a few days in Japan. We're extremely grateful to Auntie HJ for making arrangements for all of us to enjoy a three day bus tour around several cities in Japan. The first day was pretty spectacular and we love what we've seen of this country already!
We flew into Osaka and other than a one hour flight delay it was pretty smooth sailing. Once we cleared customs and the tour group assembled (all Koreans with the exception of us foreigners), we loaded into our bus to make the trek from Osaka's airport to the city of Nara. Beautiful drive through industrial, rural and mountainous regions. We were quite surprised by the number of golf driving ranges that we saw en route and somewhat aggravated by the barriers along both sides of the highway for much of the trek.
We finally arrived in the city of Nara at about 2:00pm and headed straight for the buffet restaurant that was awaiting our arrival. Had a great lunch that featured a number of Japanese menu items, then we headed just down the road to explore Tōdai-Ji Temple. This is the world's largest wooden temple and it is home to an enormous Buddha sculpture. Apparently 16 full grown men (Japanese men?) could stand in Buddha's hand! It's really difficult to convey in pictures just how massive this structure is...
From the temple, we walked through the surrounding Nara Deer Park to return to our tour bus. The mule deer who inhabit this park are extremely curious about humans and do not hesitate to make their presence known. While they're not great about just standing still and posing for a picture, they love to sniff bags and pockets looking for handouts. In fact, they've been known to harass people a little and can even become a little aggressive.
From Nara, we hopped back on the bus and made our way back to Osaka so that we could see Osaka Castle. Due to the delayed flight, we didn't have time to fully explore this spectacular historical feature within the heart of Japan's second largest city. We walked around both the inner and outer moats and made our way right up to the castle itself. However, we didn't get to make our way inside the main building as we had to make a beeline back to the bus for our next stop. Our retreat to the bus became that much more hasty when it started to rain as Koreans really dislike the rain and all their umbrellas were left behind on the bus.
From Osaka Castle, we drove right into the heart of the city to briefly explore Shin Sai Bashi, which is the most bustling shopping district I've ever seen anywhere. I likened it to Times Square on steroids. There were tens of thousands of people flowing along the sidewalk and, apparently, it gets even crazier at night when all the neon signs get lit up. We were very grateful for the hour that we had to wander through Shin Sai Bashi, as it's definitely a spectacle that none of us will soon forget!
After retracing our steps through Shin Sai Bashi, we filed into a fantastic teppanyaki restaurant called Chibo for our dinner reservation. The food was prepared on a hot grill right at our table and was extremely flavourful. The most intriguing part of the meal was the okonomiyaki (seen below) which was almost like an egg pizza stuffed with rice, shrimp and squid then topped with barbecue sauce and mayo. After our meal was complete, Rachel tried her hand at being a teppanyaki chef and proved that she's got quite the skills!
We headed back to the bus and made our way to the hotel, but not before a quick selfie overlooking the Dotomborigawa River and Shin Sai Bashi.
Our hotel was located right beside Osaka Station and this area was also bustling. While Jennifer and the girls settled in for the night, I strolled up and down a number of vibrant streets in this region. There were numerous restaurants, lounges, gaming rooms (slots, video games, etc...) and karaoke rooms. I could have spent hours exploring this area but knowing that tomorrow will be another full day, I decided to make my way back to the hotel for some much needed sleep.