JAPAN

Osaka never disappoints

In May 2017 I visited Osaka for a third time, and it definitely wasn't the last time. After visiting Tokyo twice, and Osaka twice as well (prior the recent trip), it was obvious that I was rather the Osaka-kind-of-person. This time I wasn't walking around all day with a camera in my hand. I enjoyed my little moments in the city, observing people, having coffee, eating street-food, and meeting up with old and new friends at night.

My recent trip to Osaka wasn't meant to bring back home the best photos or videos, to convince my friends and blog followers how awesome the city is. People who have been following my posts on this blog or on Instagram, should know by now that I'm a big fan of Japan. 

After being around most corners of Osaka, there wasn't much left to discover, however I never felt bored while walking through the streets of Namba. Let's start with the coffee places.

This was the first time, where I was hunting for good and hip coffee places.

The best coffee bars I visited were located in Amerika-mura (american-village). As you can figure out by the name, the neighborhood is heavily influenced by the western world. It's packed with western clothing brands, american bars, but the hippest coffee spots as well. My favorite bar was "LiLo Coffee Roasters" because of it's interior design; the staff was very fluent in english, and they had too many coffee-accessories for sale. Right next to Lilo's place, was another awesome coffee bar called "Streamer Coffee Company". At first sight from the outside I thought it would be a skateshop pimped up with a coffee-corner. I gotta admit that Streamer actually had the best coffee I tried in Osaka. It's not as cozy as Lilo's corner, but it's definitely worth a try.

Arashiyama

What would a trip to Osaka be without witnessing the beauty of Arashiyama? Arashiyama is well known for its spectacular bamboo forest. The bamboo forest actually doesn't take that much time to visit, think about 15-25 minutes. It's always hard to get a descent photoshot of the path leading through the forest, because there are just way too many visitors, any time of the day. However Arashiyama is always on my list, when visiting the Kansei region. I just love the whole vibe of the village: mountains, rivers, cute little shops, food stalls, japanese people dressed up in kimonos.

For the first time, I decided to visit the monkey forest. You gotta walk up a very steep hill for about 25 minutes, til you reach the top of the monkey place. You'll get a beautiful view all over Arashiyama and Kyoto. You'll get the chance to feed the monkeys, who'll be eating out of your hands. The coolest thing was that the visitors will walk into a cabin, that feels more like a cage, and you'll be feeding the monkey from the inside through the fences of the cabin. So it doesn't feel like a zoo, where animals are captivated for the visitor's pleasure. The monkeys are jumping and climbing freely around the cabin. Those monkey hands felt like baby hands grabbing for food, it definitely was worth the way up to the mountain.

If you're looking for the "kawaii" (which means cute in japanese) side of Japan, you should stop by at the Katsuoji Temple. I heard stories about it many times, but never made it to the very north of Osaka, because it takes about 90 minutes to get there. You gotta use two different trains which will lead you to the Senri-Chuo station. Outside of Senri-Chuo station you will have to catch a 40 minute bus-ride that will drop you at the entrance of Katsuoji-Temple. However the last bus will leave the train station around 3pm or 4pm. As lucky as I usually am, I had to use a taxi (single fare was 35 euro / us$). I left the temple about 5pm, and bad luck stroke again. No buses after 5pm, no taxis around the temple. Me and a 14 year-old chinese boy walked down all the way to the city. The walk took us almost an hour. I couldn't speak chinese or japanese, and the chinese teenager couldn't communicate in english or japanese. But at the end we somehow managed to jump on a bus, that brought us back to a train station after almost 2 hours. 

After visiting a couple of japanese cities, you easily get fed up with temples. Katsuoji however was different, in a funny way. The whole place is packed with daruma dolls, which creates a unique atmosphere. 

The daruma dolls at Katsuo-ji Temple are called "Kachi-daruma" (winning daruma). The darumas are eye-less goodluck charms. People are supposed to draw an eye on the doll's face when they make a wish, and draw in the other when their wish comes true. When one's daruma-doll gets both eyes drawn in, it should be brought back to the temple. 

Last but not least, the Taiko Bridge of the "Sumiyoshi Taisha" shrine. Again, after having witnessed numerous temples in Japan, it gets harder with each trip to be impressed about wooden temples. I have just seen to many temples in Japan. However I haven't ever seen a round bridge like the Taiko Bridge in Osaka. The first one I have ever discovered was outside of Asia, at the Japanese Garden in San Francisco. That's why I decided to jump on a train towards the Sumiyoshi shrine. In my opinion, the shrine didn't blow me away. However the bridge sourrounded by trees and a pond was worth the shot.

 

Nightlife in Osaka.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, that one fact that I really enjoy about Osaka is its nightlife. I mean it's not always that easy, to get in touch with japanese people. Some of them are too busy for a conversation, some are too shy or insecure to communicate in english and some don't understand any english at all. Most of the japanese people, that I had the chance to get to know, were having a drink in a bar or they worked as bartenders. It's just the perfect place to get into a chitchat. In Osaka it's even possible to bump into the same person on the same trip, which hardly ever happen in any other big city.

I wouldn't brag about Namba for being the best place to go out, because there are just too many streets or bars left to discover. Some bars or clubs will always remain undiscovered for many tourists, because they aren't barely visible from the outside. I remember a club called "Bambi", where a french expat took me to. We took an elevator to the 7th floor, and as soon as the doors of the elevator opened, we stepped out right into a club. It's very common in Japan to get on top floors for having dinner or a drink. That's why locals know the best places to check out.

As far as my experience goes, I'd recommend these places while going out in Osaka. They're all reachable by foot and only a couple of minutes separated from each other.

Bar Zerro {Namba}

The Zerro Bar is a bar packed with locals, tourists, and expats. It's usually very busy. Most of the bar tenders are pretty fluent in english. Every time I went for a drink I met people from all over the world. It's not the coolest place, but if every other bar is empty, you'll definitely find some people at Zerro.

Cinque-Cento (500) {Namba}

Cinque-Cento means 500 in italian. That's where the bar got its name from, because every drink or meal on their menu costs 500 yen  (4 € $). The drinks are served in average size glasses, and they don't look as fancy as in a cocktail bar. But you can get a Moscow Mule or a Maitai for a very fair price. All of the bar tenders were very friendly and easy to talk to. While drinking and talking to them, they could tell you some fascinating facts about Japan. "500" easily became my favorite bar in Osaka on my last trip. And yes, you also get some finger- & fast-food for 500 yen.

 Mustang-Bar {Amerika-Mura}

On my recent trip I didn't make it to Mustang, because I couldn't leave "500" and because Mustang is located in Amerika-Mura, the neighbor-area of Namba. But on my two first trips I had a blast at Mustang. The main reason was most definitely because of the bar-owner Neil (or Neal), an expat from Israel. Neal is high probably the craziest dude in Osaka. He used to be very entertaining and made every customer laugh with this harsh jokes. "Mustang" is a very small bar, recognizable by its ceiling, which is covered by hundreds of hanging bras. Apparently drunk women started to undo their bras, and hang them on the ceiling. I guess it's just another prove how crazy it can get at Neil's bar. 

Kamasutra Karaoke Bar

The last episode of my nightly adventures took place at Richard's Karaoke Bar called "Kamasutra". Richard is an expat as well. And it was damn funny coincidence that I made it to Kamazutra. Six or seven years ago work colleagues told me about their crazy night at a karaoke bar where they were introduced to the bar owner called "Richard". After a drunken night at 500, some japanese people took me to a karaoke bar. It was my first time ever at a Karaoke bar. After ordering another round or trinks and starting a chit-chat with the man behind the bar, I figured out his name was "Richard". I took out my phone, to check out if the photo of my friends at "that" Richard's place was the same one where I was sitting. Richard burst out laughing, because he was still remembering the night where my colleagues were visiting him. "Those crazy guys from Luxembourg... that was a hell of a  night!". Sometimes the world just seems so small, when coincidences like this one happen. I went back to Kamasutra one more time before leaving Japan. I had a blast every night!

Best Kōhī

The japanese expression for "Coffee" is Kōhī ( コーヒー). Coffee is almost becoming as popular as the green tea. I guess you'll find more coffee bars in and around Tokyo, than tea-shops. Which actually comes in handy for myself. 

Before traveling back to Japan, more precisely to Tokyo, I informed myself in advance, which coffee places i'd would check out on my daily walks through the city. 

There was the place called "Mighty Step's Coffee Stop".  I first found out about it, through a video on the video-platform Vimeo. Click on the following link, to watch the beautifully produced video "DRIP FOR U". I was really looking forward to visit this store in Tokyo. It took us around 40 minutes to get from our hotel front porch to the the mighty step's bar. On my first visit, the shop was closed. What a bummer! Two days later, I tried to convince my friend to get back, because I really wanted to bring back home a cup with the shop's branding on it. I still didn't own a coffee cup from Japan in my mug collection.

After we walked in, we were warmly welcomed by the two baristas working at the shop. I was astonished how beautiful the tiny store was set up. The owner had put so much love and soul into that coffee bar, that was located in the entrance of a barber shop. 

"Mighty Step's Coffee Stop" offers different type of coffees, depending on its origins, and different flavours of ice-cream. The whole  package is beautifully served on a wooden tray as you can witness on my photo above. 

I walked by a lot of different bars, but this one got my whole attention within a heartbeat. The coffee-bar is located in Nihonbashi and only walking distance away from the Mitsukoshi-Mae metro station. 

On our daytrip to Kamakura, which is only an hour-train-ride away from the busy city of Tokyo, I randomly discovered a coffee spot called "Farm for you". The organic place was divided into a restaurant, coffee roastery, and a bakery. We just grabbed a cup of coffee from the outside, to enjoy the summer weather from the porch of the shop.

Once again, I could witness with how much love the barista, surrounded by different chemexes, a coffee roaster, and all sort of accessories, made the coffee for the customers. A cup of coffee was about 500 yen, and it was worth every single copper coin. Of course the coffee tasted best, with a piece of carrot cake! What a lovely place! Delicious columbian coffee!


MIGHTY STEP'S COFFEE STOP

4-3-14 Nihonbashi-Honcho, Chuo-ku, Tokyo


FARM TO YOU

由比ガ浜2-4-43
KAMAKURA, 神奈川県 〒248-0014

TOKYO 東京都

Ohhh Japan I can't get enough of you. Yesterday I turned back home from my third trip to Japan. Finally I feel confident enough to write a new post about this gigantic city of Tokyo. This was the second time I had visited Tokyo within a year.

I can't tell that it is one of my favorite cities, but I appreciated Tokyo everytime, because it has so much to offer. Nevertheless it never comes easy! The capital of Japan, formerly known as Edo, is sooo H.UG.E. The public transportation system is almost flawless, the japanese train network is the best one i've ever experienced. However it can easily take up to 45 minutes, to reach your destination.

So in my case, I really wanted to have a pit-stop at different coffee-shops or jazz-bars, while wandering through the city. However sometimes it took me 40 minutes of a subway ride to get my special treat, and if you keep fullfilling your little wishes on a daily basis, it's gonna cost you a lot of time and energy.

On my first trip, I stayed 6 nights in Tokyo, and this time I stayed another 6 nights. I guess I've visited the most famous spots in the city, and still I haven't witnessed all the magic of that vivid metropolis.

I could list the most interesting parts of Tokyo on this post, but other bloggers, and travel-websites have already done this before me. Check google, and you will get endless lists of the "must-sees" of Tokyo.

I will write you, what made Tokyo special in my opinion.

After my first experiences in Tokyo, and after having read several books of the famous japanese writer Haruki Murakami, I got my own vision of the capital. I put my main focus on music, food, bars, coffee, and the "traditional" sights.

After New York City, comes Tokyo, which shows a lot of interest for Jazz, Soul, and Blues Music. There are endless jazz venues, soul bars, and the tiny cosy pubs which only host a handful of customers. Those places will give you the nostalgic feel of these old, but never fading, music genres. There are some famous places like "The Blue Note", "New York" (remember the bar from Lost in Translation?), "The Cotton Club". In almost every part of Tokyo you will find a cosy jazz bar, with dimmed lights, and the smell of whiskey and cigarettes crawling out underneath those wooden doors. In Shinjuku, at the popular nightlife district called "Golden Gai", you get the choice of a 100 to 200 bars. Even Quentin Tarantino loves to spend some time at the bar "La jetée" in Golden Gai, while he's in town. Most of them can only host 4 to 10 people. It's all about the intimate athmosphere, where strangers meet the locals. I was told that foreigners wouldn't be welcomed at "Golden Gai", but i can't agree with that. In almost every bar I've been to, I got in touch with japanese locals, and I felt very welcome. Ok, it might have been because of the booze! :) Besides the bars & clubs, you can spend hours at record stores. Vinyls still seem to be very popular in Japan. There are plenties of record stores! And last but not least, expect to find a good concert every evening. Check out the website "Songkick", enter the actual city, and you get a list of what's going on, concert wise, at night.

Food, Food, Food... everywhere. But where should we start? I really can't recommend you any restaurants. I never had a bad lunch in Japan. And there are millions of different food places in Tokyo. Ramen-Shops, udon & soba restaurants, izakayas, streetfood- stalls, food-courts... You get the idea! After breakfast, I was already thinking about what I could or should get for lunch. Japanese food is so delicious, and they have a lot of different dishes to check out. Feel free to check out my previous blog-post about the diversity in japanese cuisine: Itadakimasu. Before I forget, don't think that the sushi at the Tsukiji Fish Market is the best you're going to find in Tokyo. There are a couple of sushi shops at Tsukiji. For some restaurants you will need to wait in line for half an hour, until they let you squeeze yourself along the customers to get a seat. And all that early in the morning at 7:00am, when you're looking forward to get the freshest sushi for breakfast. We opted for a different one. Hey it's just sushi! And you're not getting a reservation at Jiro's restaurant! It's still a fish market. The sushi we got, was certainly fresh, it gets delivered directly from the market. But it was the only place, where the waiter was rather unpolite, and it was a lot more expensive than at different places in the center of Tokyo. During this trip I got my best sushi at a small local not-fancy place. So don't expect too much from Tsukiji Market. If you're traveling with kids, avoid the market as well, it doesn't take much to get hit by those tiny delivery trucks racing all over the place.

Green tea, matcha, we've all tasted it in Japan, and we all loved it. We tried matcha-motchis, matcha-kitkat, matcha-cake, matcha-baumkuchen.... Everything is matcha in Japan!  But don't forget about the coffee! There is no lack of coffee culture in Tokyo. Expect to find the same fancy places where hipsters hang out, the snobby neo-modern coffee corners, or the classic coffee bars, which have been in Tokyo for ages. There's a coffee-bar for everyone's taste! I checked out a couple of coffee spots in Tokyo, and will write a blog-post about it later.  

Ok, breakfast, coffee, lunch, tea or coffee, dinner. How are we supposed to put anything else between those free spots in our travel-schedule?

My three favorite spots to hang out in Tokyo, til today, would be Asakusa, Shinjuku and Shibuya. Asakusa is surrounded by the Senso-Ji temple, the Kaminarimon gate, lots of tourist stores which sell kimonos, wooden sandals, tenugui towels, and endless izakayas and restaurants. If you get over the tourists in that area, you can enjoy the "tradional" vibe in that area. It's one of the few places that reminded me of Kyoto or Osaka, two japanese cities, who have of lot more of japanese culture to offer. Especially at night it can be very charming. Call it a tourist trap, but I enjoyed Asakusa everytime I spent some time over there.

Shinjuku and Shibuya are almost alike. Shinjuku is on the adult side, and Shibuya attracts more of the younger crowds. Both parts offer the right mix of shops, restaurants, bars, and clubs. If i'd have to spend the nigth in Tokyo, I would go to one of either places. But again, there are too many bars and food places. Just walk through the streets, and hop in. Lots of famous places are located on a higher floors, or just in the basement of a bigger building.

Another concern would be the night trains, there are none! So if you plan on going out in Tokyo, you gotta jump on the last train home, around midnight or 00:30am, or you go through the night, and catch the first train in the morning around 05:30. Taxis get VERY expensive in Tokyo, we did it once, and learned from it. On weekends a lot of people stay out til the early morning. It's always safe to get home later, you won't be alone, and with a little luck, you'll have a last goodnight party on the train.

If you're traveling alone, and dont' feel confortable going out alone, i'd recommend you to join the official pubcrawl : Tokyo Pub Crawl. It costs 2500 - 3000 yen. You get a free welcome shot, free shots while hopping from bar to bar, and after 2 or 3 bars, you get free entrance at a club, and of course you get a special discount with every drink order. So it's worth the money. The night we joined the crawl, there were easily around 50 people at the party, and it was a lot of fun. The crawl made it really easy to get in touch with people. Most of them were travelers, some were expats living in Tokyo, or japanese people who wanted to improve their language skills.

Let's get back to Shinjuku! Another important part of Shinjuku is its beautiful and colorful park. It's the nicest I visited in Tokyo. You have to pay a tiny entrance fee of 200 or 300 yen. But it's super clean, no weirdos hanging around, no bums. Enjoy the park ! You will love it! It's a must-see while you're in Shinjuku.

I visited Tokyo in march this year, and last year it was rather the end of spring. So after I experienced the colder temperatures in Japan, I definitely recommend you to visit Japan in spring! It makes such a big difference. The flowers and trees will be blooming, more colors everywhere. Hardly any rain in spring or summer. Especially the parks will be busier and offer a nicer color-palette than during the colder months.

Usefull Informations:

  •  If you plan on entering Tokyo, or leaving for the airport by train, take the Skyliner-Express train! It costs around 2300 yen for a oneway-ticket, which is still cheaper than the regular JR LINE EXPRESS. But the Skyliner takes only 45 minutes, JR train around 80 minutes. When you get back to Narita Airport, you can catch the Skyliner-Express at the UENO station, to avoid the human traffic on bigger train stations. Look for the blue KEISEI-Line, and follow the signs. 
     
  • At the airport, or a the main train stations, you can rent a mobile wifi. This time I had the chance to rent a mobile device at our ryokan for 500 yen a day. It was so worth it! Reading street signs, and comparing them on a street map, can be so confusing, while "Google Maps" makes it way much easier to walk around the city. The mobile wifi device offers you a wifi spot, all over the city. Just put it on your bag or pocket, and you can get online anywhere, even on the subway. It saves you a lot of time and patience.
  • While having free wifi in your pocket, make your journey even more easier with the smartphone app "Tokyo Subway Navigation". Check out the place  you're aiming to visit on google-maps, and look for the nearest subway station. Enter the name of the station into the mobile application "Tokyo Subway Navigation", and it will tell you, which train line you need to take, how long it's gonna take, and it reveals you the exact price of the ride. You don't need to follow the colored subway line with your index finger anymore, to find out which is the fastest and easiest transfer line. The app does it all for you! 
 



Itadakimasu ! {ただきます}

Itadakimasu, is what japanese people say before having a meal.

Actually this article won't be a review, or a post about a random city. It will be a little tip, about what to eat in Japan. I remember when I got back from my first Japan trip, I noticed way too late, that I didn't focus enough on the local dishes.

The Japanese people put so much effort and passion in their cooking, even on the streetfoods that you get around every corner. At first sight, and as japan-newbie, you hardly don't see the soul behind their cooking. Most dishes are very simple to prepare, if you got the right ingredients, and that's maybe the main raison, that you can only achieve a high quality cooking through experience, and precise details on how to prepare the food.

On my second trip, I wanted to taste as much japanese food, and as many different dishes, as possible. There were moments, where I had 3 ramen soups a day. I went from cheap sushi to the top-notch chef's "Omakase". The term "Omakase" {お任せ} means that you get a sushi-menu based on a selection from the chef. The food you will be served, will have the chef's signature, which means you get the best sushi of the restaurant. And usually you will be able to watch the chef preparing the sushi, piece by piece. You will eat 1 sushi at a time.

While being in Japan, I also noticed that, it's hard for a traveler to discover japanese dishes. Great local dishes, actually don't look that fancy on the menu that they will hand you out, when having a seat at a restaurant. The names of the dishes will be in japanese, so you usually choose something that you know, or recognize on the photos.

But I was glad, that I made some friends in Japan, and they introduced me to the most famous and traditional food experiences you can discover in Japan. 

 

Ramen {ラーメン}

Ramen is a very popular noodle soup in Japan. There are millions of Ramen restaurants all across Japan, from fancy restaurants to street carts. Some are even open til late at night. After long partying nights, I always had a recovering ramen just before going to bed! People don’t mind lining up for hours to get in, as long as it’s good.  I can't imagine one single person who wouldn't like Ramen. There are many different kinds of soups, but there's three basic types of Ramen: Shyoyu (soy sauce), Miso, and Shio (salt).  Usually pork, chicken or seafood broth is used for the base of the soup, and that is then seasoned with soy sauce, miso, or salt. It's a fest! Try it, and love it! And another good point, it's a budget meal! The usual price you have to pay for a quality ramen is around 600 ¥ {4 euro, 5 US$).

 

Takoyaki {たこ焼き}

Takoyaki is a popular Japanese street food, made from grilled balls of seasoned batter with small pieces of octopus inside. On top of that you usually get some Katsuobushi, or Bonito flakes, spices and a twist of the local japanese mayonnaise. 
Originating from Osaka, Takoyaki is one of the most common foods you will see there, as well as at festivals and special events all over the Japan. In Osaka you will notice much more Takoyaki food shops than in Tokyo. In my opinion, it's not my first choice when it comes to the local dishes, however once in a while I will have some Takoyaki, just because all the Osakans or the japanese tourists are fighting to get a sample of those octopus balls. And again, another budget snack !

 

Okonomiyaki
{お好み焼き}

Okonomiyaki is a traditional Japanese food that is sometimes called "The Japanese Pancake". It's a savory dish that reminds you of an omelette and it's made with okonomiyaki flour, eggs, cabbage, pork, shrimp or other seafood, and topped with a variety of condiments. On top of that you get the sweet Okonomi sauce (which reminded me of our barbecue sauce), mayonnaise, dried seaweed and dried fish flakes. I know it doesn't sound THAT appetizing, but you can trust me, it's a just a food bomb with hundreds of different flavors. 
Florence, a girl I met in Hiroshima, introduced me to the Okonomiyaki, apparently you get the best one in Hiroshima. So she took me to a foggy, and rundown fastfood restaurant. It was hidden on the 3rd floor of an old building, impossible to find! The first thing I noticed was the huge cooking hotplate. The owner of the shop prepared the amazing Okonomiyaki in front of us, and we got it served on that same hotplate. No plates. All we got was a spatula to cut the pancake in even pieces, and some chopsticks. To me it first looked like another fast-food snack, but I was so wrong. Okonomiyaki was one of the eye-opening dishes I discovered in Japan. As an amateur cook, I love trying out japanese dishes at home. Okonomiyaki was one of the only dishes I totally failed at preparing. Don't get blinded by its simplicity!

 

Soba Noodles {そば }

Soba Noodles, might look like plain spaghettis without sauce. On my first trip I never ordered Soba at a restaurant, I just didn't see the point of ordering noodles without a sauce. And on my second trip, Maya took me out for lunch in Osaka. I ordered some Tempura, fried vegetables, and the Soba as a side dish. While waiting for our lunch, I noticed that all the people around me, were having Soba noodles as well. After reading an article about the Soba culture in Japan, I learned that Soba noodles, made out of buckwheat flour,  are healthier than the western spaghettis. They contain more essential amino acids, and antioxidants. Soba noodle can be served hot or cold. The cold ones are very refreshing on hot summer days. They're topped with scallions, wasabi, and a Tsuyu dipping sauce {made out of soy sauce, mirin, dashi}. The mixed flavours of the noodles, sauce and scallions, makes it all worth it. Soba is a traditional Tokyo dish from the Edo era. Budget again!

Kyoto & Osaka & Nara

In my last two years I visited 8 cities in Japan. If you plan on spending only a couple of days in Japan, I totally advise you to visit these 3 cities: Kyoto, Osaka, Nara. 

 

Osaka would be the best city for your hotel. It's located inbetween Nara and Kyoto. Both cities are reachable with a 40 minutes train ride. Osaka is the most laid back city of all three, and it offers the most entertaining nightlife. Beautiful nights are spent just next to the Dotonbori river, which is surrounded by a universe of neon-lights and the longest shopping gallery I know. Both sides of the river are packed with restaurants and bars, and several bridges that connect both parts of Dotonbori. Not to forget about the famous Glico-Man neon sign, which attracts too many people for some photos & selfies. Another famous area for nightlife or day-time shopping would be Ameri-mura, a fusion of an americanized japanese neighbourhood.

Osaka hasn't as many sights to offer as Kyoto or Nara, but still Osaka is a very charming city. Visiting the Osaka Castle, will easily take half of a day. The castle is surrounded by a huge beautiful park,  a very lively area. Familydays are spent in the park, group activities, mediation groups, or just sit back and enjoy the different fountains across the park.

There's another area I'd recommend after sunset in Osaka, the Tsutenkaku Tower. The neighbourhood of the Osaka tower, is prettiest at night, because of the street-lights, infinite lanterns, and the crazy neon signs. The alleys are packed with restaurants, bars, and souvenir shops. Some locals told me that it would be the run-down area of Osaka. Frankly I didn't have that impression. 

For cultural daytrips and unforgettable sceneries Kyoto is the right place! Kyoto is often refered to as the cultural heart of Japan. Not less than 2000 shinto and buddhist shrines & temples are spread all over the city. Ok, I gotta admit, after I've visited the 10th temples, I had enough.  

For my self the most memoral sights in Kyoto were the following places:

  • Fushimi Inari Shrine: The world famous path of orange torii gates, leading you to the top of mount Inari which is 233 meters above the sea level. 

 

  • Arashiyama Bamboo Groove: The bamboo forest of Ashiyama is one of the most beautiful forests I've ever experienced. It isn't the largest forest, it only takes you 15 minutes to follow the path across the bamboo forest. But it's all worth it. Expect lots of tourists on the path, and it isn't easy to get a decent photo of the bamboos without any visitors on it. Enjoy the village of Arashiyama, and the lovely alleys packed with shops, and delicious restaurants. Everytime i'm in the area, I plan on spending half a day at Arashiyama, such a divine place.
     
  • Kinkaku-ji Temple: It's not the biggest temple, but one of the few I highly recommend to visit. It's not the size of the temple, but rather the golden coating of the temple, surrounded by a beautiful natural environment. The mix of nature's green, and the temple's golden shine, is just the perfect spot for your photo camera.
  • Gion & Kiyomizu Temple: I'd recommend visiting the Gion neighbourhood, better known as the Geisha district, and from Gion walk towards the Kiyomizu temple. Very likely you will run into a couple of geishas or maikos [apprentices], or probably just japanese tourists dressed like one of them. Some shops offer a kimono-rental-service, which gives you the possibility to look like a geisha for a day. In Kyoto a geisha is also called a "Geiko", a geisha from the western part of Japan. The Kiyomizu is a big impressive buddhist temple on top of a hill, it's worth the visit. But as I mentioned before, after 10 different temples, I had enough.

 

Last, but not least! Nara.

Nara is a mix of Kyoto and Osaka. A very laid back and quiet city, which feels different than the city-life of the two previous mentioned cites. Lots of natures, temples, lakes, and too many deers. One of the main reasons I wanted to visit Nara, were the deers. I wanted to get a selfie with a deer so bad!

The parks of Nara are filled with over 100 deers. You're allowed to pet and feed them. The deers are so tame, that even little kids aren't scared to touch them. The funniest part would be the bowing [a sign of showing gratitude], if you start bowing in front of the deer, they will bow as well... well, mostly if they get a deer-cookie in exchange. You gotta witness Nara in real or just through images, words can't describe how beautiful that place is. I had the chance to visit Nara during the sakura season [cherry blossoms], it was an unforgettable daytrip. When I got back to the hotel, I noticed that I still had missed so many spots in the beautiful city. I need to get back one more time!

Second Line / Soulbar {Shinjuku, Tokyo}

On my 2nd trip to Tokyo, I booked my hotel in the Shinjuku area. Shinjuku is famous for its nightlife block called "Golden Gai". It's a whole block filled with bars, most of them are dive bars. Many of those places can only host a handful of customers, and are very limited in size. 

I heard about bar called "Curtis", which reminded me of the soulsinger Curtis Mayfield, it sounded like the right place to start my evening as a solo traveler. Due to a total lack of free-wifi spots in the area of Shinjuku, I wasn't able to get the right adress of "CURTIS" while walking through the tiny alleys of Tokyo.

Outside of a building I saw the wooden sign "SECOND LINE". In New Orleans -Second Line- is called the dancing crowd, which follows the brass band during a street-parade. I totally got the idea behind the bar name, and felt this would be a great substitute for "Curtis Bar".

I went downstairs to the basement, and entered the first door on the left. It was small bar, very dark, with 2 people sitting in a corner on a round table, and two other customers sitting on the counter. I took place on the counter as well, and the bar owner started to introduce himself in pretty good english.

A pretty big collection of vinyls, soulmusic playing in the background, dimmed lights above the tables, and I was watching the owner cutting ice blocks with an ice-pick for my drink. You could notice that the owner Masaaki Matsuzaki put all his heart into that bar. He told me I should call him Matcham.

Matcham introduced me to a couple of customers, which kept me busy for every night I visited his bar. We talked about records, about Japan, New Orleans and about our lives. Rarely I've been to a bar, that reflected so much passion.

After I visited "Second Line", I turned back every night for a drink or two for my next 4 nights in Tokyo. I'd recommend this place to evey music lover, and everyone who's looking for a laidback but classy place to start the evening in Tokyo.

Adress: 

  • 新宿3-10-11, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo, Japan
  • Facebook: Bar Second Line
  • Phone # : +81 3-3226-7890