Saturday, February 25, 2017

[Japan 2016] Getting From Kyoto Station To Osaka + Osaka AirBnB

Photo: Elin Chow

Leaving Yasaka Shrine, we headed to Gion-Shijo Station to take a train back to Kyoto Station. Our next plan for the day was to travel to Osaka, where we will use it as a base to explore the nearby cities of Nara and Kobe.

To get from Gion-Shijo Station to Kyoto Station, you will need to take Keihan Electric Railway bound for Yodoyabashi Station. Alight at Tofukuji Station (the third station from Gion-Shijo Station) and transfer to the JR Nara Line bound for Kyoto Station. The journey from Gion-Shijo Station to Kyoto Station takes about 10 minutes and will cost 270 Yen. Please note that the Keihan Electric Railway is not covered by the JR Pass.

Arriving at Kyoto Station, we proceeded to collect our luggage from the Baggage Room before heading to Osaka. The fastest and most comfortable way to get from Kyoto Station to Osaka is by the Shinkansen, which will get you to the Shin-Osaka Station in 15 minutes. If you have a JR pass, this is probably the most economical route to travel from Kyoto to Osaka. For those who do not have the JR Pass, the Shinkansen does not come cheap. The one way fare is 1,420 Yen.

Kyoto To Osaka

If you are traveling on a budget, the Shinkansen is certainly not the cheapest option. The fastest and cheapest way to get from Kyoto Station to Osaka is by the JR train on the JR Kyoto Line. The JR Kyoto Line is served by Local, Rapid and Special Rapid services. You can get from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station by the Special Rapid Service train in just 28 minutes.

The Special Rapid Service train is covered by the JR Pass. For those who do not have JR Pass, the one way fare from Kyoto Station to Osaka Station is 560 Yen. Of course, you can also take the Local and Rapid trains too.The Local and Rapid service trains are usually much less crowded than the Special Rapid service trains because they stop at more stations and take more time to travel in.

We took a Special Rapid service train at Kyoto Station, which departs from Platform 4 and 5. The train was surprisingly very crowded even when we were traveling during a non-rush hour. Furthermore, it does not have a dedicated luggage area for us to store our luggage. We have to hold on to them during the entire journey to Osaka.

Of course, we could make use of the luggage forwarding service to have our luggage sent to Osaka. I believe this will certainly make our life easier. However, we really do not want to incur that extra (and unnecessary) expense to forward our luggage to Osaka, especially when we were traveling with a tight budget.

Other than the JR trains, there are many other train services that connect Osaka and Kyoto. However, which one you choose will depend on where you are traveling from Kyoto. If you are traveling from central Kyoto, you might want to consider taking a Limited Express train on the Hankyu Line at either Kawaramachi or Karasuma Stations. This will get you to Umeda Station in Osaka in 40 minutes for just 400 Yen.

Osaka / Umeda Station

28 minutes later, we arrived at Osaka Station, which is also known as the Umeda Station. Both Osaka and Umeda Stations are located side by side to each other in the same complex, and are served by four different railway companies, consisting of several separate stations.

Located above the ground, you will find the JR Osaka Station and Hankyu Umeda Station. Going underground. you will find the Hanshin Umeda Station, Umeda Station (Subway Midosuji Line), Nishi-Umeda Station (Subway Yotsubashi Line) and Higashi-Umeda Station (Subway Tanimachi Line). Together, the six stations form the major transportation hub in Osaka. It is also known to be the biggest and busiest station in Western Japan.

Umeda is a major business, shopping and entertainment district in Osaka. The district is home to the famous Umeda Sky Building and HEP Five shopping mall. Thus, the train stations are always busy at any time of the day, which can be overwhelming for first time visitors

At Osaka Station, you can transfer to Takarazuka Line and the Osaka Loop Line whereas at Umeda Station, you can transfer to Hankyu, Hanshin and Subway Midosuji Line. Arriving at Osaka Station, we were intending to head to Namba Station. To get to Namba Station, we will need to transfer to Subway Midosuji Line at Umeda Station.

Namba Station is the fourth station from Umeda Station. The one way fare from Umeda Station to Namba Station is 240 Yen. Please note that the Subway Midosuji Line is not covered by the JR Pass.

In Osaka, we have decided to stay somewhere near the Namba Station, which is located in the heart of city. Namba is a major transportation, shopping and entertainment hub in Osaka. Thus, we figured that staying near Namba Station will not only provide us convenient access to other regions of Japan, but also food, shopping and entertainment.

Namba Station

Namba Station consists of four separate stations, which are served by six different railway companies. The four stations are Namba Nankai Station, JR Namba Station, Osaka Namba Station and Namba Station.

Namba Nankai Station is served by Nankai Railway, JR Namba Station by JR, Osaka Namba Station by Kintetsu Railway and Hanshin Railway and Namba Station by Osaka Municipal Subway. There are three subway lines in Namba - the Midosuji, Sennnichimae and Yotsubashi line. The subway lines are connected inside the ticket gates, which means you can transfer among the subway trains without exiting the gate.

You will arrive at Namba Station if you are taking the subway on Midosuji line from Umeda Station. All the other stations are located within close proximity to each other, so you can walk from one to another in just few minutes. The JR Namba Station is the furthest station located among the four, which requires a 10 minutes walk. It is located just beside the OCAT building where you will find Airport limousine buses to take you to the Kansai International Airport and Itami Airport.

Dragging our luggage behind us, we loaded up Google Maps on my phone for navigation, heading to check in our AirBnB apartment located near Namba Station.


Our AirBnB apartment is located in a convenient location, about 10 minutes walk from Namba Station. Its prime location allows easy access to trendy America Mura, Dotonbori and Shinsaibashi shopping districts, which is known for shopping, dining and nightlife.

Before departure, the owner, Yuhei has sent us detailed instructions on how to get from Namba Station to his apartment, with pictures of landmarks. Also attached in his instruction are details for checking in. Getting from the station to the apartment was easy, though it was located slightly further away than what I have expected.

The apartment is located off the main road, away from Osaka noisy traffic. It has excellent security system using an video intercom and is protected by a locked security gate with password. Yuhei is fluent in English language, so we have no problems communicating with him. He was quick on replying to messages and was always available to help us whenever we needed.

The one bedroom apartment is quite spacious by Japanese standard, newly furnished with all modern essentials that you will need for a comfortable stay. Modernly furnished, the apartment comes with a cozy queen-sized bed, wall-mounted air-conditioning and heater, TV, full length mirror, large built-in wardrobe, separate bath and toilet areas and balcony.

The bed was clean and hard. We enjoyed really good night sleep throughout our stay at the apartment. Clean towels were provided, so we do not need to bring our own. The apartment is spacious, with plenty of spaces to walk around even after putting in all our luggage. There are also ample storage space in the apartment for us to store our belongings.

In the built-in wardrobe, there are extra blankets, pillows, ironing facilities and hangers.

The apartment opens out to a spacious balcony offering a panoramic view of the city.

From the balcony, you will be able to see America Mura right at the far end of the street. The location of the apartment is also incredibly convenient, with plenty of restaurants, bars and 24 hours convenience stores around.

The apartment also comes with a well-equipped kitchenette completed with bar table and stools.

The kitchenette is equipped with gas stove, hood and cooking and dining wares. A fridge, microwave oven and electric boiler are provided as well.

However, there was no complimentary water provided in the apartment, so we have to buy our own water from the nearby convenience stores.

Just like most other AirBnB in Japan, the apartment also provides pocket wifi for free. But just as I have mentioned previously, we still prefer using the pocket wifi that we had rented from Travel Recommends simply because it offers better connection, speed and battery life.

One of the main feature of the apartment are the hi-tech bathroom and toilet. The bath area has a small changing area where you will find a sink and a washing machine.

Inside the bath area, there is a small and deep soaking tub. Hair dryer, body soap, hair shampoo and conditioner are provided as well.

The toilet is equipped with a washlet. There is also a sink that sits on top of the toilet tank so that you can wash your hand after flushing. The water will comes out from the sink automatically right after flushing, which is then recycled to fill the tank for the next use.

The apartment was very clean and cozy with plenty of with convenience surrounding it. Overall, we have a very wonderful and enjoyable stay at the apartment. It was truly a home away from home! I wish we could stay here for longer, but unfortunately we could not. I would definitely love to stay at this apartment if we travel to Osaka again.

Yuhei was a very friendly host who always try his best to make our stay an awesome one. He even sent us a list of recommendation for places to eat as well. The price was fairly affordable and definitely well worth the price. For those who are looking for a clean and modern accommodation in Osaka, this is really a great place to stay.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 7 days in Japan. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

[Japan 2016] Gion, Kyoto: Yasaka Shrine + Maruyama Park

Photo By: Elin Chow

After lunch, we left Kiyomizudera Temple and continued down the stone paved Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka in Higashiyama District. The sloping stone alleyways that are crammed with traditional wooden shophouses, restaurants and cafes selling pottery, sweets, pickles, crafts and souvenirs.

Most of the shops open around nine or ten in the morning and close around five or six in the evening. Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka is a prime destination for tourists who wish to see the old Kyoto. Thus, the stone paved streets can be touristy and packed with tourists at any time of the day.

The historic stone-paved lanes eventually lead to the Gion District, which is the main Geisha district in Kyoto. Lined with modern entertainment establishments such as restaurants, shops, bars and clubs, the Gion District is not only a major tourist hub, but also a popular nightlife spot in Kyoto.

With the help of Google Maps, we arrived at Yasaka Shrine (previously known as Gion Shrine), a famous Shinto Shrine located along the bustling crossroad in the Gion District, Kyoto. The shrine is located about 30 minutes walk away from Kiyomizudera Temple.

Alternatively, you can take bus 100 or 206 from Kyoto Station and alight at Gion Bus Stop. Other than bus, Yasaka Shrine can also be reached by train. The nearest train stations are Gion-Shijo Station on the Keihan Line and Kawaramachi Station on the Hankyu Line, both of which are located about 10 minutes walk away from the shrine.

However, I would recommend walking from Kiyomizudera Temple to Yasaka Shrine through the narrow lanes of Ninenzaka and Sannenzaka. These two lanes are the best preserved historic areas in Kyoto. Walking through the stone-paved lanes will allow you to see and experience the beauty of the traditional old Kyoto.

Walking up the cobbled stone steps, through the two storey vermillion entrance gate, we left the noisy and bustling streets behind.  Yasaka Shrine is open all day and admission is free.

The approach to the shrine is lined with food stalls selling a variety of local specialities.

Yasaka Shrine is dedicated to Susano-o-no-Mikoto, Kushiinadahime--no-Mikoto, Yahashira-no-Mikogami. Susano-o-no-Mikoto is the god of good health and prosperity, who was known for his defeat of Yamata-no-orochi (a large serpent with eight heads).

Yasaka Shrine is famous for Gion Matsuri, one of the biggest festivals in Japan. It is a month long festival that takes place over the entire month of July, attracting thousands or even million of tourists every year.

In the center is a roofed wooden stage that is used for religious ceremonies. The stage is decorated with hundred of hanging lanterns bearing the names of companies that have donated, which gets lit up at night.

On the left, you will find the Honden (Spirit Hall), a single storey building with several large bells draping over its entrance. The Honden is one of the most important building in the shrine. Ringing the bell is said to wake up the god and repel evil.

Just like any other temples and shrines in Japan, there is also a roofed water basin (known as Temizuya) with wooden water laden for purification. Worshippers are required to wash their hands, mouth and handle of the water laden to purify themselves before entering the main hall.

Yasaka Shrine is especially crowded during New Year where locals flock here to pray for good fortune. Being located in one of the main shopping district in Kyoto, the shrine also attracts a reasonable number of locals and tourists at any time of the year.

Located just behind Yasaka Shrine, you will find Maruyama Park, a popular cherry blossom viewing spots in Kyoto. The park is extremely crowded at that time of the year when the cherry blossoms are in bloom. An enormous Torii gate stand at the main entrance of the park at the back of Yasaka Shrine. Passing through the gate, we found ourselves at the foot of a mountain, surrounded by nature on all sides.

Standing at the base of Higashiyama mountain, Maruyama Park is the oldest park in Kyoto. Covering a total area of 86,000 square metres, the park is open throughout the year. Just like Yasaka Shrine, admission to Maruyama Park is also free.

Although a popular spot for cherry blossoms viewing, Maruyama Park is a lovely place to enjoy the fall colors in Autumn too. During autumn, the leaves on the trees change colors from green to yellow, bright orange or red. The trees have shed their leaves and become bare and sparse as winter approaches.

The trees seem lonely and barren, but equally stunning. Furthermore, they were quite photogenic too. Around the park, you will find lots of little spots where you can sit and enjoy the cool autumn breeze while listening to the sound of birds chirping.

Sitting in the center of the park is the famous weeping cherry tree which will lit up during night time. The tree is a star attraction of the park and is over seventy years old. It is said that the tree have grown from a cherry blossom tree that is over 300 years old.

There are protective fencing placed around the tree to protect it from any damage. During Spring, the tree is overflow with cherry blossoms. But it was bare when we were there in Autumn. Nevertheless, it was still an impressive sight.

Next to the tree, there is an enchanting pond surrounded by beautiful landscaping. In the pond, you will find many fish, a couple of Mandarin ducks and turtles. There is a stoned footbridge spanning across the pond.

We strolled through the picturesque park at a leisurely pace under the shades of red and yellow leaves. It was a lovely day and the atmosphere is very calm and peaceful.

All around the park, there are benches where you can take a rest and enjoy the quietude of the park. You can easily spend an hour in the park doing nothing. It is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.

The area of the park is quite small and easy to navigate. For those who wish to get close to the nature, this is a good place to enjoy some tranquility. It is a surprisingly a good place to enjoy the autumn leaves in Kyoto too.

All around the park, there are also a number of teahouses in the park selling snacks and drinks. You can enjoy matcha tea and local cuisines under the shade of colorful maple trees while enjoying the cool autumn weather.

If you are interested to know more about our trip, you may want to check out our 7D6N Osaka - Kyoto - Nara - Kobe Trip Itinerary + Overview for the list of attractions that we had visited during our 7 days in Japan. For anyone planning your first trip to Japan but have no idea where to start, you should read my "How To Plan A Trip To Japan" post.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter for the latest updates on my 7 days adventures in Japan! You might also want to check My Wanderlust page for some of my other travel adventures.