It was a real breeze to make day trips to explore other cities in the Kansai region, based in Osaka. With the extensive rail system in Japan, it’s just 40 minutes to Kobe or Nara by train, and 1 hour 30 minutes to Himeji.
Haven’t heard of any of these places? You might be missing out. Let’s start with my day trip to Nara!
When travellers think of Nara, the image of wild deer roaming its parks and mingling with visitors comes to mind. I must admit, it was what drew me to the place initially. The deer really were just grazing freely!
They must be really used to tourists feeding them senbei crackers and many were pretty brave coming right up to tourists and grabbing food from their hands. I’ve mixed feelings about the park and about treating the deer as an attraction, but it was a lovely experience nonetheless.
Not just being so close to such a beautiful, sweet-natured animal but also to soak in the atmosphere of a eco-fair that was going on that day. The carnival vibes, cool air and plenty of sunshine really lifted the spirits.
But another highlight in Nara for me was the visit to Nakatanidou — a famous mochi shop that prepares fresh warabi mochi by hand at lightning speed using “mochitsuki”, a traditional method of pounding mochi.
It was fascinating to watch and people were crowding round the store to have a closer look.
While machines were used to mold, fill and shape the mochi, its really the element of tradition and pounding technique that had people captivated and curious to try.
While the mochi was being prepared, a queue had formed for the fresh batch. Of course, I couldn’t resist. How mouthwatering does this look?
The mochi was warm, chewy, sweet and sticky. Rolled in kinako or soybean flour. Absolutely perfect. Hands down the best mochi i’ve ever tasted. Do head down to the store if you find yourself in Nara. You’ll really enjoy the walk by the lake and the whole mochi-making experience.
On the way back to Osaka from Nara, I stopped by Kobe which was an hour’s Shinkansen ride away. People around the world rave about the legendary Kobe beef and being the foodie that i am, just had to make stop to try for myself.
Kobe beef is lauded for its superior flavor, tenderness and high amount of intramuscular fat, giving the meat a beautiful marbling.
There are plenty of shops selling Kobe beef there so just take your pick, I doubt you can go far wrong. I just hopped into a popular restaurant right across from the train station — Steakland Kobe. Here’s my dinner of perfectly-marbled, melt-in-your-mouth slices of Tajima Wagyu straight from the source. The set menus feature steak, miso soup, rice, Japanese pickles, dipping sauces, salad, and grilled vegetables, plus coffee or orange juice at the end of the meal.
Address: Steakland Kobe, 1-8-2 Kitanagasadori, Chuo-ku | Miyasako Bldg. 1-2F, Kobe, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan
Phone: +81 78-332-1653
Home to one of the most elegant, majestic medieval castles in the world, the Himeji Castle also know as the “White Heron Castle” dates back to the 1400s. Both a national treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the castle is a shining testament of the aesthetic sensibilities of the Japanese.
But it wasn’t all cobblestone paths and shrines.
Himeji had a surprising number of shops selling local delicacies, souvenirs and a good many cafes to just relax after hours of walking through the gardens and castle compound.
Naturally, I got hungry and had myself some piping hot fresh, steamed oysters from a small bar just across from the castle entrance.
Surprisingly, they had a completely different flavour from when we have them raw. It was absolutely delicious with some hot sake on a cool, cloudy day.
Himeji is a gorgeous way to get away from the rush and bustle of Osaka and give yourself a day there at least to explore the area and soak up the lush history and beautiful architecture. I was really glad I stopped by.