Osaka is less than an hour away from Kyoto, and our first meal there was some amazing ramen and tsukemen in the nearby neighborhood. The next morning, we headed to Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum in Ikeda to pay tribute to our college meal staple.

Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum

We heard the CUPNOODLES MUSEUM in Yokohama was bigger and more foreigner friendly, but this location fit our schedule better. Everything was in Japanese, but since the exhibitions did seem to cater to kids, they were still enjoyable. I looked forward to creating my own Cup Noodle most – just 300 Yen each! Of course, I had to make my drawings Ghibli-themed.

Custom Cup Noodle

The JR Pass made all the travelling between cities more affordable, but often times, the local trains (from different companies) within the cities were more convenient.

Osaka Train

After getting off the stop towards Osaka Castle, we noticed a couple girls dressed in visual kei style, which in this case, meant punk-ish black clothing and voluminous, colorful hair. As we walked further, we started seeing more and more. As it turns out, there was an X Japan concert in Osaka-Jo Hall, which is right next to the castle. That surprising sighting of fashion aside (no photos to show for it), Osaka Castle was basking in such a gorgeous warm glow a couple hours before sunset, that I insisted Jay and I take a photograph in front.

Osaka Castle

The grounds were fairly barren, but the view from the top was worth the visit. Exhibitions inside the Castle described the politics and history of the building, though I do wish there was more preservation of how rooms used to look. A moat surrounds the site.

Osaka Sunset

Dotonbori is like the Times Square of Osaka. The bombardment of bright LED signs and hawking of street foods can overwhelm the senses.


Mizuno was one of the most popular okonomiyaki restaurants in Osaka, but it was terribly disappointing. Fortunately, a takoyaki stall made up for the taste with hardly a wait! Gooey, piping hot batter with bits of octopus, squiggles of Japanese mayo, and dancing bonito flakes – yum.


Nara is less than an hour from Kyoto and Osaka, which made it perfect for a day trip. We visited Todai-ji to see Daibutsu, the world’s largest bronze Buddha statue. Just outside the hall was Binzuru, an 18th century wooden sculpture of the arhat. Supersition says that when you rub a part of the sculpture and match it with your own body part, your pain will be healed!


When visiting Nara, you cannot miss the deer that roam the city. We purchased a stack of ten crackers to feed them. They can sometimes get aggressive and nudged our butts forcefully (even chasing me at one point!) when they felt we weren’t feeding them quickly enough. They are not particularly affectionate towards humans, but they seemed to tolerate our presence. Our friends said that if you bow, they will return the gesture.

Jay and Nara deer

Every large city in Japan has a “sky” building of sorts, and Osaka’s is Umeda Sky Building. We made it to the Floating Garden in time to catch another sunset.

View from Umeda Sky Building

In December, there was also a Christmas market in the Sky Building courtyard – they even had some Germans working at the stalls! We stalled for a bit of time there before heading to Tsurugyu, a restaurant that serves authentic Kobe beef for a great price (about $100 USD for two). See that marbleization? It was stunning, gluttonous, and each order came with a different set of sauces. A shot of green juice and roasted corn tea helped wash down the delectable meal. I felt like crap the next morning with the absence of vegetables, but it was worth every bite.