Balancing Rich History & Modern Culture: Christine Tran Explores Japan
I visited Japan for the first time exactly two years ago and this is already my third time back. I flew with All Nippon Airways (ANA) on previous flights, but during my most recent trip I had the experience of flying business class. ANA has direct flights from LAX to Tokyo (Narita or Haneda Airport) and many domestic flights to get you anywhere you need in Japan. Itami Airport in Osaka was my final destination where I’ll be exploring Osaka, Nara and Kyoto!
ANA is Japan’s only five-star airline and I can see why! With outstanding service, quality food in flight and the most comfortable seats, I truly had the five-star experience. From the moment I arrived on the plane, the staff greeted me, showed me to my seat and introduced themselves while serving me the freshest orange juice and champagne. With ANA’s Experience Class campaign, ANA is emphasizing that the journey should be just as important as the destination by delivering an unforgettable experience from the moment you step on the plane.
When I read the business class menu I was so excited! They had seasonal items and since I was traveling during Sakura Season they had cherry blossom bread and matcha dessert. What I was most excited for was their snack items which included Ippudo Ramen! One of the most well-known and best ramen in the world, I made sure I had it and it did not disappoint. The food in flight was the best food I’ve had, and I would fly ANA solely for the food!
First stop on my itinerary is Osaka! After checking into The Ritz Carlton Osaka, I went straight to the Osaka Castle. The castle is one of the most famous landmarks in Japan and one you do not want to miss. During the cherry blossom season there are many trees that bloom around the castle. Unfortunately, I was there a little too early and they were only starting to bloom. As a traveler I’m always looking for city/panoramic views of the city. For sunset I visited the Umeda Sky Building, it has the best view of the city!
On the second day, I did a day trip to Nara which is an hour train ride from Osaka. This was my first time visiting the area and it was my favorite part of the trip. Once I exited the metro within a few blocks I saw dozens of deer roaming the streets. It was so exciting to see such beautiful animals so close. I paid about 150 yen for a few deer cookies to feed them. I recommend walking deep into the park to get a few deer all to yourself.
On my last few days in Japan, I spent it in Kyoto – my favorite city in Japan! Kyoto reminds me of a city with a mix of an old city and a new city. It’s so easy to get lost and find beautiful corners and you may get lucky and see a geisha in Gion. There are so many things to see, do and eat, but here are a few of my highlights.
Kyoto is all about the temples and there’s plenty of pretty ones! They all can get very crowded and visiting before 7am is recommended. Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine is one of Japan’s most famous shrines and you may end up spending 2-3 hours if you decide to hike to the top. Since I wanted to see more of Kyoto I didn’t hike to the top but I bet the views were awesome. Tenryu-ji Temple is in Arashiyama which is a great location, after seeing the temple I explored the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove, something you do not want to miss. If you have time, make a visit up the mountain to visit the Iwatayama Monkey Park which is not too far from the Bamboo Grove. Kiyomizu-dera Temple has the best view for sunset, it closes at 6pm so make sure to arrive before they close the entrance. Kinkaku-ji is a gorgeous golden temple covered in gold leaf, I was amazed by how stunning this temple is. A walk along the streets of Hokanji Temple is one of my favorites, there’s plenty of souvenir shops and dessert shops selling matcha and mochi!
Fashion in Kyoto
The Japanese culture is really unique in so many ways when it comes to fashion. Japan is known for its unique street style, pops of color and beautiful kimonos. Kyoto is known for its famous geisha district, Gion. There are dozens of kimono rental stores all over Kyoto, I decided to dress up as a geisha for the day and I loved it! The experience was quite unique as it can take over 30 minutes to get dressed as there are multiple layers. The staff at the kimono rental were very friendly and made sure I loved my piece and hair. Since the cherry blossoms were starting to bloom in Kyoto, I explored the Maruyama Park in my new outfit.
There is so much to eat in Japan but in Kyoto you must have mochi and matcha! Matcha originated in Kyoto so you know it’s going to be amazing. I had matcha and cherry blossom soft serve probably every day. Another favorite is the daifuku mochi which is a small round mochi stuffed with red bean and fresh strawberries. I found the best one on the main road outside of Tenryu-Temple in Arashiyama. There’s plenty of amazing food like sushi, udon, soba, katsu, yakitori and ramen. One of my favorite ramen shops were Ichiran Ramen and the ramen shops located on the 10th floor in the Kyoto Station.
Exploring the Kansai region is one of my favorite places to explore in Japan. With a mix of history and modern culture it’s exciting to experience it all. Five days is just enough to have me wanting to book my next flight back to Japan with ANA Experience Class!