From Kyoto

12 Asian Destinations for First-time Solo Backpackers

In 2012, I traveled solo for the first time in my life.

I still remember how scared I was before the trip. With only a small backpack, a Neil Gaiman book, a thousand dollars, and a will to get out of my comfort zone, I boarded the plane to Bangkok. As I was checking in, there were no butterflies in my belly, only a great fear that I might find myself unfit for the travel lifestyle and come running back home earlier than planned.

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8 FREE or Cheap Things to Do in Kyoto and Osaka

It’s interesting that, given the proximity of Kyoto and Osaka from each other (less than half an hour by train), each city radiates a distinct vibe that distinguishes itself from the other. I noticed it as soon as I stepped off the train station: while Kyoto is all about heritage and tradition, Osaka is fast-paced and adventurous. Kyoto has its temples, shrines and UNESCO sites; Osaka has its cuisine, shopping districts, and amusement parks.

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10 Photos of Cherry Blossoms in Japan

If you ask me to enumerate all the things that I love about Japan, you’ll probably not gonna hear the end of it. From its simple but sublime cuisine to its rich but action-packed history to their gentle but efficient way of life, Japan has always captivated me since childhood.

But one thing that I have always been fascinated with is the cherry blossoms. Perhaps it’s because of how my favorite manga and anime shows have romanticized the way their petals gracefully fall to the ground and slowly get blown by the wind. Perhaps it’s the way their pink and white foliage paint a new character to the landscape. Whatever it is, it is one of the many reasons Japan was a long-time dream destination.

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Kakigori: The Grandmama of Halo-halo

There was no more refreshing way of ending my half-day walk around the Arashiyama District than with a bowl of something cold and sweet. In the Philippines, I always end a tour with a tall glass of halo-halo. Here in Kyoto, Japan, the halo-halo is unheard of, and in its stead is a big bowl of kakigori.

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Osaka and Kyoto on a Budget: Travel Guide (Updated: 2016)

It was the trip I was so afraid to take.

The notoriety of Japan as an expensive destination hovered over my head for the longest time. Even when airlines offered bargain deals for flights to Osaka, I was reluctant to book. Not only was I worried about the visa not being approved for I didn’t have enough in my bank, I was also dreading how much I would be spending in the days after stepping on Japanese soil. Japan is expensive, I always thought. But someday, somehow, this trip has got to happen.

It finally did! And guess what? It wasn’t as tough on the pockets as I expected.

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10 Food Delights to Try in Japan

The moment that sushi graced my palate, I knew I had been mistaken all this time.

I was known in my circle as the guy who hated Japanese food. Well, ‘hated’ would be quite a stretch. I was just not a fan. At lunch or dinnertime and a friend would suggest a Japanese restaurant, I’d be the first to run to the opposite direction (unless they’re treating me). I’d always found sushi weird-tasting and many other dishes too dry. If there was one thing I wasn’t looking forward to in my first trip to Japan, it was the food.

But that changed as soon as I had my first meal in Osaka.

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Toei Movie Studio Park, Kyoto: A Japanese Pop Culture Immersion

Bang! I didn’t realize just how much of my early years had been taken over by the Japanese until I was standing in the middle of the movie park.

I may be a foreigner here, but everything around me looked and sounded mighty familiar. There’s a ninja statue clinging on to the wall in one corner, an anime robot in another, and two samurai warriors fighting in a make-believe Edo town. All that was missing was a hentai screening, and the characters of my puberty would have been complete. Tee-hee.

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Gion District: The Birthplace of Kabuki and Geisha in Kyoto, Japan

A wind of optimism hugged me as I emerged from the train station, but it went away in an instant. I was at the center of Kyoto’s Geisha District and the birthplace of the Kabuki theater. But I had a hunch. I had this awful feeling that I won’t see what I came here for. Call it intuition. Call it lack of faith. I’d say I was managing my expectations. My track record with Lady Luck had not been shining, shimmering, and definitely not splendid at all. I doubted fate would be so kind to allow me to see any geisha even at this place.

Gion District is famous for two iconic forms of traditional Japanese entertainment — the kabuki and the geisha. They are what people from all over the world travel to Kyoto for. While they are very different from each other, their roots are intricately tangled. I was thankful that once in my life my soles touched the ground where these two art forms burgeoned and flourished.

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5 Must-Visit Sites in Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan: A DIY Walking Tour

There were four pictures hanging on a wall just outside Tenryuji Temple. Each frame showcased the visual character of the site per season — clad in the fiery colors of autumn, dressed in white snow in winter, adorned with the pink glow of cherry blossoms in spring, and, finally, drowned in a sea of verdancy in summer. Three of the four scenarios would have been such a first-time treat. I had never seen autumn leaves or snow or cherry blossoms. Unfortunately for me, it was midsummer.

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