Japan: Osaka and Kyoto during Obon

| September 12, 2009 | 6 Comments
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Obon is the most important holiday in Japan; it is the week when all the dead are remembered and mourned. This means that it is also the busiest holiday week of the year, thus the most expensive, and finding accommodation is most difficult (forget cheap accommodation).

Within this context we made our way from Shizuoka to Osaka, a city not as nice as Kyoto but with much cheaper accommodation and only a ten minute train ride away from it.

We headed straight to the area where the cheaper hotels are, but were surprised to find out that except for the 2 or 3 that were already full, the rest would not accept foreigners or in some cases women! We were disturbed by this, and after checking out ten places or more we decided to leave the city and sleep in Kyoto.

However we decided to head out only after having visited the main temple of the city: Shitennoji. And what a great idea this turned out to be because we would be there on the only day of the year when the temple is lit with thousands of candles to celebrate Obon.

Obon in Osaka's Shitennoji temple

Late that night we made it to Kyoto, only to have the usual problem of finding a place to sleep. Luckily a friendly Japanese girl helped us out, and with the support of a friend of hers she had called with her cell phone they were able to locate a hotel that was not full- at 60€ per night, not your typical backpackers budget. The next morning we were surprised to learn that because of the one hour late check out we had requested the hotel wanted to charge us an extra 15€. We were obviously not willing to pay and 30 minutes later the police was there. They were kind but not very helpful because they spoke no English, as well as unsure about what to do. Eventually the hotel gave up and let us go, probably because I told them I had called the US embassy because I was not sure about what was going to happen. Truth is I had, just in case, and at any rate the issue got settled. The cops rode their bikes away (yup, you read that correctly) and we made our way to the guesthouse we had made a reservation the night before.

What a dump. Never in my life had I paid that amount of money or even close to stay in such a filthy place, and I hope I never do again. We had made an online reservation for 2 nights at Uno Guest House, the only one we had found we space for two, and at almost 40€ we would sleep on the floor (on a futon, Japanese style) in a rotten and dirty place. Oh, and don’t get me wrong: I’ve slept in places like that or worse before, but at 1 or 2$ per night, not 55!

Lanterns

Anyhow, sleeping issues aside, Kyoto is a fantastic city. Full of trees and with many quiet backstreets where traditional Japanese houses provide shelter to young and old, it is a great scenario where spending an afternoon strolling around and getting lost just seems like the right thing to do. You will also find lovely gardens and the royal palace which we would not be able to visit because guided tours are mandatory and they were fully booked for the two days we would be there.

This would not be too bad though because right after being denied entry we would discover a one-of-a-kind cafe. See the insert to read about this little gem- and if you ever go to Kyoto don’t forget where you first heard of it!

TIP
On 412 Horimatsucho Karasumadori Sawaragimachi Agaru (besides the royal palace, a 3 minute walk from Marutamachi Subway Station) there is a place called Harimaya Station Free Cafe which is exactly that: a free cafe. Owned by a business man gone rich, he has created this cafe to give something back to a society that has made him wealthy by purchasing his excellent rice crackers, creating an emporium that is number one in its sector in Japan. The cafe is spotless, with AC or heater as needed, and serves all-you-want of fresh coffee, tea, orange juice and several kinds of crackers in an exquisite ambient. Making it our breakfast place for the next two days was perhaps pushing it a bit, but boy was that orange juice awesome! Check it out at www.harimayahonten.co.jp/pc

Kyoto is a great city, one that, as Liza put it, I can easily imagine myself living in. Time was however ticking away, as was the duration of our rail pass, which meant that we would dedicate the next day to Hiroshima, a city famous in the world for what it probably would not want to be.

Have you visited Japan? Were you here during Obon? What surprised you most, and what memories do you still hang on to? Share them with us in the comments section below, and this post too if you liked it!

Category: Japan

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6 Responses to “Japan: Osaka and Kyoto during Obon”

  1. Joey says:

    Hi Federico, I’m traveling to Kyoto later this year. I’ll check out some of these places, for sure. Thanks.

  2. Ali says:

    I am not sure if you are aware by now but it’s pretty standard practice to charge a fee for late check-out unless your original booking said ‘complimentary late check-out.’ Generally complimentary late check out is a perk reserved for customers who belong to a club or rewards program affiliated with the hotel. It would probably help to do your research regarding Japan for travelling there also, it is renowned for being quite expensive in comparison to other countries. Personally it is cheaper or on par with the cost of things in Australia so I am glad I was not daunted by the price of things.
    Also if you check out the imperial house agency you can make bookings to visit their establishments in advance to avoid the problem of being turned away – they tend to fill up fast though as the amount of online bookings that they accept is limited: http://sankan.kunaicho.go.jp/english/guide/kyoto.html

    I hope you had a great trip, your photos are lovely!

    • maitravelsite says:

      Hi Ali,

      Thanks for dropping by :) Regarding the fee this is supposed to be stated by the hotel when asking if late check out is possible- at least this has been my experience until and since that day. As for the costs of being in Japan I was of course well aware of I was getting into- just buying the japan rail pass from overseas was an eye opener! Thanks for that link BTW, I had never heard about that practice and found it very surprising indeed!

  3. Really? says:

    You do realize that it’s called Obon, right? Christ Jesus, did you even look at Wikipedia?

    • maitravelsite says:

      Nope, I didn’t look it in Wikipedia because that was the phonetics I understood from the Japanese lady. Weird though that I had corrected the mistake a long time ago…

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Hi, I'm Federico. Join me as I travel the world visiting world famous destinations and explore those not as known, offering money saving tips and unique insights for your ultimate trip.

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