Access The World Solo Winner: Lean Jesselie Dela Cruz

  • November 13, 2019

We’ve got a winner! Check out Lean Jesselie Dela Cruz’s solo travel story, as she takes us to her version of Japan:

I went to Japan last January 24-28, 2017 and visited Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. I was actually supposed to travel with my best friend but due to certain circumstances, he was not able to go with me. I figured I was about to go alone three days before this trip happened so imagine the panic I experienced when I had to redo all the planning.

I took a flight out of Manila on the 24th arriving at around 8pm in Kansai International Airport. For my entire 5-day trip, I opted to stay in a capsule hotel since I was traveling alone and it’s a lot cheaper as compared to hotels or Airbnb units. I stayed at Wasabi Guesthouse in Osaka, which fortunately at that time, was offering a 50% discount on their regular capsule rates since they just opened! Lucky me! Since I arrived late in the evening and I was so tired already, I decided to call it a day and start my journey the next day.

I knew my second day was going to be jam-packed. I had to squeeze in the entirety of Kyoto in a single day due to time and budget constraints. I was doubting at first if I would be able to do it but boy, oh boy, I WAS ABLE TO DO THE IMPOSSIBLE. My first stop was Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. Admittedly, this is one of my most favorite places in Japan because being inside the area felt like being in a different universe. It is one of the most photographed sites in Kyoto with an array of tall bamboo groves surrounding a pathway.

My next stop was Kitano Tenmangu Shrine. It was built over a thousand years ago and is known for its weekend flea market and plum garden. There are plenty of street food in the area such as oden, yakisoba, ramen, karaage, and sweet potato. I opted to try takoyaki and I must say, it’s far from what we have here in Manila.

After touring the temple, I headed to the main entrance and took the Raku Bus Route 1 going to Kinkakuji Temple. Kinkakuji is known for its golden pagoda. Its two floors are covered with gold leaf. It really is an impressive structure and is built overlooking a large pond. During the time I went there, it was snowing and it was actually my first time to see an icy pond. Good thing I was able to stop myself from channeling my inner Princess Anna!

My next destination was Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates (an Instagram favorite) which straddle a network of trails behind its main temples. These trails lead to a wooded forest already in Mount Inari.

I passed by the famous Kyoto Tower just before going to my next destination – Kiyomizudera Temple. Too bad I didn’t have enough time to go up the tower. Kiyomizudera Temple, on the other hand, is one of the most celebrated temples in Japan. It has a humongous complex on the site of Otowa Falls, hence it is also called the Pure Water Temple. Can you believe that not a single nail was used in building that temple? Insane!

A few walks going down Kiyomizudera Temple is Sannenzaka, a short street depicting old Kyoto. Another path to its right is Ninenzaka and going straight will lead you to the Yasaka Pagoda. I felt like a part of Samurai X movie while traversing these two streets. I love Kyoto and I wish I stayed longer; I believe this is the best place to experience traditional Japan.

I went back to Osaka after the long day at Kyoto but it was just actually the start. I spent the entire night until the wee hours of morning food-tripping in Dotonbori and a little bit of shopping in Shinsaibashi. My first Dotonbori meal has got to be Ichiran. It was actually one of the main reasons why I decided to stay in Osaka all 4 nights instead of staying in Kyoto. If you know me enough, you’d know how much I love Japanese food especially ramen.

Sushi conveyor belt was next on my list. I won’t forget this experience of mine! It was fun since I was able to meet and sit beside a Japanese couple when I was inside the restaurant. They taught me a few things about sushi making and how to properly eat them.

I spent my entire second day at Universal Studios in Osaka. It was my second Universal Studios experience (the first one was in Singapore) and I’m looking forward to completing all four. I had crazy fun to think I was alone! I was literally like a kid running around with food in one hand, smiling and almost laughing all by myself because I was ecstatic to ride all the attractions! It could be partly because I don’t have to wait in line for a long time since I bought the express pass. And not to mention, I got to experience Harry Potter World! The child in me was totally rejoicing that time!

My third day was spent in the equally beautiful Nara. Nara is a lot more quiet and peaceful as compared to Kyoto, probably due to the smaller crowd volume. I wished I stayed longer here as well to meet locals since all those I’ve spoken to in a short period of time seemed really nice and accommodating. I first visited Daibutsuden Hall of the Todaiji Temple but before getting in, I was actually welcomed already by a herd of deer waiting for food. They were all so beautiful and calm-looking (though I would have to admit I was still a little afraid).

Just across Todaiji Temple complex is the path going to Kasuga Taisha. You have to walk along a forest to get inside this temple’s complex but it is all worth it since it houses several shrines and a botanical garden. After Kasuga Taisha, I visited Naramachi Museum which houses monkey dolls hanged as lucky charms in Japanese homes. I also had my lunch in Naramachi since the area has a few quaint cafes and a small market. I headed to Kyofukuji Temple shortly after lunch.

After resting in a park at Nara, I decided to go back to Osaka just so I could see the sunset at Umeda Sky Building. Trust me when I say it is one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen and the view is just perfect. Overlooking the entirety of Osaka with a drink in hand and being alone made me feel like I’m really an adult (a strong, independent one at that!).

On my last day, I strolled around Osaka visiting the famous Osaka Castle and a few temples. I also tried Pablo to know what the Manila fuss is all about and shopped some more after before leaving for my flight.

It was a short but definitely a memorable trip for me. Like what I have said in my Instagram post when I stepped foot in Manila, the whole traveling alone thing isn’t easy. It was hard to carry a 20kg luggage up and down the stairs, it was hard to take a decent photo of yourself, and it is even harder to identify places all by yourself relying on Google Maps alone, BUT it was all worth it.

I felt free the entire time, I had no one else to think about, and all the time was mine to use. Self-reliance indeed liberated me and the experience was self-nourishing. Little did I know, this trip was in preparation for something bigger that was going to happen in my life. Given a chance, I would definitely do it all again. I encourage you guys and girls to try it and do the same. With enough preparation, you definitely are in it for a ride 😉

Here’s a bonus short montage of this trip:

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