Japan III: Nara, Kyoto

After my highly successful stay in Osaka, it was again time to move on.  Liking the pattern of spending two nights in a single place, I found a hostel close to the train station in Kyoto and booked myself for two nights.  I had originally wanted to spend a couple days in Kyoto itself, but, being naturally inclined to traveling, this got somewhat shortened in favour of more time in Nara and an earlier arrival in Tokyo.  After bidding my farewell to Olivia, I headed out on a regional train to Nara.  After locating the oh-so-essential lockers, I deposited my things and set out to explore.  I made my way to the most famous site in Nara, the Todai-ji temple, which is famous for being the largest wooden structure in Japan, as well as the site of the largest Buddha in the country.  I am no particular connoisseur of Buddha statues, but it was certainly the largest I had ever seen.  Observe (though admittedly it offers little perspective):

a very large Buddha.

a very large Buddha.

Todai-ji is the largest wooden structure in Japan

Todai-ji is the largest wooden structure in Japan

Nara is also famous for those same pesky semi-wild deer that run around all over the place on Miyajima, which was charming at first (in Miyajima—I was never charmed in Nara), and was then just annoying.  They sell special crackers for the deer, as well, which make the deer particularly eager to harass tourists.  Other tourists, including this German couple, seemed more enchanted by the deer:

these very germans took many pictures of the deer

these very germans took many pictures of the deer

I then proceeded to wander around the gardens.  Truth be told, I was rather underwhelmed by Nara.   It was certainly nice to be somewhere that was not a big city and away from the constant skyscrapers and oppressing neon lights that are everywhere in Japan, but I didn’t find Nara particularly interesting.  Mostly just good to be somewhere that felt different.  After spending a very nice day there, though, it was time to move on.  I retrieved my things and boarded a train to Kyoto, excited to see what many consider to be the highlight of a trip to Japan.

I got off my train and went on to my hostel, checked in, deposited my stuff, and checked my email.  After attending to a few details, mostly concerning my next destinations and travel plans, I headed out on a long walk to see some of the city.  I wandered through the southern area of the city, eventually finding myself in Gion, the traditional entertainment district, famous for geishas and old, exclusive teahouses.  Certainly it was pretty.  The big buildings that choke the rest of the city felt pleasantly far away, and the area certainly had its charm.  Blown away I was not, however.  But it was fine.  I meandered through the small streets before eventually returning to my hostel to call it an early night so that I could make the most of my one full day in Kyoto.

My day in Kyoto began with a trip down to Fushimi Inari, a temple south of the city, famous for a long path of literally thousands of red gates.  The temple was well worth the trip.  The gates were really striking, though, I might admit, it got old after 30 minutes or so of walking through the gates.  Honestly…  the scenery didn’t change much:

thousands and thousands of gates.

thousands and thousands of gates.

But then I went back towards Kyoto proper, making my first stop at Hijo castle, which was quite interesting and beautiful.  Much like Himeji, the castle felt authentic and old.  The artwork inside was quite stunning (and I was forbidden from taking pictures).  The gardens were also nice, and the Hijo-Jo was certainly worthy of my limited time.

I then meandered further to Kinkaku-ji, a temple famous for the stunning “Golden Pavilion,” which, as my guidebook pointed out, has to be seen to be believed.  Amazing:

the Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

the Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji, Kyoto

After touring the temple, I continued on to the Gion district, which has a number of temples.  Certainly an enjoyable way to conclude the daylight hours of my time in Kyoto.

I then headed back to my hostel, where a Brit and two Dutch guys were making plans for an evening out on the town.  With nothing better to do, I decided to tag along, which was a lot of fun, though perhaps not the greatest decision for my sleep schedule.  The evening began at a curry joint, where the Londoner made up for his lack of dinner while the others of us kept him company and had a beer.  We then proceeded to a Dutch bar, where we played a round of Big 2 (the Chinese card game), before switching to the German (and, Dutch, evidently) card game “Asshole,” an excellent game, if you ask me.  I was glad to learn the Dutch play it exactly the same way I do, and we enjoyed a number of rounds over a couple beers.  And then it was time for the real party to begin, at some club where the Dutch guys had been promised they would meet Japanese girls (not in a particularly sketchy way, I mean).  It took me a while to get used to it, but I can’t say it was a terrible evening.  We were there until closing time (just after 5 am), and we then found ourselves at a nearby ramen stand for a bit of food, before heading home, arriving back at our hostel just after 7 am.  A long night…  But certainly well worth it.  I got what sleep I could, before checking out the next morning around 11 and making my way towards Tokyo, which will be covered in the next post.

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