Japan · Travelling

Days 25 to 29 – Nara and Kyoto, Japan

Day 25 – Nara

Today I jumped on a plane and flew 650 miles south to Osaka. Not that I am staying there, as I then got two trains to the city of Nara.

Nara was the capital of Japan in the 8thC and has a legacy of beautiful temples and shrines. It also has a crazy number of wild deer roaming the streets. They have become so tame that they’re not phased by anyone and hilariously scare tourists by trying to steal food out of their bags. They have also developed this amazing trait where they all have learnt to repeatedly ‘bow’ to people to get food off them. It is quite surreal to see it, a few clips in my video above.

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I didn’t get to my hotel til 3pm so did not have much time to explore. However I did visit the Daibutsu Grand Buddha in Todai-ji temple. The buddha was built in the 8thC and is housed in the largest wooden building in the world. The buddha is 15 metres tall. It really was awe-inspiring to see it. It was however insanely busy with tourists – a few clips in my video!

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I also lucked out finding a great Japanese curry restaurant that had a veggie menu! It also served the most amazing dessert, pictured because it was so good. I going back tomorrow for sure. In fact I am thinking about it now 🙂

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Day 26 – Nara

Learning my lesson from yesterday, I was up and out before the bus and train loads of tourists arrived. It was also raining which I hoped would deter them and it seemed to thankfully.

I started my day at Kofuku-ji temple. It was moved to Nara from Kyoto in 710 and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Attached to the temple is a museum showcasing some of the artefacts associated with the temple, including some stunning buddhas. The temple has burnt down at least 4 times over it’s history but amazingly a lot of the statues and artefacts have survived.

I then headed over the stunning Kasuga Taisha Shinto shrine. Japan is full of both buddhist and shinto shrines. I am not sure which is the largest religion here. Either way it has left Japan with some amazing places to visit. Founded in the 8thC, it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is built at the edge of a forest with literaly hundred and hundreds of stone lanterns lining the pathways. They are only lit twice a year at special ceremonies but stunning to see them nevertheless. Luckily for me the place was pretty empty and I had time to slowly walk round and talk some great photos and video footage.

I lastly visited the Isui-en garden, a beautiful example of a traditional Japanese garden. Again, I virtually had the place to myself, so I could sit and feel tranquil! I then trekked back into town, expecting the usual where the hell can I eat moment, but actually found a great sushi conveyor belt restaurant with a decent number of veg options. Result. Tonight I am returning to the Japanese curry place with ‘that’ ice cream!

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Day 27 – Nara and Kyoto

My lat day in Nara and I wanted to see one of the four National Japan museums that is in Nara, as it was closed Monday. I was pretty much the first person through the doors at 9.30am which is always a great feeling! The museum houses some amazing buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Each one I look at and imaging owning it 🙂

A Bodhisattva and a thousand armed Kannon
A Bodhisattva and a thousand armed Kanon, 9thC

A quick whistle stop for an early lunch at the sushi restaurant I went to the day before and the waitress even remembered me, and that I was veggie!

I jumped on the train for the 45 minute journey north to Kyoto. The city was previously the capital of japan, and similar to Nara has many amazing shrines and temples. It is also astonishingly full of tourists. I think the book ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ by Arthur Golden is to blame as the vast majority seem to be American.

Anyway I decided I need to go to some slightly quieter places, so I go the bus up to a beautiful old Japanese house and garden called ‘Shoren-in’. It backed onto a bamboo forest, and had a lovely garden with a pond and carp. It then started thundering which only added to the great atmosphere. And rain usually means less people too. I got chatting to the gardener who told me that the fish, which were huge, were only 5-6 years old and that they can live to be over 50 years old!

Bamboo forest
Bamboo forest

I then trundled back into town and through the famous ‘Gion’ area, where most of the book is set I think. It is the older part of town, with lots of small lanes to discover. I then sat by the Kamo River for a while watching herons and cranes dip for fish, before heading back to my hotel.

Crane on the Kamo River
Crane on the Kamo River

In the evening I broke my ‘I won’t go searching for veggie restaurants’ rule again but this time it was spectacularly with it! I ate at a fab places called ‘Pettirosso’. The owners were an Italian Japanese couple who set it up because they had travelled the world and struggle to find the veggie food they liked, so they set up the restaurant in Kyoto so other travellers could eat great veggie food. And boy am I glad they did, as it was easily the best thing I have eaten this trip 🙂 Happy Ben.

Day 28 – Kyoto

Today the full force of the Kyoto tourist industry hit me! I employed the trusted technique of getting out early to beat the crowds, only to discover everyone else had the same plan. Add into the mix commuters and bus loads of school kids and it is a recipe ‘oh for God’s sake, I cannot be bothered’ so I sat in Starbucks for an hour whatssapping with my bestie as it seemed more fun! And it was.

When I finally did get out I headed to the famous Kinkakuji golden shrine. As beautiful as it was, the much promised serenity the guidebooks assure was somewhat spoilt but the hundreds of people trying to get a selfie in front of it. I took a few shots and headed off.

The rest of the day I wondered through the small lanes and alleys of the city, through Nishiki Market, where I had some top-grade matcha tea which was very green and very nice! I also ventured to the top of Kyoto station, which seemed an unlikely thing to do but they have built this great viewing platform up-top so you can see across the city and across to Kyoto Tower.

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I ended the day at a vegan place called Ain Soph. Whilst not as great as the place I ate at yesterday, to have two veggie/vegan places in one city is welcome indeed!

Day 29 – Kyoto

My last day in Kyoto. After the early aborted start yesterday I had a lay in! I went to the station to book my onward trains and then headed to a lovely quiet temple called Higashi-Honganji. Rebuilt in 1895 after a fire, the main hall is claimed to be the largest wooden building in the world. Thought the temple in Nara said that too. Someone’s lying….

Anyway it was lovely and tourist free so I hung out there for a while in the shade as it was about 30 degrees today. Then I walked up to the Imperial Palace and walked around the grounds and the gardens.

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Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace

In the evening I walked up to the Kiyomizu Shrine, with great views across the city. I also wrote a wish and claimed through a hole in a rock! All part of a mission to grant any wish! Can’t remember the name of the shrine but I was very scared I would get stuck in the hole! Most Japanese people are considerably smaller than me, and one lady watching laughed the entire time I was doing it! In fact you can see her laughing in the photo. Bitch.

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I ended the day at a sushi conveyor belt restaurant, cheap as chips as ever. I have enjoyed Kyoto, as touristy as it is. Onwards to Hiroshima tomorrow.

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