Kyoto: Part 2

Here’s the second part of Kyoto (day late, sorry!) 🙂

Day 11

This day dawned bright and cold. I did not even know it was possible for temperatures to plummet so far so quickly, but we all went from t-shirts and shorts to full length trousers and fleeces overnight.

We visited Nijo-ji castle in the morning, which has a squeaky floor (called the ‘Nightingale floor’), and a nice viewpoint. The Nightingale floor was so that nobody could sneak in or around the Palace plotting or committing evil deeds unnoticed. Also, I’d just like to point out at this stage a feeling we’ve had before on this trip, especially with regards to Japanese castles and palaces, and it is this. They’re all made of wood. Wood burns easily. Most information signs confirmed what we suspected and Nijo-ji was no exception – there is a lot of rebuilding that goes on after fires!

Part of Nijo-ji Castle
Part of Nijo-ji Castle

Another thing I’d like to point out is that in Japan, nobody seems to think twice about replacing what seems like the majority, or at least a significant minority, of old objects (namely paintings) with ‘replicas’, at least outside of museum settings…maybe it’s because they rebuild everything so often, it doesn’t make sense to display originals in their original place (e.g. a palace)? Not sure if it’s just a Western thing that we’re all about seeing ‘the originals’ where they were ‘originally’ (again e.g. a palace)? Any thoughts?

Scene from Nijo-ji castle viewpoint
Scene from Nijo-ji castle viewpoint

Anyway! In the afternoon, we had a pleasant but cold amble around the Imperial Palace gardens. Although not all in bloom, many blossoms were starting to emerge now, including a spectacular weeping cherry blossom tree, around which many tourist had converged to take pictures (obviously we did so as well). We wanted to do a tour of the Palace, but discovered these need booking at least a day in advance or they get booked up, and booked onto a tour for two days’ time.

Weeping cherry blossom tree
Weeping cherry blossom tree

One other thing that we saw was the Gold Pavilion, a Zen temple with beautiful gardens.

Golden Pavilion
Golden Pavilion

The couple we are travelling with in Japan had highly recommended trying an onsen during our time in Japan. Tripadvisor yielded an onsen within Kyoto that was near to today’s sights, called Funaoka Onsen, which wasn’t traditional in the sense that the water wasn’t sourced from an actual hot spring, but the idea behind it was the same, namely that it was a hot public bath, with lots of different pools to try. Customarily, you have to get naked for an onsen (it IS almost always segregated by gender, though!), and most are quite strict about this, so I refrained from trying it out – unfortunately, my self confidence isn’t high enough! Dave gave it a go though, and did enjoy it. I would say it’s definitely a ‘Japanese’ thing to do whilst you’re in Japan, and worth trying if you’re comfortable doing so.

We dined at a chain restaurant in the evening close to our accommodation, which was basically a curry house, suiting me fine.

Day 12

We did a day trip out to Nara via train on this day. The main aim of the day was to see the great bronze Buddha statue at Todai-ji. The Daibutsu-den, the main building of the Todai-ji temple in which the statue is housed, is the largest wooden building in the world. Nara was also the first capital of Japan, so there you go.

Lunch was bought from a Vie de France (bakery type place that does savoury and sweet items) at the train station so we could eat on the go.

We decided to do a self-guided walking tour of the main sights of Nara, that included the above statue, that is included in the Lonely Planet guidebook (I couldn’t find an online link). I honestly cannot remember all the names of the places we sort of popped in and out of during our walk (sorry guys!), but it was a series of temples, gardens and wooded areas. I do remember one of the gardens being quite peaceful – we took our lunch there. Nara is a peaceful, spiritual sort of place.

The garden in Nara where we lunched!
The garden in Nara where we lunched!

As for the main event, the bronze Buddha statue, it’s pretty spectacular. It’s kind of hard to get a good photograph that illustrates how big it is (the link above probably gives some exact figures) because he’s raised high up, so it’s difficult to ascertain proportions. I have included a photograph anyway, with Rodney*. There were a lot of tourists around Todai-ji, namely a very large group of schoolgirls on a class trip, but it did not feel too crowded.

Rodney with the Giant Buddha in Nara
Rodney with the Giant Buddha in Nara

Oh, inside the main building, aside from the Buddha statue, there’s a pillar with a hole at its base, which is apparently the size of one of the Buddha’s nostrils, and apparently if you can get through it you’ll reach Nirvana, or something akin to that. Dave and the girl from the other couple decided to give it a go and were both successful, but they’re both quite slim and it was still quite a narrow fit!! None of the children or those schoolgirls that tried had any issues either.

A 'proper' photo of the Giant Buddha at Nara
A ‘proper’ photo of the Giant Buddha at Nara

On, and a few extra points to add about Nara – the weather couldn’t make up its mind, and we experienced sunshine, rain and snow in turn! Very weird indeed. We bumped into some friendly Canadian travellers just before we headed into Todai-ji during the random snow shower (it didn’t last very long), who I think said it felt ‘just like home’. They’d just come over from Taiwan, which had apparently been boiling!

The other extra point is that there are many deer in Nara. They were once thought sacred, and are still free to roam the streets. They’re very friendly, and eager to sniff out food! You can buy ‘deer biscuits’ or do what we did, which is feed them leftovers, e.g. banana skins and apple cores!

Deer amongst the stone lanterns at Nara
Deer amongst the stone lanterns at Nara

Overall, if you’ve got the time, a Nara day trip is well worth it.

The next day was to be our last day of sightseeing in Japan!

*I had been looking for a ‘mascot’ for a while, a small fluffy thing I can take everywhere and photograph next to some attractions. Nothing had quite seemed right until I spotted the fluffy little deer toys being sold in Nara…and Dave named the one I got Rodney. He will crop up again from time to time in this blog!

Seen in Nara
Seen in Nara

I think the above is some sort of animal that acts as a mascot for drinking, or something – I may have got that ENTIRELY wrong, if anybody has any actual confirmed knowledge, let me know.

Day 13

A flea market comes to the front of Kitano Tenman-gu Shrine in Kyoto on the 25th of every month, and it being the 25th, this is where we decided to head in the morning. Unfortunately we ate big breakfasts and purchased Vie de France lunches before realising that the market does all sorts of wonderful street foods as well as souveniers! If any readers ever decide to go, my advice is – go on an empty stomach!

Flea market on the 25th of the month, Kyoto
Flea market on the 25th of the month, Kyoto

The weather started off rainy but cleared up beautifully in time for wandering the stalls. Wonderful aromas filled the air from various street foods, from more Okenomonyaki to fried sweet potatoes (delicious, by the way), and there were all sorts of things on display, from Buddha statues to old looking teapots. We didn’t buy anything, and if we would have it would have been for the purpose of getting a cheap souvenir, but I suppose there might have been something of note or value amongst all the older looking items that an expert eye would have been able to spot.

In the afternoon, we headed to the Imperial Palace for our booked tour. We only got to see the outsides of buildings, but the tour was informative, free and in English and I think worth doing. Again, you can look up the history of the Palace for yourselves if interested. I think in terms of what is accessible to walk around, I enjoyed the gardens the most earlier in the week, but like I say, the tour’s free so why not?!

Part of Imperial Palace, Kyoto
Part of Imperial Palace, Kyoto

The evening was devoted to packing. Our time in Kyoto had, alas, come to an end.

Day 14

Dave and I travelled back via bullet train to Tokyo on this day, in preparation for our flight the next day from Tokyo to Beijing. We separated from the other couple at this point, as they were staying on in Japan and heading south to the islands. Japan really does have a huge variety of landscapes and the Japan experience is hugely dependent on where you visit! For us, we knew we wanted to visit and we knew we had about a fortnight and so the Tokyo/Kyoto-with-a-few-day-trips combination worked well, but if you’ve got more time in Japan – you won’t get bored of places to visit and things to do, for sure.

We didn’t do much on our last day. We got lost trying to find our booked Riyokan but a friendly local lady helped us out.

The Riyokan was a pleasant one. You take your shoes off at the door of a Riyokan and store them in a locker and walk around the place in slippers. The hotel room is like a normal hotel room but has tatami mats and mattresses on the floor to sleep on. Also, the next morning, we got cooked breakfasts! Dave requested Japanese and I requested ‘Western’. The chief differences were that I got bacon instead of fish, orange juice instead of green tea, and toast instead of Miso soup, if you’re interested! We both got some form of eggs and potatoes.

China posts to follow, they’re all a jumbled up mess in a word document at the moment, but am trying to sort them all out 🙂

To summarise, Japan is a beautiful country, with friendly, wonderful, helpful, infinitely polite people residing in it, and it has a rich history. It is also straightforward to get around. There are also enough cuisines that you’ll find one you’ll like even if you’re a bit of a fusspot like me 😛

In short, I loved our time in Japan and would highly recommend anyone who hasn’t been on considering a trip there 🙂

Thanks for stopping by,

Ro x

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