Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Japan: Part 2: Kyoto & Nara

Part 1

Tues April 11

It rained all day. Never once did it let up. I bought an umbrella from the convenience store, too bad it wasn't collapsible.

We'd planned to see Nijo Castle first but we weren't paying attention to our stops and missed it so we just carried on to the Arashiyama bamboo grove. It was very pretty but you had to be careful on the path because you might lose an eye to umbrellas and there was the odd car driving on what I had thought was a walking path.

We didn't go deeper into Arashiyama territory, instead we wandered away with plans to head back to the station a different route. We stumbled across a beautiful temple called Jojakko-ji.

Jojakko-ji was beautiful and more than worth the Y400 entrance fee. The brochure says about the rainy season " mosses brim with life. The rich green world of this peaceful green color softens our hearts." Well, I guess visiting in the rain wasn't so bad then. This mountain-side temple was established at the end of the 16th century and has a "new" two-storey pagoda that was built in the 17th century (maybe 350+ years young then). We nearly had this place to ourselves. Someone was taking a picture of the spot below but we never saw them anywhere else and a couple people seemed to wander in after us but I didn't see them on the upper levels of the grounds or when we left.

We had lunch at the mall near the Nijo Station, some wonderful noodles and tempura veggies. We didn't know what to do when we first entered but thankfully someone else did and we copied them and ordered cafeteria-style. We carried on to Nijo Castle, about 15 minutes away.

Nijo Castle was completed in 1603, making it over 410 years old by Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder and first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate 1603 - 1687. His grandfather started Nijo Castle. While many building no longer stand in the grounds it is an amazing place to visit. 

I didn't expect to be able to go into Ninomaru Palace but it was amazing... and also, there was no rain inside so that was nice. We weren't able to take pictures but the building itself is so different than what I'm used to and the art was amazing. I kept staring at the ceilings to spot the differences between sections. We walked on nightingale floors that "sing" when you walk. I've read online that this was a security measure to alert of guests and intruders but a sign in the palace said it was just a result of how the floors were joined. You choose your story then, I know which I'm choosing! The palace is actually six connected buildings, has 33 rooms and over 3,600 wall paintings.

The various gardens were amazing, even in the rain. I'm not sure how much time we spent here but I would imagine at least two hours. Had it not been raining I could have sat and stared at the ponds and islands for quite some time. There is English audio guides available but I am not only cheap but scared of being electrocuted. There are occasional signs around the grounds that tell you about the item or area and the guide book has good info as well. 

We went home and struggled to figure out the plug in heater. Eventually we left it and I think that unlike heaters here it was a long-term heating process instead of the small ones here that blast you instantly. 

I also squished myself in the small bath tub to soak a bit. I could either soak my legs or my back but not at the same time. My back got stuck when I tried to move and made a big noise and L thought I'd fallen or something. Some bath is better than no bath, I guess. 

Wed April 12

Off to Nara, an hour away. We could leave from our home station instead of Kyoto Station so that was nice. I don't think we got on an express train so it made our trip slightly longer than it had to be but we got there fine.

The whole reason I went to Nara was to see the deer and boy did I get to see deer! My friends bugged me that we have deer at home but their's are hip-high sika deer that are the messengers of a god. In the train station we found a gentleman with a map of important tourist stops and we also stopped at the tourist info building just outside to see if they had any brochures we should pick up. They didn't have brochures but they had stamps for me!

We saw Japan's second tallest pagoda at Kohfuku-ji Temple before continuing our walk towards the park. There were deer around the entrance but they wouldn't come to us because they knew we didn't have cookies yet. After I spent Y300 on two sets of cookies we became much more popular.

Most deer will also bow to you if you hold the cookie above your head. You have to watch out though, in another part of the park groups of deer will surround you once you buy cookies and of course they may bite or kick you because they are wild animals. One deer was looking for the cookies I had in my pocket but aimed high and bit *cough* a delicate area.

We walked along the path to a temple that had stone lanterns but didn't visit it as I heard the lanterns were it's best feature and then went to see the world's largest wooden building and the giant Buddha housed there: Todaiji. Behind Buddha is a wooden pillar with a hole the size of Buddha's nostril in it. If you can make it through the hole it's said you'll reach enlightenment. 

After lunch we visited the smaller of two garden next to each other. Why the smaller Yoshikien Garden? Because it was free for over-seas tourists (with proof) so I didn't have to pay Y900 at the bigger Isuien Garden.

After getting home we took off for the Philosopher's path which was amazing. The two km canal-side path was lined with beautiful cherry blossom trees. It was more stunning than words or pictures could ever contain. We attempted to take a different route back to the train station so we could visit Gion and ended up getting lost but we did make it to Gion!

We didn't see any geisha but we found a night-time festival and got to try more festival food and enjoy the atmosphere. I think I might have to do a post just on food.