Kyoto: Kinkaku-ji

Temple of the Golden Pavilion

Kinkaku-ji was another reason we wanted more time in Kyoto. Once I realized it was one of the most popular buildings in Japan, it seemed like a shame to miss it. 
DSC_0130Kinkaku-ji is one of those places you are warned to arrive at before the tour buses. Unfortunately, that’s just not always possible. Especially when you travel during a region’s high season, sometimes you just have to visit a temple at the worst possible time. So that’s what we did.

And yes, it was crowded.

We basically followed other visitors down a path along the perimeter of the grounds. There were few opportunities to stop and enjoy the scenery before we were pushed along by visitors coming up behind us. Before we knew it, we were back at the entrance. I was left with the feeling of, “Oh, so that was it?” Of course, the pavilion itself was gorgeous. There just wasn’t any time or space to stop and reflect on that fact.

Fortunately, we were able to grab a shady spot to enjoy some kakigori before escaping the crowded grounds.


Later in the afternoon, we headed back to Osaka to catch our flight the next day. It was a thoroughly enjoyable first trip to Japan.

Kyoto: Arashiyama Bamboo Forest

A place of scenic beauty.

I mentioned before that we rearranged our travel schedule to include a little more time in Kyoto. The main reason was to ensure we could spend an afternoon in Arashiyama. There’s no denying the allure of a bamboo forest. Although smaller than you might expect, the bamboo forest did not disappoint.

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You’ll notice that nearly all of these photos are slightly out of focus. It’s a mix of being quite rusty with my camera and the magical way bamboo filters light. 

It’s no surprise that the entire district of Arashiyama is considered a “Place of Scenic Beauty.” In addition to the bamboo forest, there’s the gorgeous mountains, quiet ponds, and the Hozu River. Just another place in Japan where you can forget your proximity to a large city.

DSC_0024 DSC_0043 DSC_0085 DSC_0087 DSC_0100 DSC_0103 Japan82As evening arrived, we sat on rocks along the river and waited for the traditional Ukai fishing demonstrations to begin. Skilled fishermen train cormorants to catch fish by swallowing them whole but storing them in their throats. The fishermen later retrieve the fish (and hopefully reward the cormorants). This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder what someone was doing 1,300 years ago to figure this whole process out. Mike could have watched the fisherman for hours. Fortunately, the demonstration is relatively short since it’s for the benefit of the dinner boat tours.

If you can see the lines beneath the fire, those are leashes attached to the birds swimming in the water. It was nearly impossible to get a decent photo. 

After a quick picnic dinner, we began the adventurous bus ride back to our hotel that involved being kicked off the bus at the end of the line, and not allowed on the next one leaving. I don’t actually remember how we made it back, only that we did, and that it took awhile.

Just a bit left of Kyoto to share.


Kobe: More Than Just Beef

The softer side.

After our time in Nara, we headed over to Kobe. We originally planned on spending more time there but ended up changing our itinerary to sneak in one more day in Kyoto. That meant our time in Kobe was brief, but we filled it as full as possible.

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The highlight of our visit was a short hike to an urban waterfall. It was easy to forget we were still in the city. We lingered as long as we could, cooling off in the refreshing mist.

Unfortunately for Mike, he didn’t get the chance to sample any famous Kobe beef. Maybe next time.

Nara: Tranquil Temples

And a big Buddha.

When we weren’t being delighted by deer, we spent out time in Nara visiting the many temples. The main area in Nara is small enough to walk from site to site, if you have a cool drink with you. Bicycles would be a nice choice, as well.

The must-see temple in the area is Todai-ji. The temple houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Buddha, known as Daibutsu. The giant Buddha, the lush green grounds, and the wandering deer really make for a peaceful scene.


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I loved our guesthouse in Nara. We stayed at Nara Backpackers in a traditional style private room. The guesthouse itself is 100 years old, gorgeous, and tranquil. I liked the guesthouse so much that I recommended it to my mother when she visited Nara a few months later.


From Nara we headed to Kobe.

Nara: Oh, deer!

Doe, a deer, a female deer.

Well… it seems like I should finish blogging our summer trip to Japan, considering we’ve also now taken a winter trip to Japan. Let’s just get back to where I left off…


After our time in Kyoto, we headed over to Nara. For a very short period of time, Nara was the capital of Japan. Today, it’s a peaceful escape from the larger cities of Osaka or Kyoto. In addition to the beautiful temples, Nara’s draw comes from the large deer population.


Tradition says that the deer are heavenly creatures who protect the city and all of Japan. Vendors sell special biscuits so visitors can give the deer a little snack. However, some of the deer are quite aggressive so if you buy some biscuits, be ready to dole it out on demand. The deer know to bow before accepting a biscuit and Mike enjoyed testing out their manners.

Japan5_Nara11Japan5_Nara4Japan5_Nara18 Japan5_Nara17 Japan5_Nara14 Japan5_Nara13 Japan5_Nara8 Japan5_Nara7 Japan5_Nara6 Japan5_Nara5 Japan5_Nara2Japan5_Nara15We spent our time in Nara deer watching and visiting temples. More on the temples next.

Kyoto: A few more

Summer rain.


One afternoon while in Kyoto, we took it easy. A summer rainstorm was in full force. We decided to wait it out as long as we could, and then headed out for a leisurely walk. I think the first stop involved Mike getting his umbrella (that actually belonged to our guesthouse) swiped while inside the corner store. After that we mainly wandered through quieter parts of Kyoto and eventually made our way to Kyoto station. These are just a few fairly random photos from that afternoon and evening.



Left: View of the city. / Right: I just liked the depiction of elderly people. So cute. IMG_0170_2 Japan41 Japan4

Left: Kyoto Tower / Right: Stairway at Kyoto Station

Kyoto Station (10th floor Ramen street) is also where I found some vegetarian ramen. A sign said, “We have vegetarian ramen. Just order miso or soy broth!” I was so excited. I ordered miso (from an automatic waiter), crossed my fingers, and anticipated a delicious meal. Well, that “vegetarian ramen” came out with a big slice of pork on top. Mike and I looked at each other and before I could do more than flap my hands wildly, he swooped in with his chopsticks to save the day. I just pretended like I’d never seen the pork in the first place and enjoyed the noodles. I was pretty hungry.

We enjoyed Kyoto so much that we changed our itinerary a bit so we could return for an extra day at the end of our trip. Now on to Nara.

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