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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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Kyoto: A few more

Summer rain.

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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.

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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.

Kyoto: Fushimi Inari Shrine

 

Orange you glad.

Certain places you just have to see to understand. I remember when Mike and I were planning our trip to Japan. We were discussing what we knew off the top of our heads about Kyoto. I said, “Everyone seems to go to those orange gates, but I don’t really get why.” Ok, I totally get why now.

 

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The Fushimi Inari Shrine is an important Shinto shrine dedicated to the gods of rice. In total, there are five shrines on the site. However, it’s the thousands of orange gates (torii) that get all the attention. The gates line 4 kilometers of pathway that wind up and down Inari Mountain. Visitors can travel along as much of the path as they like, depending on how strenuous of a hike they are seeking. The impressive gates, the beautiful greenery, and the peaceful atmostphere made it pretty clear why Fushimi Inari Shrine is one of the top sites in Kyoto.

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We arrived in the morning and it was much busier than these photos would have you believe. We timed our photographs to hit the gaps in the long train of people coming up and down the path. We also got good at adjusting our bodies to block other tourists in the background. I think we did a pretty good job of it.

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I love the subtle ombre in these leaves. 

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Yet another example of why reading a guidebook can be a valuable experience. On the other hand, it’s sometimes nice to have zero expectations. You have the opportunity to be genuinely stunned.

Kyoto: Kiyomizu-dera

To think we almost missed it.

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From Osaka, we headed to Kyoto. After arriving at our guesthouse and dropping off our bags, we headed out to find something to eat. On the way, we noticed a pretty pagoda at the end of a long and narrow street. Feeling curious, we decided to check it out. Turns out, the pagoda led us to another pathway that went up a hill to a popular tourist spot. There were souvenir shops, ice cream stands, and lots and lots of Boy Scouts. (The World Scout Jamboree was held in Japan this year).

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Then, we arrived at a beautiful gate, climbed the steps, and started a debate. Should we pay the relatively inexpensive entrance fee or just keep looking for lunch? How silly we would later feel. Thankfully, we decided to just go for it and check it out. It didn’t take long to realize we had wandered up to Kiyomizu-dera… one of Kyoto’s top sites.

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One of the most impressive features at Kiyomizu-dera is the veranda on the main building. It stretches out away from the hillside and is supported by numerous wooden pillars. When you view the veranda from other areas on the grounds, it’s a bit like looking at a giant treehouse. The greenery of the trees nearly swallows up the building.

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Water from the Otowa Waterfall is considered sacred and visitors line up to to drink it. The water is said to bring health, longevity, and wisdom, depending on which stream you sample. I didn’t notice any labels though so I have no clue which gift Mike or I will receive.

Near the end of our trip when Mike and I were reflecting on our favorite sights, we both picked Kiyomuzo-dera. We laughed at ourselves trying to decide if it would be worth the entrance fee. I know some people are pretty anti-guidebook when they travel. I’m not one of them but I am sometimes lazy. This is a perfect example of when guidebooks are helpful. If I had picked up our guidebook and taken a closer look at the map, there would have been no debate on the steps of Kiyomuzo-dera.

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A bit later in the afternoon we wandered down through Gion to Shimbashi, the “prettiest street.” Based on these photos, you might not believe me, but it actually was beautiful. My iPhone and the overcast sky  did their best to work against it. I would love to see it on a spring evening with the cherry blossoms in bloom.

More from Kyoto to come. (Eventually!)

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