Hours of editing and waiting to load/upload/reload later, here’s another late post for my Japan 2015 + Hong Kong travel series *phew*.
The highlight of the day was meeting my second elder brother after nearly 4 years, as well as visiting the Fushimi Inari shrine, where the famous running scene of little Chiyo from Memoirs of A Geisha (2005) was shot.
Goosebumps alert: I could feel the chills just by listening to the music.
By the time Day 2 of 7 ended, which would be the day we’re going to cover on this post, we moved to a nearby ryokan 旅館, as I mentioned on the previous post. Amazingly enough, we moved by foot, schlepping all of our baggages and everything that night. We chose to move by foot mostly because it’s more energy-efficient than lugging our heavy-duty stuffs up and down the stairs on the subway/JR. So that’s a major workout for the night, before we dined a superb dinner at Manzara まんざら本店, a highly-rated restaurant across the street.
Oyado Ishicho お宿いしちょう
+81 (0)75 222 1101
Nearest JR station(s):
- Jingumarutamachi 神宮丸太町
Nearest subway station(s):
- Kyoto Shiyakushomae 京都市役所前
You’ll navigate the same way as you do on this post as you do with the previous post: Click through any of the places listed below that you want to view first, and then click the upward arrow symbol (↑) to come back to this section of the post. This prevents the infinite scrolling you have to do in this super duper long post *hehehe*.
KYOTO 京都 ↑
The Old Capital is the city I dream of living for the rest of my life – no questions asked. For some inexplicable reason, the people there really embody the mienai oshare 見えない お洒落 concept of beauty more so than Tokyoites. The city itself has got a nice balance of the nation’s most venerable charms and contemporary cultures. I can so picture myself, if I still plan to not have a family, living to old age in Kyoto, illustrating children’s books all day, sipping tea and playing with my Frenchie puppy. There are lots of greens for Kyotoites to run long distances with neither the crowd nor the busyness of Tokyo, natural hotsprings throughout the region, and that you can survive without a car (I mean, you can, too, living in Tokyo, but Tokyo is about 2.5x larger than Kyoto [2188 sq m vs. 827.9 sq m]), not to mention that this not-so-small town is the home of over a dozen UNESCO World Heritage sites. This by no means it’s some remote desert; far from it. People from all over the world are concentrated in just this one city, and I suspect the Jidai 時代祭, Aoi 葵祭, and Gion festivals 祇園祭 have a lot to do with it. These 3 matsuris 祭, or festivals, are some of the most famous celebrations in Japan – no other city in the nation hosts that many important festivals as Kyoto does.
Speaking of hosts, we have one for the day: My second elder brother. As I said before, he’s been happily living in Nagoya 名古屋 for almost 4 years now, and probably ever after. The earlier part of the day was dedicated to catching up with him, as it takes roughly 4 hours for him to get from Nagoya to the Kyoto Station building. We were originally planning to head to UNESCO World Heritage site Kiyomizu-dera and the Zen temple Tokufu-ji that day, but obviously we didn’t have much time by then, and so he suggested we make a fun detour to Nara 奈良 city instead.
Now this isn’t just any old railway station – it’s the city’s transportation hub and Japan’s 2nd largest station building. You’ve got shopping malls, cafes and restaurants, a movie theater, a hotel, an Isetan department store (complete with its very own website), and several local government facilities in this one building.
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After getting a pore scrub/peel/mask and this award-winning mascara at a Kokumin コクミン store1 in Porta mall (located underground of the Kyoto Station building), we met up with my bro and grabbed lunch at MACHIYA 町や, a popular chain restaurant that specializes in okonomiyaki お好み焼き.
It’s received excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, but when you’ve just eaten a splendid meal on the previous night, this is simply good. Unsurprisingly, there were a lot of foreigners in the house during our visit that day. We even had to wait in line outside (although it didn’t take very long).
MACHIYA 町や (Porta Dining)
+81 (0)75 343 3077
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Fushimi Inari Shrine ↑
A bucket list item for most people mostly for it’s thousands of torii 鳥居 gates, but locals pay a visit for reason: It’s Japan’s oldest and largest shrine of Inari (out of over 30,000 shrines nationwide!), one of Shinto’s principal kami 神 (god) that rules over foxes and represents luck, prosperity, and success. Inari is also the god of rice, tea, sake, and of agriculture and industry in general, as well as fertility. If you have more than enough rice on your table, you’re especially blessed by Inari. Everything that has to do with enrichment and fortune, the Japanese pray to her, particularly among businessmen. The deity is sometimes depicted as a man, but in popular cultures you’d most likely recognize Inari as a young goddess, perhaps carrying rice. Her (or his) eyes and ears of the world are white kitsunes 狐 (foxes), which is why you tend to see fox statues in Inari shrines.
There are 5 main shrines in the entire complex, with sub-shrines and auxiliary buildings sprawling throughout. The entire complex sits atop Inari-yama 稲荷山 (Inari mountain), which stands at 233m above sea level. If you follow the 4km trail from the front gate till the end, you’ll be getting a good 2-hour (or s0) workout for the day.
Due to time constraints, we only trekked till the intersection of Kumataka-sha 熊鷹社 and Okusha public worship grounds 奥社奉拝所. It didn’t even count as a trek as much as it is a constant photo-taking walk at every torii gate. When I have the chance to come back, no doubt I’ll hike all the way to the peak 一ノ峰 and trek all the way down through the trail, because beautiful fox fountain and plain curiosity …
Fushimi Inari-taisha 伏見稲荷大社
+81 (0)75 641 7331
Nearest JR station(s):
- Inari 稲荷
- Fushimiinari 伏見稲荷
And then, it’s about a 50-minute ride from the Inari Station稲荷 to Nara Station 奈良. It’s a shame that Nara is often a mere side trip from Kyoto, when it rivals other cultural legacies in the old capital, as you’ll learn in a minute. Unfortunately, he had to leave early because his work starts at 6:30pm, right after the working-class Japanese get off work and begin their English studies. So again, sorry not sorry for taking too many pictures … x)
Boasting 8 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the nation’s first capital was established as early as AD 710. The establishment of Nara kicked off what we’ve came to know as the Nara period, or Nara jidai 奈良時代, a time in antiquity when Buddhism had major influence on the Japanese and thus, threatened the government and caused them to appoint Nagaoka 長岡 as the nation’s new capital, which then moved again to present-day Kyoto 京都 by the end of this period (AD 794). So don’t be surprised to see lots of Buddhist statues and monasteries studded all over the prefecture. They are often collectively referred to as Nanto Shichi Daiji 南都七大寺, or simply the seven great temples of the north.
One of these temples is the great Todaiji complex 東大寺, home of the largest Buddha statue in the world. Bro highly recommended visiting it, but by the time dusk fell, our legs failed us so bad we had to take frequent breaks just to sit down (not to mention later at night we moved hotels by foot). So yes, of course I’m going to come back here to see the Daibutsu 大仏, or the Great Buddha, which nearly bankrupted the Japanese government to build back during the Nara period. It’s built in 437 tonnes of bronze and 130kg of gold, and sits in the Daibutsuden大仏殿 (Great Buddha Hall), formerly the largest wooden building in the world. Back in the days, it’s even more massive than the Yingxian Wooden Pagodai in Shanxi, China. The present Daibutsuden structure is only 70% of what it originally was since its reconstruction in 1709.
Nara Park ↑
Now this is the reason why deers are an icon of the whole prefecture: They’re sacred and polite! Legend has it that these deers (specifically sika deers), long venerated as the messengers of Shinto gods, arrived here since the Japanese Thor (Takemikazuchi-no-mikoto 武甕槌の尊) came riding on the back of a white deer in AD 768. The god of thunder, who’s also one of the patron deities of Japanese martial arts, was supposedly invited here from the city of Kashima 鹿嶋, the birthplace of kenjutsu 剣術, the art of Japanese swordplay. Takemikazuchi eventually became the first of 4 deities inhabiting Kasuga-taisha 春日大社, the Shinto shrine that nests within the 250-hectare Kasugayama Primeval Forest area. The whole Kasuga area is recognized as the UNESCO World Heritage site Kasugazukuri 春日造, which is on the southeast end of Nara Park (~660 hectares). That’s how killing these 1200 or so deers became a violation according to capital laws because they belong to the shrine, including even accidents are punishable by death, at least until 1637.
Thankfully, death penalties no longer exist, but these treasures are still heavily protected by the government. Looking back at this intimate experience with them, I think I might stop consuming deer antlers from now on, no matter how much the Chinese and the present Western world vouch for its performance-enhancing properties. What other wild animal can you think of that bows politely to greet you?
Wild as they are, they can get pretty aggressive if they know you have loads of biscuits …
Nara Park 奈良公園
+81 (0)742 22 0375
Nearest JR station(s):
- Nara 奈良 (yeap … it’s going to take a longer walk to reach the park)
Really feel like I’m missing out a lot without seeing all the Buddha structures surrounding Nara Park, but it’s a gratifying experience alone meeting my totally Japanified bro (is that a word?) and the closest encounters I’ve ever had with deers. Till next time! Next time: Day 3 of 7 | Kyoto: Gilded Kinkakuji, the bamboos at Arashiyama, and geisha district Gion.
Your turn: What’s the wild animal you’ve had the closest encounter with in your life? Bet you’re gonna get Bambi (1942) on Netflix right after visiting Nara Park, and then fall in love with does all over again ;)
- It’s a popular drugstore in Japan that carries everything in-between affordable cosmetics and high-end brands [↩]