After an amazing trip to Nagano, Dad and I continued our Japan adventure in Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. We also wanted to visit nearby Nara, famous for the wild deer that roam the streets. Originally we were going to take one day for each destination, but we spent the entirety of the first day traveling from Nagano to Kyoto. So, the two of us decided to stay in Kyoto the next day. We ended up doing both Kyoto and Nara, and I’m glad we did, because I really wanted to see some historic sites and play with deer and I got my wish!
Fushimi Inari Shrine
Our first stop was the Fushimi Inari Shrine. The shrine actually sits on the top of a mountain; trails lead from the base of the mountain to the top, with many smaller shrines on the way. This place is renowned for the thousands of brightly colored torii gates that line the paths up the mountain. Torii gates, which mark the separation between holy and secular ground, are commonly seen at shrines, but those at the Fushimi Inari in particular are famous because of their bright color and sheer numbers.
The Inari shrine is dedicated to the gods of rice and sake (which is made of rice). In the olden times, rice meant wealth. So, the shrine honors the deities of agriculture and business. And the Fushimi Inari Shrine is actually the head shrine of more than 30,000 other Inari shrines across Japan. Pretty big deal!
From one side, the thousands of torii gates seem to form an almost continuous vermillion tunnel. However, if you turn around, you will see that many of the torii gates have names or numbers written on the backs. Remember how the Inari is the god of rice = agriculture = business? Many merchants and businesses will buy a torii gate for good luck (not to mention the subtle advertising). Gates can cost up to 1 million yen, but if your wallet isn’t feeling up to it, there are smaller and less expensive gates to purchase as well.
I was still feeling a bit weak from being sick the last few days, so we didn’t get to the very top of the mountain. Nevertheless, seeing the rows and rows of bright orange gates and the small shrines on the way up were totally worth the visit!
On the way back down the mountain, I think we took a wrong turn because somehow we ended up in a residential neighborhood, and there were no tourists around. Eventually we ended up on a little street lined with food stalls.
Afterwards, we headed to the nearby train station and headed to Kiyomizu-Dera Temple. During my first year of college, I took an art history course on ancient Japanese art. And what I learned about the history of Japanese art is that temples burned down and were rebuilt, over and over. And Kiyomizu-dera (“Temple of Clear Water”) is no exception. Established in 778, it has since been rebuilt several times.
Within walking distance from Kiyomizu-dera is Chion-in, the head temple of the Jodo sect of Buddhism. Unfortunately, the main hall was under construction when we visited (and will be until 2019). We were still able to enjoy the spacious grounds and the massive Sanmon gate.
After visiting Chion-in Temple, we impulsively decided to head to Nara for the rest of the day. The train ride took about 40 minutes, and we arrived in the mid-afternoon. As the first permanent capital of Japan, Nara has many historical sites, but honestly I was in it for the shika deer that roam freely throughout the city. Deer were once revered as messengers of god; now they harass shopkeepers and follow tourists in search of food. It is said that if you bow to them, they will bow back; I tried this and I couldn’t really tell if they were bowing back or just looking to see if I had food in my hands.
When I saw my first deer, I got really excited! But it turns out that I didn’t need to get too excited about it, because they are literally everywhere. By the end of the day I was literally running away from hordes of deer. You can buy shika sembei, or deer biscuits, for 150 yen from street vendors. I got one and this is what happened:
Listen, the deer here look cute, but they are no stranger to humans and can actually be downright aggressive if they see food on you. This deer saw me immediately and started prodding me for the biscuit in my hands. But since I am superficial, I wanted my first deer feeding to be with a *nicer looking* and more polite deer. I picked this little baby:
Remember when I said the deer can be aggressive? I didn’t make that up. This sign said so:
I got a taste for the stubborn nature of the deer later after dinner. We were in a more populous part of town lined with street food and little shops, and many, many deer in the vicinity. I bought another pack of deer crackers and went off to find some deer.
Actually, I didn’t have to look for them; they came to me. And brought their friends.
I had a great time exploring Kyoto and Nara in a single day. But this post is not over yet! After dinner, we saw that there was some sort of light show happening at Nara Park, so we decided to check it out. Basically, they covered the entire field in tiny little lights. It looked something like this:
It was a cool site but it did hurt my eyes 😀
Back to Kyoto
We had one night’s stay in Kyoto, and had some time the next morning, so we decided to check out one last Kyoto destination before we left.
Kinkakuji, or Golden Pavilion, is a temple in northern Kyoto. The exterior is completely covered in gold leaf, hence the name.
The temple was burnt down and rebuilt (I told you this happened alot) many times, but the present structure was built in 1955. I hope you can get a sense of what it was like from these pictures. The gold exterior really is beautiful! It looks almost fake or imagined.
That basically wraps up my Kyoto and Nara trip! Obviously there is so much more to see in both towns, but it was a great chance to get a taste for these Japanese towns in the limited time we had. 🙂
P.S. If you are checking the publication date you might notice that I am so behind on blog posts! Blame it on my bad internet connection in China T_T