Saturday, December 4, 2010

Kyoto, Kobe, and Nara

Following Thanksgiving, a few other Fulbrighters and I headed to Kyoto for a few nights to explore the Kansai Region. This is where I studied in Japan 3 years ago on a RISD ceramic department trip. The great thing about this part of Japan is that all of the major cities are really close together and connected by a comprehensive, and cheap, train and subway system. It's possible to travel between Osaka to Kyoto to Kobe and to Nara in under an hour and for under about ten dollars. This time of year it is particularly busy in Kyoto. The week I was there it was perhaps the busiest of the season, people trying to see the last of the Fall foliage before it is too late.

The first thing we did after getting off the train in Kyoto was get some lunch. Italian. We had pizza and pasta. The first time I had pizza since leaving home!
Later that night we explored Kyoto on foot. This stream runs along Shirakawa Dori, which my guidebook claims to be one of the most beautiful streets in all of Asia!

The next day we headed to Kobe, home of the world famous Kobe Beef. A huge Earthquake devastated the city in 1995, and the rebuilt city is beautiful and highly modern. It also has a nice China Town.

Kobe is a Port City, and has a pretty spectacular harbor.
Back in Kyoto for the night, we were strolling down a particularly well lit side street, and found ourselves walking right behind a Geisha, a real one! There are fake Geishas all over the city, as a tourist thing. But when you see a real Geisha, you know they're real- the make up, kimonos, and overall presence is unquestionable.

Later in the trip, we headed to one of Kyoto's famous temples, Kiyomizudera Temple. Kiyo mizu roughly translates to holy water. The walk to get there was extremely crowded, and meandered through hilly and windy streets.

That night we hiked my favorite Shire in Kyoto, Fushimi Inari Shrine. I visited here 3 years ago and it was incredible, however, I didn't hike the entire path so this time I was determined to do the whole thing! The shrine is really unusual. It is comprised of thousands of red torii gates that line a 4km path up the side of a mountain. There is an amazing view of Kyoto from the top!

The last full day, Jessa, another Fulbrighter and I traveled to Nara, Japan's ancient capital. There are plenty of famous shrines and temples in Nara, but secretly, no one goes for them, everyone actually goes to see, and play with, the famous Nara deer. The city's parks are loaded with friendly deer!

Nara's most famous temple is called Todaiji, and it is the world's largest wooden structure. Incredibly, it burnt down several centuries ago and was rebuilt, at one third it's original size due to material limitations. Which means it was actually a lot larger that it is today. Also, the proportions of the building are very deceiving, it appears smaller that it is, notice how tiny the people in front of it are!
Inside the temple, one of the pillars has a small hole cut out in the base. It is said if you can fit through it, then you will attain enlightenment in your lifetime. So I tried it... with success! Not on my first try however. I had to take off a few layers before I could do it!

Wow, I did it!!
The last morning back in Kyoto, with only a few hours before I had to catch my bus back to Takayama, I headed to walk the Philosopher's Path, which is a  famous path that runs along a river where an ancient philosopher used to walk. I was also here 3 years ago and I remember an excellent ice cream stand where I had sweet potato ice cream. I was able to find the same stand! I provided the picture I just took, as well as the same picture from three years a go for a comparison!
Circa January 2008.
Sooo good!

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