My contract in South Korea is coming to an end soon, and I was lucky enough to have saved my vacation days for the last month. Considering I’m in South Korea, it is only logical to take a short, 1 hour, flight to Japan to visit my good friend Jack (hope you appreciate the name drop man) and a relaxing break. Just kidding, it was full of exploration!
During my 4 day vacation, I visited two cities; Kyoto and Osaka. I spent 3 days in Kyoto and just the 1, on the way back to the airport, in Osaka. It’s safe to say I could have easily spent a week in Kyoto itself. There is so much to see and is worthy of once being the capital of Japan!
Although heavily sleep deprived on my first day, just 4 hours of sleep, this wasn’t going to stop me from a lot of sightseeing. First, Jack (name drop again, lucky boy) and I went to see Nijo castle. A little bit of history for you. This was built in 1603 as the residence for the first shogun of the Edo period. Lets just say he had good taste in architecture, and the gardens surrounding the castle were spectacular.
One thing that is great about Kyoto is how easily accessible everything is. It’s quite a small city and it is easy to navigate around the place. Our second pit stop, the Imperial Palace, was a short walk from Nijo castle. The palace is surprisingly huge. I wasn’t expecting it’s walls and gardens to be so vast. Silly me, of course it was to be a spectacle considering it used to be the home of the Imperial family until the capital was moved to Tokyo in 1868.
The final stop of the first day was to Heian shrine. The shrine was built for the commemoration of the 1100th anniversary of the capitals foundation in Kyoto. This was probably my favourite sight of the first day. Although I have seen many shrines and temples in Korea, Japan has its own unique designs which are stunning. I do like the temples and shrines of Korea, but there is more simplicity to the Japanese structures which is rather refreshing.
It was another bright and early start for day 2, but it was all for a good cause. About 30 minutes on the train to the Western outskirts of Kyoto lies Arashiyama. The two main things I wanted to see whilst there were the Togetsukyo Bridge and the Bamboo groves. Unfortunately for me, it was a national holiday that day and everyone else wanted to see these too. Although it was crammed with people, it didn’t take anything away from the scenery.
Wondering through the bamboo groves I stumbled upon the Tenryuji temple. Little did I know that this was the top Zen temple in the city and a world heritage site. This was another superb display of the care the Japanese take in their construction of temples and gardens. All the trees and plants are ordered in a specific way as Japanese monks went to China and studied the art of gardening. The gardens of Emperors and nobles are designed for recreation and aesthetic pleasure, while the gardens of Buddhist temples are designed for contemplation and meditation.
Arashiyama took up a majority of the day, so in the evening Jack and I decided to do the Philosophers path. It’s a pleasant stone path that goes through Kyoto’s Higashiyama district. The path follows a canal which is lined by hundreds of cherry trees. Starting at Ginkakuji (the silver temple) the walk takes you along a river down to Nanzenji temple. I didn’t know of this temple before coming to Japan, but the temple is one of the most important Zen temples in all of Japan.
Autumn has just began in Japan, so we were lucky enough to see the path full of colour. I can only imagine the path would be even more beautiful in the cherry blossom season.
Japan is overloaded with mountains, 70% of their land is in the mountains. There was no way I was going to miss out on this considering my obsession with hiking. It’s safe to say this was the day I was most looking forward to.
In the morning I took a thirty minute train to Kurama town. Kurama is best known for its Buddhist temple Kurama-dera. This temple is up a steep wooded mountainside close to the train station. It took, roughly, 30 minutes to climb up to the temple’s main buildings from the town below. Just behind the temples main structure, the hiking trail continues. The wooded areas were impressive. I had never seen tree roots exposed and tangled in such a way before. However, what I wasn’t expecting was bear warnings. Apparently Japan has bears. Really should have looked into that before going. Quite scary if I’m honest.
After a huge, well deserved lunch, it was time to head off to climb two of the day. This was one of the sights I was most looking forward to. Fushimi Inari is famous for its thousands of vermilion torii gates which ascend to the top of Mount Inari. Before going, I read about the thousands of gates. You really can’t grasp the true extent of the sheer quantity of gates until you see them.
If you were to ask me what the colour vermilion was before I saw the gates, I wouldn’t have be able to tell you. Mount Inari was very educational for my colour recognition.
It was my final day in Japan, but Kyoto had too many sites for me to be able to see in 3 days. Therefore, the first thing I did this day was see the 5 story pagoda of Toji Temple. It stands 57 meters tall, making it the tallest pagoda in Japan. Toji Temple is one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO world heritage sites, and understandably so. Not only does it boast this humongous pagoda, but it’s halls are full of statues. One of which being Kondo Hall which has 19 statues which are arranged with Dainichi Buddha (Vairocana) at the center, surrounded by Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and the fearful guardian kings. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed in the halls.
The final stop of my trip was to Osaka Castle. This is probably the main attraction that made me want to go to Osaka. That and the Pokemon center for my inner child. The castle is surrounded by numerous gates, vast stone walls, and stunning gardens.The entire Osaka Castle Park covers about two square kilometers with lots of greenery. As the final sight of the trip, this wasn’t too shabby.
For a long time I’ve been looking at visiting Japan, or even living in Japan, and this trip did not disappoint. I was blessed with absolutely amazing weather too, contributing to the overall positive feeling of the vacation. There will definitely be another trip to Japan on the cards in the future.
I hope you enjoyed a slightly historical post.
Ciao for now.