59 photos in full post
Another breakfast at Sazuya (902¥) prepared us for our last full day in Japan and our tour of the Kyoto Imperial Palace. They have a guided tour in English; all tours require you make a reservation though. Reservations are made in an office building located within the ground of the Palace gardens. We had stopped by the office building the day after the festival; however, we weren't sure it was actually open. Some places were still closed for the festival holiday, and the building looked a bit desolate. We sat down for a bit in the garden mulling over what to do and watched a few other groups trudge to the building and turn around.
33 photos in full post
Our goal for the day was to hop onto a train towards Osaka and visit Himeji Castle. We stopped into Sazuya for another round of breakfast breads (1039¥); a pair of US tourists were also breakfasting there. Headed off to the train station via subway (1200¥ round trip) and quickly found the proper ticket queue. Proving the Disney song correct, the same couple from Sazuya were also in line to purchase tickets, albeit to a different destination. The cute ticket seller and I stumbled through a pidgin English and Japanese exchange and figured out what train tickets I needed (8840¥). The hardest bit was determining if the train worked like the shinkansen and had timed tickets. Nope, just an ordinary train you can hope on whenever you get to the station.
27 photos in full post
Next on the walking tour was Kōdai-ji; you guessed it... another temple. Didn't take a lot of photos here; just spent the time walking around the beautiful gardens and looking at the artwork. Most of the screens and artwork were historic enough to warrant the "no pictures" warning; at least, that's what my memory is telling me.
The walking tour continued through Maruyama Park, renowned for its huge cherry tree. It lived up to its billing; we strolled around and soaked in more scenery. Sat for a bit to rest up for the final leg of the walking tour. Our next stop was Chion'in, yet another temple. We were pretty much templed out by that point and just admired the architecture from the outside. Good fortune smiled on us again; two geisha were just outside, and I managed to get one to crack a smile when I asked in Japanese if it were alright to take her picture.
The rest of the tour would have taken us to Shōren-in and Yasaka-jinja, even more shrines! We were too tired and were starting to get a bit hungry; we decided to head back and stop at the Kyoto Craft Center before grabbing a bite. I took some pictures of the giant torii gate of Yasaka along the way and left it at that.
17 photos in full post
Started our day with another hearty breakfast of tasty breads from Sazuya (818¥) before heading off on a walking tour. The Higashiyama walking tour from Kyoto Lonely Planet seemed promising; according to the guide, a bus could get us to the starting point, but I believe we managed to find a suitably close subway stop (600¥) to use instead. Memory is a bit hazy... curse me for not keeping up the note taking!
The first leg of the walking tour took us up a long hill towards Kiyomizu-dera; the path up was crowded with people making their way to the temple and shopping at the myriad stores lining the way. On our way up, we had our first close encounter with a geisha; Jm was keeper of the camera at the time but was reluctant to take her picture. I goaded her on until finally she broke down, ran down the hill to catch up with her, and asked to take her picture. The geisha was kind enough to pause, and the picture came out fantastic. Jm thanked me for strong arming her into taking it.
The temple required a modest entry fee (600¥), and we stopped just inside to give our feet a bit of a rest. A group of schoolgirls approached us and asked if we would answer some questions for them as part of their field trip assignment. How could we say no? They asked us a few questions, had us sign their guest book, and went away no doubt with tales of the two strange gaijin they interviewed. Perched high above the city, the view from various points in the temple was spectacular. Looking through our photos, I find them sparse and wish we had snapped more. Might have been due to the crush of people moving through, but still... wish we had taken more photos.
13 photos in full post
If you guessed another shrine was the next tour stop, you would be correct! Kasuga-taisha is famous for its lanterns having over a thousand stone lanterns lining the path to the shrine. Bronze lanterns adorn the inside of the temple; basically, if you have the money, you can donate a lantern to the shrine and receive (hopefully) good fortune in return. Not much else to see other than the lanterns, so we didn't spend much time here.
27 photos in full post
Next stop on the tour was Tōdai-ji, the largest wooden building in the world and home to a colossal bronze Buddha statue. The temple was in the middle of Nara, and its gardens were populated by the famous Nara deer. Vendors would sell you deer crackers you could then feed to the beasts or eat them yourself if you were so inclined.
As advertised, the statue was indeed colossal but not well lit; took a bit of playing with the camera settings to get any decent shots. This was made difficult by the sea of visitors crowding the inside of the temple. One of the temple pillars had a hole cut out of it; the legend is that the hole is the size of the statue's nostril. If you can pass your body through it, you will gain enlightenment in your next life. I was enlightened enough to not risk getting my fat load wedged in and become the next Fark cliché.
After taking in the enormity of the Buddha, we roamed about watching tourists feed the deer. This was one of the few stops where I wished we had come on our own; it would have been nice to explore the surrounding gardens and area more. However, our time was limited, and we needed to move along to our next destination.
19 photos in full post
The second stop on our tour was meant to be the Imperial Palace; however, the Palace was closed to normal tour groups because of the festival. Instead, we were taken to Kitano Tenman-gū, a Shinto shrine popular with students during exams; they also host a flea market once a month. We did not have time to see the "Treasure House", but it was interesting to see a temple we probably never would have known to go to otherwise. Off to the next spot on the tour...