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Kyoto and around

Kyoto, Nara, Osaka, Himeji & Koya-san

View Round-the-world-trip on samandmarta's travel map.

After Hiroshima, we headed east towards Kyoto, the cultural capital of Japan. But before Kyoto, we did a little detour to Koya-san, a mountainous village mostly consisting of Buddhist temples. There we stayed a night in a traditional Japanese room in one of those temples. For dinner, the monks prepared for us a delicious meal of Shojin-ryori, which is essentially kaiseki without meat or fish. The best part of a temple stay in Koya-san though, happens very early in the morning. At 6am we were invited into Hondo, the main prayer hall, to join the monks in their morning prayer ceremony. As part of the ceremony we were asked to burn incenses and even chanted a prayer (Heart Sutra) with them.


We left quiet Koya-san behind and set up our base for 6 nights in busy Kyoto. This city is not only packed with beautiful temples and gardens, it is also a great base to explore nearby cities like Nara, Osaka or Himeji. We had great difficulty finding accommodation here as mid-November is peak Momiji (autumn leaves) season. Together with Sakura (cherry blossom) season, this is the most popular time of the year. It was easy to see why Kyoto is so popular at this time. The different gardens and temples look almost unreal with the autumn leaves in deep shades of green, yellow, orange and red, all perfectly mirrored in calm waters of lakes and ponds.


Due to the high season however, it was sometimes difficult to enjoy this beauty. The temples and gardens were all filled to the brim with people. Going on a weekday or getting up early did nothing to help this, since countless groups of school children on excursions joined the tourists at those times. Entering these places sometimes felt like queueing up for the exit as the entire sightseeing route was spent in endless lines of people. Kyoto was not a very Zen experience.

Our favorite among the places we visited was the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine. The famous walkways with the seemingly endless vermilion Torii gates were no less packed at the start. But when climbing higher up the hill on the nearly 5 kilometers long path, it got more empty and more enjoyable. The path to the top is lined with many little shrines and graveyards, all with their own collection of miniature Torii gates. It was a truly magical place.


We visited Nara on a day-trip from Kyoto. Japan’s 8th century capital is home to a huge park, filled with shrines, temples, gardens and hundreds of tame deer. Nara is most famous for the 15 meter tall Daibutsu, Japan’s largest Buddha statue. We were strolling through the park, when a group of school kids approached us. They were tasked to practice their English on tourists. After answering some simple questions, they awarded us for our cooperation with a nice painting.


A short Shinkansen ride from Kyoto lies Himeji. We came to the town to see the castle Himeji-jo, said to be the most beautiful in all of Japan. The castle did not disappoint. All in white, it thrones over the small city. We were surprised at how few people were visiting the castle that day. Probably everyone was in Kyoto. We could even go inside the completely wooden building and enjoy the view over Himeji from the top. Next to the castle there was also a very beautiful garden, Koko-en, which was very enjoyable given the few other people around.


Our last side-trip from Kyoto brought us to Osaka. The city is the birth-place of conveyor-belt sushi, so of course we had to try it there. The park around the castle Osaka-jo made for an enjoyable afternoon stroll, but the best sight of Osaka comes to life only after sunset. The entertainment district Dotonbori was a refreshingly different experience from the cultural sights of Kyoto. Blinking neon signs and crazy decorations scream for attention in this mad street. Our favorite was the giant, moving crab advertising a restaurant.


Posted by samandmarta 19:00 Archived in Japan

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I envy you a visit in autumn. We have only caught the start of it, but we have been in spring and it's spectacular. Our favourite part if Kyoto was the philosopher's path. It was crowded but mainly with people in national dress so it was wonderful.

by irenevt

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