Tag Archives: Kansai

Banzai, Kansai!

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Banzai, Kansai!

After this post, there is just one left.

But before Haru gets all weepy over her keyboard and short circuits her computer, I’m gonna tell you all about our happy memories from the rest of the Kansai trip.

It was another early start for us the next day, so it was hard getting out of bed to go explore Kyoto one last time. But we did manage to drag ourselves out of our warm, plush futons and leave the temple/hotel.

Here’s another photo, to prove that yes, we stayed overnight at a temple.

Next up, Haru and friends went to see Sanjuusangen-do (三十三間堂), famous for being the temple that houses 1000 Kannon statues and 28 guardian deities. For those of you who don’t know much about Japanese Buddhism, Kannon is a bodhitsattva, one who is about to reach enlightenment, but holds back for the sake of others. Kannon is associated to compassion for this reason. Originally a masculine entity, Kannon’s masculine image in the East has long since evolved into a feminine one.

Photography isn’t allowed inside, so here are two photos from Google for the curious eyes. And as you can see, every single statue is unique with different faces and different decor. If you think about it, it’s kind of like those terracotta soldiers in China, huh?

Before we left to go see other Kyoto hotspots, here are some photos of the gorgeous gardens surrounding the area.

Have any idea where we went next? I’ll give you a hint – check out one of the main gates and one of the shrines behind it.

And here’s a hint.

For those of you who have seen Memoirs of a Geisha, you’ll definitely remember the scene where a young Sayuri tears through the stone path between the gates on her way up the mountain to pray for luck. Here’s another image courtesy of Google.

This shrine is the Fushimi Inari-Taisha (伏見稲荷大社), or the main shrine of the Inari. Not only is the mountain named Inari, but Inari-Ookami (稲荷大神) is also the Japanese kami, or god, of worldly success and agriculture. Back in the old days, rice was the main business. If you had no gold, you paid in rice. It is also said that the kami’s messengers take the form of white foxes, or kitsune (狐). Therefore, they are highly revered and seen throughout the shrine grounds.

This kami is so popular in the Japanese culture that there are well over 30,000 smaller shrines dedicated to this same kami throughout Japan. However, Fushimi-ku’s is especially popular, being the main shrine. It has the most torii gates to date, and sum up to the main attraction of the site. The torii gates seen here were all donated by businesses hoping to reap some luck and garner the favor of the Inari-Ookami. So if any of you are ever down on luck or something, here’s a place to make your pilgrimage!

Here are our friends wondering which path they should take. Hard choice, don’t you think? They both look the same!

And here’s an extra photo of Haru walking under the gates, courtesy of Yuan who caught her unawares.

Wrapping up our trip in Kyoto with the Fushimi Inari shrine was awesome, but after going to see sacred foxes, we went to see sacred deer.

And no, we did not photoshop the photo and place those wild deer so close to people!

These deer are so used to people, they’ll let you pet them. They’re called Shika (鹿), meaning “deer” in Japanese.

However, the deer weren’t there for no reason. According to religious stories, the historical buddha made his first sermon at Sarnath, or “deer park” in Hindi. Also, These deer are considered sacred messengers to the Shinto religion here in Nara.

And “here” is the Toudai-ji (東大寺), a HUMONGOUS buddhist temple. In fact, that temple is the largest wooden building created by man – IN THE WORLD! See how tiny people are compared to it?

So what do we find inside? Treasure? Other giant wooden buildings nestled inside it like Russian nesting dolls?

Close enough. Inside was a giant buddha, a Daibutsu (大仏) that was even bigger than the one we saw in Kamakura. To be fair, it is the statue of the Vairocana buddha, the celestial/omnipresent body of buddha, so it had the right to be as large as life.

And there WERE other buildings inside the temple – only they were too small for people to walk inside and look around in.

Next up, we traveled over to Osaka where we we ate okonomiyaki (お好み焼き) at Dohtonbori (道頓堀) in a very flashy shopping area near Namba station. It used to be a red light district, but now it’s just a really lively part of town.

Talk about some good food here! Everyone was stuffed by the time they were done eating.

The following day, we started with Osaka castle. If there was anything more famous here than the okonomiyaki, it was definitely the castle.

And to our good fortune, all the sakura were in bloom!

The last place we went to see was the HEP Five ferris wheel just a few minutes walk from Umeda station. The view was great, and we couldn’t stop taking photos. You would think that it would take forever to ride a a ferris wheel as big as that, but it was over all too soon.

To commemorate our visit to Osaka, we headed into HEP Five, which is a massive shopping mall complex all on its own. But we didn’t buy anything there – we just went to check out the Purikura (プリクラ), short of “print club.” They’re these popular photo booths developed by two very famous Japanese video-gaming companies, Atlus and Sega.

The end result?

Four starry-eyed girls floating among pink clouds and candied hearts. But did you know that at some Purikura places, boys can only go in if they are accompanied by girls? While I’m not sure if this was one of those places, I declined taking part in the shoot. Being virtually smothered to death in a sea of pink hearts was not what I called manly!

After scarfing down our final okonomiyaki dinner at Dohtonbori (again), we raced back to the international hostel where we were staying at to rendezvous with the rest of the group. Then it was a Shinkansen ride straight back to Tokyo.

As fulfilling as it all was, we were completely exhausted when we got back home in Yokohama. What an adventure.

But our adventures in Japan are still not quite over! However, in case Haru and I run out of time to post the rest of our adventures up here, feel free to keep up with us in her personal blog: Sincerely, Nobody.

The next post will be our last…

So here’s a sneak peak at our next story!

And if there’s anywhere Komame will show up at, it will probably be there. I hope.

Later gators,

Rowan

From Tokyo to Kyoto

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From Tokyo to Kyoto

Get ready for a storm of pictures – pictures that will make you never want to see another cherry blossom or temple ever again.

Just kidding. But seriously, if you want to see your share of sakura, temples/shrines, and geisha – you must make your way to Kyoto, the old capital of Japan, and the heart of its ancient culture.

First up, we all met at Shinagawa station in Tokyo. Everyone had to wake up super early to meet up, so half of them were half-asleep while the other half was buzzing with excitement. Luckily everyone showed up on time, so we all hopped on the Nozomi Shinkansen (新幹線), otherwise known as the famous bullet train. And yes, it travels very, very fast.

Here I was, all comfortable and reclined, ready for a nice long nap… only to be woken up about three hours or so later, to discover we were already in Kyoto. Talk about fast.

After switching to a local train, we took it to the… middle of nowhere. It was a huge change of scenery for most of us, as many of us hadn’t seen such open land in a long time. Tokyo isn’t exactly the most river, forest, and mountain friendly city here in Japan. So we took our time, taking everything in, and simply absorbed our surroundings. It started to get drizzly, so Haru had to put me back in her bag. It was a good thing too, since our next event was the Hozugawa (保津川) boat ride.

Here it is: our vessel. Haru and a few of her friends got front row seats, which meant some serious splashing form the rapids. Therefore, before we went anywhere, the lot of them were bundled up in plastic sheets.

It was a good thing too, because the weather was ridiculously unpredictable. One minute it was sunny, the next it was raining, and after that it was HAILING. Yes, hailing. Here’s a photo of Brittani and Yuan huddled under the plastic sheet wrap.

Next up was the Rurouni Kenshin bridge, for those of you who know what I’m talking about. That’s not its real name, but we couldn’t remember the real name of the bridge – just that it was the inspiration for the scene where Kenshin and Misao defeated a gang of thugs by destroying said bridge. At least that’s what Tonghwi said. And I’ll take our awesome student guide’s words at face value. After all, he’s lived in Kyoto for a while, and goes to Kyoto University too.

Anyway, you can also see a maiko, a geisha in training, walking with her entourage. There were plenty of them walking about Kyoto. It’s just not something you see here in Tokyo.

After eating lunch nearby, we went off to see Tenryu-ji (天龍寺), a super famous Buddhist temple with its famed gardens.

Although it was still rather cold and not all the flowers were blooming, it was still a sight to behold.

Soon after, we went to visit the Nonomiya Jinja (野宮神社), a Shinto shrine situated almost right next door. The shrine is especially famous for its amazing bamboo path. When the wind breathes through its sheltering foliage, the entire area is filled with music so sweet and a feeling so enchanting, that its as if the path belonged to another world altogether.

It was so beautiful, so otherworldly, that I believe I have turned into a poet during my short stay there.

Of course, for those who wanted to see sakura, or cherry blossoms in bloom, Kyoto had them by the road-full.

Here we are, walking into the Gion district. And if you are familiar with the name, you’ll know its home to the geisha. While we did pas a few geisha in training, Haru was more interested in capturing scenic photos.

With our three Kyoto University student guides leading us, we walked through the area visiting several stores.

For instance, here’s the Studio Ghibli store that Haru and her friends just HAD to visit. Being fans of Ghibli films and all, it was something none of them could pass up.

Of course, visiting this area also meant having to see the Kiyomizu-dera (清水寺), an Eastern Kyoto temple that has achieved super-star fame as far as Japanese temples go. It’s associated to making wishes come true, such as finding true love.

In the Edo period, people actually believed that jumping from the Kiyomizu-dera’s stage and surviving the 13 meter drop would grant their wishes. Don’t try it though, since it’s more suicidal than anything. Not only is it prohibited these days, but let’s say you wish to become the world’s best-looking athlete. Even if you survive the fall, surely you’d have a few permanent injuries to the limbs and face. How would that wish come true then?

Anyway, the walk through the temple at night makes for a fantastic spot for a night time photo shoot. But even photos cannot capture what it actually felt like being there, watching the temple grounds light up at night.

After the walkthrough though, this is what people looked like.

As night fell, it was time to head to the hotel for some good food and a good rest. And it wasn’t just any hotel we went to – we actually lodged at a temple, the Hongan-ji Monpo-Kaikan to be exact.

The food was delicious, and the rooms were super comfortable. And for my public-bath-loving friend, it had a great hot tub.

Our adventures in the Kansai area are not over yet! Next up, I’ll tell you about the deer we met and fed in Nara.

Until then,

Rowan