A few weeks ago, undergraduate students at TUJ had a long weekend, as an undergrad holiday on a Friday came on the heels of a national day off on Thursday. Excited to make the most of our time away from the classroom, my friends and I decided to take the weekend and go down to the Kansai region of Japan, about an eight-hour bus ride south of Tokyo. We booked the overnight bus and met up at Tokyo station at eleven thirty, bags of clothes and McDonalds in hand.
It took all night to ride from Tokyo to Kyoto, and I don’t think I slept at all. I can’t sleep in cars or buses (or trains or planes for that matter) at the best of times, and the incredibly cramped seating arrangement just exasperated my insomnia. Not that I cared. It was actually a fairly enjoyable night spent watching the lights of the highway fly through the mountains, and then, best of all, seeing the sunrise as we pulled into Kyoto.
We got into Kyoto at around seven in the morning, and because we were all tired of sitting on the bus, we decided to walk the four miles from Kyoto Station to our Air BnB, right by Ginkakuji Temple. Walking through Kyoto that morning, the first thing I was struck by was how different the atmosphere was from Tokyo. There were no impenetrable crowds, even though it was a weekday morning at rush-hour, no tall buildings in every direction, creating the sense that one is in a glass and concrete canyon. Instead, the streets were wide and lined with trees, and the buildings were low and spaced out, and there were temples everywhere. I’d read that Kyoto was famous for its number of shrines and temples, but it still amazed me just how many I saw. It’s an exaggeration, of course, but there really did seem to be one on every block.
Once we dropped off our bags, our first stop was Ginkakuji. The temple is famous for the intricate gardens that overlook the city, and rightfully so. Next we headed to the old Imperial Palace, but by that point, around three in the afternoon, the overnight bus ride on which none of us got any sleep was starting to take its toll, and we spent most of the time at the temple stumbling around in a zombified daze.
The next night we took the train to Osaka. One of the friends I went with grew up there, so we spent the night being shown around Dotonbori, a crowded nightlife area known for being extravagantly lit up at night, as well as the canal that runs through it. Tokyo may seem crowded and wild at times, but in my experience so far in Japan, Osaka probably beats it any time.
The next day our group split, leaving my roommate and I to continue touring around Kansai, while some of our other friends headed back to Tokyo. We continued to walk around Kyoto for a little while, seeing the famous Gion district, but the highlight of that last day was getting out to Nara just as the sun set. We headed directly for the park from the station, but by the time we found it, it was dark. Not sure of what to expect next, we walked into the trees slowly, and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of deer, completely fearless, and almost indifferent to our presence.
Overall, it was a great trip, and a great way to see a different part of Japan.