Tuesday, November 17, 2009

journey to the heart of japan

Last weekend was our trip to Kyoto. I didn't know anything about Kyoto except that it was apparently a nice place to see fall foliage.
I didn't expect this weekend to be the best weekend I've had since I got to Japan, and I certainly didn't expect it to be one of the best weekends of my life.
Kyoto is so much more than beautiful foliage. It is the Japan that you want to experience; a place where it's virtually impossible to not take postcard-worthy pictures. This city has the kind of tourist spots that can be accurately described as breath taking.
But maybe I'm just a newb at traveling.

The trip was originally arranged by Melanie, our friend currently studying abroad at Nagoya University for Foreign Studies. She is a fairly experienced traveler and was very organized about what she wanted to see and how to get there. I'm way too disorganized to make plans that well. After seeing how much more fun a semi-planned trip can be, I am going to work harder at being organized.

Anyways, after a four and a half hour bus ride, we went from the freezing temperature of Miyada to Kyoto's pleasant Autumn weather.
I felt like I had stepped into a Travel Channel special. The streets near our hostel were lined with traditional Japanese restaurants and old Japanese houses. We even saw a few meiko, geisha in training, walking along the street!

Here are some of the amazing things that we saw on Saturday and Sunday:
Kiyumizu Temple

Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion (yes, it is covered in real gold leaf)

beautiful fall colors

Nara Park, where you can feed deer!

The park leads to the entrance of Todaiji Temple--

--which is one of the oldest and largest wooden structures in the world. The temple itself is the largest wooden structure, I believe:

Inside the temple, which was burned down and rebuilt over the years, is this:

a HUGE statue of Buddha. The sight of it gave me chills. I've never experienced anything like it.

Fushimi Inari, where there are hundreds upon hundreds of taishi gates that form tunnels.

We climbed stairs and followed winding paths for hours and were rewarded with this sight:

Kyoto at night.
We also visited Kodaiji Temple on Saturday night, which was beautiful and lit up. Unfortunately, the pictures turned out really blurry.

On Monday morning, we missed our bus (which may or may not have had to do with sampling the delicious beer and sake of Kyoto the night before). We had to wait until late afternoon to catch another bus, so we were given another day in Kyoto. We went to Arashiyama, which Zack had read about as being one of the best spots for viewing fall colors. Just like the rest of the city, Arashiyama was full of wonderful surprises. We found Arashiyama Monkey Park, where snow monkeys live in a beautiful mountain forest. You can stand near them and even feed them (you have to stand in a protective room and feed them through a fence). It wasn't like a depressing zoo; it was a wonderful park that allows visitors to appreciate these beautiful and intelligent creatures. I believe the money they make goes into protecting great apes.

Here's a shot of Arashiyama:

I felt so blessed to see such beauty, and even more blessed because I got to see it with Zack. Seeing such amazing things is even more wonderful when you can share the experience with someone you love.

When we got home, I felt extremely sore and extremely lucky. There are still so many things that I want to see and do. Visiting Kyoto made me realize how amazing this world really is. I currently love my life and Japan!

If you care to see the rest of our photos, check out my album on Facebook!

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