2012 Japan Trip Day 5 – Kyoto/Nara

Date of Travel: 03/02/2012

On this day, Japan celebrated Setsubun (day before spring begins). Many locals would visit temples and shrines to celebrate the event. There were a lot of activities happening around Kyoto, and we made our plans accordingly. We started the day purchasing breakfast from convenience stores (as we had done every other day so far on this trip). We then took a JR train from Kyoto Station to Inari Station, and had breakfast on the approach to the Fushimi Inari shrine.

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The shrine is one of the most popular in Kyoto, and it was not surprising that it was full of people paying a visit. But our destination wasn’t the main shrine grounds. Rather, it was Inari-San that we were here for. We walked past a line of people paying their respects, around a building with several priests inside chanting, towards the back of the shrine grounds. We stood at the base of the path up the mountain and admired the seemingly endless row of Tori gates that greeted us. I had read about it and seen photos of it all over the internet, but the magical and mysterious feeling of the place was too overwhelming for words and photos to portray.

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We walked along the path of Tori gates, passing by the occasional shrine, rest area, a lake, and miniature family shrines. We paused for a quick break at the main rest stop halfway up the mountain and admired the view of Kyoto. It never really occurred to us just how large Kyoto city was. If we had not been to any of the temples/shrines in the previous days, we would have thought of Kyoto was just another concrete jungle. It was amazing just how much is hidden away out-of-sight in Kyoto (or in Japan in general). We continued up the mountain, wandering around mini-shrines and what appears to be several grave. There was definitely an eerie feeling in the air as the density of Tori gates decreased while more and more graves were present.

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After we descended from the mountain, we wandered around the shops looking for souvenirs and food in nearby areas. On the way back to the train station, Brownie started having hiccups. He asked J.C. and I to stand guard while he went behind a fence, laid down on the ground, threw his feet up against the fence, pushed against the fence with his feet such that his back was off the ground, and started drinking water while upside down. Must say, the sight of him doing that was almost as interesting as Fushimi Inari itself. Almost.

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Our next destination was Nara, which like Kyoto, was once the capital of Japan. It was easily accessible by train from Inari station It is also famous for being one of the two major towns in Japan to have free roaming deer. A warning though – no matter how cute those creatures are, they can be very aggressive and vicious. Just ask anyone who purchased deer crackers and tried feeding them. There were a number of Japanese schoolgirls and tourists running for their lives, which was hilarious to watch…until one of those furballs started nibbling on my jacket.

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We walked past the Deer Park to Todaiji temple, which in my opinion, is one of the most impressive temples in Japan. It is also one of the largest wooden structures in the world at one stage (it supposedly still is, though some other building in Norway claims to have that title). You can compare the size of it against the puny people walking into the building. It is also home to one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan. The sheer scale of the building made us feel small and insignificant! Inside the temple, there were other guardian statues, a miniature model of the temple, and a hole in a pillar which supposedly grants enlightenment to those who manage to crawl through it in their next life (we watched a big asian tourist try to squeeze through with a smile on our faces). Outside the temple is one of the creepiest statues I have ever seen, though it supposedly heals any ailments a person might have if they rub the respective body part of the statue.

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After leaving the temple complex, we wandered around the surrounding park area and started heading towards Kasuga Taisha Shrine for the lantern display. Along the way, I managed to find my favourite orange flavoured drink in Japan called Qoo! In the meantime, Brownie satisfied his curiosity by buying an ice cream from a vending machine which had the perfect Engrish (see photo – and no, it did not provide Brownie with a richer life). As it was still quite bright, we decided to detour and find some dinner. The only place we managed to find was a small tea house at the base of the hill. The people who ran the place was extremely friendly. I ordered rice porridge and kaki-no-hazushi, the latter of which is a specialty of Nara which is a mackerel sushi wrapped in persimmon leaves. It wasn’t a filling dinner, but it was enough to keep us going for the rest of the night, and really helped warmed us up.

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We started walking back up the hill towards Kasuga Taisha Shrine. I bought a paper lantern along the way and lit it up. However, Brownie got obsessed with taking a great photo of a statue of a deer. By the time he was done, the candle in my lantern went out! After ridiculing him about his COD complex when it came to taking photos, we continued towards the shrine complex. We passed by hundreds of stone lanterns along the way which were dimly lit. Within the shrine complex itself were more lanterns, and more Shinto Priests chanting away. Overall, the magical vibe of the stone lanterns made this one of the most memorable nights in recent memory.

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On our way back to Kyoto, we ended up taking the wrong train which went in the opposite direction. Luckily, we noticed this immediately, and quickly changed trains at the very next stop! There was one more event in Kyoto which we were interested in going to at Yoshida Shrine, where a huge bonfire is held. However, we were completely wasted from such a long day that we decided to just crash at our hostel (it was quite late by the time we arrived back anyway). We were quite hungry, so we stopped by a convenience store along the way to get some snacks. I ended up buying the popular “pudding” dessert, which is essentially just Crème Brule. It was a great midnight snack, and a nice relaxed way to end yet another awesome day.

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Daily Expenditure
1) TRANSPORT
Train from Kyoto Station to Inari Station – 140 yen
Train from Inari Station to JR Nara Station – 650 yen
Train from JR Nara Station to Kyoto Station – 690 yen

2) ACCOMMODATION
K’s House Kyoto (Triple private room) – 2,900 yen

3) FOOD
Breakfast from convenience store near hostel – 360 yen [Chocolate Croissant, onigiri, almond pocky]
Lunch near Fushimi Inari – 1,100 yen [Amago-don and Kitsune Soba]
Taiyaki snack at Fushimi Inari – 300 yen
Qoo Orange Juice – 150 yen
Dinner near Kasuga Taisha Shrine – 1,580 yen (Porridge, Kaki-no-hazushi set)
Pudding dessert from Lawson Convenience Store near Hostel – 147 yen

4) ATTRACTIONS
Todaiji Temple entrance fee – 500 yen
Kasuga Taisha Shrine entrance fee – 500 yen

5) OTHERS
Cellphone strap at Fushimi Inari Shrine – 450 yen
Paper lantern at Kasuga Taisha Shrine – 500 yen

TOTAL (cost for whole trip in brackets)
9,967 yen (167,705 yen total)

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