The One Perfect Day in Kyoto

My one perfect, momentous, action packed day of adventure in Kyoto and Nara!

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With my last full day in Japan upon me, I realized I had not had as full a trip as I would’ve liked. I was in JAPAN for crying out loud. I then had the realization that even after walking more than 55 miles on foot thus far in that trip, I still wanted to see more and I would make the most of my last day.  So I woke up without an alarm at 3am and decided to walk to Kyomizu-dera. The temple is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. About 30 minutes from my hotel walking, I found it quite serene to walk the back streets of Kyoto at sunrise. It’s such a clean and serene place. Hard to describe it but it certainly has an energy all its own. 

I was up so early in fact that I reached Kyomizu before the shrine was even open. Thankfully (and oddly) they opened at 6am so I waited around and got in some great pictures. I explored the shrine in depth. Stopping to observe those in prayer and to (attempt) to do a prayer myself. I don’t know if I did it right or not but it felt good. Then I explored the grounds and rubbed the Buddha’s head at the Kyoto Jishu Shrine and I have to say that there is some power/magic there too. You can feel it there. Maybe because it was so early in the morning and I had the place to myself (more or less). When you rub the buddha’s head, any prayer/wish you dream of will come true. It may be more complicated than that, but that’s how I read it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, after exploring the shrine, I found myself feeling quite accomplished! Something about having walked a few miles, hiked up a shrine, said a prayer, made a wish upon a Buddha and finding that it’s still not yet 8am was invigorating! As I made my way away from the shrine, I noticed a group of Japanese elementary school kids (all dressed in identical uniforms) were walking to the shrine as I was leaving. Apparently it was field trip day in Japan as I noticed lots of school children out and about. As I stood to the side to let the large group pass, they just smiled at me so wide and said enthusiastic hellos to me, waiving the entire time! I don’t know if it was that they were excited to practice their (very good) English or if they are just naturally enthusiastic but it warmed my heart. Really those kinds of experiences have been common in Japan. People are so warm and friendly. Kids, older people everyone. More than once an old Japanese lady bailed me out with a translation and inexplicably knew English better than a much younger person I might be talking to.

I decided to take the long walk to the nearest subway station and found my way to Kyoto station (the main terminal in Kyoto). With my now invaluable JR Green pass in hand, I realized I could go any number of places at no additional cost! By then it was after 10am, so my options were a bit limited. My first choice was to go to Hiroshima and see peace park. But I realized it would be a two hour journey each way and that might be a bit much to attempt. I think if the train was leaving quickly I might’ve gone that route but it was an hour wait just to get the 2 hour train ride (with a stop and change trains in the middle). Thus I made the last minute decision to go to Nara instead. The cool thing about JR is that you can change your mind and they don’t require you to return the previous ticket. It probably sucks for sommeone who wanted to go to Hiroshima if I took the last ticket but I had to act fast to catch a train to Nara so I just flashed my JR pass and got on a much shorter train there. It was about a 45 minute train ride to Nara.

 

 

Nara and the Deer

When I arrived at Nara, I fully admit I hadn’t given much thought to the place prior. I knew very little about it. I was literally making things up as I went! (Not recommended for everyone). All I knew is that they had deer in some capacity so I paid $5 US for a bus route on one of the many tourist buses and hopped one to the Nara Deer Park. Once I got there, I found myself amazed, delighted, and in love with the deer at that park! I couldn’t get enough of them. I was fascinated on so many levels. You see, the deer in Nara are protected and can’t be harmed as they’re considered sacred. They congregate close to the shrine but their perimeter has stretched so far you might see a deer well into the city. They have no fencing, or barriers to restrain them. They can quite literally go anywhere and often they seem to do just that.

So seeing hundreds, if not thousands of deers mingling with people in open spaces was quite a sight to see. The deer are more than just wild animals (though they are wild). They have evolved over many generations to learn how to bow to people who approach with food. Yes, they quite literally will bow their heads in respect. Then you can feed them with the handy local deer food sold on every corner. Feeding the deer is great fun. Once they see you have food, they’ll follow you, try to steal it from you, nudge you, whatever. Even if you don’t have food, they’re known to grab things out of your back pocket or come up behind you without warning and nudge. It’s not uncommon to see people scream by the sudden intrusion of the deer. It may sound a bit crazy but it’s all in good fun. Deer are gentle creatures by nature. They can certainly get startled and knock you over so no one should go to Nara unless they’re prepared to be surrounded by wild animals but there were thousands of people in the park that day and I didn’t see anyone doing anything other than having fun.

The deer of Nara park will sneak up into your heart if you let them. I am determined to return again one day to see those deer!

For more on the history of Nara, visit https://www.tsunagujapan.com/50-things-to-do-in-nara

 

 

 

 

More time in my Day, Visiting an Onsen (finally!)

After going back to feed the deer one more time and grabbing a tasty ramen lunch, I made my way back to Nara station. By that point, it was 3pm and I have to say I was dog-ass tired! Wiped out actually by then, I found myself falling asleep in the long ride back to Kyoto. My goal was to somehow muster the energy to find an elusive onsen in Kyoto! I really would’ve PREFERRED a countryside hot spring onsen with real natural spring water and a true traditional experience but the more I investigated it, the more I realized that would be the type of thing I’d have to build into my next trip to Japan (and I will). Instead I found a city onsen in Kyoto at the Hotel Monterey. When I got to Kyoto station, I was still wiped but I refused to leave Japan without visiting some type of onsen. So after twenty minutes of trying to decipher how to use the subway to get to the onsen, I found that it was just a short 10 minute ride to the Hotel Monterey.  Going to an onsen intrigued me because it scares so many other people, to be honest. The idea of being completely nude around strangers is anathema to a lot of Americans so, naturally, I was determined to do it. While it was not quite what I was expecting, I think it was a great approximation for something I could find in Kyoto. Something, ironically, that was walking distance to my hotel as well! For more on my experience at the Hotel Monterey, check out that blog post in more detail here

I finally made it back to my hotel around 8pm. So after multiple cities, and a 17 hour day I was finally wiped out and ready for bed. To top it all off, Kyoto gave me a nice lighting and thunder rain storm to finish the night off. (I love storms, so this is a plus for me).

I can honestly say this was the single greatest day of my travels (in any country). I discovered so many things, felt so many emotions, and proved to myself (once again) that we all get the same amount of time in a day, but how we choose to use it is all that really counts. Traveling (for me) is about using that time to find experiences and moments that will make me better, bring me joy and ferret out that inner happiness that’s always inside me.

 

Now for the most interesting fact of all? I left Kyoto station at 10am in the morning. I arrived home in Las Vegas at 2pm! So all that traveling, flights, connections,etc and I arrive just 4 hours later at my destination. Needless to say, the jet leg after this trip was astonishing! Still, I can’t wait for my next trip to the land of the rising sun!

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