Resolved to Experience
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!
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.
After a memorable trip in Japan (and sore sore feet), I woke up early on travel day to get to Kyoto station. From Kyoto station, I had to take the Shinkansen to Tokyo station terminal. From Tokyo station terminal, the Narita Express Shinkansen to Narita International Airport. From Narita (NRT), a non stop 10 hour flight to San Francisco International Airport (SFO). Then a layover at SFO before another flight to Las Vegas.
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!