A day in Nara, Japan

Horyu-Ji Temple with a lovely Sakura tree

Horyu-Ji Temple with a lovely Sakura tree

Nara, a small town, which used to be the capital of Japan before Kyoto, famous with traditions and Japan culture. A center of Budism art and literature, a Unesco world heritage and a heaven for photographers. It is about 1,5 hours drive from Kyoto by bus, so be ready for an early day, to make sure you have enough time in Nara.

The symbol of Nara, a five level Pagoda

The symbol of Nara, a five level Pagoda

Best time of the year

Best time of the year

Our first stop was Horyu-Ji temple, one of the oldest wooden structures of the world. Founded in 607 to promote Budism.

The central gate is guarded by Japan’s two oldest statues of Kongo Rikishi, the pair of muscular deities often seen flanking large temple gates. The main hall houses some of Japan’s oldest statues of Buddha, rare creations surviving from the Asuka Period. Visitors can witness the evolution of Japanese Buddha statues by visiting the nearby great lecture hall (Daikodo) which exhibits statues from the Heian Period (794-1185) and have lost the more Indian appearance of earlier creations(www.japan-guide.com).

The pagoda

The pagoda

A small Japanese Garden

A small Japanese Garden

DSC02601

The huge zen garden after the central gate, is very lean, with the Pagoda and two lovely Sakura trees. Just near this garden, there is also a Gallery of Temple Treasures, where you can find an exhibit of temple art treasures, some Buddha statues and artworks.

For lunch we are heading to the centre of Nara, where we find a Paket store where there are hundreds of “Grab ‘n Go” packs of Japanese food, a heaven for our sushi monster son. So we enjoy to eat our lunch in the lovely atmosphere of another Temple Garden, instead of sitting in a restaurant.

Our next stop, Todai Ji Temple

Our next stop, Todai Ji Temple

Our next stop is Todai ji temple, a more crowded temple with tourists, brides, grooms and deers.

The huge Boddha in the temple

The huge Boddha in the temple

The big Buddha Hall is world’s largest wooden building. Along the approach to Todaiji stands the Nandaimon Gate, a large wooden gate watched over by two fierce looking statues. Representing the Nio Guardian Kings, the statues are designated national treasures together with the gate itself. Temple visitors will also encounter some deer from the adjacent Nara Park, begging for shika senbei, special crackers for deer that are sold for around 150 yen. (www.japan-guide.com)

Todai ji

Todai ji

Feeding the deers. Photo Credit to Teoman Cimit

Feeding the deer. Photo Credit to Teoman Cimit

DSC02630

And our final stop of Nara was Kasuga Taisha shrine, very famous with thousands of Lanterns, which are donated by worshipers.

Kasuga Taisha

Kasuga Taisha

Lovely color of the building

Lovely color of the building

Famous lanterns and deers

Famous lanterns and deer

20140402_145651

Next: Kyoto train station to finish the day.

Ryoanji Temple and Golden Pavilion of Kyoto

Zen garden of Ryoanji Temple

Zen garden of Ryoanji Temple

If you write “zen garden” to google, many of the images you will see is from Ryoanji Temple, where you will dream of the famous Zen Garden scene, sitting and watching the waves of stones in harmony with the huge ones, symbolizing the mountains and the contrast of life. This simple rectangular garden has no trees at all, but have 15 rocks and white gravel. The garden was created at around 1500, by a respected Zen monk.

However, at the touristy season of Sakura time, if you need to skip one temple, it should be this one. First, the “calm” zen garden is not calm at all, with loads of tourists, making noises and taking photos, secondly, the temple itself is not as big as some other ones. However, if you have time and would like to spent some of it here, you can enjoy a nice walk around the pond and relax watching the Sakura trees, sitting on the bench.

Some flowers from the garden

Some flowers from the garden

Enjoy the pond

Enjoy the pond

End of March is the best time to be there

End of March is the best time to be there

Another very typical scene of Kyoto is the Golden Pavilion.

The Golden Pavilion

The Golden Pavilion

A must see in Kyoto is the Rokuon-ji Temple, commonly known as the Golden Pavilion, which is a Budist hall containing relics of Budha. Just like Kyomizu Dera, I returned here last autumn and had chance to see this lovely place in two totally different season.

The Golden Pavilion in Autumn

The Golden Pavilion in Autumn

Like many other temples in Japan, a pond in front of the Pavilion creates a lovely scenery of nature. The rocks in various places of the garden are donated by different lords. The pavilion is covered with gold foil. 3 different levels are designed in 3 different periods of styles. Together with many young girls, visiting the temple with their traditional costumes, you can be sure that you will have lovely photographs from your visit.

 

 

Arriving to Kyoto and Sakura by night

Our typical dinner in Japan, open buffet

Our typical dinner in Japan, open buffet

Remember here our day in Hiroshima. In the evening, with the help of Japan bullet trains, Shinkansen, we arrived from Hiroshima to Kyoto in 1 hour 40 minutes. The only handicap is, you can not take your luggage with you, that’s why you need it to be sent to your next hotel by courier, which arrives a day after. Needs a good planning.

As soon as we arrived to Kyoto, we settled in a restaurant with our group, once more an open buffet, with many food we did not know. Thankfully, this time, there were a few sushi, our son enjoyed, and that’s why, we did not try to find a sushi restaurant around.

From open buffet

From open buffet

From open buffet

From open buffet

From open buffet

From open buffet

After dinner, we went to our hotel, Ana Crown Plaza, which was the best hotel we stayed in Japan. Just across the Nijo Palace, and very convenient to go around in Kyoto. Since we did not have our luggage with us, it wasn’t hard to settle down. So we went out to see Sakura by night to “Dotonbori” of Kyoto, which is the old town center with red, white and black lanterns, tiny wooden restaurants and cafes, narrow streets, “pink hotels” where you get in with credit card and there is no staff at all to meet you.

Dotonbori streets

Dotonbori streets

20140331_204922

Sakura by night

20140331_204511

Cherry blossom trees with tiny shops

20140331_205103

Cherry blossom trees on the calm water

We finalized the night, relaxing at a local bar with our sake.

Next morning: Nijo palace

 

Miyajima Island, Japan

Tori gate at Miyajima island

Torii gate at Miyajima island

Yes, I know. it looks like a copy paste of a travel brochure of Japan. But it would not be a proper blog, if I didn’t put the famous Torii Gate of Itsukushima Shinto Temple here, right?

On the very last day of March this year, we woke up very early-again- packed our luggage to be posted to Kyoto (I will tell you why, later), did our breakfast which did involve more eatable Western things. Here, I want to give you an example of Japan people, how extremely polite. My parents did have a friend who lived about 2 hours drive away from Hiroshima. Since we were on a touristic tour, we did not have much time during the day to enjoy doing whatever we wanted. So what this gentleman did was, he came one day before to the very same hotel where we were, stayed overnight and did breakfast together with my parents. No way, I, or anybody around in our home country, would drive 2 hours, stay in a hotel and return next morning, for just to chat for a couple of hours with some guys, who he met in some course many years ago. It is extremely important for Japan people to give their time, effort or whatever, for the comfort or happiness of other people. This makes them unbelievably polite.

Itsukushima Shinto Temple, photo by Teoman Cimit

Our son at Itsukushima Shinto Temple, photo by Teoman Cimit

After a 50 minutes journey by bus and a ferry trip, we arrived the world famous Miyajima island, a “must visit” of Japan. Among the very many temples we have visited during our trip, by far the most interesting and scenic was this  Itsukushima Shinto Temple. Not only the temple itself, but also the deers wondering around freely, make the island worth to visit.

Deers soo cute

Deers soo cute

A deer resting

A deer resting

And also the Cherry Blossom time. We were lucky to be there at the very right time.

Cherry blossoms

Cherry blossoms

More cherry blossoms

More cherry blossoms

And more cherry blossoms

And more cherry blossoms

And even more cherry blossoms

And even more cherry blossoms

Both the temple and the island itself has many gems to discover for us and our son. Nice traditions to explore and lovely colored trees are very much in harmony with the orange temple.

A fortune telling box

A fortune telling box

For instance an interesting way to combine a tradition and the fortune telling is: you put a money in a box, which gives you a random number, when you shake it. You open the the box with the given number and that’s it. Since you do not understand one word, you try to find someone to tell you what it writes, which is usually the hardest part.

Can anyone read what it says?

Can anyone read what it says?


DSC02430

DSC02434And another nice tradition of the island is a kind of cookie called Momiji Manju, a puffy tiny cookie, with caramel, chocolate or almond topping inside. Very tasty. The road from temple to the ferry has many nice shops for souvenirs and these cookies.

A bride and groom

A bride and groom

This time of the year is also very popular for weddings. In many of the cities we’ve been we saw bride and groom on these traditional carriages or walking in the gardens of the temples, for photos with cherry blossoms.

Eating Momiji Manju

Eating Momiji Manju

Loved the deers

Loved the deers

 

Cherry Blossom adventure started with a rainy day

Chery Blossom adventure started with a rainy day

Osaka castle

A Japan trip would be lovely anytime of the year, but of course the best time is when the cherry trees blossom, that is March and April. When I say March and April, do not think that this lovely time of the year lasts for two whole months. Actually, the case is; the trees start to blossom in Southest part of Japan, around mid March and lasts only one week. However, as weeks go by, the blossom time for trees go Norther. To be at the very same place with the cherry blossoms requires lots of good planning and a bit of luck. or visa versa.

We were lucky, we spent a whole week in Japan and in the every city we’ve been, cherry trees were at their best times. Our trip was between 29th March to 7th April, and our route was Osaka, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Hakone and Tokyo.

However, please keep in mind that, this time of the year is very important for Japanese people and not only foreign tourists, but also Japan people travel following the blossom time. Therefore, make sure to start planning your trip around, well, NOW!!

Osaka-jo Park

Osaka-jo Park

Our first day in Japan, was with an awful lot of rain. However, in our only day in Osaka, we did not want to miss the chance to visit the Osaka-Jo Park and the Osaka Castle, which are the main highlights of Osaka, therefore, we did walk a good hour under the rain, got wet…very wet…really very wet and managed to reach the castle itself.

Osaka castle

Osaka castle

Walking in the rain

Walking in the rain

The building itself, as you see, a very typical Japan architecture outside, but a very typical museum decoration inside. Nothing remained original, so you go up with elevator to 5th floor, enjoy the view…

Enjoying! the view

Enjoying! the view

…and go down using the stairs to see installations, exhibitions, museum shop, museum cafe and toilets.

Exhibits showing the war time of castle

Exhibits showing the war time of castle

There said to be a nice view up on the 5th floor, not today unfortunately. However, the exibits were interesting to learn the history and culture of Japan.

Next: shopping time at Midosuji and travel to Hiroshima