Kansai in March: Part 01

As you may or may not know, Saturday (March 5) was my birthday. I turned 23 and, rather than spend it in Matsuyama, I took Monday the 7th as vacation and spent the weekend in Osaka/Nara/Kyoto with my foreign student friend Lauren. It was an amazing weekend, the timing worked out brilliantly for everything, and I don’t think I’ve taken that many pictures in one weekend (over 200) in a long time. If ever. So let’s get started with the recap, shall we? First I will be covering Saturday, when we went to Nara and Kyoto.

Todai-ji on a gorgeous day.

We went to Nara solely to go to Todai-ji (東大寺, or Eastern Great Temple). Pictured is the hall of the great Buddha. It’s the largest wooden structure in the world, dates from the 8th century, and, as you might suspect, houses the world’s biggest bronze Buddha statue. It’s a World Heritage Site and famous for a reason: it’s awesome. The building was much bigger in the past, but it’s still massive and amazing, and the park it’s in (which is technically the 東大寺 temple complex, but is often referred to casually as the Nara deer park) was surprisingly not full that day. So we got to see a lot of the little temples and shrines and, of course, feed the deer.

Sacred deer like cookies (featuring Lauren).

The deer at Nara (also on Miyajima Island in Hiroshima) are considered sacred messengers to the gods, so there are tons of them just wandering around. You can buy cookies from little stands to feed them. It’s very cute and fun, but, as you can see in the photo, once you start feeding one, more will come. The deer eating cookies in the photo was so tiny. Just a baby and absolutely adorable.

We managed to get rid of all the cookies without getting completely mobbed before heading into the Buddha hall, because I had never seen the Buddha before and you can’t go to 東大寺 without seeing him. He’s just that impressive.

See? Big Buddha.

Apparently a person can fit inside one nostril. The whole hall is cool, though, with guardian statues and other awesomeness. I wholeheartedly recommend going to Nara, if you’re in that part of Japan. You won’t be disappointed.

But we didn’t stop with just Nara! After wandering around the park a bit more, taking some more photos, we hopped on the train to Kyoto to go to Fushimi Inari-Taisha (伏見稲荷大社), which is a massive Inari shrine (fox gods, mostly) in Kyoto. It’s really famous because it’s the shrine with all the torii gates that everyone has seen at least one picture of sometime in their life.

There are a lot of torii.

We were both super psyched to get to go because we’d both wanted to see it for ages and never had. It’s actually not just one shrine, though – as you go through the paths (there are several) you find a ton of smaller, similar shrines all over the mountain. And, of course, there are a lot of fox god statues, including the scariest one ever:

We called him the ZOMG Fox.

It was so great, I can’t even tell you. We just walked around for over an hour, taking pictures and being flaily over how cool it was.

Pictures like this!

I have nothing but good things to say about 伏見稲荷, to be honest. It’s free, it’s massive, there are loads of paths so you can actually manage to avoid having strangers in every single picture (a rarity in Japan), and it’s just one of those places that you should see in person if you ever get the chance.

How can you go wrong visiting a place like this?

And then, just to finish the day, we went to Gion, which is the geisha district in Kyoto. We didn’t see any maiko, sadly, but we did get to see the district itself. Almost got hit by taxis while I took photos, got annoyed with the people around us, it was one of those times. But fortunately Lauren and I never got mad at each other. Just at taxi drivers and crowds. So, to close up part one, which was more photos than proper review, I’ll leave you with a shot of Gion in the evening. It was a lovely, lovely day.

Gion

Gion in the early evening.

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