I have one more big recap update to make, and this is it. This is our day spent in Kyoto and Nara doing some sightseeing on a tour bus. It was a very long, hot day and Gram and I both wilted halfway through the day. I’m glad it’s over. By the end of the day I think we were both pretty sure we had seen enough shrines and temples for the time being. Our first stop was to Nichi-jo, a castle in Kyoto. Of course, we were not allowed to take pictures inside, so I only have outdoor pictures of the place.
We walked inside on squeaky floors. Our tour guide explained that the floors were built to squeak so that even the stealthiest ninja could not sneak in and steal things. Pretty cool! We toured around the inside of the castle. Many of the rooms had very beautiful paintings of tigers, leopards, cranes, and pine trees. The big cats were symbolic of strength and power, and the cranes and pines trees are symbolic of longevity. The cranes are really starting to grow on me – they’re very pretty. Outside were also pine trees.
Behind the castle is a garden with a lot of pine trees. Our guide explained that a couple times a year, some very special gardeners are hired to come and trim the pine trees so they maintain these distinct shapes. Apparently it’s a very technical process and it’s very expensive.
After Nichi-jo, we were off to the Golden Pavilion. Here we got a great picture of our tour guide, Kimiko.
I was so surprised that she was an older woman but spoke such fantastic English! She mentioned that her English teacher had been a Shakespeare expert, which was interesting to me. She also outlined why Japanese people often have a very hard time learning to speak English. Japanese is a very flat language in terms of emphasis. She used “McDonald’s” as an example. In English, we say “mac-DON-alds”. However, emphasizing a syllable like that doesn’t come naturally to the Japanese. If they say the whole word, it’s “ma-ku-do-na-ru-dsu”. Words like this will often be abbreviated to “Maku” or “Makudo” instead of the whole thing. It was pretty cool that she was able to teach us so much about her culture over the course of the day, though.
Getting back to the tour…the Golden Pavilion is a beautiful place. The gold building at the center of the lake is off limits, but it still makes for some pretty scenic pictures. We learned that this is not the original. The original was built in 1310, but burned down in 1950 by a monk. His motivations are still unknown. It was rebuilt in 1955, and the golden coating was reapplied in 1987. It’s very beautiful.
Also on the grounds is this interesting tree shaped like a boat/ship. I don’t know anything else about it other than that. I might have missed some key information on the tour!
Next we headed to the old palace in Kyoto. This is where the emperor lived at one time before relocating to Tokyo, where the current emperor resides. We could not enter this palace, so I just have some pictures of the outside. It was extremely hot at this point and it was difficult to hear our guide because she was so small and because we were walking on very loud gravel/pebbles. I don’t have much information about this stop, sorry. We were a little tired at this point. But I hope you enjoy the pictures.
I have a few more, but they aren’t very good. We had lunch after this stop, then boarded a new tour bus bound for Nara, about an hour away from Kyoto. Our first stop was at Todai-ji Temple to see the biggest Buddha in all of Japan, and to see the largest wooden structure in the world! This area is also famous for the deer – within the temple grounds are cookie vendors. Many of the deer here are very…forward about getting their cookies and they swarmed the tourists who bought tons of cookies. It was actually really funny to watch. They came right up to us and sniffed around and were for the most part harmless. Just watch out for those horns, and don’t leave any money in your pockets – you don’t want them to eat that 10,000 yen note!
Here’s the building housing the largest Buddha in Japan. It is also apparently the largest wooden structure in the world. Pretty amazing. All those teeny colored blobs are people. It’s huge.
As soon as you step inside, you are greeted with the largest Buddha in Japan…I found it hard to believe this wasn’t the largest in the world! I thought the one at Hase was big enough, but I guess the Buddhists like to go bigger and better!
It’s hard to explain how huge this is. I couldn’t get a picture to do it justice. But using the previous picture, you can estimate. This Buddha is on the floor of the building, and the top of the statue goes up to the top of the building. Now compare that to the people you saw outside the building. Yeah, it’s ginormous. It’s flanked by two Bodhisattvas which are also very large (not as large as the main Buddha, though). A bodhisattva is one who has pledged their life to helping others reach enlightenment.
At the store in the temple was this hilarious sign. Everywhere we go they want money, but this one cracked me up.
You can by eternal happiness for 1,000 yen (a little over $10)?! All right! Ah, if only it were that easy. Rather than go for eternal happiness, we headed to our final destination for the day, Kasuga shrine. There were deer at this shrine too, but they were significantly more docile. We also saw the now-familiar Tori gate at the entrance to the shrine.
Kasuga shrine is like a little forest/mountain shrine. There are deer hiding among the stone lanterns that line the path up to the main parts of the shrine. It’s very beautiful. It looks like something from a movie. Our guide told us that all the stone lanterns used to be lit every night, but now the cost is too high, so all of the lamps are now lit 2 nights in the year. There are about 3,000 lanterns in the Shrine, so I can imagine that it must be very beautiful to see the path lit up at night with candles from the lanterns.
The main shrine area was like the first Shinto shrine we saw – an open space. But beyond that was a special second shrine one had to pay for to enter, and that was not part of the tour.
We got to walk around the paths, which was very serene, and then we were on our way home. I made a friend on the way out…or at least I think I did.
This deer came up to inspect me and pushed her nose into my stomach before deciding I was not going to feed her. I have to give her some credit for determination, though.
We headed back to Kyoto and crashed that night! It was a very long day. I think I’d like to come back to Kyoto, though. We didn’t get to see a lot of really interesting places. I think it would be worthwhile to make another trip (or two!) to Kyoto to catch some of the things we missed out on during this tour.
In other news, today was my second day of work. I attended a photo session at a nearby hospital where my boss, the head volunteer, and I attended the end of a support group for women dealing with breast cancer. I couldn’t understand most of what was said, but the women there were really wonderful. They all seemed very upbeat and lively despite their circumstances. Makeup artists from Shiseido were there doing makeovers for anyone interested, and one woman who participated looked so happy! Everyone commented on how natural and beautiful the makeup made her look. It was great to see so much support among the women. Some of the women talked to me – asked me where I was from, what I was doing…they were so surprised when they heard how old I was. The resounding theme was “oh, you’re only as old as my daughter!” I’m not sure why they were so surprised, but at least they got a kick out of it.
It was a great experience and I enjoyed it a lot. It also helped me learn what I can do during any downtime at the office – gain some new vocabulary words! My boss asked if I could understand what was being said today, and I told him I honestly couldn’t. But I don’t really have a vocabulary built around breast cancer lingo, so I’ll do some studying up! I’d like to be of use in the future at meetings and other outreach sessions, so I’d better get to work.
Tonight we had a meeting late at the office and I did not arrive home until 10:30 PM. I got dinner with some girls from work and even adventured to a lunch place where I tried an AWESOME pork dish. I’m so glad to try some of the local cuisine. It has been great! Now it’s time to get some sleep – it’s about 12:30 AM now but I really wanted to update the blog before I got to bed. I also now have a cell phone. It is extremely expensive to make international calls from it, but I think I can receive them without charge. I think I may also be able to receive international text messages, but I can’t send them. You can email or send me a message if you would like the number.
Next update will be soon – I have lots of video to edit from last week!